Note: All travel is subject to frequently changing governmental restrictions—please check federal, state and local advisories before scheduling trips. This article was updated October 30, 2020.
Family road trips can be exhausting for children and adults alike, leading many parents to just let their kids plug in and drop out, missing out on all the great scenery passing by outside their windows. But these handy tips could make the prospect of spending all those hours with kids in a car of a daunting proposition. That’s right: We’re suggesting you try leaving all the devices at home so you the rest of the family are left to entertain yourselves and really enjoy each moment in real time. Believe it or not, it is possible. Just look to ideas for how to entertain kids on a road trip without electronics.
1. Talk to each other
It may seem like a no brainer, and that’s because it is. Turn off the radio and talk. With younger kids, the conversations can be easy. Ask questions that promote longer answers such as: “If you could be any animal what would you be and why?” Older children can have more meaningful conversations. Parents can share stories from their childhood or talk about world events and history. Kids listen and participate when they’re a captive audience.
2. Use stickers
There are an endless number of sticker books out there with stickers that don’t adhere to every surface. These are a great option for younger kids. If they don’t want to put the stickers in the books, bring along paper and let them create stories. Heck, let them stick them on themselves; just don’t let them eat them.
3. Read books or listen to audiobooks
Make a trip to your local library before hitting the road and stock up on books and audiobooks. For younger ones, find short books for mom or dad to read aloud, and let older children choose a few of their favorites. Audiobooks are a great way to give parents a break and change things up. A great book can be a life saver on long car trips.
4. Take out the camera
Ok, this is an exception to the no electronics rule, but kids love to take pictures. It can be fun to hand over the camera and let them capture their siblings, parents and the world going by. When making a pit stop, let them take pictures, too. Later on, everyone can compare photos, choose some of the favorites and make a family album to remember the trip.
5. Bring a cookie sheet and magnets
A cookie sheet with edges helps keep smaller items corralled in the back seat. If kids like magnets, a cookie sheet is the perfect foundation for their creativity. Try magnet shapes and tiles, magnet Lego, and magnet books with cutouts. There are even magnet chess games. They all work perfectly in the car!
6. Play “old fashioned” car games
Some of the games played back in the day are still fun to play. Try playing the license plate game by printing a list of all the states ahead of time. Everyone crosses off states as they see the plate. Or enjoy a game of “I Spy.” One person chooses an item they see on the road and everyone else has to guess. Another option is road trip bingo. Print out bingo cards ahead of time and as each person sees the object they can put a marker on that item (or cross it off). If you run out of ideas, just search online for “road trip games” and there are plenty of suggestions to keep the family entertained.
7. Have a sing along
It may sound silly, but a family sing along is a fun way to pass the time. Everyone has a chance to choose a song and everyone has to participate. Make a fake microphone and pass it around so everyone has a chance for a “solo.”
8. Play cards
One thing to always pack on a road trip with kids is a lap desk. This helps them hold things in place on their lap and allows them to have room to spread things out. This is perfect for a deck of cards. Teach kids how to play a few games before the trip. Easy ones are Uno and Go Fish. Mom or dad can play from the front seat using the arm rest or siblings can play in the back seat. It’s great to have a deck of cards on hand for any trip because they are great for killing time while waiting in line.
9. Bring out the games
One of our all time favorites is “Mad Libs,” the game where there are blanks in a story and everyone fills in the words with their favorite nouns, verbs and adjectives. Some of the silliest moments are spent laughing to stories written in the “Mad Libs” tablet. Other travel-ready games include Etch-A-Sketch, Rubik’s Cube and dominoes (perfect for those lap desks).
10. Pack the coloring supplies
Bring coloring books, paper and colored pencils. DO NOT bring crayons (they melt), or markers (unless they are washable). Let kids and their imaginations run crazy as they create until their heart’s content. If that’s too much, bring a white board and dry erase marker. This is great for drawing or playing games like hangman. Even better, they can draw on the windows and erase it later!
11. Teach them how to read a map
Sure the kids won’t need to know how to read a map when they drive, but wouldn’t it be great if they learned this skill? Print out maps of the places you’ll be traveling and/or the overall route. Have kids follow along and mark the spots on their map. What a fabulous skill to teach the future generation of travelers!
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