Hey there! Need some screen-free activity ideas for your next road trip?
We took our first family road trip nearly twenty years ago. My first child was four weeks old, and we have done dozens of road trips and airplane trips since. I have learned a lot about how to keep kids busy and happy on the road.
Electronic devices can be lifesavers on long travel days. They are easy entertainment that can make the miles pass quickly. However, we don't like to use screens non-stop on long drives. There are several reasons for this:
- When my kids play electronic games or watch movies nonstop for hours, it often makes them grouchy. And that makes me grouchy.
- Most of the games listed here are brainbuilders. They will make the whole family smarter while you have fun together.
- Road trips are great opportunities for families to connect with each other. When children (or parents) spend all their time looking at a screen, they miss out on valuable relationship-building opportunities.
Here are some easy road trip ideas to entertain your whole family (even the driver!) when the electronics are put away.
Mad Libs are the BEST family road trip activity! They are fun and cheap, and kids never grow out of them. My teens like them just as much today as they did ten years ago.
Young children can play Mad Libs with a little help. My first grader could provide nouns, adjectives, and verbs with a little help. My preschooler could give colors and numbers. Throw in a bunch of silly adjectives and the occasional body fluid and everyone will crack up.
Pick The Song
Take turns choosing songs for your road trip playlist. This one is still a hit with my teenagers. I've enjoyed listening to their music and introducing them to mine. The best part is that they have to take out their earbuds and stay semi-engaged to add their songs and hear their music through the car speakers.
We subscribe to Spotify and can instantly stream any song in most parts of the United States. Everyone takes turns choosing songs and the passenger parent adds them to the queue in the Spotify app.
An Apple Music or Amazon Music subscription will also work well for this game.
Related: 10 Fun Travel Toys
License Plate Game
You know this game. Look for license plates from all 50 US States. Bonus points for Washington D.C. and Canadian provinces! Play all together or make it a contest.
Once you get started with the license game, it can be addictive – especially if you travel to a national park or theme park that attracts visitors from far and wide. When we did this in the Black Hills, we found ourselves wandering the parking garage at Mount Rushmore and successfully found some of the small and distant states we needed.
We were given a reusable Melissa and Doug Licence Plate Game a few years ago and it's a fun toy to keep in the car. Or just keep a list on a sheet of blank paper.
Audiobooks or Podcasts
A good audiobook or podcast can engage the whole family for hours and is good for a little quiet time. Audiobooks and podcasts are good options for kids who get carsick because they can listen and look forward at the same time.
Download audiobooks and podcasts to your device before your trip. Play them through your car speakers, or listen individually with headphones.
Borrow audiobooks from your local library or consider a free trial to Audible, which includes two free audiobooks from Amazon's vast library.
Guess the Animal (20 Questions)
We used animals because that's what my young children liked. You could use any category – cartoon characters, famous people, dinosaurs… One person chooses an animal and everyone takes turns asking questions. You can limit questions to yes/no or not – whatever works for your family.
When I Go to London
There are lots of variations of this memory game. The first person says, “When I go to London, I am packing (fill in the blank).” The second person says “When I go to London, I am packing (first person's item) and (new item).” The items can be silly.
You can substitute your destination for “London.” For example, “When I go to Disney World” or “When I go to the Grand Canyon.” You could also select items in alphabetical order – the first item starts with A, the second with B, and so on. That makes them a little easier to remember. Play goes around the car adding a new item to remember every time. See who can remember the most!
What's Your Favorite…
Ask fun and interesting questions that make your family think. Give everyone a turn to answer. Be patient with those who talk too long or who don't want to say much.
An easy place to start is “What's your favorite movie, song, superhero, book, food, vacation…” Follow up with “Why?”
If you can get teens to participate, questions like these can start some amazing conversations. Do your part to make your car a safe place to share personal things. If you get them talking, AVOID interrupting with concerns, criticism, sermons, or unsolicited solutions.
I recently took a road trip with friends and the driver asked, “Tell me about one of the best days of your life.” I really enjoyed thinking about my answer and loved hearing my friends' answers too.
Teach a Song
This is a great time to teach your kids a funny camp song or family favorite from your youth. When I was young, my grandma taught us a song she sang when she worked at the Grand Canyon before World War II. My cousins and I sang it over and over as we drove to the Grand Canyon.
I have taught my kids a silly little song that my great-grandma taught me. She was born in 1905 and her great-great grandchildren born more than 100 years later are still singing it. Songs are a great way to pass down your family history and culture.
I loved reading on road trips when I was a kid and now one of my kids loves it too. For major road trips, it's fun to surprise kids with a new book or let them choose their own.
Our library offers digital book loans that can be downloaded to electronic devices. If you have Amazon Prime, you can borrow ebooks from Prime Reading for no additional cost. Selection can be limited, but these books won't weigh down your luggage and can't get lost! Ebooks may technically be screen time, but I think that reading a good book doesn't count.
Need an e-reader that is great for reading, but won't tempt kids with apps or video? I love my Kindle Paperwhite.
Classic coloring books are still an inexpensive option for young children. My teen daughter enjoys the sophisticated coloring books that are now available with better paper and intricate designs. Find them on Amazon.com or at most bookstores and discount stores.
August is the time to buy crayons at back-to-school sales for practically nothing. You can stock up and pull out a new box for every road trip – perhaps with a new coloring book. You might consider paying a little extra for triangular crayons that won't roll onto the floor.
Back-to-school is also a good opportunity to buy markers, twist up crayons, colored pencils and gel pens at a discount. Melted crayons and lost marker lids can be a problem on road trips, so consider that when you pack.
It's fun to pack a small surprise or two for a long travel day. Pull out a new toy to reward good behavior and keep kids excited about a long day on the road.
Not all the toys need to be new. I let my school-age kids pack their own “fun bags” and I gave final approval or recommendations.
Katie recommends her family's tried and true travel toys in this post: 10 Travel Toys that Fit in One Backpack.
Long travel days can be difficult. But they can also be opportunities to have important conversations and create fun family memories.
Tablets and smartphones can make time go by faster, but I've found that too much screen time can make kids grouchy. I hope that these ideas will help your family fill screen-free time on long travel days and make it fun.
Do you have a question about one of these activities? Or do you have a fun activity that works for your family? If so, please share in the comments below!