Seven Ways to Entertain Kids on Long Road Trips

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My husband and I love long road trips. We enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being on the road, being in control of where we’ll go and what we see. Every year, we take a long road trip from our home in Seattle down to Southern California to visit my mother-in-law in San Diego. It’s 1,500 miles, one way, and takes us at least two days to make the drive.

Taking long road trips with kids

People think we’re either super crazy or extremely brave to do long road trips with young kids, but we absolutely love them. We’ve done several cross-country road trips as a family, and dozens of shorter ones as well. We prefer this method of traveling as the travel costs for a family road trip can be much cheaper than flying. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve found that long road trips can be less stressful than flying with kids, especially during the holidays. The trick is finding ways to entertain the kids.

As I mentioned, on our recent trip to San Diego, it took us two and a half days to drive down. And coming back, we only had two days to travel before needing to go back to work, so that meant at least fifteen hours of driving each day. It may seem like a long time to be in a car with kids, but we’ve got several tricks up our sleeves to make the ride enjoyable. The kids did great, and didn’t even complain about being in the car for a long time.

Keeping kids entertained on long road trips

From our experience as seasoned family road trippers, here are our seven tried and true ways to entertain kids on long road trips.

Stuffed animals, action figures, and lap games

Most of the time when we travel, we try and pack as minimally as possible, but with kids, it helps to pack along some toys that they can play with in their seat. For my daughter, she usually chooses several dolls that she can dress up and do imaginative play. For my son, however, we brought along a Melissa & Doug latches boardthat he recently received for Christmas. He liked being able to open and close the latches, and it helped to occupy him during the trip.

Baby playing with a latch board toy on long road trips
My son’s latest obsession: the latch board (January 2016)

Coloring books and activity books

Whenever we travel, we always make sure the kids have a journal and crayons to draw. As an avid journal writer, I like giving my kids an outlet to express themselves. We’ve found that the Moleskine cahier journals work best for us, as they’re inexpensive and small enough for our kids to carry around on their own. My daughter always fills her books up by the end of the trip, and it’s a great way to encourage self expression and reflection.

Nap time

Since your kids are going to be spending a lot of time in their car seats, it helps to make them as comfy as possible. We gave each of our kids pillows to sleep on, and a blanket to snuggle with. If you have a car seat that reclines, set it to the most reclined setting to encourage your kids to sleep. And if your kids sit in a booster seat, put them next to the window so they have something they can rest their pillows and heads against.

Naptime on the road (January 2016)

Storybooks

If your kids aren’t the type to get car sick easily, then storybooks are a great way to help pass the time. Have your kids pick out a few of their favorite books before you leave home. We like to bring a mix of books that are suitable for both of our kids and their age groups. While on the road, you can either read the books out loud, or have your kids flip through the pages on their own.

Roadside attractions

If you have the time on the road, consider visiting some roadside attractions to break up the drive. On our way back to Seattle from San Diego, we stumbled upon Bravo Farms in Kettleman City, a western themed restaurant and store. After eating lunch, we walked around the store, which included a section full of antiques, and then finished the visit by letting our kids play in the playground which was decorated like an old west town. On long road trips, it helps to stop every few hours to let your kids stretch out and run around. Roadside attractions are a great way to incorporate some interesting sights into these stretch breaks.

Playtime on the road in Kettleman City, CA (January 2016)

Audio books

We recently introduced my daughter to Harry Potter. And on this recent road trip, we listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowlingon audio book. At the risk of sounding like an old person, audio books are actually a great way to pass the time during a road trip. We liked listening to the story together, and since it was an audio book, we could pause and talk about the different scenes that we were listening to. As someone who has always enjoyed books, I like the idea of introducing my kids to literature.

iPad

As a last resort, it helps to pack along an iPad preloaded with movies and games. We usually manage to get through most of the road trip without pulling out the iPad, but sometimes we can’t avoid it. And when it gets too dark on the road, an iPad can be a good way to keep the kids occupied before the dinner break. We use the Stalion iPad case to keep our kids’ iPads from getting too banged up.

Taking in some iPad time (January 2016)

As a family, we love taking road trips. They’re the perfect way to feed our wanderlust, and experience the world around us. I hope with these tips, your family will love road trips too.

Seven Ways to Entertain Kids on Long Road Trips

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2 Responses

    1. Thanks Brandon! I have to admit, we do give the kids the iPad towards the end of the road trip. Now that the kids are older, we have a scavenger hunt game that they like to do from time to time too.

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!

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