My husband’s family lives in Canada, so we are well acquainted with long road trips. With small children in tow, an estimated 18-hour trip can easily stretch into 26 hours on the road one way. If it isn’t little bladders or tummies demanding frequent pit stops, it is a temper erupting due to being restrained or a little mind bored of counting clouds in the sky.
We have set guidelines to avoid dependence on screens until absolutely necessary. We all know that once they come out, there is no going back… even with toddlers. Rather than an endless stream of movies or video games from the very onset of an excursion, we attempt to keep the kids engaged in the majority of the trip. Yes, that means more work on our part, especially in the younger years. Yet, our hope is to condition them into being flexible and easy travel companions for the future. So, until the sun sets or we are only a few hours from our final destination, we don’t encourage the use of screens.
Here are 10 tips for making road trips bearable with children, because they really can be!
1. Audio Books.
You can find classic stories like The Wizard of OZ, Peter Pan, or Charlotte’s Web that can entertain all ages. You can purchase copies outright, borrow from the local library, or download from sites such as audible.com.
2. Actual Books.
Take a collection of new or old favorite stories to read aloud to the kids yourself.
3. Dollar Store Grab Bag.
Pack a little, surprise bag for each child and fill it with dollar store toys. Let them pick one, new item per hour. You can have as many items as there are hours in your trip. The luster of dollar store trinkets can wear off quickly (if they don’t break first)! The consolation is that you haven’t invested a lot of money and may very well provide a bit of peace for yourself between toy discoveries. You can either let the kids pick out the toys for themselves in preparation or make it a complete surprise. My sister-in-law swears by this strategy, having put it to use many times when coming to visit from Toronto with three kids under the age of six.
4. Travel Scavenger Hunt For Kids Card Game.
We love this game! (Meant for kids seven and older.) Each player takes five cards and tries to locate various roadside objects. Players may have to find a stop sign, a pickup truck, a license plate with a certain letter, or a person wearing glasses, etc. In addition, it encourages kids to use all their senses by listening for sounds, feeling for bumps, and sniffing for scents.
Rather than an endless stream of movies or video games from the very onset of an excursion, we attempt to keep the kids engaged in the majority of the trip.
5. Tell Me A Story Creative Cards.
This set of 36 cards features intriguing illustrations for children and adults to use their own imaginations as they develop their story-telling skills. Choose from a variety of themes. This is an ideal game for pre-readers as young as three. And if the littles aren’t old enough to actively participate, they can enjoy listening to everyone else!
6. Pack a ball.
We try to hit rest stops with a bit more green space along the way. While family members take turns using the restroom, those waiting can play a quick pick-up game. As the kids have gotten older we have swapped the bouncy ball with a soccer ball. This works out some of that pent up energy, no matter the age. Bubbles also work great for little ones!
7. Bring a lap-sized travel bin of legos or bristle blocks.
A variety of creations can easily make the hours go by.
8. Prepare time-consuming snacks.
It has taken me years of motherhood to figure this out! Packing a ziploc bag of small finger foods such as Cheerios or trail mix takes longer for small children to eat, buying me at least an extra 10 minutes.
9. Stop at a state park along the way for a quick nature walk or picnic.
This can be spontaneous or plotted out in advance.
10. Employ a road trip planning app.
Use Roadtripper.com to organize interesting or necessary stops ahead of time, allowing the kids something to anticipate as you break the long trip into smaller-sized segments.
I hope some of these tips are new and fresh for you to try. If you have any of your own to share, please feel free to comment below!
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