How to Entertain Children on a Road Trip
Family road trips are a great and often inexpensive way to spend vacation time with your children. However, they can also be immensely aggravating for the entire family when your children start to get bored and restless. As an avid road warrior and a parent of three young children, I’ve been through numerous ups-and-downs while traveling by car. As a result, I’ve mentally developed a lot of “lessons learned” when it comes to hitting the highway. Here are a few of my tips for helping parents and kids survive – and enjoy – a great road trip.
1. Break up longer trips into small sections. If you can limit your time on the road to 5-6 hours a day, you can save yourself a lot of stress. Getting to your first stop will also give you and your children some time for play and relaxation. Many children can’t sit in a car for hours on end, then go straight to bed in a strange hotel room. So try to stop before you are too tired, so that everyone call relax and have fun before bedtime.
2. If you will be stopping for the night before your final destination, pack the bare minimum for a single night in a separate bag from your main luggage. This way, there’s less to carry into the hotel, and also less stuff to climb over while you’re in your room. When we travel, we pack a pair of pjs and a single change of clothes for each child and minimal toiletries (their toothbrushes are important to remember!) in a duffel bag. It’s much easier to deal with for a single overnight hotel stay than bringing in a large bag with our entire wardrobe for the trip.
3. If your children argue over a particular seat (or row of seats in the minivan), set up a schedule in advance so that everyone considers their time in the special seat to be equal and fair to everyone else’s time. It can save a lot of arguing over who sits where after each stop you make.
4. If there is more than one adult and extra room in the back, sit with your children for at least part of the trip. They may feel that they don’t get enough attention from Mom and Dad if you’re both in the front seat, having a conversation that doesn’t include them.
5. Stop at rest areas whenever possible, not just for a bathroom break, but also for snacks. If the weather is good, it’s also a great chance to let kids stretch their legs and get rid of the restless energy from sitting all day. Bring along a soccer ball or frisbee and let them play near a picnic area for a bit. It helps stretch cramped muscles, relieve stress through recreation, and simply breaks the monotony of being in the car.
6. Cultivate a knowledge of great road trip games. Some examples are finding license plates from every state, looking for all the letters of the alphabet (in order!) on road signs, and looking for fun shapes in clouds. You can find a huge selection of car games for kids by doing a simple online search, and if you add one or two new game ideas to each trip, you’ll keep the selection fresh and more exciting for your kids.
7. Make a sing-along CD of the kids’ favorite songs, and have a family karaoke-style sing-along as you head down the road. Include age-appropriate CDs made for kids, but try and find some that you can enjoy too. One great line to consider is “Kidz Bop”, which features remakes of well-known pop songs with children singing along. We also have made a CD of songs that our family likes to “perform” on the Band Hero video games.
8. Get each child an age-appropriate activity book and pens/pencils/crayons. Coloring books are great for toddlers, older children may like multi-game books, and teenagers often enjoy crossword puzzles or Sudoku (at least, if they’re trapped in a car without a phone or game console)! With smaller children, it’s a good idea to limit their time with crayons and pencils though; don’t let them get so bored that they start drawing on the inside of your car!
9. Get a portable DVD player if your vehicle doesn’t already have one. Bring along a few of their favorites, but also pick up a new movie from the store or the local video rental place. Try NetFlix if you travel often; you can keep your selections as long as you want, so you don’t have to worry about due dates and overdue fees. You can also check out DVDs from many public libraries for free.
10. Pack low-sugar snacks to keep hunger at bay without causing a sugar rush and the inevitable crash. Small bags of baby carrots, apple slices, or air-popped porpcorn ease a rumbling tummy. Healthy snacks are also important if your children tend to snack when they are bored rather than just hungry.