Years ago, husband and I travelled around BC and our little girl frequently came with us. And yes, we often heard the "Are we there yet?" from the back seat. Despite the 'no, not yet'; 'no, soon'; 'no, we've only just got in the car and we have a loooong drive before we get there ' - well, our answers never satisfied her.
There are ways to occupy a small person on a long trip. Counting the cars, counting the cows, counting blue cars, red, yellow; spelling games, reading a book, a snack, a stop to look at something interesting.
When my daughter was just three and half, we moved from Vancouver to a small city in the East Kootenays. My husband drove the moving truck. Mom and daughter flew there a few days later. One of the lasting memories of the flight was the plane flying over the house we had lived in. My daughter was fascinated to see the the horses in the field behind our house, the roads we travelled daily, the supermarket, and the bridge to Stanley Park, too.
For me, that was the Aha! moment.
So I taught her to read maps. Since she was still small, I kept it simple. We would look at books with maps - National Geo magazines and atlases were great for that since she could associate the pictures with the map we looked at. We would make up stories about what we would find at that point on that map. If we were going to travel, we would sit and plot out the route we would take, using road maps and coloured felt pens.
Even before she could read, she could follow the lines on the map and I would show her where on the map the park or town we were passing through was located. As she learned her numbers, she began to associate the mileage numbers on the road map with the distance and time it took to get to the next town.
She also learned directions and symbols - Left, right, straight, winding road ahead; and ordinals. The sun is in our eyes in the morning so we must be facing east. The Rocky Mountains are on the left side of the car - we driving south now. See, we have just eaten dinner, it is six o'clock and the sun is going down behind us; so we are driving east and west is behind us.
At five, she was telling us which way to turn and when.
At six, she was the Official Map Reader.
And the driver in the front seat would ask, "Are we there yet?"
She has kids of her own now. She can look at a map once and get to where she is going without getting lost. She recently thanked me for that.
Not sure how she answers her little ones when they ask "Are we there yet?" but these days, they can always follow along with Google Maps on the iPad or Mom's Blackberry apps. Much easier than trying to refold a map, eh? :)