Summer means vacation time!

Ready to pack up the car and kids? Take heed of this valuable travel advice

By Barbara Pierce

There’s probably nothing more American than packing up your car and hitting the open road with family or friends for a summer vacation. This kind of vacation is also affordable and available at good rates

Add some good snacks and great tunes, and you are ready to roll.

We’ve got so many hidden gems in and near the Mohawk Valley accessible by car.

Everyone is excited about the adventure. But with many miles and long hours of togetherness ahead, you might be wondering how you’ll keep everyone well fed, entertained and occupied. Will the children get bored? Will you run out of snacks? Will you all still be on speaking terms when you get home?

“There are several things to think about to prepare,” suggests Ed Welsh, Northeast Regional general manager, AAA, Utica.

• Get your car ready: Before heading out on your adventures, be sure your car has been serviced and everything is working properly. Anything could go wrong; it’s best to be prepared.

“Remember, it’s summer and it’s hot. Heat is tough on your car,” said Welsh. “Make sure your cooler system and radiator work.”

Hot temperatures can cause your car to overheat.

“Heat destroys batteries,” he added. “Make sure your battery is in good working order.”

“Make sure your tires are in working order. They might be worn and still work OK, but they won’t work so well in a thunderstorm. Treat a thunderstorm like you treat driving on ice: Slow down, keep both hands on the wheel, and give your full attention to driving,” he advises.

Be sure to check all of your fluid levels before you head out.

• Food factor: “Bring plenty of water and protein bars,” Welsh recommends, and snacks. A hungry family member can be a downer. A stash of options — pumpkin seeds, nuts, popcorn — containing fiber, good fat, and protein, staves off hunger pangs and energy crashes. Add items like almond butter and celery, or pack a cooler with apples, oranges, fruit juices, and cheeses.

One mother of four sons creates “mom meals” in bags with each child’s name, filled with sandwiches, fruit, chips and dollar-store toys.

If you’re trying to save money on dining when you travel, pack plenty of snacks and drinks to fight the temptation of all those fast-food signs.

Create excitement

• Boredom busters: Think ahead about activities that will squash the “Are we there yet?” whine. Play games like scavenger hunt (give the kids a list of things to look for as you travel), make up stories where everyone adds a sentence, or teach the kids to trace your route on the map. You may visit this site to plan a Cayman Islands vacation.

You can also listen to audiobooks together, or give the kids coloring pencils and paper. Create a workbook for the trip, and have the kids work on it. Bring balls and Frisbees to work off energy in pit stops.

• Maps: “If you’re out galavanting, you may come to places your phone doesn’t work, so you can’t depend on it for directions. You need to carry a hard copy of your map,” Welsh added.

He recommends the AAA mobile app for maps, directions and a trip planner. Or, stop by your AAA office for a TripTik Travel Planner.

• Last minute: After you load up the car, make sure you haven’t limited your visibility, Welsh said. And note the weight if you’re pulling a trailer.

Be sure to carry your cell phone in the car as well as your phone charger, and program emergency numbers into your phone.

• Emergencies: If your car breaks down and you’re on the Thruway, don’t get out of your car. Get your car as far off the road as possible. Pop your hood and go behind the guardrail and call for help, Welsh advised.

• Stay safe in your hotel: Most of the time, your hotel is a safe place to land and rest while on vacation. But that doesn’t mean you should let down your guard. Taking a few precautions will ensure a happy, stress-free stay:

— Don’t stay on the ground floor if you can avoid it. These rooms are the easiest target for break-ins. Don’t leave valuables in your suitcase; put them in a safe.

— Pick up a few extra business cards with the address and phone number of the hotel. If you get lost, you can show someone the card. If someone comes to your door and claims to be an employee, call the front desk to verify his or her identity. When you leave the room, put the “Do Not Disturb” tag on your door and turn on the TV to make it seem occupied.

Even the finest hotels and housekeepers can’t keep creepy critters from making their way into bedrooms. “I always advise travelers to put their luggage in the bathtub until they inspect the bed for bedbugs,” says Mitch Krayton of Krayton Travel online.

And remember, the best part of traveling is the memories you’ll make together.