Road Trip Activities for Kids

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Over 29 different things you can do in the car with your kids on a family road trip. These activities will keep everyone happy and sane.

Road trip spelled out in scrabble tiles

I have always loved a good road trip. I love to travel and see the sights.

This love has led to me being willing to take long drives with my kids. We routinely drive each year to some destination that is 8-14 hours away.

A road trip with kids is not always as fun as it was before kids. Kids can get restless and bored.

Toddlers and babies do not enjoy being strapped in a car seat for an extended period of time.

Having road trip activities for your children to do can really help make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.

For older children, you usually don’t need a lot. Children who read (and don’t get carsick) can read a book.

When I was growing up, we regularly drove a four hour drive one way to visit grandparents. I don’t remember my mom doing anything special for the drive (other than one time when we lived a bit further away and had to drive 10-12 hours instead. That time my parents put a box of presents between my sister and I so we couldn’t fight. Ah memories). 

We also drove around the entire Western United States as we traveled from horse show to horse show. I remember the drive to Helena and back…that was a long one.

We never had TV or video games. “Back in my day” we got by on our imaginations. We talked. Our best inside jokes as a family happened on the road. 

So I am not huge into plugging my children in as we drive along. I want them to enjoy the beauty of the country. I want to foster those same memories I was able to develop.

However, I am not against doing some plugging. And let’s face it; when I was a child, people didn’t do car seats for the most part. There were no seat belt laws even. When my sister and I were really young, my mom made a nice cozy “bed” for us in the back seat and we slept for the four hour drive.

I remember when seatbelt laws were passed and my parents started buckling us in. How uncomfortable that was! But a seatbelt is nothing compared to a five point harness that doesn’t even allow you to shift your weight.

So young children can’t get comfortable for a nice long nap, and they benefit from distractions so they don’t go stir crazy.

Road Trip Activities for Kids

Here are a variety of ideas of things you can do in the car with kids.

Movies

I don’t use screen time in the car as a regular event, but for long drives, we always do movies. I refuse to do a movie for a drive less than an hour, and my husband has to insist for me to agree to anything less than two hours.

I typically set a rule that you can’t start watching movies until X amount of time has passed (depending on the drive length), and I only allow it for so long on the drive.

Again, I want my children to take in the landscape. Call me old-fashioned. That’s fine. While I don’t love the movies, I think it is good to have on hand so you can turn to it when needed.

Pack some DVDs or put some movies on your device like your iPad or tablets to have in case you decide to turn to them.

Handheld Video Games

We will also allow some video games. Same electronic rules apply, and my time allotment for movies transfers into time allotment for electronics. How you choose to spend your time is up to you.

Music

This is one of my favorite memories from childhood. Singing along to classic rock as we drove and drove. I remember one road trip to Denver. We were going to watch the Yankees beat the Rockies and were in a caravan with uncles, cousins, and grandpa.

This was before cell phones, so we had walkie-talkies to talk to each other. We played “Name that tune” over the walkie talkie. For 8 hours. Fabulous. These are the memories you cherish.

You can pack CDs, but of course in our modern day, streaming is super easy. We love Spotify at our house. I love that I can turn on access to songs with explicit lyrics in them. Make sure you download songs or playlists at home before you head out so you can play them in service goes out (that happens a lot out here in the west).  

Singing

Sing songs together! We love putting on our favorite broadway tunes and belting them out.

Books

I probably did more reading in cars than anything else. I know my mom read like crazy on car rides. If you have children who can read and/or like to look at books, bring several books along.

Audiobooks

I seriously love books on tape. This isn’t something we did growing up, but it is something my children will sure remember when they are adults.

We do lots of books on tape on long drives. Also on short drives. When my kids were toddlers and younger children, I pretty much always had an audiobook going on in the vehicle. I would check them out from our local library so we listened to wide variety of books.

Several years ago, we started the tradition of listening to a Harry Potter book for each long car ride we had a year.

