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7 Ways to Occupy the Kids on Road Trips without Electronics

Want your kids to remember more about vacation than what movie was playing in the DVD player? Here are some ways to cccupy the kids on Road Trips without Electronics.”

7 Ways to occupy the kids on road trips without electronics
Thanks to the many electronic advances in the past decade, long trips aren’t nearly as painfully boring now as they were when I was growing up. My teenagers have the luxury of watching DVD’s, playing Xbox, texting their friends and updating their Facebook profile all along our route. On our 1,000 mile trip to Florida in December, I didn’t hear “Are we almost there?”, until we crossed into Florida. I think that’s a record for my crew.

Taking Kids on Road Trips without Electronics

Electronics in the car may help pass time but sometimes I want my teens to remember a bit more of the trip than what movie is playing in the DVD player. Over the years I’ve come up with several ways to occupy the kids on road trips without electronics- if only for a short portion of a long road trip.

1. Talk to your kids.

This may be a no-brainer but I’ll share it anyway. Road trips are a great time to talk to your kids. Many of the deepest, most meaningful conversations I’ve had with my kids have taken place in the vehicle. When they were younger, “car time” was their time to have my attention and ask me anything. That tradition has continued as they’ve gotten older and while we don’t chatter non-stop on a 10-hour road trip, we do spend a fair amount of time in conversation.

These grab and go conversation starter cards for families are perfect for road trips if you need some ideas to get you started.

2. Listen to a book on CD or a great Podcast.

Technically, this suggestion is in the electronics category but I’m going to keep it on my list anyway. When my kids were younger, I was great about turning everything into a learning opportunity. I was sure to visit the library before a trip to see if I could borrow a book or two that referred to our destination. If that didn’t work, I could always find a classic story that they’d enjoy listening too. Things are easier today. You can find a great book through (and get two free books) or find a podcast on any topic imaginable with a simple Google search.

3. Play a game.

My kids still love to play the memory game, “I’m going on a road trip, and I’m going to pack…” Everyone takes turns saying what they will take while reciting each earlier response. The only difference between playing this game now as opposed to when they were younger is now they try to shock me with their response which almost always includes something about puke or dirty underwear.

When my kids were younger, they’d play the license plate game, I Spy, Road Trip B-I-N-G-O or eagerly check items off a custom scavenger list that I’d prepare for the occasion.

4. Have your child help you navigate.

I remember the days before a GPS and Google Maps were commonplace. Sometimes the kids and I would travel 8 to 9 hours to meet my husband when he was on the road. They weren’t very old but I taught them to be familiar with a map so they could help me navigate. I’m pretty good with directions so I didn’t normally have a problem, but they did enjoy holding such an esteemed position when daddy wasn’t around.

Today, map reading is an underappreciated skill, until you find yourself with no service. Yes, that still happens in the U.S. Make sure your kids are prepared and pull out that trusted and time-tested Rand McNally for them to learn from just in case. You never know when the obsolete skill will help them out of a pickle.

5. Create a photo journal of the trip.  

My kids used to get a brand new journal right before a trip. I would give them prompts and encourage them to jot down the important who, what, where, when, and why’s. They didn’t particularly like this exercise and considered it way to “school-ish”, but they enjoy glancing back at those journals now. My daughter was exceptionally diligent and even took the time to write down the time we passed into another state, what the weather was like and any notable changes she witnessed when compared to our home state.

Now that the kids are older and each has a camera (or cell phone) of their own, I encourage them to create a photo journal of our trip. They may photograph road signs, traffic jams, roadside attractions, and photo ops at rest stops along the route.  It’s fun to look at their pictures and see their three distinct photography styles and areas of interest.

We often start a group text so we can all share photos of our trips together. If your kids aren’t interested in making individual journals, you can easily upload the photos from the group text and create a fun family photo book with little effort- one everyone has contributed to and can cherish for years to come.

6. Pack some books, a magazine or Mad Libs.

I’ve been known to read to my family while in the car. A book has saved us from absolute boredom on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, my kids aren’t especially tolerant of read alouds anymore. They’d prefer to pack their own reading material, normally in the form of a magazine. Mad Libs are a fun way to pass the time for younger kids.    

7. Sleep.

This is probably the number one way my boys prefer to spend their time in the vehicle. They love to sleep and road trips give them the opportunity to do just that. After all, teenagers require quite a bit of sleep, you know.

Normally, electronics on a road trip aren’t a big deal to me, but in my book, road trips are synonymous with family time. And quality family time is too often neglected due to distractions. Road trips are the perfect time to unplug and reconnect to the people in your life. Even if you plan to unplug for a small portion of the trip.

What are some of the ways that you occupy the kids on road trips without electronics?

Originally published in 2013.


Monday 5th of December 2016

When my kids were younger (they're grown now), we'd SING. Sometimes we'd sing to a tape or CD, other times, just a cappella. One trip, with just the two of them and me, we made up new lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and other songs. Back in those days, tapes/CD's/walkmans were about the only "electronics", though small portable video games were just coming out. But even then, I limited them to how much they could rely on their gadgets.


Monday 27th of January 2014

Great tips. I have 5 kids and we have made only one major road trip but it was a doozie ....over 5000 miles and 18 days on the road. We had a great time and are planning our next cross country-ish trip this summer. We love to talk in the car but I use conversation starters to help it flow and stay creative and interesting. I found some on clearance at Hallmark but there are lots on pinterest. You never know what they'll come out with and I feel like I learn a lot about them ...and their responses usually spark conversation between them. We also love "art" activities. Markers (use color wonder if kids are younger or you have a much nicer car than I do), coloring pencils and paper, coloring pages, etc...chenille stems can be used to create all sorts of sculptures. We had an assortment of items In a small tote bag in each row of the car so everyone had items within their reach...and sometimes traded between seats. I also kept a bag of stuff by me in the front seat to pull out when needed. I avoided goodies that were purely toys ...but had lots of brain teasers, small rope or metal puzzles, things that could occupy some kinetic energy when needed on the road. Travel journals ...books about the USA so we talked about each state we went through (18!), license plate games, you name it. We may have even resorted to looking for shapes in the clouds and distant mountainscapes. We did electronics but only as a small part of the trip. They can look at Mario anytime....can they say the same about the land and skies around them? Wish you all the best trips!


Monday 27th of January 2014

I also have a conversation starter set that I pack with me when we travel. My kids are older so many of the activities I would have used when they were younger just don't work anymore but you offered many great suggestions.

Liberty Boblett

Wednesday 4th of September 2013

I love these tips. We are getting ready to go on a 10 hour road trip and I want my kids to do something other than play on the phone and Kindle!


Tuesday 4th of June 2013

We're heading on our FIRST long summer road trip with 3 kids (7, 8, and 9) and this is great advice! Thanks!


Thursday 6th of June 2013

Your first road trip? Sounds like fun! Where are you headed?

Duncan Faber

Friday 1st of March 2013

We do a lot of traveling. And we have a lot of kids. 5. (Holy cow, what were we thinking?) Anyway, we keep our kids occupied with audiobooks, and lots of them. There are a lot of sites where you can download them, but we use this one a lot because the stories are all free and they're original. Here's the link if anyone is interested. Yeah, I know. It's electronic. But at least it's better than watching a dvd. Protection Status
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