There have been a lot of long road trips with young kids for us. Living in Southern Arizona, camping season gets hot. To reach cooler weather, we need to drive several hours. And to reach new terrain, we need to drive even further.
Over the course of our many, many, MANY hours on the road, I’ve learned a few hacks that have kept me in the front seat (where I prefer to be) and my kids calm in the backseat (where they have to be). While we’re not shy about offering screen time to our kids for the long drives, even they don’t want to stare at a tablet for hours on end. Here are some tips we’ve tried and others on our to-try list for surviving the long drives with our kids.
Snacks Are Essential on Road Trips With Young Kids
- Pack a few small, fun snacks they don’t usually get ahead of time in plastic Easter eggs. You can even use these to reward your children with one egg for each hour on the road.
- Occupy their time with a ring pop. Yes, these are full of sugar, so it might be a nice reward to keep for closer to the end of the trip when they’re getting the antsiest to get out.
- Switch up the character their Good 2 Grow juice cups.
- Create funny faces with food and put it in a Bento box for fun and added nutrition.
- Buy a new water bottle without a design and have them decorate it with stickers for their trip.
Look Out the Window
- Play the classic game of Road Trip Bingo.
- Create your own story. Mom starts with a prompt and everyone goes around the car adding a sentence to the mix until the story is formed.
- Play 20 questions.
- Go on a road trip scavenger hunt.
- Play find-the-number and see who can find all of the numbers from 1 – 10 (or 1 – 100) fastest.
Artwork on the Road
- Get an AquaDoodle Travel Doodle kit for no-mess but highly colorful fun.
- WaterWow is another great alternative for colorful, non-messy, water-based fun.
- Build Do-a-Dot masterpieces using dot markers or stickers.
- Make a necklace using an easy-to-pack activity kit.
- Stock up on pom-poms and magnet strips, and then attach the magnets to the back of the pompoms (obviously only do this if it’s safe for your child and you’re confident they won’t put the magnets in their mouth). Then, print do-a-dots, rainbows, or other counting activities for your child to enjoy using the pom-poms instead of stickers.
- Have your child make their own window art while you drive and then allow them to hang it up to admire the rest of the trip.
- Build rainbows using this kit.
- Use puffy stickers to create scenes and tell stories.
- Bring mosaic sticker sets to encourage fine motor skills while they bring a picture to life.
- Make them feel like they’re having tablet time, but encourage artwork with this LCD writing kit.
- Let your kids stamp and color to their hearts delight without worrying about the car getting ruined with this Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free Light-Up Stamper set.
- Decorate your windows with gel window clings.
- Get pipe cleaners and wiffle balls, and have your kids go to town creating shapes or animals.
- For older kids, try teaching them needlepoint safely.
- Bring a ball of yarn and teach finger knitting, which sounds hard but is totally doable for small kids.
- Hang a string between the car seats and pack clothespins, cardstock, and colored pencils. Give them this lap tray and have them color pictures of what they see along the road. Hang them up on the string when they’re done for your child to admire the rest of the drive.
Make Night-Time Road Trips Fun and Cozy for Young Kids
- Pack glow sticks and let your kids light up the night without distracting the driver
- Snuggle up in a blanket and with a stuffed animal. Using the blanket to tuck in and cozy up with the animal becomes an activity in itself.
- Get a Glow-in-the-Dark book.
- Buy an Usborne Shine-a-Light book and pack a dim flashlight.
Embrace Pretend Play on the Road
- Bring a pretend-play doctor or vet kit (we bring this one from Melissa & Doug), so your kids can give their animals checkups from the road.
- Or put a spin on the checkups. Strategically plant safari-themed stuffed animals at your rest stop, have the kids find them (to get their wiggles out) and then give them this doctor’s set to let them check up the rescued creatures while you continue your drive.
- Pack Mr. Potato Head for the ride.
- Bring Magnatiles and have your kids create a city on a cookie sheet.
- Hang a sheet (down low, so the driver’s view isn’t sacrificed) between the front and backseat and host a puppet show.
- Give them a tape measure to measure out their car seat, window, animals, books, you name it!
- Pack legos and let them go to town building anything their heart desires, or pick from Lego’s own brick building challenges.
- Hold a car seat dance party by turning up the jams on your favorite radio station.
- Have your kids give animals a bath to a Crayola Scribble Scrubbie.
- Make a pretend car seat for stuffed animals and have your child strap them in for the drive using buckles, ribbon, velcro, snaps, or any other type of clipping device, like this one here.
Activity Books for Kids on Road Trips
- Go with the classic Where’s Waldo.
- Buy a handful of Dover Little Activity Books.
- Get a sticker book of some classic characters, like this one of Madeline.
- Get them in the outdoor mood with a camping activity book.
- Read the book, Mikey and the Dragons, about overcoming fear (a HUGE favorite in our household).
- Get a giant book of preschool activities and let your child choose.
- Dot-to-Dot books are huge with our (and many other) kids.
- Get a reusable activity mat to keep the fun going and avoid frustration when a mistake is made on a bumpy road.
- Highlights for Kids is a huge hit with our family, so it’s impossible to leave this giant activity book they created off this list.
- The Backyard Bug Book is perfect for on the road and when you get to the campsite (or even back home to your backyard). It has a story, activities, and eye-grabbing pictures.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to keeping your kids entertained on the road. Have other ideas of what proved crazy valuable? Share them in the FREE Cruisin’ + Campfires Facebook group.
Want to get prepped for an upcoming road trip? Pre-order the first Cruisin’ box filled with fresh activities to keep your kids engaged on the road (and keep you sitting cool and calm in the front seat).