Best Travel Games and Activities for Kids

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Best travel games and activities for kids
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“Mom, are we there yet? I’m bored!”

As the saying goes, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that on a trip with kids we wouldn’t need to take car trips anymore since we could probably afford a private jet!

If you’ve traveled with children before, you know that especially on long trips, it is difficult for kids (and adults!) to sit still without getting bored. On our most recent road trip, for the sake of my sanity, I decided to be proactive and find some travel games and activities that they would enjoy and that might keep their attention during the long drive.

To be fair, we did also let them watch one movie during our 9+ hour drive, but they happily entertained themselves the rest of the time, and they probably wouldn’t have even minded if we hadn’t turned on the movie.

Instead of just books and movies, which is what we usually packed in the past, I created and packed some creative and engaging travel activities for each child and I rolled out a new travel game of activity every hour or so during the drive.

The kids also spent time reading, and a few took a nap, but for the most part, they happily played their travel games for the whole trip.

Planning Travel Games and Activities

As I learned very much the hard way on an 18+ hour cross-country drive we took several years ago, failure to plan is planning to fail when it comes to family road trips. Boredom and hunger are the nemesis of a fun family road trip, so it is important to proactively ward off both of them with entertaining travel games and healthy snacks.

On that trip, we ended up letting the kids watch many more movies that we’d like and they were still bored and grumpy when we arrived. This time, with proper planning, they were more engaged and were doing creative activities so they were less stir crazy and grumpy when we finally arrived at our destination.

To plan the activities, I made a list for each child of activities they enjoyed and that were appropriate for their age levels. Some games I bought, and others I made for each child and put them in reusable grocery bags for each hour of the trip.

I also put a couple of storage caddies on the floor below the children so they could store activities when they weren’t in use (this cut down on the post-drive mess disasters that drive my husband crazy!). Healthy snacks got their own reusable bags and I dished them out in paper sandwich bags during the drive.

While we’re no Von Trapp Family (though the three year old did belt out “Do Re Mi” quite a few times), this drive was by far the calmest, quietist, and happiest we’ve had as a family of six kids.

These are some of the travel games and activities that my kids loved:

Travel Games for Older Kids (Reading Age and Up)

The older kids are sometimes tougher to entertain than the younger ones since they need more mental stimulation and more involved activities that can be tough to facilitate in the car. These were the activities that were the biggest hits with our older kids (6+):

  • Legos on Lego Trays with a Mesh Bag– If you have a child who loves legos, they are a great way to keep hands and minds busy in the car, but they can be messy. These lego trays solved that problem for us since they children could use them in their laps without losing pieces. They each got a tray and a mesh bag full of their favorite legos and this kept them building for hours. I typically buy big bags of bulk Legos and a new set for each older kid for trips.
  • A Map of the Drive– This was a favorite with my oldest who likes to follow along with the trip. It is also an idea I got from my own mom who used to get “Trip Tic” books from AAA for my brother and I to use when we traveled. She would highlight our route and let us follow along. For my own children, I just used Google Maps and printed out the map of our drive. I highlighted the route and gave them a notebook and pen to follow along with.
  • An Atlas– My older kids also loved this for the drive. I got them several types of atlases and learning books that they could read along the way. Their favorites were: The National Geographic Ultimate Kids Roadtrip Atlas as well as the Rand McNalley Kids Atlas. They also really liked the National Geographic US Parks Guide and have a list of places they want to visit after reading it. My oldest son also liked this book of Wacky Roadside Attractions.
  • R2D2 Bop It– The only electronic toy they got on the trip and it was a huge hit. Similar to the regular Bop It game, this one is small and looks like R2D2 (from Star Wars) and the older kids loved it (but my husband wasn’t a fan since it does make noise)!
  • Travel Bingo– Another flashback to my own childhood. We had these exact travel bingo cards when I was little and these kept my older kids busy for a couple of hours. The cards have common sights that would be seen on a trip and the kids can mark them off to get “BINGO.”
  • Travel Activity BooksThis travel book of activities is a great one for older kids and it has hours and hours of activities.
  • Mystery Decoder Sets– One of our kids is a big Hardy Boys fan and loves mysteries. He liked this mystery travel pad.
  • Would You Rather/ You Gotta Be KiddingTwo card games that led to some hilarious discussions with the kids.
  • Similar to the above, but a little more on the serious side is this conversation starter with kids. It has some really thought provoking questions that will not only pass the time, but can lead into some great conversations!

Travel Games for Younger Kids

The younger kids loved all of the activities for the drive and there are many excellent travel games available for non-readers. Our favorites are:

Travel Games & Activities for Babies

Thankfully, our littlest slept quite a bit of the trip but when she was awake, she wanted some activities too. I kept her toys in a seat back organizer so the older kids could hand them to her when she wanted them. These were her favorites that worked in her car seat:

Travel Snack Suggestions

Nothing ends a child’s good mood faster than hunger. I’m not a fan of stopping for food on trips as it is healthier and less expensive to make and bring our own snacks. I usually pre-make and pack our food for the whole trip whenever possible (post on that soon), but I especially make sure to bring pre-made healthy snacks in the car. I always pack:

  • Water bottles for each child
  • Carrot sticks
  • Celery sticks
  • Cheese cubes
  • Fruit
  • Homemade trail mix
  • Homemade energy bars
  • Pre-made meatballs and beef jerky
  • Boiled Eggs
  • Baked snacks

While these travel games worked for our family on a recent trip, I’m constantly research and refining the games and activities as each child’s age, personality, and interests change over time.

