Families love getting new ideas for what to take on a long car trip to keep the kids occupied. So we enlisted the family travel experts at Best Family Travel Advice to share their best advice about what to take on car trips with kids.
The basics for long car trips with kids
By Linda Kramer of Travels with Children
My kids are 9, 7, 6, and 4, and car trips are our specialty. When we hit the road, we always have these things in our arsenal.
- Let the kids choose a few things they want to bring. Each of our children has his own “suitcase”—a laptop-sized bag—that he can fill with whatever toys he wants to bring on the trip.
- I make a Vacation Book for each major trip we take. It can be adapted for non-readers by adding lots of coloring pages relating to your destination.
- Before our trip, I look for clearance sets of crayons, markers, paper, etc., and pack them up for the kids, but I usually don’t give them out at the beginning of the trip.
- Consider buying your kids their own digital cameras. I found some sub-$50 “real” cameras (as opposed to the Fisher-Price type) for my kids, and they’ve used them a lot. In addition to taking pictures at stops, they make movies of each other in the car and have fun changing the settings on the camera.
- Use well-timed lollipops and treats to make it through those last 50 miles before your evening stop.
- Scrabble Cheez-it crackers have proven to be good for our kids as well. They’ve created a game where they think of a non-food word that goes with their cracker, like “E: I’m eating an elephant!”
- Have plenty of CD’s (or an iPod) with kid-friendly tunes and get books on CD at the library or local bookstore to break up the monotony on a long driving stretch.
- Check to see if your destination has informational podcasts available. When we went to Philadelphia, the Once Upon a Nation stories from the visitors’ website provided some entertaining background to the historical sites.
- Take a list of quirky quick stops along your route. Roadside America is a good place to start. If you need a bathroom break or a few minutes to run around, you might as well do it somewhere memorable like the Eiffel Tower with a Cowboy Hat or the World’s Largest Twine Ball.
Above all, enjoy your trip—the time spent together, the high points and low points, the journey as well as the destination. Happy travels!
Road trip distractions
By Amy Whitley of Pit Stops for Kids
The younger age set needs a variety of distractions while in the car, which is why you need plenty in your road trip bag. What we carry:
- iPhone apps designed for the preschool and kindergarten set, such as Tales2Go
- A DVD player cued up with plenty of movies. (Trade titles with friends and neighbors before leaving to save money on buying and renting!)
- A new treat such as My Busy Kit
- Plenty of fun, easy to eat snacks. Our top picks are Jelly Bellys, dried fruit, and Babybel cheese.
Above all, make sure to plan on pit stops every few hours, but follow our golden rule: no one stops the car when a child is either napping or contentedly watching a movie.
Free or cheap travel toys to keep the kids entertained
By Debbie Dubrow of Delicious Baby
The nice thing about very young kids is that they are fascinated by real-world objects that you might have around your house or that would be inexpensive to pick up.
- Post it notes can be written on and stuck on car windows.
- Colorforms would be a great way for your child to complete their window artwork.
- Cheerios are a tried and true snack, but why not include a (new) shoelace in your snack bag and let your child make edible bracelets in the car.
- Your digital camera is great for looking at shots of the trip so far (kids never seem to tire of this) and adding their own strangely-angled photos of the open road.
- Books on CD (or on your iPhone) make great entertainment, and you can pick them up at the local library. Try something a step more complex than you would normally read at home, and you might be surprised at how well your kids quiet down and focus.
- If those fail, you can also check out this list of travel toys my own kids (age 3 and 5) have enjoyed.
Two slam dunks for making long road trips with kids seem short
By Mara Gorman of The Mother of All Trips
When I hit the road (and I’ve been on lots of long driving trips including a 4000-mile one last summer in a small sedan with a four year old, a six year old, and no screens of any kind) there are two things I absolutely can’t live without: Homemade playlists and Magic Pen books.
- For homemade playlists, my husband and I like to pick a theme – say Motown, novelty songs from the 1970s, or our favorite songs from 1982. Then we spend some time cruising iTunes for songs fitting the theme that we think the kids will like. Just making family travel playlists is a fun activity and when we’re done we always name the CD with the date and trip we’re taking. They become an audio souvenir and I love that when I drive to the grocery store I can pop “January 2010 Ski Trip” into the player and remember how much fun my boys had up on the mountain.
- The other item might sometimes be called invisible ink books. You may remember these from your own childhood-they come with a special pen that reveals either colors, textures, or the answers to puzzles. They can keep my children occupied for hours and the best part is that when those pens get left in the backseat with the caps off: No marks!
For more tips on keeping everyone happy on the road read Goodbye summer…but before you go a few road trip tips
You can’t beat audio books!
By Jamie Pearson of Travel Savvy Mom
I am a veteran of many, many long car trips with fractious kids—the most recent was a butt-busting 29-hour road trip to the Grand Canyon from our home in the San Francisco Bay Area.
You know what makes all these endless hours in the car possible? Children’s audio books. You can get them from amazon.com or iTunes, but I prefer to check them out for free from our local library. The best titles often have long waiting lists, so I request them online and get email notification when they become available. If you’ve never done this, ask your librarian how.
Your kids would probably like Animal Tales by Jim Weiss and I’d also highly recommend the Hank the Cowdog series. The Giants and the Joneses is also superb and you can’t go wrong with anything by Robert Munsch. Finally, consider the Flat Stanley Audio Collection—it’s hilarious.
Tales2Go and kids travel books
By Amie O’Shaughnessy of Ciao Bambino
Nancy Solomon travels continually with her 4 children under 11. She is my hero when it comes to suggesting entertainment for kids on the road. Nancy recently tested out Tales2Go and quickly fell in love. The stories are broken up by length (2 minutes to 6 hrs), age, rating, and popularity, making it very easy to find stories that are perfect for your crew. All my kids—ages 11, 9, 7 and 2—love the variety of stories available.
Nancy also publishes a kids travel book list on Ciao Bambino. It’s always fun to read stories about places you are about to visit as a family while on the way there.
For more family travel questions and answers, visit the Best Family Travel Advice website.