Kristina is a caregiver to two children, and a volunteer. She enjoys writing, cooking, green living, gardening, & sharing experiences!
Taking a long road trip with children can be fun but very exhausting! My husband, Ryan, and I have two toddlers (15 months apart), and we travel across the Midwest 2-3 times each year. Our main road trip is to Kansas to visit my husband's family. It's an eight hour trip (more like 10-11 with stops), so we've gotten to test out plenty of activities on the road. What I've discovered, through trial and error, is that simple is better! Road trips are especially tricky with toddlers because they don't fully grasp why they're stuck in a car seat for hours. They know we are going on a trip, but they don't understand the concept of time yet. We try to be as prepared as possible, in order to try and ward off any inevitable meltdowns!
If you have a long trip ahead with your kiddos, check out my five activity suggestions. These activities will help keep everyone happy in the car (for at least a little bit!)
1. Audio books and Playaway View
Before kids, my husband and I would listen to audio books during a road trip. I wasn't even aware that they made audio books for children until I overheard another mom mention it in a local parenting group. On our most recent road trip, I checked out 3 audio books from the library. The three we selected were Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?, Where the Wild Things Are, and Good Night, Good Night Construction Site. The boys loved hearing the words to these books in the car!
Our local library also carries a little electronic device called the Playaway View. It reads books aloud, with pictures from the book on the screen. I only checked out one, so it required the boys to share. They (mostly) did fine, and it allowed them to practice some cooperation skills too.
2. Water Wow
My sister-in-law introduced us to the Water Wow painting books and my 2.5 year old loves them. The book comes with a little pen that fills up with water. The kids use the water-filled pen to "paint" the pictures inside the book. It turns the colorless picture into a colorful picture. My 2.5 year old painted for 20+ minutes in the car (I know 20 minutes doesn't seem like a lot, especially on an eight hour car ride, but I take what I can get!) My 20 month old played with this a little less, but he still tried it out, and liked looking at the pictures.
3. Colorful Water Bottles
This is so simple! Take 2 empty water bottles, fill them with water, add a drop of food coloring, and a little dish soap. I didn't even need to add any other items to the bottle (beads, glitter, etc) although you could! The boys were happy with a little color and bubbles. They could shake the bottles, turn them upside down, and trade colors back and forth.
Please make sure to glue the cap on tightly, so that little fingers can't get it off and put it in their mouth (or dump water all over the seat!)
My boys love getting stickers at the doctors office and YMCA, so I thought we'd try playing with stickers in the car. On a recent road trip, I brought along 2 sheets of stickers per toddler, and kept the sheets upfront. Whoever is in the passenger seat hands the stickers back, one at a time. The boys stuck them onto a piece of paper, and created their own design. This was a nice quiet activity, and kept them busy for quite awhile.
5. Memory Cards (and Music!)
On a whim, I stuck a pack of dinosaur memory cards into my bag before our last road trip. I wasn't sure if this activity would work, or if I'd end up with a big pile of cards in my backseat. My 2.5 year old loved it! He looked at the pictures of the dinosaurs, and also practiced putting all the cards back into the box, so it turned out to be a good motor skills activity. The second time we gave him the cards he threw them all over the backseat, but hey, no activity is perfect!
My 20 month old wasn't as interested in the memory cards, but he did love using the handheld shakers that we brought along. We rented some CD's (specifically Ziggy Marley's Family Time) from the library, and he shook his shakers to the beat. Only do this activity if you don't mind a bit of noise coming from the backseat!
The Road Awaits...
The best thing about these activities is they all fit into one small bag. When you're on a trip with children, your hands are already full, so the less you have to manage, the better. So go ahead; pack your bags (don't forget the snacks), plot out a few places to stop, stretch, run, and play (parks, malls, rest stops with grassy areas), and hit the road. Traveling with children may be hectic and a bit stressful, but hopefully these five ideas will help. Your destination will be worth the drive!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Kristina Hearn (author) from Iowa on April 27, 2017:
Kathy on April 26, 2017:
Awesome ideas! Well written article also!
Kristina Hearn (author) from Iowa on April 26, 2017:
I couldn't believe how into it they were. 3 audio books occupied them for about 20-25 minutes!
Kristina Hearn (author) from Iowa on April 26, 2017:
Thank you! I hope it helps on your next road trip!
Dani on April 25, 2017:
Awesome article! Thanks for the ideas!
Jodi on April 25, 2017:
I love this! We will have to check into the audio book for when we come to visit! Haha!
Bre on April 21, 2017:
Thanks for the great ideas that I will use next time we are traveling.