So many families are avoiding air travel and hitting the road instead this summer. Kids these days are lucky to have portable electronic devices, but screen time can only entertain for so long. Learn how to beat backseat boredom, stay sane, and even how to answer the ultimate family road trip question, “are we there yet?” with our guide below.
Lower Your Expectations
If you go in with high expectations of an epic family road trip where everyone is smiling and getting along, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. However, if you lower your expectations to the most nightmare screaming/vomiting poop-covered scenario, you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised.
Prep the Kiddos
Speaking of expectations, it’s a good idea to talk to your kids about what’s going to happen on this road trip to mentally prepare them for the voyage. At some point in the week leading up to the trip, let them know what the plan is: where you’re going, who you’ll see, what you’re going to do, when you’re leaving and coming back, and why you’re excited to take this vacation with them. You could even discuss what activities they’d like to do and what snacks they’d like to eat in the car.
Road trips are a great excuse to have some special treats, like fast food and candy, but a crappy diet can lead to a crappy attitude. Pack a cooler with healthy (and not-so-messy) snacks, such as fresh fruit and veggies, trail mix, peanut butter crackers, and granola bars. Remember to bring a refillable water bottle for every member of the fam.
Games to Play
I’m not saying don’t pack the Nintendo 2DS, but once they’re bored of that, you can break out old favorites like I Spy, the state license plate game, 20 Questions, and the alphabet memory game. For the license plate game, you can make a list of all 50 states for them to check off, have them help you list the states from memory, bring a printed out map of the US for them to color in which states’ plates they’ve found, or buy the Melissa & Doug Flip to Win Travel License Plate Game. Melissa and Doug also sell a fun Travel Bingo game.
In addition to any games, pack your child’s backpack with books, toys, roll-proof triangular crayons, stickers, coloring books, and printable activities. A clipboard can serve as a hard surface for coloring and drawing, while a suction cup plastic tumbler can attach to the window for coloring utensil storage.
Activity books like National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas and the Factivity collection of books are both fun and educational. Get creative by packing crafts like origami paper folding kits, lacing cards, and friendship bracelet making supplies.
More Ways to Fight the Fidgets
Keep little hands busy with Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty— but only if you trust your kids not to get it all over the car’s carpeting. Stretch exercise resistance bands are also fun for fidgeting, plus they hardly take up any space. The circular loop kind is probably safer than the strip kind for inside the car.
There are so many fun fidget toys, like the FiddleLinks Fidgeter, which features interlocking, rotating links and the colorful Möbii fidget with rings that are woven together. You might want to get some for yourself, too. Not only do these toys relieve tension, but they are also a good way to exercise your hands and build dexterity.
Avoid carsickness from reading in a moving vehicle by enjoying an audiobook together as a family. Library apps like Hoopla, Libby, and OverDrive offer free “books on tape,” through your local public library or school. Just enter your library card info and start browsing. Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia are two series the whole family will enjoy listening to.
Make a Playlist
While we may not be burning CDs or making mixed tapes anymore, no road trip is complete without an epic playlist. Throw some of your favorite sing-alongs and a few of your little ones’ favorite tunes on a playlist to make a soundtrack for the road trip to drown out the inevitable whining.
When you get tired of hitting repeat on Baby Shark, plug those kiddos into some headphones. They even make them for toddlers. If siblings will be sharing a screen, be sure to have some headphone splitters on hand.
Plan Your Route and Stops
Ten hours is a lot for anyone to handle in the car. If at all possible, limit your travel time to a total of eight hours a day. Don’t just go with what Google Maps says—
the back roads route may be more scenic than the freeway, even though it’s faster. Make the most out of stops by planning ahead on Roadtrippers, which lets you select points of interest between point A and point B. The journey is the destination, as they say. Look for local eateries, roadside attractions, historic sites, and places to picnic like state parks or even playgrounds along your route.
When you do stop for food, gas, or bathroom breaks, get the kids to run around some and do jumping jacks to burn some energy. It’s probably a good idea for everyone to go potty whether they feel like they need to or not and do a diaper change at every stop as well. If you’re brave enough to travel with a potty-training toddler, bring along their foldable potty training seat so that the variety of bathrooms won’t freak them out as much.
Prepare for All Eventualities
In addition to all the usual road trip stuff, like having your car serviced, tires balanced, and making sure your roadside assistance is up-to-date, be ready for anything by packing these essentials:
- Extra diapers
- Way too many wipes
- A handy change of clothes for everyone
- Plastic bags to hold wet or soiled clothing
- Toilet paper for emergency roadside pit stops
- Blankets for napping
- First aid kit
- Car emergency kit
- Extra food, water, and blankets
Are We There Yet?
Finally, an appropriate answer to the unavoidable family road trip question! The Passport Kids Adventure Family Travel site suggests using metrics your kids can understand—like how many episodes of Peppa Pig, after we eat dinner, when the sun goes down, or when we start to see mountains–to measure the time left on your trip. Or, you can always hand them the atlas and tell them to figure it out.