With the holidays quickly approaching, you may be planning on taking a long road trip to visit friends and family. We have two trips planned over the holidays with a total of around 25 hours in the car. While I am not afraid to put on a movie here and there for my children ages 3-10, I try to be prepared with plenty of hands-on activities for the kids to do on the drive that are screen-free.
Related: Walk Through of Our Favorite Road Trip Activities (Instagram)
Here are some of my favorite ideas to keep children of different ages engaged and happy while we travel on the road.
Ideas for older children
My two oldest children are now ages 9 and 10. Here are the items I like to have on-hand as we travel together.
Books, audiobooks, and podcasts
My kids devour books at home, so for us, road trips are a great time to stock up on new books that will interest the kids. We keep a crate between the older kids' seats, filled to the brim with picture books, chapter books, fact books, and graphic novels. There are usually favorites from around the house and new additions from the library. Sometimes I will surprise them with a new, purchased favorite. Don't forget I Spy books and Where's Waldo!
Along with physical books, I download a few audiobooks that will engage all of the kids. For my family this can be tricky because of the wide age range of my children. Sometimes we alternate a "big kid story" with a "little kid story." We use the app Hoopla, which provides free audiobooks through our library.
Related: 20 Favorite Podcasts for Children
Drawing and activity binders
Grab a one-inch binder for each child and make cover sheets for them with their names on it. In the binder, include blank white paper, tracing paper, crossword puzzles, hidden pictures, and word searches. I usually stock up on activity books from the dollar store right before a long trip. I rip the pages out and use a three-hole punch to hole punch them all. Then, I divide the pages of each book between the kids and put the pages into separate binders so that everything is in one place for each child. Having everything divided between kids helps me reduce the chance of fighting. I have tried pencil pouches for their writing and drawing materials, but I have found that a cup that can fit nicely in their cup holder works best for us. I put markers, pencils, and colored pencils into a cup for each child.
I always throw in some how-to-draw books in the older kids' book basket (squeezed in between their seats), for them to reference as they draw in their activity binders. Here are some of our favorite how-to-draw books:
Games and fidgets
I recommend giving your children a tray with edges to help contain the pieces of some of these activities and to be a "table top" to play on. We have used cookie sheets, wooden trays, and plastic lunch trays. Some of these could also be used for younger kids.
- Squigz - My kids love these suction cup builders. They are fun to stick together and create something, or stick to surfaces in the car without making a mess.
- Wax Sticks - These waxed yarn sticks are fun to twist together and play while seated in the car. It's fun to see what little objects my kids come up with when using these.
- Spot It! Game - This quick and simple game is a fun option for the kids to play together, or for whole family as a group.
- Maze Cube - This brain teaser is compact, mess-free and is a nice change of pace from books and other activities.
- Sticker by Number - I love how Sticker by Number books are engaging, but can also be stopped and started easily. These can also be fun for younger kids.
- SmartGames Travel Games - SmartGames are a great option for travel because they come in compact cases that are easy to bring along. These are educational, logic games that focus on different problem-solving challenges.
- Stretchy Noodles and Pop Tubes - These are so simple, but my all of my kids love these sensory toys. I love to have something available for when everyone starts to get extra fidgety.
- Mesh Squishy Ball - Here's another one I love to have on hand. These sensory toys are great for all ages.
- 3-D Pin Art Toy - This is a classic toy that can keep my kids entertained for hours as they try to make new shapes and designs.
Ideas for younger kids
My younger two children are ages three and five and these are activities that are easy for them to do during car rides. I like to store these activities in a crate that is accessible from the passenger seat so you can easily switch out activities for them and help them if needed.
Melissa & Doug Water Wow! Activity Pads
My kids love the Melissa & Doug Water Wow! Activity Pads. These are huge in our house! My tip with these is not to use the included brush. It is a pain to refill in the car and doesn’t last very long. Instead, give your child a cup with a little bit of water and a long-handled paintbrush. If your child has a cupholder in their car seat, just put the cup of water right into the cup holder. Doing it this way also requires more steps and in turn occupies more time.
Pipe cleaner lacing
All you need is some pipe cleaners and pony beads or O-shaped cereal. I usually store the beads and pipe cleaners in a big zipper bag in my crate. When they want to do it, I scoop out a small number of beads or cereal into a cup and again, put it in their cup holder. Then I make a small bend on one end of the pipe cleaner and gave it to them to start lacing. When they are finished, I form them into bracelets by wrapping one end around the other. After making cereal bracelets, they have fun eating it all off!
Books, CD audiobooks, podcasts, and music
I always stock up on fresh library books for the little ones to thumb through on long trips. We love read-along books with included CDs like this. I usually get a bunch from the library. If you can find Wonderbooks at your library, these are amazing books with the audio saved within the books themselves.
Drawing and magnetic boards
The younger kids also have activity binders for drawing and coloring. Theirs are filled with white paper and coloring pages pulled from coloring books and hole punched. Along with that, they like using LCD tablets and magnetic drawing boards for drawing.
I usually stick a few sheets of stickers from the dollar store in the pockets of their activity binder for them to decorate their pages with. Often they end up decorating the papers, their arms, legs, and clothes time and time again. If the mess doesn’t bother you, stickers are always a huge hit!
For the really young ones, remove the outer part of the sticker paper to make it easier for little hands to grab the stickers.
Glue stick and construction paper
Some simple ripped-up construction paper and a glue stick will go a long way. If they're old enough, they can rip their paper themselves and make a mosaic. Otherwise, my young toddlers have loved pulling the pre-ripped pieces out of a cup and making their design. They either do this in their binders or on another sheet of paper on a lunch tray on their lap.
Latch and magnetic boards
Both of my younger kids love the latch puzzle board that we own and it’s an easy one-piece activity to bring along. They also love any magnetic type board with a magnetic pen.
Here are some great ones:
Dry erase board and markers
There is something about writing with a marker that kids love. You can get a cheap dry erase board from the dollar store like this one with low odor markers and a little eraser. Put the markers in a cup in their cupholder and they can hold the board on their laps pretty easily.
If your kids are interested in learning letters, the Wonder of Nature Early Years Alphabet Sheets and menu cover are another great option for this.
Are you taking a road trip with kids this holiday season? I hope this list gives you some fresh ideas for keeping little hands and minds busy as you travel. I've included all of the items I love on my Amazon Storefront. Let me know what works for your family in the comments below.