Another summer, another shot at the Great American Road Trip.
Andrea Bonior, a Washington, D.C. area psychologist has just set out on hers, a three-week trek out West via RV with her husband and three kids in tow. Among other sights, they'll see Denver and Kansas City, Mount Rushmore and Mammoth Cave, and for their kids ages 3, 5 and 7, plenty of ice cream shops – at dairy farms and old-time drug stores – along the way. "We'll see if we survive," Bonior says with a chuckle last Thursday, speaking to U.S. News from the road on day one of their family vacation.
Why get cooped up in a car with people you love? Closeness, for one. Plus, the proverbial freedom of the open road and the chance to see the sights on your schedule. As Bonior says, "I like the flexibility of a road trip, being able to follow your whim, being able to stop when you decide to stop because you saw something interesting," she says. "It's also a big slice of Americana."
[Read: Healthy Summer Vacations.]
At the same time, whether you're traveling with a friend, family member or romantic partner, this mode of travel can present particular challenges and put added stress on relationships. According to Pauline Frommer, co-publisher of Frommer Guidebooks and Frommers.com, couples considering each other for the long haul might start with this one. "You're in a confined space. There's no escape. Things go wrong – that's the nature of travel – and you see how the other person can roll with it," she says. "If you're looking for a life partner, those are very good things to find out."
The trick to a successful road trip, say those with expertise navigating travel and relationships, is to plan – but not to overplan.
"This advice may sound like the antithesis of the classic free-wheelin' approach to the Great American Road Trip, but unless you know your fellow travelers really, really well, it's best to lay down some guidelines," Tatiana Parent, co-founder of Roadtrippers.com, tells U.S. News in an e-mail. "Flexibility helps you to take advantage of the unexpected, but try to create a basic framework so everyone knows what to expect on a regular day." Among her tips, build in time for stretching and moving, and don't forget to use the bathroom on breaks; designate a navigator; share control over the music; and have some perspective. "The things you'll remember most about the trip, and laugh about later (from the safety of your sofa), are the very things that might frustrate you at the time," she writes. "Keep a sense of humor."
[Read : America's Best Family Road Trips.]
Frommer warns those road-tripping with children to stop for breaks every two hours. "Kids just have a need to get out of the car every two hours and run around and yell like banshees," she says. "They just cannot sit for that long, and your road trip will be hell if you try to get them to."
Consider your route and rest stops ahead of time, Frommer says, and suggests that families let each member plan one day of the trip. She recommends a website called roadfood.com. "They find wonderful clam shacks, and chili houses and other local joints that really can make your road trip special," she says, adding that apps can help you discover everything from cheap gas stations to entertaining car games.
[Read: America's Food-Truck Fixation.]
For her part, Bonior plans to treat her kids with books and old-fashioned car games like "I Spy" and license-plate bingo. At the same time, she says "some boredom is good for kids, and you don't have to create this entertainment center." The simplicity of looking out the window and letting the mind wander is "part of the beauty of the road trip."
Couples should feel OK to zone out as well, she says. "Traveling together is different even than living together, and so setting your expectations accordingly is important," she says. "When you're traveling, there's a lot more compromise required, there's a lot less personal space and you're subject to each other 24 hours a day ... Don't be hard on yourself if you find that you're starting to bicker. All that means is just that you need a little more alone time."