10 Screen-Free Road Trip Ideas

Posted By Allison on Apr 16, 2012

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Non-Screen Car Entertainment

We have a DVD player in our van and as I wrote in How Do You DVD, we love it for road trips.  We also have our share of smart phones and tablets to keep us entertained on the road. However, we don’t like to use them non-stop to pacify our children on long drives.

Road trips are great opportunities for families to connect with each other and experience the world around them. When children (or their parents) spend all their time looking at a screen, they may miss out on these opportunities. Here are some road trip ideas to entertain the kids when you don’t have personal electronics or don’t want to use them.

1. Mad Libs – So classic. Throw in a bunch of silly adjectives and the occasional bodily fluid and everyone will crack up. With frequent reminders of what nouns, adjectives and verbs are, my first grader could provide the fill-ins while the passenger parent wrote them down. My preschooler could give colors and numbers. Dad came up with the really creative stuff.

What could possibly make Mad Libs better? It’s an app now! Download it onto your smart phone or tablet and always have it with you. One “pad” comes free with the app. Download additional pads for a small charge.

2. License Plate Game – Print a list of U.S. states here – or from lots of other sites – and give everyone their own list or play as a team. 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.  It can be addictive. My husband and I found ourselves playing the game at home long after our kids lost interest.

3. Guess-the-Animal (AKA 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.

4. 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 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!

5. Pick-The-Song – We have a “family” iPod that has 6,000 songs and playlists for everyone that we play through the car stereo on every road trip. To keep everyone happy and interested, we take turns choosing songs and 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.

6. 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.

7. Books – 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 I often surprise my kids with a new book for each of them. For shorter trips, they can bring what they have. Books are becoming an even better option now that my oldest can read on her own. I do not allow library books on road trips because I have a hard enough time keeping track of those without losing them in another city or state.

8. Coloring Books – Every year, I buy a bunch of 24-packs of crayons at the back-to-school sale for 25 cents or less per box. One of those boxes makes an appearance on every major road trip, often with a new coloring book. I buy those at my local supermarket for $1.25 each. We have had problems with melted crayons in the van, so plan accordingly.

9. Toys – For a big road trip I might buy a small surprise or two. I let the kids pack their own toy bags and I give final approval or recommendations. I can usually count on collecting new fast food meal toys along the way too.

10. Audiobooks – Eventually, you and/or your children are going to get tired of all of these road trip ideas. You can’t do them indefinitely. If you don’t have electronics or if you want to delay using them a little longer, audiobooks are the ticket. Our library now loans digital copies of audiobooks, or we still borrow CDs. We have enjoyed the Dr. Seuss collection, Junie B. Jones, Harry Potter and the Magic Treehouse on audio.

What keeps your kids entertained in the car?


Allison on EmailAllison on FacebookAllison on InstagramAllison on Pinterest
Hi there! I am the founder of Tips for Family Trips. I am a married mom of two children, ages 10 and 12, living near Salt Lake City, Utah. We took our first child on a two-week road trip when she was four weeks old and we have been traveling as a family ever since. We love to get out of the house to see and do fun things, both far away and in our own neighborhood.


  1. I might have to try out some of your tips. Unfortunately, I am one of those parents that rely on my iPad to entertain the kids on the road. The kids love playing games and watching TV through our provider DISH. Having the Sling Adapter hooked up to my Hopper DVR the kids can watch live TV on the road anywhere, we can get a 3G or Wi-Fi connection. A co-worker at DISH told me about this option and ever since I got it, the kids have been so quiet in the car. I do however, think they are starting to rely on it too much and plan on changing it and limiting how much TV they are watching. I am definitely going to try Madlibs with the kids on our next trip.

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  2. Thanks for your comment! It sounds like you have a nice set-up. We love our DVD player too, but we all get so much screen time and the car is a good place to talk and interact as a family, so a few limits and these alternate activites have worked well for us. In my How Do You DVD post I listed the rules that we have for screen-time in the car. Maybe that’ll give you some ideas too. Start slowly and I’m sure you’ll figure out what works for your family.

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  3. These are such great simple, no materials, no fuss ideas. I am going to print this out and stick it in my glove compartment for those desperate road trip moments.

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  4. When our kids are old enough to know their alphabet, we play, “I’m going on a safari, and I’m bringing…” which is a variation on your #4 When I Go to London tip. With the safari list, each item must be in alphabetical order. You can use adjectives. “I’m going on a safari, and I’m bringing an antelope, big bear, cool skateboard, doggie…”

    On our visit to Hawaii, we noted that the License Plate game isn’t very interesting. We never saw an out of state car.

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    • I bet my kids will enjoy that game too. Thanks! That’s funny about license plates in Hawaii. We were lucky to find one of those on our Black Hills trip. At home, we live near a military base and find Alaska and Hawaii surprisingly often.

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    • I bet my kids will enjoy that game too. Thanks! That’s funny about license plates in Hawaii. We were lucky to find one of those on our Black Hills trip. At home, we live near a military base and find Alaska and Hawaii surprisingly often.

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  5. Great tips! I have 3 teens and a tween so their favorite activity now is sleeping! Within a few short miles into the trip, 1 or 2 will have already konked out. So it does get easier! 🙂

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    • My kids have never been good nappers and neither am I, so we’ll see how it goes, but they are already much easier now that we are out of the toddler years. I’m sure by their teens I’ll be begging them to talk to me.

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  6. What great suggestions! I remember playing some of those games during road trips as a kid (ahh, the good old days). We haven’t used any DVDs with our 18 month old yet since I know she’d demand them on every trip, even to the grocery store 🙂 I’m going to start introducing some of your ideas to her so that we can avoid the screens a bit longer!

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  7. We are just entering the age where my toddler can be entertained. I’ll be trying out some of these ideas for sure and keeping them with us as the boys grow. Thanks for linking up today!

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  8. These are such great tips and perfect for road trip aka summer season soon. I am guilty of entertaining the kids with the Ipad/Iphone. I need to remember these ideas since we used to do a few of them before the Apple technology came along. Thank goodness they still bring books along for the rides. My kids love Madlibs. I love that License Plate and memory game too.

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    • I don’t think you need to feel guilt over using a DVD or iPad to make the miles go by faster. I think we all recognize the need for kids AND parents to limit screen time, both at home and on the road, and it’s nice to have a few ideas for keeping car time fun and interactive. I am grateful for the new ideas I have picked up from all of these comments. Thank you!

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