When our kids were 8 & 11 our family took a 3 week road trip from Seattle to Chicago and back again. Many days we were in the car for 8 or more hours, so it took some work to keep the kids entertained without giving them insane amounts of screen time. Here are our top 10 best tips and tricks:
1. Kid Photographers
Since they often already had phones or iPads in their hands, we encouraged them to use their screens to appreciate the scenery by having them take photos from the road. We ended up being surprised by some of the great photos they took to help us to remember the journey. The picture at the top of this blog post is one our 8-year-old took with an iPad in Utah.
2. Deli & Park
We got sick of fast food pretty quickly, so we started a routine of stopping at a grocery store instead of a drive-thru and picking up lunch at the deli and produce sections. Then we’d head to a nearby park for a picnic lunch. The food is healthier, and everyone got a chance to stretch their legs. Our kids especially enjoyed the day we found a playground with a merry-go-round since none of our local parks have one.
We didn’t do a ton of this, but occasionally when we stopped at a park, we would check for a nearby geocache. It was a fun diversion and it didn’t take too long since there was usually one in the park where we’d stopped to eat. If you haven’t tried it yet, you can get started today just by downloading a free Geocaching App for your phone.
4. Audio Books
This was a huge success for us. We listened to “Where the Red Fern Grows” and then to “George’s Secret Key to the Universe”. Both were excellent, and there are great blogs out there like this one and this one with other good suggestions on them. I loved the audio books because unlike having the kids watch a movie or read books on their own, the whole family listened together. Also, we could still look out the window at all the great scenery going by while we listened.
5. Traveling Library
The kids read regular books too. To keep costs down, and variety up, we took a trip to the library to stock up for the trip. One entire bin in the car was just for books – our own traveling library! My younger son (8) checked out a whole bunch of “My Weird School” books – both ones he’d already read and new ones. My older son (11) had a blast with the 20+ “Encyclopedia Brown” books he chose.
6. Pipe Cleaners
I found this idea on Pinterest, and didn’t regret it. I bought a few packs of pipe cleaners, and saved the addresses on my phone for some how to videos. The kids started by making a few of the ideas on the videos, and then they started inventing their own creations. We had a shocking number pipe cleaner light sabers in the bin by the time we got home.
7. Road Atlas
We bought atlases for both of our kids to use on the trip. My younger son (8) got frustrated with his pretty quickly – he needed someone sitting next to him to help him understand how to find the different states, highways, etc. My 11-year-old son, though, really enjoyed tracking our journey and figuring out some things about how the atlas worked. Every day he would draw a dot at our start point, and our ending point, and then every few hours he would ask where we were and what highways we were on so he could color in our progress.
8. License Plate Game
Since one of our goals of this road trip was to help our kids get a sense of US geography, we had another map game with us in addition to the atlas. We used the License Plate Game from The Trip Clip® and printed out a US map along with all of the license plates. Everyone in the car watched for license plates. Our younger son marked off the check boxes for each state we saw, and our older son worked on figuring out the 2-letter codes and locating each state on the map so he could color it in.
9. Slug Bug
Our family has always loved to play Slug Bug. This fun printable activity from The Trip Clip® makes it easy to keep track – and keep score! Honestly, though, my husband and I were the ones who seriously played this and got very competitive about it!
This was the life saver for our trip. Our kids fight in the car. A lot. And we found that having one of them put on headphones and listen to their own music gave them a bit of escape from all the togetherness.
If you want more ideas, The Trip Clip has a whole bunch of printable activities that fit nicely into a kid-sized clipboard that comes with an attached pen so they can’t lose it.