Road trips make for great memories. When I tell people that we just returned from a 3844 mile road trip with a 2 year old and 3 month old, I got lots of questions about how we kept the kids happy for that many miles. This is how this road trip activities for kids list came about.
I packed only one (very full) activity bag for my two year old. The baby just need a couple toys and me! After 17 days and 64 hours in the car, I am pleased to say that my bag of tricks worked very well. The only thing I would have changed is to pack more books for my book-loving son.
When I was packing, I wanted to maximize space and packed activities that would entertain my son well. I needed open-ended things that could keep a 2 year old busy for long stretches of time. I also wanted a variety of activities that we could do more than once.
Some of the things I included in his travel bag right away, but other things (that were new), I saved to give him throughout the trip. These things were perfect for the long stretches when my son was getting restless.
We approached the road trip as the adventure it was. When we (my husband and I) were excited, Nathan picked up on that excitement. Not everything will go according to plan so be flexible and plan ahead.
Let me tell you what worked for us…
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What should I pack for road trip activities for kids?
1. Books, books and more books
You can never go wrong with too many books! Whatever the age of your children, pack lots of books! I recommend packing paperbacks as they take less room. Reading is a wonderful way to pass the miles…providing you don’t get carsick! If you really need to optimize your space, you can always download library books to your Kindle or tablet for your children to read on the road. Find your child’s favorites and check out some new ones by those authors from the library. Here are some of our favorite rhyming books for toddlers, too.
2. Audio books
When you get tired of reading yourself, put on audio books. For young children, you can get short stories on cd such as Giraffees Can’t Dance. These are wonderful because they even have chimes that ding when it is time to turn the page so kids can read them independently. I have bought most of our audio books from Scholastic, as their sets come with the book and cd together for a reasonable price.
For older children, pick a longer story that the whole family can enjoy such as Charlotte’s Web or Little House on the Prairie. A great way to do that is through Audible. You can even sign up for a free 30 day trial of Audible and get 2 free audiobooks. Vacation would be the perfect time to give this a try!
Be sure to read this detailed post on how to get audio books for free and cheap! It’s amazing how easy it is!
3. Activity books
For younger children (Kindergarten and under), don’t overlook flap books! Flap books can keep little fingers busy for a long time. The Little People flap books are some of our favorites because each book has over 50 flaps.
Search and Find books are a great activity book to keep children busy. For little ones, start with a simple search and find book like these 1001 one things to find made by Usborne. I love these because they have a number and a picture so non-readers can easily use these books. We wore out several copies in my preschool and Kindergarten room. For older children, try a challenge with the classic “Where’s Waldo” books. The Highlights Hidden Pictures are a good activity book, too.
4. Magazines and catalogs
This may sound odd but young children love to look through catalogs! Save a toy catalog or kids magazines. My 2 year old loves flipping through the Lego catalogs (just like his Dad) and can do so for quite some time.
5. Stickers and stamps
Stickers are a must for any road trip! You can buy stickers anywhere. The $1 pads of stickers at Michaels are our favorites! If you really want a treat, surprise your child with a themed pad of stickers, such as those made by Melissa and Doug. Search under activity pads at Melissa and Doug and you’re sure to find something your child will like. Self-inking stamps (I bought ours at Oriental Trading) are another great car activity.
6. Dot stickers
I know this seems odd but it is one of my favorite car activities! Buy the blank garage sale stickers at Walmart or wherever you can find them. Just the plain circle ones like these. Then, do a Pinterest search for free printable dot a dot pages. Normally, these are done with dot markers but garage sale stickers are the same size – and without the mess! Here is how I make a free do a dot printable book for my kids.
7. Water Wow
My cousin, Lisa, is to thank for introducing me to these amazing activity books that my son loves! Water Wow is basically a reusable water painting book. Fill the brush with water and your child can paint a picture on the tablet and colors appear. When the water dries, the picture fades and you can paint it again. Water Wow books are perfect for car trips, doctor appointments, church bags or whenever you need to keep your child occupied!
8. Magnet boards
As an early childhood teacher, I love magnets just as much as my students did! One of my favorites are these Create a Scene magnet boards. Each board folds and is magnetic for you to arrange all the magnets that come with it – perfect for car travel! They are available in a large variety of themes and scenes. My son loves his train magnet set.
