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.”
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 audible.com (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 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.
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. Updated on 6/14/2020.