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.

Involve the Kids in Summer Travel

Summer is a great time to travel with the kids. There are lots of ways to slide in education and benefit the child’s skill set without dampening the fun!

  • Plan-Do-Review – If you are headed to the beach next week, start planning with kids now by visiting the area’s websites, searching nearby attractions and making a plan for activities with your child. Planning also includes reading related children’s storybooks or looking at pictures from previous trips. The ‘do’ part is when you are there; check through your planned list, talk about all the things they are doing and seeing and keep scrap book items and brochures from everywhere you go. For older kids this could include journaling or taking videos. The Review is calling grandma to tell her in as much detail as possible about the trip, making scrap book pages or writing a story about the trip.
  • Give them Jobs – Once a child is three years old, they can help with packing by running to get simple items. Older children can be in charge of mapping the route or writing the itinerary. In the car, younger children can be the look out to “find” restaurants and gas stations, and older children can be navigators and mark milage.
  • Focus on Local – Research local foods and local traditions together. Take part in what you can. Be sure to note local vocabulary.
  • Review and Plan Each Night – Each night review the highlights of the day and list one or two plans for the next.
  • Be Flexible and Child Focused – I’ve found some of our best stops are unplanned, often found along the way. More than once on long car trips, we’ve been sidetracked by my younger daughter picking up an interesting brochure for a Children’s Museum or restaurant (Mr. Sticky’s Buns) at a rest stop.

Join me to discuss these ideas and several others at my workshop on Traveling with Children on Thursday June 21st. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

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