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Road Trips with Kids

Top Tips for Painless Road Trips with Kids

There are only so many times you can play I Spy when you’re taking road trips with your kids. We asked some parents on Reddit for their tips on keeping kids from getting bored and antsy on long journeys, and here are our top picks.

Activities outside the car

Image: Phalinn Ooi

You don’t have to stay in the car: if you have time scheduling some fun stops can make the whole journey much more enjoyable for everyone.

Geocaching

“Stop for geocaches along the route. You could have them look for ones they want to find and stop every so often,” suggests toekneedancer.

Geocaching is a real world treasure hunt where a GPS device is used to locate caches hidden in public locations. It’s a good way to stretch your legs and breakup the journey, while kids can look up the caches they want to find on a tablet or phone during the journey.

Parks and Splashparks

“We did a 12 hour drive over two days with a 1.5 year old. The best thing we did was find a park or a splash park every 2 hours. We’d get out and play for 30 to 45 minutes. It makes the trip long but if you have the days you just take your time and not worry when you get there,” says nmoline.

Playgrounds

“During the summer or on weekends use GPS to find a nearby elementary school when they get antsy, and then let them run around on the school’s playground,” recommends brightlocks.

Technological activities

Image: Intel Free Press

In-car and handheld technology can be a lifeline for parents during long trips, particularly if you have children of different ages or interests. Several sets of children’s headphones mean everyone can watch their favorite shows or movies.

Video players

“Nothing works as well as a video player in the back seat. Coloring books and games only last as long as something getting thrown or dropped where I can’t reach it. Singing, talking and oral games only last about 5-10 minutes at a time before she gets bored. A screen with cartoons will keep her vaguely amused (along with looking for animals outside) for the 2ish hours between stops,” says holysweetbabyjesus about travelling with their 3 year old for 6 – 8 hour trips.

According to Redditors some enterprising 90s parents didn’t let the lack of in-built entertainment systems stop them from keeping their kids occupied with videos:

“Circa 1992 my dad built a TV-Carseat that he put in the middle chair of our conversion van and strapped down with the seatbelt. It was a 16 or so inch VHS TV combo and they’d give us an assortment of videos that we’d watch all the way from Phoenix AZ to Jackson Hole WY and back,” says Cody F.

“In the mid-90s, my mom got a 30 lb mini-tv with a VCR that we held in place with bungee cords on top of a cooler between the front two seats of our mini-van,” says Lauren J, from Tuscon, AZ.

Thankfully in-built systems in today’s minivans and SUVs mean that the days of strapped down TV sets are behind us.

Tablets

“Tablets are our current best solution,” says throwaway6543210-1. “We have one per child, in addition to kid-sized headphones. The tablets have a long battery life and we have extra charging cables that plug into the car that can make them last indefinitely. In addition to movies and TV shows, the kids have games they can play on the tablets.

“The downside is that your kid needs to be able to read and operate the tablet correctly, which puts it out of reach of very small kids who will start having screaming fits or damage the tablet. I’d say a minimum age is probably 5 for solo use in the back, as you need to be somewhat literate to read some of the things on the tablet.”

Audiobooks

“When I was younger my mom always put on books on tape when we took long car rides. If it is an
interesting story, most kids are willing to sit quietly and listen to it. They have children’s books or you can look for story time podcasts,” says joyjames.

The only issue is that your kids might like the stories too much. If you don’t want to listen to their favorite tale five times, put it on a tablet or phone as a MP3 file and let the kid listen to it with headphones, advises throwaway6543210-1.

In-car games and activities

Image: Beatrice Murch

There are still plenty of traditional activities you can do to pass the time, and most of these could be adapted to suit different ages and abilities.

Scavenger hunt

Wishyouamerry puts a clever twist on car-based scavenger hunts: “I made a different set of things to look for for each person in the car, including a photo list for the non-reader. The key was, they got the prize ($5.00 each) after everyone had completed their list. That made them a lot more cooperative instead of competitive.”

Secret sacks

This is an idea from Jessica, whose mother used to pack paper lunch bags full of surprises on long journeys. They included “small toys that could be played with in the car, activity books, ideas for games, small snacks, etc.

The fact that we would get a new bag every day, and we had no idea what was inside, was the most exciting part. These were used between the ages of 3-12.”

You can check out the full thread here or add your own tips to the comments.

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Featured Image: Ben Francis

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