Wednesday, January 23, 2013

17 Tips for Road Trippin' with Kiddos

We spent nine days traveling from California to Nova Scotia with a two year-old and almost five-year-old in the backseat. Those were long six to eight hours of driving days, without many those leg stretching tourist stop overs to break things up. We have since taken many, many "shorter" road trips but now we are gearing up for another long journey with the kiddos. Now they are five years older and seasoned travlers. This will make things easier but there are still lots of things I have up my sleeve to help keep the kiddos happy and maybe even learning on the road...

Here are Some Tips for Road Trippin' with Kiddos:

Keep a road trip journal
I am usually the one keeping the journal, writing down little notes & quotes from the trip. Like when our daughter called doughnuts "fancy bagels" the first time she saw them at a Tim Hortons rest stop. Now that the kids are older I plan on getting them move involved. With loose pages that can be added as we go along they can easily draw along the way or collage a page to add at the end of the day. I can just see them collecting those colorful travel brochures found in every hotel lobby to make into a vibrant little collage. They are also bringing their very own travel books along on this trip.

Make up an "On the Road" scavenger hunt. 
Decide on a list of things to find. Animal crossing signs, billboards advertising something you have never heard of, road construction sings, a red sports car, a car with a stripe down the center, etc.... Put it in your travel journal and when your kiddos spot something write down where you where when it was spotted and any other details you want to remember. The kids might even want to draw a picture of their find on a large blank mailing address sticker then stick it to the "hunt" paper.

Make up a bag a day... Or half day.

For each day of our long nine day trip I make up a bag to give the kids in the morning (if you are on the road just one day you could give another one after lunch.) Reusable grocery bags are great for this. Some ideas for contents include:           
          Snack for the day

          New art supplies
          Picture books          
          Small toys or gizmos (example... catch the ball in the cup)
          Movie/documentary for the day (more on this below)

I spy drawing journals for the kids.

Things to spy & draw:
             Wild flowers
              Roadside signs
              License plates (we write state where we first spotted the plate as well)
              Types of cars & trucks
              Cloud formations

              A big red barn
              A field of corn
The ideas for this are endless.

Make matching game drawing grids ahead of time and bring along to fill in.
In the grid boxes the kids can draw interesting things they see on the trip or whatever strikes their fancy. When you get home you can make a memory matching game. A great way to remember the trip and have a memory game they can play with later.

Let the kiddos loose with the video camera to document trip. 
Most kids I know love to get their hands on the video camera. So fun to see the trip through their eyes. If there is a limited amount of time they have on the camera let them know about how much time they will have for filming each day. Help them manage their filming in a fun way... Telling them they want to make sure they have enough space to film the big arrival!

Give the little people a digital, disposable, or Polaroid camera to document trip. 

Similar to the video cam. let them know about how many pics they can take each day. Make it a fun subtraction game and have them put the cam away in their backpack once they reach zero for the day. Add these to the travel journal or make up a photo album of their pics when you get home.

Story Cubes.
On the road or in the tent during a rainy day of camping these are fun story makers. My favorite all time line sparked from this set is... "The boy parachuted off of the rainbow." Love the vision! They come in their own little box, sturdy for rolling. If you have someone there to take dictation these stories are great to add to a road trip journal.

Pick something to collect along the way. 
It can be something free like a rock a day or something you find at gas stops like patches or postcards. We have a goal of getting a patch from every state this time around.

Educational iPad apps.
We just got an iPad for Christmas so this will be our first road trip with the device. It does not have any games on it... preferring to keep it an educational and creative tool at this point. Here is what we have for the kids so far...          
          Alpha writer - still working on learning this one but enjoying it so far.
          MoMA for art - the kids love this one and spend all kinds of time making works of art here.
          Ratatap Drums - they have been having fun playing the built-in sets and creating their own custom drum sets.

Tell Me a Story Cards. 
We have the Mystery in the Forest set. We all love the art work in this set, along with the inspired animal and human characters. That chicken peeking in the door can get into some mischief, as you can imagine...  and those girl stitching on the moon are a mama favorite.

Some of the awesome old standbys:

Family chapter book read aloud. 

Love what Patricia had to say about read alouds here.

Books on CD. 

Wonderful for anytime during the trip but especially great for early morning or evening driving when it is hard to read, draw, etc...

Box of picture books and art supplies.
We keep a bin between the two kids filled with plain paper, colored pencils, and books. They also have their journals to write in and can store them in the bin.

Games on paper.
         Battle at sea - See pictures above. Think the board game battleship on paper.
         Hangman - Click here if you don't know how to play.
         Value of words - assign each letter a dollar value (A = $1, B = $2.... Z = $26) Add up some of the words and names you see.  Keep track of the most expensive state, restaurant, sign, city name...

