Enjoying Long Car Trips with Kids

three happy kids in the car

Each summer since the girls were little, the three of us would take two long weekend car trips. We make the five hour trip to the Outer Banks, and the nine hour trip to a family reunion in upstate New York. While we have one, I’m not a big fan of the car’s DVD player. They’ve always been allowed one movie per day on long trips, then the rest of the time is spent learning how to entertain themselves. Here’s what worked for us:

Bring supplies

  • Travel friendly art supplies – This includes a gallon bag of new crayons and several coloring books, stickers and plain paper, and Color Wonder markers and books.
  • Bag of car toys – We have two paper grocery bags in our garage packed with car toys at all times. This includes a few Woodkins doll packs with fabric, magnet dress-up dolls, houses and sceneries, a few matchbox cars and a few action figures.
  • Activity books and magazines – Activity books include Where’s Waldo, Look Alikes, Hidden Pictures, mazes, word-finds, dot-to-dots, invisible ink books, sticker books and puppet books.
  • The empty backpack – We always brought an empty backpack for collecting travel brochures, interesting placemats, menus, tickets and small souveniers.
  • Snacks – This one is an obvious must. We brought cereal cups, granola bars, bags of chips, water bottles and small juice boxes.

Play games

  • Travel board games – Many board games have a travel version. We have Trouble, Othello, Sorry and Connect Four.
  • Magnet games – Magnet games include chess and checkers, tic-tac-toe and Hangman. There’s also Wooly Willy, Hair-do Harriet and Lil Squirt magnet games.
  • Car games – Car games include the Alphabet Game, 20 Questions, the License Plate game, travel bingo, and punch buggy.

Sing-alongs and stories

  • Sing alongs – Remember all the old campfire songs “Little Rabbit in the Woods,” “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Head and Shoulders,” and “Home on the Range,” or patriotic songs like “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” – a long car ride is the perfect time to teach these.
  • Read alouds – If it doesn’t make you car sick, a long car ride is the perfect time to read a chapter book aloud. It might be a nice time for an older sibling to read picture books aloud to a younger sibling.
  • Books on tape – In my car, these count as read alouds.
  • Family stories – This is one time of the year when you spend a few undivided hours with your family. This is the time to tell stories about your own family growing up, how you spent your summers or about traveling and vacations. This is a time to tell stories about when they were babies and growing up as well.
  • Talk games – This includes Table Talk for Kids or Melissa and Doug’s Box of Questions or American Girl’s conversation starters.

Stops along the way

  • Plan for it – On our way to the beach, we often stop for an hour at the Virginia Living Science Museum. On our way to the family reunion, we’ve stopped at Boyd’s Bears and the Corning Glass Museum.
  • Movement breaks – At least every two hours, it’s nice to stop and stretch your legs.  This may be just taking a quick walk around a rest stop, or if you plan ahead everyone could spend a few minutes tossing a beach ball or jumping rope.
  • Travel brochures – Part of trips with my younger daughter Claire is collecting travel brochures. She likes to look through the pictures and plan stops along the way. When we can, we take small detours to check out places from the brochures. For sure, this is how we found Mr. Sticky’s cinnamon buns in Pennsylvania.
  • Scenic stops – This would be my dad’s favorite and there’s no planning required. It’s nice to stop and scenic overlooks and historical landmarks.

Child Nervous About Summer Camp

Dear Dr. Rene,

Our nine year old is signed up for his first sleep away summer camp. He is already a bit nervous about this. How do we best get him ready?


Mom of Three


Dear Mom,

First, start with empathy. Let him know that you understand he is nervous, and that it’s a perfectly understandable way to feel. This lets him know that he can talk to you about his feelings and concerns. When he brings it up, it might be helpful to ask more specifically what he’s worried about so you can’t directly address the issues. There are lots of ways to help him feel better.

  • Tell your own interesting and happy camp stories – Kids love to hear about their parents’ experiences, keep it upbeat. Ask other family and friends to share their stories as well.
  • Visit the camp’s website – Download any maps or schedules and view any pictures or videos. If there isn’t a specific schedule available online, ask if one can be sent.
  • Request to be in contact with other families – Your camp might be able to put you in touch with other families planning to attend. Any connections you can help your child to make may be helpful. This may be writing letters or emails, connecting through social media or meeting up if they live close by.
  • If they haven’t slept away from home, practice before camp starts – It might be helpful to have them spend a night or two away with family or friends before going away to camp.
  • Give him a small calendar to mark camp and other important events – Mark things like Spring Break, the end of school, parties, their morning swim schedule and Summer Camp. The may help him to get excited about upcoming events and count Camp like other positive events. He can also take this with him and mark down days til he gets back home.
  • If it’s available, plan to send him daily mail – The idea is to start mailing one thing a day a few days before he goes to camp, so he’s likely to receive something each day.
  • Let them know the counselor and director are there to help him – Just like their teachers and their principal at school, their counselors and director are there for them. Be sure he knows he can ask them if he needs help.
  • When the time is close, have them help you shop for camp items and help pack – It can be helpful to pack a favorite t-shirt or their lovey.
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