1. Cultivate a love of show tunes in your children. This avoids the horrific Yo Gabba Gabba syndrome, and prevents later conflict, when one child needs Lady Gaga and the other is still listening to Laurie Berkner.
2. Have an “only-in-the-car” treat. My kids hit on tiny boxes of sugared cereal; they each choose one before a trip, share without prompting, and we enjoy the sweet sound of lips smacking.
3. Hand-held video games have saved the sanity of many. There are versions for tiny travelers, including Leapsters (which have volume buttons, but cannot be muted). But if an older sibling has a Nintendo DS, (which does, thankfully, have a mute button) or an iPhone, an electronic hand-held for a 3 year may be imperative.
4. Checking the car seat to ensure proper restraint is second nature to most. But parents forget about checking the straps securing the child - has she grown? Is he wearing a bulky sweater that makes the straps uncomfortably tight? If the child starts out uncomfortable in her car seat, she is unlikely to get happier as you roll along.
5. Give drinks in small doses. My kids still talk about a minivan trip we took with friends; one of the other kids inhaled a 16 oz. chocolate milk, then brought it all back up. We bring lots of water bottles (some frozen for later consumption) and pour into sippy cups. Mini juice boxes are better than big ones, but juice will get squirted.
6. Cover the car’s seats with inexpensive sheets. This not only cools the seats, but also adds a layer of protection when someone gets car sick (see above). If you use cheap sheets, you can wipe and dispose. The sheets are also good crumb catchers; at the end of the trip, shake out the sheet and keep the car (relatively) clean.