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Children / Family Travel / Humor

10 Activities to Keep Your Kids (Ages 3+) Entertained on Long Road-trips

This week, I am embarking on a multi-state road-trip by myself with two kids.

If you have never been impressed with me, now is your opportunity.

I am already nine hours into it and am currently in Utah where i attended Evo Conference last week. Over the next few days, I will drive to Sandpoint (one of Idaho’s hidden jewels) and we will ultimately spend the duration of our vacation in my hometown, Calgary (check-out our fun-filled itinerary).

While I have traveled extensively with my kids (ages 4 and 7), I have never tackled a vacation of this magnitude. For our extended road-trips, Jamie and I have tag-teamed but being the lone member of the entertainment committee is daunting, especially because I’ll be consumed with the task of not veering off the road and killing us.

If you’ve ever played referee to your kids in the backseat, you know what I’m talking about.

Here are a few activities I’ve rounded up to keep the kids entertained:

  • Books on tape. We’ve never tried listening to audio CDs so my fingers are crossed this will be a new favorite. We rented several from the library including Flat Stanley, various Magic Tree House Collections and Classic Fairy Tales. For a fantastic age-by-age guide on the best audio books (starting age 2), check-out Travel Savvy Mom.
  • Summer journals. At the beginning of the summer, I gave each child a notebook we dedicated as their summer journal where they could write and draw their favorite activities. Our goal is to be on the lookout for fun roadside treasures to sketch in our travel journal, which is where we will also preserve many of our souvenirs. We also like to make funny signs and pictures to display when we pass cars.
  • Maps. My kids are not directionally-challenged like their mother and they adore maps. I always print out Google maps and we also follow our route in our Rand McNally book of maps. When I’m really organized, I do some research and share fun things the children who live in that area like to do. Many times, this is where we’ll stop for our regular breaks.
  • Coloring/craft projects. I have a travel easel for each child where they draw, make crafts and play games (I used a cookie sheet when they were younger because constantly picking up dropped items gets old, fast). This time around, I have a big ol’ laundry basket in between the kids’ car seats replete with coloring books, notebooks, crafts, tape, pipe cleaners, crayons and markers. Easy access means mama won’t be turning around every five minutes to help (in an ideal world).
  • Movies (and lots of them). We are not fortunate enough to have a DVD player in our car so will bring our portable one. Because the car is noisy, I always bring a head phone splitter so both of my kids can listen with their headphones.
  • Nintendo DS. We have a Wii at home and my kids are only allowed to play the DS on road-trips so it is a privilege they look forward to. At home, their recent addiction is the new Wii Play Motion (12 crazy-fun games and our favorite is bonking the garden vermin Linkon the noggin’ is a Whack-a-mole game on steroids). Since we don’t have the Wii Play Motion on the DS, the kiddos love Super Mario and also Mario vs. Donkey Kong.
  • Dollar Store. I am convinced the Dollar Store was made expressly for kids on road trips. The week prior to our vacation, I assigned my kids various chores around the house. With the money they earned, I set them loose at the Dollar Store to relish in the glory of cheap plastic toys that I do not care if they get broken.
  • Travel Games. We have a great collection of travel-sized games that ranges from Hungry Hungry Hippos to magnetic playing cards. After losing numerous game pieces to our car’s Black Hole, we now keep them in an enclosed container. You can also find a lot of great printable car games online and don’t forget about the old classics like “I Spy” or the license plate game.
  • Books. My kids aren’t big readers yet so this won’t hold their attention for long but I’m hoping to spend at least a half-hour each day listening to them read.
  • Healthy snacks. In the past, our road-trip offerings have been solely junk food. While we will have treats, my goal is to take plenty of fresh fruit, nuts, trail mix, Pirate’s Booty and granola bars. I’m also giving each child their own snack bag so they don’t fight over the food (I speak from experience.)
  • What are your must-have items for long road trips with your kids?

    Photos: American Profile, Journey Etc.,

    Amber Johnson
    Author: Amber Johnson

    Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

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    Amber is the founder and editor of Mile High Mamas, travel writer and former columnist for The Denver Post. She is a passionate community builder and loves the outdoors. She has two awesome teens and is happily married to a man obsessed with growing The Great Pumpkin.

    11 Comments

    1. Great list. I’m especially a fan of audio books. Good luck on your travels.

    2. Thanks! We’re 13 hours into our trip and are having a blast!

    3. As far as I know, the DVD’s are a big hit with my 6-year old nephew. He watches one or two when they make the 4 hour trip from home to Grandma & Grandpa’s house. I hope that the books are a hit. I personally enjoy them and listen to them in the car and at work.

      GOOD LUCK!!!!

    4. DVD player, blankets, pillows, favorite items (my kids each have a stuffed animal they can’t live without), water bottles, snacks, toilet paper (ya never know when you’ll need it!), etc…

    5. Sorry! Just realized you were looking for just ways to entertain! Oh well, I guess you have my 2 cents on all road trip essentials! LOL 🙂

    6. We just returned from a weeklong CO road trip vacation with our 3 boys (12, 5 and almost 2). Books and cheap toys along with an MP3 player full of their favorite songs. I think what helped the most was getting them out to move when we stopped. I kept a little cooler full of ham, cheese, crackers, yogurt, fruit in the care and we had a picnic at a park for lunch often. They all slept or just vegged out on the 2 plus hour drive from Mesa Verde to Telluride. Our oldest had his DS but honestly I don’t think he played it much.

    7. With two kiddos – you ought to hear the funny stories they dream up with finger puppets. Peak-A-Boo toys in Breckenridge has a great selection, but we found some extra cool ones on Etsy.com

    8. Weather it was a road trip or air travel, I would buy a small toy per 1/2 hour or hour of our travels. Then wrap them like presents and put them in a bag. Then every hour or so they would pull one out and it would keep them busy…just in time for the next one.

    9. Also we would play Name that animal game, where we would take turns thinking of an animal then ask questions until we either got it or gave up. It was a great way to teach them about mammals, aviaries, reptiles etc. We would ask questions like does it have hair? does it have hooves? does it have fins? etc. We could easily end up playing that for hours! (at no cost)

    10. One of our longest trips, I was also driving solo, I planned ahead and bought various toys, ‘treats’ and gifts for the kids. Most of them were a dollar or two each. I wrapped them in two diff color papers so that I knew which one was for boy child, which one was for girl child. I kept them in a big bag on the passenger front seat and periodically throughout the trip surprised them with a new present to unwrap by tossing it back to them. They LOVED the surprise factor and also something to entertain them.

    11. I used sunshine radian 65 to let my 3 kids sit in the backseat together. Therefore, my three kids usually have their own ways to make themselves happy but sometimes will have quarrels. It is troublesome. And now I guess maybe some of your tips or activities will be useful.I will try. By the way, good post!

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