These audiobooks are so well done. The narrator is great. Listening to these books helps pass the time quickly. My husband loves it, too, because he is able to enjoy the drive more as the driver.

Podcasts

Podcasts are another fun thing to download and listen to on your drive.

Coloring Books

Using coloring books or drawing will be made easier if you have something like a carseat tray. We have these. They just go in your child’s lap and give your child a flat surface.

Kids can color, put their food on it, do puzzles…it helps with activities. But you can also bring along a cookie sheet if you are on a budget.

You could even get one from the dollar store.

Now, coloring, try colored pencils and/or Color Wonders. Crayons are okay, but if you forget them or miss one when cleaning up on a warm summer day…yes, melted crayon all over.

Yes, it has happened to me, and yes, it was a mess.

Color wonders even has travel kits.

Stickers

You can get stickers at the dollar store, so you can load up on stickers for not a lot of money.

You could get a notebook and have your child sort the stickers into certain groups, let your child stick stickers on a page and make a picture out of it, or even stick stickers to themselves!

You could also put together a binder with paper and stick stickers in the pockets of the binder. Add some coloring pages to the binder for a nice variety of activities!

Magnetic Drawing Board

Another way to get drawing in there is to use a magnetic drawing board. These are also great for church or anywhere else you need your kiddo to be quiet.

Travel Water Board

This is similar to the magnetic board but is with water instead. A water drawing mat can bring some variety to the activities, which is very nice for a long road trip.

LCD Doodle Board

Another item along the same lines as the boards above is the doodle board. We eventually moved to these for church. My kids really loved them. With what I know now, if I were getting just one of these items, I would go for this LCD board.

Puzzles

Melissa and Doug makes the best puzzles for traveling. It is the Melissa & Doug Deluxe Vehicles in a Box Jigsaw Puzzles. There are four puzzles that fit in one little box.

You can create the puzzle on the lid of the box. Fabulous. This is a jigsaw puzzle, though, so not good for little ones. This is better for older kids. We have used these puzzles on many car trips over the years.

I think the Melissa & Doug Farm Wooden Chunky Puzzle is really cute and fun because you can play with the pieces.

Home Made Learning Toys

There are so many of these ideas on the Internet. One fun idea is to give your child pipe cleaners and an empty water bottle. Cut the pipe cleaners so they just fit inside. Then your child can have fun dumping them out, putting them in, out, in….

We have a few In the Car ideas on the learning blog. And while I am thinking about it, be sure to check out this post by Raegan for helping children remain more patient while driving long distances.

Flashcards

My children all loved holding cards and flipping through them. You can take flashcards for fun or take them to really work on something. One idea I had for the car was piano note flash cards for Brayden since he was taking piano.

Magnets on Cookie Sheet

Magnets are fun for all ages. A set like this on a cookie sheet will keep your kiddo occupied for a while.

Flashlight

Kids love flashlights. If your driver can drive okay with your kids having flashlights, your children will have a grand time playing with them.

Cars

Bring along little matchbox cars, trains, trucks..

Other Toys

Kaitlyn loved My Little Ponies. McKenna loved baby dolls. Brinley loved stuffed animals. Whatever your child loves to play with is a great thing to bring along to help keep your child entertained on a long drive.

Lacing Cards

Lacing cards are a toy anytime you need a quiet activity while kids sit still. We loved the Melissa & Doug Lace and Trace Pets. You could purchase lacing cards or even make your own. If you made your own, you could do some that were special to where you were traveling to.

Puppets and Finger Puppets

Another fun toy anytime you need to sit still is the finger puppet. You could take turns putting on little shows with the puppets to both work your creativity and entertain each other.

There are all sorts of finger puppets, from animals to PJ Masks to Paw Patrol and Peppa Pig.

Magnetic Dolls

Anything magnetic is great in the car because the magnets help keep things in place.

