Road trips can be fun, but they can be frustrating when young kids are involved. Combine the frequent requests (no, demands) that they need to go to the bathroom (again) with the incessant “I’m bored"s or constant bickering among siblings, and it’s enough to have any parent pulling their hair out.
So before you head out on a lengthy road trip, it’s best to be prepared. Have plenty of items on hand and ideas in mind to keep the kids busy, make the time pass quickly, and allow the adults to enjoy some quiet time and enjoy the leisurely drive – at least some of it.
Need some ideas? Here are a few games, items, and other ideas to keep the kids busy during a road trip, whether you’re driving up to the cottage for a few hours, or 10+ hours away.
10 Radio Roulette
Load the family’s favorite music stations into the radio presets ahead of time, then play a game whereby you flip stations and the kids have to guess the song that’s playing, or sing the next lyrics, or name the artist or band. Keep track of points, and the winner gets a reward when you get to your destination, or to the next rest stop.
Kids will be occupied (and quiet) as they listen for each track. And while this game requires that everyone participates, it can be really fun. Especially when you get to a karaoke-friendly tune and everyone decides to sing along until the end before you flip to the next station and keep the game going.
9 Play a Favourite CD or Station
Alternatively, just select a single favorite station and keep it on for the entire ride, since you know it will play hit after hit that the kids love. While for younger kids, this might include popping in a CD with their favorite child-friendly artist or audiobook that might drive you crazy (how many times can one listen to The Wheels On The Bus in succession, after all?) it will keep them entertained.
Bring along a few options if your car has a CD player or download some playlists to your smartphone or their tablet so they can listen to the tunes they love. Consider also bringing a pair of headphones so they can listen to their own music while you listen to yours.
8 Driving Games
From Punch Buggy to seeking out cars of a specific and unique color, there are lots of games you can play with your kids that are designed specifically for road trips. See who can spot the most red cars, for example, or the most convertibles.
Or you can also play the personalized license plate game, whereby everyone must try to find and point out a personalized license plate. Winner, once again, gets a reward. This one is also fun for trying to interpret some of the funnier personalized plates and figuring out why the owner might have chosen them.
7 Tablet Games
Bring your kid’s tablet and search for all of the games that don’t require an Internet connection, or download ones, and keep them in a single folder called Road Trip. Your child will then easily know which games he can play or apps he can access from the car.
Make sure to include a few educational ones in there, so kids can work on their math, reading, and language skills as they immerse themselves in extra screen time for the ride.
6 Movies & TV Shows
Make sure to also load the tablet up with movies and TV shows your child can binge watch, as these will easily eat up anywhere from a half-hour to a few hours of the ride. All major streaming services allow you to download content to a mobile device for offline viewing.
Before you head out, have your child sift through the options on a site like Netflix, pick the stuff they want to watch, and tap the download button. Once in the car, they can call it up, pop on a pair of headphones, and enjoy – no Internet connection needed.
For multiple kids, if you only have one tablet, consider a seatback mount and a headphone splitter so they can watch the same show and wear headphones while listening to the same source.
5 Bring Books
Some kids (and adults) have trouble reading in the car. And while it isn’t advisable to do this for long periods of time, kids can still flip through books or magazines. Consider activity books with things like crossword puzzles or word searches for older kids, or fun activities and games for younger kids.
Grab a few, and don’t forget to pack some pencils or washable markers (to avoid stains on the car’s upholstery) so kids can run through mazes in their superhero magazine or connect the dots in an activity book.
4 Pack Lots Of Snacks
Snacks are a must for any road trip, and aside from satiating their hunger when kids declare that they’re starving (after inevitably having just eaten), snacks can also keep kids busy.
Grab easily portable snacks, like granola bars and potato chips, but include some healthy options too, like carrot and celery sticks, cheese sticks and mini sandwiches (in a cooler). There are lots of healthy homemade snacks you can make the night before as well.
Pack a small bag of candies, too, like lollipops that you can doll out as rewards for some of the games mentioned earlier.
3 Portable Video Game Systems
Portable video gaming systems will be ideal for keeping older kids occupied. Ones like the Nintendo Switch can be played from anywhere, and easily fit in a backpack. Make sure it’s powered up before you go, then allow your child to spend a bit of time immersed in a game solo, or with their sibling.
There are smaller and simpler travel-friendly gaming systems you can grab as well that might not be as sophisticated but will keep the kids busy nonetheless.
2 Portable Games & Activities
Grab lots of little portable games and activities. There are travel versions of tons of popular board games, like Connect 4 and Chess. If your SUV has a middle tray in the back seat between two kids, let them pull that down and set up a game board, then play against one another.
For single kids, there are solo games they can play, too, like a Rubik’s Cube, mini puzzle, or activities in travel-sized books where you spot the differences between pictures, connect words with pictures, and more.
1 Tire Them Out
If all else fails, simply tire the kids out. Leave early when you know they’re still groggy and will likely sleep half the way there. That could, of course, go one of two ways: the kids could end up just being overly cranky, or fall right back asleep. You’ll just have to hedge your bets.
Otherwise, keep them talking and active for as long as you can so that they tire out and are ready to crash for a few hours. Then you can enjoy some serene quiet time as you watch the scenery go by on the open road.