I am not really one for road trips. When I was young, before the days of iPads (or any type of entertainment, for that matter) my family would make our annual drive from California to Salt Lake City, Utah to visit my grandparents. I hated the monotony and boredom and nausea brought on my being crammed into a van with four brothers and a sister.
Recently, I had a friend visiting from England that wanted a tour of the West Coast, so I promised her a road trip from my current home in Salt Lake City, Utah out to Northern California, down to Southern California, on to Las Vegas, and back to Utah again. And then I remembered that I have two toddlers.
As the panic began to set in, I decided to do whatever I could to make the trip easy on my children (and myself) by being prepared and making the time in the car something that would be fun rather than something to be endured.
I knew that to keep my kids happy and entertained in the car for such a long time, I’d need to be prepared with snacks, activities and distractions. Below is a list of some of the things that kept my kids (ages 18 months and 3.5) happy throughout our trip.
Driving the car is boring. For everyone. I know when I’m tired of being in the car, having something to munch on is a great distraction. I don’t necessarily want my kids eating candy the whole trip, so I bring a variety of healthy snacks. Some of the best things for the car (and least messy!) are:
a. String Cheese
b. Sliced Apples
c. Goldfish Crackers
d. Applesauce GoGo SqueeZ (single serve applesauce packs that don’t require a spoon – kids can squeeze the pouch right into their mouth! Genius!)
e. Carrots (for kids old enough to eat them)
f. Rice Krispy Treats
g. Nilla Wafers
h. Plenty of Water (Sippy cups work great to prevent spills, even for my 3 year old)
2. Surprise Activity Bag
I put together an activity bag for each of my kids with fun new things in it. Having new things to play with will keep kids happy for quite a while. I use a Ziploc bag and include some of the following as a fun surprise for my children.
a. Coloring Book
b. New Crayons
d. Inexpensive toys such as Matchbox cars, My Little Pony, stuffed animal, etc.
Depending on how old your children are, there are plenty of travel games that are perfect for road trips. Some of my favorite are:
a. Melissa & Doug Flip to Win Memory Game
b. Melissa & Doug License Plate Game
c. Car Travel Bingo
My children aren’t old enough to read to themselves yet, but they do love looking at books. I gathered a pile of their favorite books and kept them in a bag between their car seats. They could reach them and look through them as much as they wanted (and of course throw them when they were done…) I stuck with board books so no pages would get torn. They loved being able to grab the books they wanted to read.
5. iPad/Movie Player
Ok, I don’t recommend going out and buying an iPad for your kids just because you’re going on a road trip. But we do happen to have one, and it really is a godsend when you’re at your wits’ end and are trying to keep kids happy in the car. I use it as my last resort – I let them use it after they had grown bored of everything else. (We spent about 30 hours total in the car, and I think the iPad was used for about 2 or 3 hours of that time.)
In addition to all of the in-car activities, we made sure that we stopped every hour or two to let the kids get out, run around and let out some of their pent-up energy. The breaks from the car were just as important as activities for helping the kids enjoy the trip.
Traveling with children can seem like a daunting experience, but it can be a fun and enjoyable way to travel with just a little bit of preparation. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to keep kids happy and entertained in the car.
Jennifer is wife to Preston and mom to 3 year old Ethan and 18 month-old
Grace. Preston travels extensively for business and Jen and the kids
love to tag along on his trips. Jen has gained experience in many areas
of travel including surviving the security lines with toddlers, changing diapers on an airplane, and most recently, staying sane a road trip with young children