Its no secret that family road trips can be incredibly stressful especially if you have multiple children, and many, many miles to go. We have all seen the same blog repeated a thousand times with a myriad of activities to keep children occupied during family road trips, and yes, in a perfect world, all children are content to color and play with pipe cleaners and quietly keep to themselves for hours on end… but back here, in the real world, children have to use the bathroom, (always at the WORST time), they get bored (understandably so), and this boredom and frustration over the inability to get up and use up some of the endless energy they can’t help but have, often ends with tearful tantrums on their part, and equally frustrated parents. In this article we will provide a list of activities to keep your little one(s) occupied, but we will go beyond that and focus on family road trip ideas for parents.
To be clear, the following family road trip ideas are not a cure-all, nor are they a “one-size-fits-all” solution, but they are clever, and may inspire some ideas of your own, or at least take some of the stress off of you as a parent. Our children react to us: when we are stressed, they tend to follow suit- so let’s look at some tips that may help you to preserve your sanity.
1. Leave Before Sunrise, And Not For Reasons You May Think
We will start at the beginning of your road trip: the departure. This tip is simple but will save you a lot of stress; and not just for the obvious reasons. Waking up a groggy little one just long enough to transport them to the car, where they fall peacefully back asleep, will likely buy you at least a few hours in which you don’t have to worry about entertainment. We say leave around 4-5 AM; that should give you about 3-4 hours of calm, dark, quiet drive time. This works well on both long and short trips. If your trip is short enough, you may arrive before your little one wakes up. On long trips, having those precious few moments of quiet, alone time is beneficial for couples and single parents alike.
2. Put Down A Layer Of Painter’s Plastic Covered By A Fitted Sheet Over Your Backseat
Spills happen. Accidents happen. Give yourself a little piece of mind and know that you won’t have to worry about the stains of life’s little messes being left permanently on your upholstery. Plus, if a bathroom accident happens, this will make clean up exponentially faster, and no one has to sit in a seat that’s soggy from soap and water afterwards. We recommend a fitted sheet so that the plastic is completely covered and inaccessible to your children. This tip is for slightly older children, there are obvious choking hazards with infants and toddlers and plastic, so use your discretion.
3. Make A Pulley System To Transport Items To and From The Back Seat.
This ingenious idea is a real time, and life saver. All you have to do is get a small, plastic (or foam) bucket, loop some thread through the bucket handle and the handles above the windows, and you’ll have an easy way to deliver and retrieve items to and from the back seat. Plus its fun, and your kids will enjoy it!
4. Encourage Your Children To Drink Liquids 20 Minutes Before You Plan To Stop
It never fails – you decide to have a family stop, and your little one “doesn’t have to go”… until 20 minutes after you have left the rest stop and are now out in the middle of nowhere, without a bathroom anywhere in the next 15 miles. Another simple tip, but one that will save you a lot of frustration. Plan when you will need to stop, and encourage your kiddo to drink around 20 minutes before the scheduled stop. This will keep them well hydrated, and should help them to need to go when you do, instead of 20 minutes after.
Bonus tip: Before leaving on a trip, emphasize the importance of telling mommy or daddy about the need to urinate before the need to go hits critical, bursting levels. Encourage frequent “self checks” on the need to go or not. Often times kids get distracted or very into whatever they are doing and truly don’t even think about needing to go until its just too late.
5. Spoons Are For Suckers. Straws Are Where its At
Yogurt, applesauce, pudding, and a myriad of other foods present a real mess hazard when on road trips. Ditch the fork in favor of a well placed straw, and avoid the mess. Simple? yes. Effective? Definitely.
6. Make A Packing List With Pictures, Tape It Inside His/Her Suitcase
Another inevitability of any family road trip (especially one with multiple stops) is that dreaded moment when your kiddo realizes they left their favorite [insert item name here] at the hotel two states ago. And trust me, it is always their absolute favorite thing ever. Here’s a simple solution to that which can also moonlight as a game for your child. Before you leave for your trip, make a packing list with them (complete with boxes for check marks), and tape it to the inside of their suitcase. Have them check off all the items (make it fun!) and maybe offer a little incentive every time they check off all the items on the list. Do this before you leave every place in which you spend an extended period of time, especially any place you sleep. If you really want, you can make these for day trips too. For example, if you’re going to a water park, make up a small one that has Goggles, sunscreen, towel, flip flops etc, and have them check all the boxes before you leave the amusement park.