Does your family take road trips? What are your best tips for keeping kids busy?

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Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. WellnessMama.com is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.

Comments

10 responses to “Best Travel Games and Activities for Kids”

  1. Laura Cox Avatar
    Laura Cox

    Actually for road trips, one of THE best games (it takes HOURS because you never really find them all but can hunt the entire time as you pass cars, trucks, etc) is the license plate game. If you want to do it cheap, just write down the states of the license plates you see. You only write each state down once–the goal being to get all 50. You can also write down if you see unusual ones (Canadian plates, or DC plates). Everyone in the car can play–and you usually play as a team together, not individually. Kids start recognizing the way certain states plates look (there are variations, but usually only one or 2, most are standard for a particular state). Kids generally get excited as the list grows. Only rule really, your car has to be moving–so if you see one you’re really looking for in a rest area say….as long as you are coming or going it counts. There is a version (that we have since purchased) from Melissa and Doug that has every plate attached by little rubber bands that you can just flip it over. Game ends when the trip does. We usually do round trip, but you could restart on the ride home.

  2. Jin Avatar

    Dear Wellnessmama/Katie,
    I need your help.
    I am planning to travel from US to my home country sometime in November this year so we can celebrate our daughter’s 1st christmas with family. My daughter will be ~1.5 yrs old when we travel. We have a loooong flight journey. ~16 hours at a stretch. I want to know what kind of food I can carry for my child so I dont have to rely on the plane food or whatever processed junk is avl at the airport.

  3. Ana Avatar

    This was really helpful because my whole family is going on an 18 hour trip from Texas to Illinois and we’re going to need this!

  4. Katy Avatar

    Any more suggestions for the 16month old age? We just took a trip, and all my toy/game ideas were a flop, primarily because they were too “old” for her.

  5. Jeannie Avatar
    Jeannie

    We took a long road trip with my grands and daughter and son in law. Daughter Renee wrapped a variety of entertainment as gifts for showing good behavior (no whining, fighting, complaining) Some were needed items like socks, others were books, games, 1 video, They were great and loved unwrapping the ‘gifts’. They travel quite a bit and they eat their breakfast and lunch/ in the car and use their stop time to play games, go to an event, do a hike, or tour a museum getting the wiggles out, rather than to sit and eat.

  6. Kate Avatar

    I’ve been considering this for a while now. My husband and I are in the process of adopting two little girls from Uganda (ages 3 and 5). We will be going to pick them up in a few months. I have no idea their personalities, their desires, what they like… And they’ve never experienced American consumerism either (I’m kind of ok with that!). This post gave me ideas of what we can do on the 30+ hours of travel to get home. Any other suggestions, send em my way! Thanks!

  7. JennBen Avatar
    JennBen

    My son is 3. We keep a shoebox size or largest Ziploc container with hot wheel sized cars for him to drive around the car or even on the map or Atlas pages. When we stop, the lid goes on to contain them and carry them to the hotel room or tent. We love the Melissa and Doug Water Wow for travel. We have taken color wonder markers with their special paper or regular coloring book and paper with color pencils or the Crayola twist crayons (we haven’t had any melt like regular crayons). We carry them in an old office clip board with a built in box under, so he just clips the paper on for a surface. The clip board also works well with the Melissa and Doug ‘craft’ notebooks. Looking forward to getting the tape book-we have done that kind of tape on just paper before at home and traveling.

  8. Rainah Avatar

    When we had little ones in tow for a long trip, each day we had little activity bags for each child. Because they had something new each day, the days were not so monotonous. Each bag had activity ideas of things in it, not just new toys/coloring-books/etc. The children liked almost everything in each bag, but, perhaps more to the point, they enjoyed being able to call an idea here or there a silly idea. Looking back, I wish I’d included some really goofy ideas just to give them more memories of running into bad ideas, declaring them so, and knowing how right they were….. — I particularly thrilled whenever my husband was willing to stop every so often to let the children run and goof off at the rest stops. For any trip that needed such stops, we packed balls and collapsible frisbees, etc. — But I think a friend of mine did even better: Her large family of various aged children would change up what they were doing every fifteen minutes…. which might be overkill for a super long trip, but for portions of the long days on the road, I wish we had done this (the older children and the younger children learned to play together under her close, but playful guidance). e.g. – exercise for 15 minutes…. like, 20 repetitions of a finger exercise, 20 reps of a toe exercise, etc. – w/each little child making up an exercise for everyone else to do; sing songs for 15 minutes (mom can sing a favorite song or spiritual or whatever at the end, and dad too if he likes to sing); listen to a book for 15 minutes (taking turns who reads and what age level the book is targeting), etc. — I’d still want ‘quiet hour’ at some point.

  9. mary Avatar

    Very timely as we are taking a road trip from TX to Ohio with my 2 year old! I haven’t tried these yet–but I have heard good things about the no-mess crayola markers and special paper!

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