Most of this I thought up on our trip to Oregon last year (I included a pic of that adventure at the bottom). One of the biggest challenges to taking a road trip with kids is how to keep them busy. Since a trip to Oregon took about 45 hours of driving time (spread over several days), I wanted to make the kids felt part of the trip, not spectators strapped to the back seat with an iPad to numb the drive till we got there.
That said, I had a strict “one movie a day” policy because I want my kids to experience the trip with us. This meant I had to have activities ready. The only trouble is when I looked around, most road trip ‘tips’ were uber expensive! I didn’t want to spend over $30, and while this was challenging, I found it doable. So down below are the ideas I either found or came up with for our long family Road Trip.
ROAD TRIP TIPS:
1- Stickers! Every kid loves stickers, and they have literally saved our sanity many times over. My favorite way to buy stickers is to buy them in a bundle at the craft store. JoAnn is my favorite. They bundle all their stickers that are out of season, or have been replaced, or aren’t moving well. The entire bag is a couple dollars, and there are thousands of stickers in them. The best!
2- Coloring Sheets. Before a trip, I pull out all our almost gone coloring books, rip out the pages, three hole punch them, and keep them all together in a binder. We pack a clipboard for each child, and when they want to color, they can pick a page. I pass them back crayons in a cup, and they are set. I often throw in stickers for them to decorate as well. (I keep 2 sets of cups. Crayons and utensils go in one set, and I use the other to pass back snacks. It keeps everything tidy, but if they happen to spill, it’s only a small amount.)
3- Paper Dolls. I found several free online. I cut them out beforehand and kept them in plastic bags. They were a hit!
4- Glow Sticks. Many days we drove in the dark, and glow sticks kept them going strong.
5- Pipe Cleaners. They don’t cost that much, but they can keep little ones busy forever! This was a favorite of my kids. As a bonus, when our DVD player went out, I used them to secure our portable DVD player to our center console. It was a little ghetto but effective.
6- Play “Would You Rather…” This is a very simple game, but everyone got way into it. You can find questions online, but we much prefer making up our own.
7- Puzzles. I got them from the dollar store, and I brought cookie sheets to use as a flat surface.
8- Books. I take books for my kids to read, but I also read to them on the road. (You could use books on tape, but my family always listened to these on the road when I was a kid, and I got car sick. To this day I associate books on tape with barfing into a Ziploc–not so pleasant. As a side note: keep Ziplocs in the car for sick emergencies) I still get a bit queasy in the car at times, so I make sure to look up frequently while reading. When the kids do watch movies, I also read to my husband. My kids favorite on the road so far is Harry Potter! I love doing voices which makes it all that more fun!
Whatever I pack, I make sure to keep it organized and available in the car. It’s easy to let the mess monster take over the car, but at each stop I empty the garbage and put everything back where it goes. It’s the biggest help when everyone is in a tight space, and I can easily find what I’ve packed.
TIP: I also don’t pull out everything at once. I leave some of the stickers, puzzles, and games in the back. It keeps things new and fresh.
The same goes for the snacks; I try to have something new and different every 2 days. I also save my few less healthy treats for the end to get them through the end.
Plan the day around their schedule. On road trips, we drive a bit first thing while our kids are still sleepy, then most days we have a fun activity in the morning. If we have more distance to cover, we try to do that in the afternoon when they are likely to nap. It makes life so much easier!
Bring healthy snacks! This is major for us! When my kids eat junk, they feel like junk. They are more likely to melt down, to whine, and to not want to do the fun things we have planned. Healthy snacks make for better behaved kids. Most healthy snacks are more difficult to store in a car, but I would pull some fruit or veggies or cheese from the cooler when we stopped for gas. Happy tummies=happy kids (and happier adults for that matter…)
Keep the movies to a minimum. I know entertaining kids on the road can be tough, and I know it’s so much easier to rely on technology; but when kids are zoned into electronics, it’s more difficult to get them to enjoy other aspects of the trip.
Road trips have been an amazing bonding time for our family, and we see the drive as part of the experience. Use the activities above and see what a difference it makes!