7. Do Not Underestimate The Power Of The “Fade” Button On Your Stereo
Playing kid friendly music, audiobooks, tapes or any other audio that either engages or calms, or entertains your little one is a great way to make a road trip less stressful for them. That being said, one can only listen to the wiggles CD so many times before it becomes like nails on a chalkboard. Use the fader on your car stereo (trust me, your car has one if it has a stereo) and pan the music to the back seat. Then, play music that you like up front through an mp3 player with an external speaker. You would think there would be a lot of interference, but you may be surprised at just how well this little tip works. As long as you keep the audio which is panned to the backseat at a slightly lower volume then what is upfront, it is possible for you and your child to enjoy separate music simultaneously.
8. Self Serve Entertainment
Get yourself an over the seat car organizer (or for the more frugal parent, an over the door shoe organizer) and put toys, snacks, crayons and other activities in the slots. This way your child can use whichever items they want, and switch items as often as they want without relying on you to dig through your bags to find said item. Additionally, using shoe organizers allows your little one to see the options for entertainment- much more practical than having to dig through a bag a hundred times. Plus, these little organizers are fantastic places to hide valuable items (like hand held game consoles ) safely away during rest stops.
9. Snackle Boxes? Snackle Boxes.
Food + children + cars = nightmare. Instead, opt for an organized way to provide snacks that allows him/her to see all of the available snack options when making a choice, and encourages neat snacking. Bonus points for bringing a cookie sheet which can serve as a multipurpose activity board/food tray.
Put snacks inside tackle boxes. This easy can help you avoid feeding unhealthy or expensive snacks that are usually the only option at gas stations or rest stops. Plus, its better than dealing with trash from wrappers, and will help you avoid that moment when you finally get a chance to clean out your car, reach between the seats, and find half a package of gummy somethings from who-knows-when. Use healthy, bite sized food items and snacks for best results.
10. Pack An Over-Night Bag That Is Separate From Your Child’s Main Luggage
Likely the most stressful part of any long family road trip is dealing with hotels. Generally speaking, everyone is tired and cranky by that point, and riffling through bags and having to unpack and repack them at every stop is a stress you can easily avoid. Have a little knapsack complete with pajamas, toothbrush, and a change of clothes in easy reach and at the ready for any over-night stop. That way there is no digging through luggage to find over night items, or having to play Tetris to fit everything back into the car after. This tip will help you keep track of items, and keep luggage much more organized. These bags also come in handy when you’re going to be doing an extended drive- your little one can get cozy and settle in to sleep while you continue your drive. Doing activities which they already associate with bed time will encourage restful sleeping in most children.
Activities for Children During Roadtrips:
We wanted to list a few of these, just to be thorough.
1. DVD Box Coloring Case
Here is a simple photo guide on how to make one of these nifty coloring stations. They will hold the crayons/ pencils and provide a hard surface for drawing/ writing!
2. Cookie Sheet Activity Tray
This idea takes some pre-planning, as the best types of items to use on the cookie sheet are ones with magnets attached. However, the cookie sheet makes a great item to keep your little one occupied even without. The lip of the cookie sheet will hold in crayons, the magnetic surface is great for magnet puzzles, or other such activities, and also works well with dry erase markers as a drawing surface.
3. Dollar Store Presents
Go to the dollar store and pick up a few trinkets and wrap them in old wrapping paper. Use these tokens as a reward system for good behavior in the car, and also as a way to occupy time. Kids love this, (who doesn’t like unwrapping presents?!) and its a great and inexpensive way to encourage good behavior over extended periods of time in the car.
4. Pipe Cleaners. Tons Of Them
I’m not sure what it is about these furry little things, but children can’t seem to get enough of pipe cleaners. Bring a bag with you, invent games as you go, let them go nuts. Clean up is easy.
5. Printable Activities
Here is an example of a printable “I spy” card (you can even click to enlarge this one and use it). Other parents suggest madlibs, I spy bingo, or any other activity you can enjoy with your child which can be done with a printable card such as the one above.
Family road trips can be really incredible, but they can also be very stressful. Cars are boring, and children have a lot of energy. These tips are intended to focus on the parent side of the equation and offer some genius family road trip ideas.
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