After 18 years of road-tripping with a kid, let me just say that after all the mistakes, tears, tantrums and thrown socks, we've become REALLY good at finding distracting activities to keep kids occupied on a road trip. (Yes, teenagers still throw socks- who knew! 🙂 )
I remember, one memorable summer about 15 years ago… when I played the famous road trip game “Can you see the Monkey in the tree”… for TWO HOURS. Yes, that warrants excessive use of capital letters.
Every time we passed a tree, any tree, I had to ask “Can you see the Monkey?” Our beloved little darling of 2 and a half would then look at said tree, ponder the question thoughtfully as she stared at it, then declare “YES” really loudly. She also screamed whenever I missed a tree because I'd missed the monkey in it.
I won't tell you what I was thinking. It doesn't give me any mother-of-the-year points, that's for sure! So here are some better, mostly quiet and mostly EASY road trip activities for kids of all ages. I wish you luck (and earplugs!)
Best road trip games for kids
Many of these games can be played without any extra accessories. However, did you know you can buy ACTUAL i-spy packs or Road Trip bingo wipeable sheets?? That sounds much easier than running out of printables each time! Check out the top road trip games HERE
Depending on the age of your kids, this may not be the best road trip game… once you start you might get ‘sky' 17 times in a row. We play the rule that the object has to be visible at all time (no “there was a sheep back there!”) and also that you cannot repeat a word.
Pink/ Yellow car game
This one is strangely addictive. You get one point for a yellow car, two points for a pink car (I'll allow your judgement on what is pink and what is red!) Keep track of the points and winner… wins! Or makes the losers do something awkward, like hold their breath for 20 minutes… We tend to play first to 50 points chooses dinner. Or gets first bathroom break if we're in the motorhome!
Road trip Bingo
You can get some brilliant printables free for various road trip activities. Print them off, give everyone a pen or pencil (ideally on a string around their necks!) and let Road Trip Bingo commence. It's surprisingly fun! Alternatively, buy a wipable, reusable pack HERE. (A British version can be found HERE.)
I like the fact that the game is played with road signs and animals- makes it easier to spot things for younger children. If you want to make it harder, only the first to see and shout gets to mark it down.
License plate game
Depending on your country, this can work in several ways. You can print off a map of the USA and colour it in as you spot licences for each state, or get a reusable board HERE. In the UK, we don't have states (or any cool licence plates!), we have letters- so you can print off a list of the alphabet (up to W, and then 11, 51, 12, 52 etc up to whatever year we're in) and tick off each one as you see it. Good luck spotting an ‘A'!!
If you're in Europe, you might want to try spotting the EU badges for different countries, especially if you're in a central European country as there's a lot of chances to spot different ones.
Quiet Road trip activities for kids
Once the initial excitement wears off, it's a good idea to have some quieter activities for them to get on with by themselves.
These were a godsend when Jade was younger. We'd buy her a couple of sticker books and let her stick them in as she liked. It saved dropped crayons on the floor… which always seemed to roll under the seat. Just expect stickers on your car doors- Princess Jasmine is destined to be in your car forever!! You can pick up sticker books cheaply for any subject, or head to Amazon for a road trip themed one!
My daughter has no patience for puzzles, but I used to do them for HOURS when I was young. (Still would, if I had time!) Pick a puzzle book with lots of variety and age-appropriate for your kids and see how they do.
I've only recently discovered Perplexus – but they keep ME entertained for HOURS. They come in different age ranges- there is even a Star Wars and Harry Potter version!!! It's like a giant maze inside a ball which you have to get a metal ball through. It's ridiculously addictive… just what you want from a road trip game!
Books for road trips
I would never let Jade watch TV or use her laptop until she'd done some reading. Luckily, she loves reading but gets car sick, so this didn't work for her. But if your little ones enjoy reading, books are a great way to keep them entertained. Don't forget to make use of your local library if you're not away for too long- great place to get new books each trip.
We've tried all sorts of audiobooks and podcasts and there is a HUGE variety out there. My absolute favourites are the Harry Potter ones read by Stephen Fry– if you enjoy Harry Potter this is one for the whole family to listen to. Alternatively, try Audible– the audiobook subscription service which allows you to rent audiobooks; each child could pick their own to enjoy.
If your kids will colour quietly, this is a great idea. There are plenty of free printables you can print off and let them enjoy. They might even enjoy a map of the route so they can see where they're going. Maybe you could get them to write notes and make a small journal for the trip! Just add a tray to avoid dropped pens.
Surprise toy bags for various parts of the journey!
I LOVE this idea. Pick up some cheap toys and put them in small bags (or even wrap them in foil) to be unwrapped at certain stages in the journey (first fuel stop, first 100 miles, first toll etc.) This gives them something to look forward to. Keep one toy back as a surprise in case of dire emergencies!
Best road trip activities for kids- with screens
Get a seat organizer for the back of the seat, Let each child pick a movie to watch. If you want to save your sanity, get wireless headphones that they can listen to at the same time. Hang an iPad on the back of the chair and turn the backseat into a movie theatre. Popcorn optional but likely to end up on the floor!
Disney Now App
Put this on an iPad, put their headphones on and enjoy a little quiet time. There's hundreds of shows to choose from- just remember you either need WiFi or a way to stream if you haven't downloaded in advance.
I'm a Tetris girl myself (and now I'm humming the music!!) but there's a LOT of options on a Nintendo DS– and some of them are even educational. Just have a no noise or headphones only policy or the beeps will drive you crazy!
Road Trip activities for kids- Tips to help your road trip go smoothly!
I may have only had one child to deal with, but I remember road trips when I was a kid- and how my favourite activity was torturing my little brother! So, your most important job is to stop squabbling. This only happens by setting firm, clear boundaries, ideally before the road trip starts.
If something goes under the seat, it is lost until the next break. We had to be very careful what we dropped (hence the string around the neck!) In the same vein, make sure their portable travel car seat is secure and approved- they will be doing a LOT of wiggling and squirming!
Try not to put things where kids can see but can't get too– this will only lead to tantrums. Give them a few things to play with a hide everything else. You can change the toys at each rest stop.
A lot of these activities will depend on your little (or big!) ones. From the age of about 12, Jade would sit quietly with her headphones on, listening to music she'd downloaded. The only meltdowns came when she realised she was out of battery and/or wifi.
Plan breaks in advance- ideally somewhere with a park for them to let off some steam. If they know how far they have to go between stops, it can help them mentally prepare. Just add some extra time in case of traffic!!
If you are going hiking or camping with kids, make sure you have enough food, drink and changes of clothes- wet, tired and hungry kids are worse on the way home!!
I hope these tips helps keep your road trip go smoothly! Eventually, everyone gets sick of sitting in one place and kids are no different. The tantrums seem to happen just when you've had enough too!! Keep smiling – the adventure will be worth it! 🙂