I have my friend, Andrea, to thank for introducing us to this one! Magnatab is a board of letters or numbers with miniscule magnet balls that you have to pick up with a special magnet pen. This was our big surprise purchase for our most recent vacation and it kept my 2 year old entertained for 30 minute stretches at a time as he focused on picking up every single magnet with his pen. It’s a great fine motor skill, as well as teaching letters, as it keeps your children occupied. Win-win for the Magnatab all around!
10. Matchbox cars
If you have a son, be sure to pack a bag of match box cars to play with. Consider wrapping up new cars for along the trip as a surprise gift. Cars this small are easy to pack and play with in the car!
11. Old wallet and gift cards
Children love pretend play! Save on old wallet or purse and fill it with old (expired or used up) gift cards. Your children can organize them to their heart’s content as you drive across the miles.
12. Kids music cds
Every road trip needs good music. Toddlers especially love singing along in the car! As a former music teacher and now mom, these are some of my favorite music cds for young children.
I hope this goes without saying but pack plenty of snacks so you don’t need to stop anytime someone is hungry! Divide snacks up and keep them accessible for times when you need them. Applesauce pouches are a fun treat as are goldfish crackers or anything your child enjoys. Be sure to pack some chocolate for yourself!
14. Traffic signs book
If you have time, create a traffic signs book with pictures of a road trip so your child can search for signs as you drive.
15. Small figurines
It doesn’t have to be fancy but look around your house to see what figurines you already own. What do your kids love to play with? Pack some Lego people or Little people or Daniel Tiger figurines. Whatever little figurines you have, pack them in a bag for travel play.
16. Printable bingo games
Bingo is another classic road trip game that we all remember playing! Print off a bingo set (or two) to use as you drive. I love this list of 25 free printable road trip games from the Joys of Boys.
17. Playing cards or flash cards
There is something about playing cards that little ones enjoy. Bring an old deck along and just let your toddler play with it. If a card gets lost, oh well. As your children get older, they can play Uno or Spot It in the car. Have you seen all the versions of Spot It that are now available? There’s even an On the Road version now – perfect for a road trip! So fun! Flash cards are a good way to sneak in a bit of learning over the summer too.
18. Pringles can with pipe cleaners
This is an excellent fine motor skill activity that will keep toddlers entertained quite easily. Take a Pringles can, poke holes in the lid and stick pipe cleaners through the hole. It’s easy to make and easy to entertain! You can do the same thing with an empty Parmesan cheese can and straws. Simple things that your child can poke makes for simple car fun!
19. Crayons and notebooks
Of course, pack plenty of art supplies for your car travelers. Pack crayons, colored pencils and washable markers, as well as paper, notebooks and coloring books. When it comes to markers and little ones in the car, I really like the Crayola Color Magic line. It’s a bit pricey but I love that I don’t have to worry about markers staining clothes or car seats. We take the Color Magic Travel Tote with us on our road trips.
20. Apps on tablet
I’m one of those moms who tries to limit technology but on a long road trip, I’m open to whatever works! Apps on a table are my emergency back-up. For preschoolers, we like the Daniel Tiger apps and the Duplo ones. You know your children. Before you leave, consider download a new app or two to your phone or tablet for a road trip surprise.
Yes, movies are a great distraction when you’ve exhausted all your other tricks – or just need a fun break. Knowing that we were undertaking a massive road trip this summer, we invested in a portable dvd player for our Tahoe. If you have a built in DVD player, you already know how convenient they can be. If you don’t, you might be pleasantly surprised at how affordable they are. After a lot of research and comparison, we bought this dvd player and a very secure headrest mount for under $100. We packed several dvds including some Disney ones, the ever popular Curious George (very reasonably priced on Amazon) and several of the Scholastic Treasures dvds. The Scholastic Treasures series are nice because they are story books that are animated for those times when you want your little kids to read but are tired of reading yourself!
Those are some of the activities we’ve used to entertain our children on a long road trip. We have many more road trips ahead of us in the years to come so I’d love to hear your ideas as well! What do your children like to do on road trips?
Here are some more tips for traveling with a toddler, if this is the age of your child!