How to entertain kids on a road trip: the tips no-one tells you

How do you keep kids occupied on road trips? That has to be the most boring, uninspiring, over-blogged topic ever. In case you don't know how to keep kids occupied on road trips, here's what you need:

Snacks. Treats. Drinks. Books. Toys. Videogames. DVDs. Music. Books on Tape.

Most parents with sense will have figured that out. All posts that address this topic (and OH there are many) list those items, because, well, that's what works. That's why it's a boring topic. And that's why I'm blogging about it today.

Oh, don't worry, I won't rehash any of those points. I think all those How do you keep kids occupied on road trips? articles have left out a few items. Here are some of the items that can help make a road trip with a bit easier -- and these are the items that no one else tells you about!

Something old, something new....
Many parents suggest buying little presents for their kids to open during the trip, the assumption being that novelty will help alleviate the monotony. There's nothing wrong with that (other than having to spend $ for more junk to clutter your toyroom), but instead of taking something new, I let the kids take something old. Younger children need the security of their favorite lovies, but older kids love lovies too, for different reasons. Have you ever sat on a car seat? The cushioning is terrible! Kids will feel a lot more comfortable when they're all snuggled up with their favorite blanket and pillow, and my boys spend hours on end playing with their Webkinz stuffed toys. Our toys are well-traveled: we have a whole series of photos featuring our stuffed elephant, Horton Chouchie, at landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, the White Cliffs of Dover, and the Grand Canyon!

A kitchen timer
We let our kids play videogames and watch DVDs on road trips -- but the same (or sort of the same) rules we have for screen time at home apply to screen time on the road. They have to "earn" screen time by reading, doing homework, and getting some physical activity. Obviously physical activity isn't possible, but having some kind of timer makes it easier for them to switch between reading books, playing video games, watching DVDs, playing road games (see the next item on my list), or passing the time the old-fashioned way, i.e. listening to music and staring out the window. After all, what would a road trip be without an "Are We There Yet?".

A porta potty
We kept a potty training chair, extra diapers and wipes in the back of our van long after our kids were toilet trained. Why? Because when kids have to go, they have to go -- but playgrounds don't always have restrooms, interstate highways don't always have rest stops, and I didn't particularly want my three year old daughter squatting behind a tree or on a highway shoulder. Have you ever had a kid insist they had to go, ten minutes after the whole family except him went potty at the gas station or Starbucks? It was much quicker and easier to pull over at the side of the road, line the potty with a couple of diapers, have the kid pee, clean up, then wrap it all up in a plastic bag, ready to throw away at the next proper stop.

Your brain
Parents know that car games like I Spy or License Plate Bingo are great ways to pass the time. They're also great for teaching younger kids to recognize letters and numbers and colors. Car trips are a great opportunity to interact with your kids and teach them something new at the same time, and learning-on-the-go doesn't have to stop after preschool. The last time we drove down to LA (8 hours), Alfie used the time to teach our kids the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, delta, etc...). On our 2010 road trip from the UK to France (6 hours), they learned the capitals of Europe. This year, we're going to teach the boys their multiplication tables while driving from the UK to Belgium (6 hours).

A sense of humor, a ton of patience... and maybe an ounce of Benadryl?
Let's face it, unless you're driving through the Grand Canyon, there's only so much fun you can have driving for hours and hours. Even spectacular scenery will only get you a few minutes of oohs and ahhs from the children, then it goes back to being boring. Most people would teleport to their destinations if they could, right? So when the back seat gets too rowdy, resist the urge to yell, remind yourself that kids are not meant to be cooped up for hours on end and let an elbow jab or two slide. Just hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and tell yourself, All This Shall Pass......

By the way, lest you accuse me of being a bad parent for suggesting you drug your kids to put them to sleep during the car trip.... that Benadryl isn't for them, it's for you.


Anonymous said...

You can read about several ways to keep kids entertained on the road, but the one I find the most effective is watching shows or movies. Unfortunately, it’s not the best way, but it works. I use my iPad so they can also play games and read on it. A co-worker at DISH told me that I could use my Blockbuster@Home service now on my iPad. So I can stream several kids’ shows and movies through that. They love it and it keeps them quiet for hours.

dlefler said...

I love this. We're heading down to Myrtle Beach (13 hours + in the car) and we have the DVD player, toys, etc. We've found that the kids play with each "new" toy for approximately 15 seconds before getting bored with it. A blanket, pillow, and porta-pottie are much more relevant tips!

Unknown said...

We have 5 kids, and we always keep them occupied with audiobooks for the ipods. There's a ton of sites where you can download them, but we use this one a lot because the stories are free and original. This is the link, if anyone is intereted.