Melissa & Doug have some great magnetic doll sets that will appeal to everyone. Nina Ballerina Magnetic Dress-Up, Occupation Dress-Up,  or this other Occupation Dress-Up are all great. We love these dolls. You could also make “paper” dolls from felt or make real paper dolls.

Here is a link to some free paper doll printables.

Travel Car Games

Travel games are quite abundant in our modern day. Here are some we have used over the years and enjoyed.

If you read many of my posts, you know I love Melissa & Doug. We have some of their travel games. They are great because everything connected so you don’t lose little pieces. They have a travel hangman and a travel memory game we like.

We have a magnetic chess set.

We have this IQ Twist which is great for stretching the brain while stuck in the car.

We have one of these sets. They can be good if you want a lot of variety.

We haven’t tried this one, but it looks fun and is the best seller in travel games right now.

Kids’ Atlas

When we went on our first really long drive as a family, we got this Road Trip Atlas for the kids. It has fun facts about each state and talks about famous things in each state. As we drove through states, we looked up each one and talked about it.

Car Games

For the older children like your tweens and teens, don’t forget those fun car games! Classic road trip games include the license plate game, the alphabet game…those fun classics. 

Play the license plate game: With this game, you try to find license plates from around the country. You can print off a paper with different plates and check them off when you find them. You can make it individual and have everyone with their own paper or you can work as a team. If you go individual, you can have a reward for the first one to find all the “A’s”, the first one to find them all, the first one to find the states touching the one you are in…etc.

Play the alphabet game: This was my personal favorite growing up. You try to find the letters of the alphabet, in order, outside of your car. You can use signs, license plates, billboards, etc. You have to say the letter and where you found it. Once you use the letter in the location, no one else can. So if you were on W and saw Wendy’s, no one else could use that exact Wendy’s sign for their W.

Play “I Spy…”: To play this game, one person chooses something to have everyone else guess. It will need to be something everyone can see for the duration of the game. Do not tell others what it is. The person says, “I spy with my little eye something ___________________”. You then share a description. If you chose a tree, it could be “something green”, “something living”, etc. Then people guess what it is.

That is my list I have compiled over time! Please share activities you have found and love for the drive!

Play road trip bingo: A fun one for a trip is BINGO. You can just do any BINGO game or you can make one with sights you will see on your drive. People can mark them off as they find them on the drive. You can laminate the page or put it in a page protector and mark it off with a dry erase marker.

Rest Time

It is great to require some rest time while you travel. Everyone can bring pillows and blankets and just rest. Just like rest time during the day, this can be a time they just chill even if they stay awake. They might just look out the window and think. Give your kids a break from the entertainment.

Snack Time

A fun thing about a good road trip is snacks. Get some road trip snacks for the drive. We don’t snack a lot as a general rule day to day, but we pack snacks for a long drive. It is novel and it helps keep people content. We all know that hungry and tired people are less patient. We all need patience when on a long drive.

Road Trip Tips

As you plan out your activities, let me offer some advice.

As you start out your trip, do not jump right in to entertaining your kids. Let them start out sitting in a car as they usually do when you drive places.

Give it 1-2 hours before you bring out the entertainment.

For a long drive, rotate among types of activities. Have activities you all do together, like playing a road trip scavenger hunt or a singing jam session.

Then move to something kids do alone, like read a book or put on some headphones and watch a movie alone.

Have times people are required to be quiet to allow for some rest time physically and mentally. Have time people are allowed to make noise.

You will need to stop for gas and bathroom breaks. Make sure everyone moves around and stretches at these breaks. Sometimes kids are excited to get back to technology and won’t spend the time out of the car. Require them to be out.

Read more here: Tips for Traveling in a Car With Kids

Conclusion

The next time you head out on a vacation, try these road trip travel activities to help entertain your children. From toddlers to preschoolers to teens, these can keep you all entertained and sane.

Related Posts

Road trip activities for kids

This post originally appeared on this blog November 2011

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