Need some ideas for your next road-trip?
Electronic devices like DVD Players, tablets and smart phones can be lifesavers on long travel days. My family owns our share of these devices and they keep us entertained on the road. However, we don't like to use them non-stop to pacify our children on long drives. There are several reasons for this.
First, I find that when my kids play electronic games or watch movies for too long, it makes them grouchy, which makes me grouchy. That's no fun and makes the day feel longer.
Second, most of the games listed here are brain builders. They will make the whole family smarter while you have fun together.
More importantly, road trips are great opportunities for families to connect with each other and experience the world. When children (or parents) spend all their time looking at a screen, they miss out on valuable opportunities.
Here are some road trip ideas to entertain your whole family (even the driver!) when the electronics are put away.
Mad Libs are the perfect family road trip activity! They are fun, cheap, and kids never grow out of them. My teen likes them just as much today as she did five years ago, and now takes the lead by writing in the answers for our family.
Even young children can play Mad Libs with a little help. My first grader could provide nouns, adjectives and verbs with frequent reminders of what they are. My preschooler could give colors and numbers. Throw in a bunch of silly adjectives and the occasional bodily fluid and everyone will crack up. BONUS: It's educational!
Guess the Animal (20 Questions)
We use animals because that's what my children like. You could use any category – cartoon characters, famous people, dinosaurs… One person chooses an animal and everyone takes turn 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!
License Plate Game
You know this game. Just try and spot license plates from all 50 US States. Bonus points for Washington D.C. and the 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, make your own checklist. Print a list of U.S. states here and give everyone their own list or play as a team.
Pick The Song
Load up your iPod or smart phone with every family member's favorite songs and connect it to your car stereo. We take turns choosing songs. The passenger parent finds and plays them. Everyone gets a little of what they like and we get to introduce our kids to some of our favorites.
Variation: Play Name That Tune and see who can guess a well-known song first.
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. What a cool way to pass down your family history!
Hours of uninterrupted reading was something I loved when I was growing up and a road trip was the perfect place to do it. For major road trips, it's fun to surprise kids with a new book or let them choose their own.
Our library now 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.
Have you heard? Coloring books are for all ages now! Classic coloring books are still an inexpensive option for children, and my teen 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.
For a big road trip it's fun to pack a small surprise or two. Pull out a new toy every so often to reward good behavior and keep kids excited about a long day on the road. Katie recommends her family's tried and true travel toys in this post: 10 Travel Toys that Fit in One Backpack.
Not all the toys need to be new. I let my kids pack their own “fun bags” and I give final approval or recommendations as needed. We can usually count on collecting new fast food meal or souvenir toys along the way too.
A good audiobook can engage the whole family for hours, and is good for a little quiet time. Download them to your device and play them through your car speakers, or listen individually with headphones. Need some ideas? Check out this post: 10 Great Books You'll Want to Borrow From Your Kids.
Borrow audiobooks from your local library or consider a free trial to Audible, which includes two free audio books from Amazon's vast library.
What keeps your kids entertained in the car?