“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 Books– This 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 Kidding– Two 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:
- Tape Activity Set– Do your kids always try to get into your tape? Mine do and I can never find tape when I need it. This tape activity book was their favorite for this reason! They got to make shapes and art with tape and loved every second!
- Scratch Art Activity Set– This simple and small notepad uses a small wooden stick to scratch off ink instead of markers or crayons that can melt.
- Felt Sticker Notebook– My daughter loved this small notebook with felt stickers.
- Fashion Designer Notebook– A small notebook that lets kids design outfits for tiny dolls. A favorite with our four-year-old.
- Origami Kit– A fun activity set that teaches kids basic origami.
- Magic Ink Notebook– A colorless ink set that our little ones loved. Ink only showed up on their special paper and not on my seats!
- Water Wow Ink– My three-year-old’s favorite activity. It uses a small pen that you fill with water and it makes color appear on the pages. When the pages dry, the color disappears again, so this one kept her happy for hours at a time.
- Scratch Art Doodle Pad– Another way for kids to draw without ink. They can scratch off a top layer of ink to reveal colors and glitter underneath.
- Reusable Sticker Pads– My little ones like stickers almost as much as tape and this reusable sticker pad was great because the stickers only stick on the pages on not on the windows or the rest of the car. Since they are reusable, they all got to take turns with this. Their favorite was the faces sticker pad.
- Color by Numbers– I didn’t give color by numbers to my littlest ones because it uses real markers but our 4-6 year olds loved these simple color by numbers pads.
- Magna Doodle– Another flashback to my own childhood. A magnadoodle is another no-mess way for kids to draw in the car.
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:
- Wooden Animalz– These eco-friendly wooden animals were her favorite for playing and teething on.
- Wooden Teethers– She (and I) love these Montessori inspired wooden teethers.
- Flash Card Notebook– She liked to look at the mirror on this and chew on it more than actually play with it but it entertained her for a while.
- Car Sear Mirror–This simple mirror let her see me when I was in the front seat. She also would smile at herself in the mirror and it gave her more to look at than just the back of the seat.
- Silicone Teether– She just hit the teething stage and this silicone teether had enough texture to soothe her gums and she could hold on to it herself.
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
- 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?