Worksheets, workbooks, or sticker books. 
We are big fans of Alphabet Glue so there are lots of fun printable ideas that are great for road trips... like the the Draw Your Own Comics printable in Vol. 8. 
We also draw our own mazes and dot-to-dot sheets.
We don't typically do many "workbooks" around here but at the moment the Usborne history sticker books are popular. My kids love history and these books can lead to good questions and more research later. On this trip we will be learning about and dressing soldiers from WWI and WWII and learning even more about the Titanic.

Become documentary and/or family movie critics.
              If you are going to watch the telly on the trip (something we only reserve for very, very long trips) why not add a little twist to the viewing. The fact that you are still all together after the show is a great opportunity to start a discussion about topic or value of show. Before you start the show ask some questions to get them thinking for discussions after it is over.

Obviously we don't do all of these things on every trip. This is just a collection of things we have done over the years. Hope you find some helpful ideas.

Do you have any tips for fun things to do with kids on trips? Please share!


  1. one long cross-country road trip our boys spent hours making movies with digital cameras and miniature plastic dinosaurs. :)

    when they were very little i started filling a bag with things i would collect from the dollar store and from our drawer where little toys and things congregated (stocking stuffers that were forgotten, leftover party favors, etc.) — then on the trip i would dole them out slowly when things got boring. the plastic dinosaurs were from that bag, and with the digital camera (using the video capability) they turned into hours and hours of fun. :)

    our trip journal materials included glue sticks, tape, safety scissors, and photo corners (for holding postcards). whenever we made a stop they would collect free ephemera (free maps, flyers, etc.) and maybe buy a 25c postcard, then the half-hour after the stop (at least) would be spent collaging in their journal. and we always add an envelope (preferably the manilla kind with a closure) to the back of our trip journals to hold little loose treasures. :)

    1. Yay for mini plastic dinos! I recall this story from another convo... but love it! So happy you shared it here too.
      I just got some glue dots today! The little lady is itchin' to try them out!
      Thanks for all the great ideas Lori!

  2. Our longest trip with the kids is only about 6 hours. When we first started doing it the kids were quite young and it was a long six hours, often having a wide variety of hands on things to keep them busy. We would leave in the dark, stop somewhere for breakfast & if it got very difficult, put on the dvd player for the last hour or so. Really this was how the first year or two went when we made this trip (from our home to Vegas to see my parents). The kids were 2-6 years old at the time. We make the trip 2-4 times a year and after the 2nd year we ditched the dvd completely. I don't imagine we would feel the need to use it now unless we were traveling multiple days and it would be an end of the day thing. The kids all bring paper & books for drawing, they all like to doodle and sketch. They have a few hand held electronics that get used off and on, but that is usually kept to a minimum. Mostly we listen to audio books. We have been members of for years and get more than our money's worth out of it. All of the kids LOVE to listen to books. We do a lot of driving locally and always listen to books. Our all time favorite reader is Jim Dale, The Harry Potter books topping the list of favorites. We have probably listened to the series at least 3 times. He also reads a series called "Peter & the Star Catchers", if you've not read them I highly recommend the first 4 in the series. (The 5th is awful, not read by Jim and the writers clearly forgot their audience, the kids hated it, which was so disappointing since the rest of the series is wonderful!) Our current series in the car is the Series of Unfortunate Events. The recordings are not great in the first 5, but from there on they are fantastic, Tim Curry is just awesome (He reads the 1st, but it is a multicast reading & has sound effects, which we found distracting). Books 2-5 are read by Lemony Snicket, who has a nice enough voice but the dynamic range of sound was not well moderated so some characters would be very soft then he nearly give us all a heart attack by raising his voice so loud for a different character. I got good at volume control with those. Now we are back to Tim and it is just great. We have just 3 books left in the series. For my kids we've found that as long as a book is on, they are quite content. We are in the car for at least an hour on any given day so I'm glad, it makes for very peaceful car rides and we get a lot of books under our belt.

    1. My dad was a leave in the dark kinda traveler. That brought back memories of heading to the car with my pillow ;-)
      Thanks so much for the low down on all of the great audio books. It is amazing how the reader can make such a huge difference.

  3. Thank you so much!! This gives me some great ideas for our upcoming road trip. It is just the little man and I for 18 hours, our first long road trip. It will be interesting for sure, and these ideas will help to make it a ton of fun for both of us.

    1. You are very welcom Kim! I hope your trip is a great one!

  4. Such great ideas! On our recent 10 hour trip we had sparkle stories, books and lots of music. As well as dolls, silk scarves and lots of silly songs with hand movements. But I will definitely be picking up the story dice and cards. I will need something for our long plane trip!

  5. KC... Yes. I forgot music. A must! And dolls. The kids do bring along a little stuffy animal to keep them company.

    The story cubes and cards are really fun and would be wonderful for the cramped spaces on a plane!
    My mom flew with the threes of us kids to Japan... an 18 hr flight back then. I should ask her if she remembers what she did to keep us happy travlers. Air travel is a whole different beast.

  6. great ideas, thanks!
    since my sister and i both got motion sickness after just a few minutes of reading or any kind of 'paper-on-lap' activity, audio books were our best and favorite option. and singing, that never seems to get boring.