Road Tripping, Part 2 of 5: Keeping Kids Occupied, Connected, and Happy

thermal-springs-226660_1280Does the idea of road tripping with your kid(s) stress you out, before you even leave?! Can you already hear your kids having tantrums from the back seat? Can you imagine carrying your 6-year old like a football, while he kicks, screams, and cries at the top of his lungs, and everyone is staring at you like a child abductor? No? Only me? Well, let me tell you, this happened to me. It was the most epic of meltdowns, and it happened at Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone. And right now, you may be thinking to yourself, “great, and this is an article on keeping kids HAPPY?” Yes, we did have some meltdowns along the way, as any 6-year old is apt to do, but I’m happy to report that while DRIVING, meltdowns were kept to a minimum!

Items in our Road Trip Activity Box:


  • Variety of card games: UNO, Phase 10, Old Maid, Crazy 8’s, Old Maid, and Robot Rummy
  • Hangman, Tic Tac Toe, and Dot to Dot Games
  • Story Cubes – this is a box of cubes with small pictures/icons. You shake the cubes up and tell a story based on the pictures. This leads to some very creative tales being told!
  • Bananagrams – a more portable version of the Scrabble game
  • Highway Bingo cards – these get a LOT of use in our car
  • Travel Tangoes – magnetic shapes can be made into animals, buildings, etc…but we’ve lost a few pieces in the black hole of the back seat.
  • Scavenger Hunt card game – card version of the bingo game mentioned above
  • Miscellaneous “coloring” books
  • Colored pencils (Tip: use pencils only, unless you want to clean up nasty melted crayon wax off your leather seats…not that I would know anything about that)
  • Notebooks for each child to use as a travel journal or sketch pad

It all fits perfectly in a tote box:


Many folks do not believe me when I say that we travel without dvd players and/or portable electronic game devices. But, it is true. “That’s CRAZY,” you might be thinking. Admittedly, when I was planning our first big road trip, I was worried about what the kids would do to keep busy and engaged. We do very limited electronics in our house, so bringing these items on the road was not an option for us.

Instead, I put together the Road Trip Activity Box (as pictured above), and you might want to think about having something similar. It is only used for trips half a day and longer. When it is not being used, it gets stashed away in the home office, out of sight and out of mind. This way, it is somewhat “new” each time it’s brought out. As my kids are getting older, I will most likely add and revise the contents, and, you can add/modify yours to suit your family’s needs and interests.

You can also find a multitude of ideas on Pinterest. There are many creative ideas from “Snackle Boxes” to activity kits. You may, like me, just prefer to buy ready-made items and drop them in a box. I find this reduces my stress level. However, if you’re more crafty you may enjoy putting crafts/activities together yourself. In the first part of this series, Planning for Success, I wrote that I planned to only drive for smaller (3- to 3.5- hour blocks of time), and for that reason I chose to not have snacks in the car. You may choose otherwise…but be prepared to have food in every crevice in your car, despite your best attempts! On the Pinterest link, there are also some creative ideas for using shower caddies from the dollar store to hold food. When we did our initial big trip, space was very limited in the car, so I opted to not have a lot of “extras” such as this to take up space. Speaking of saving space, you could also use the over-the-door shoe organizers (also on my Pinterest board) to hold items, whether it’s activities, or essentials such as a sippy cup, wipes, etc.

Another idea that we had much success with was teaching the kids how to read a road map. We would play a game where they could only use highway signs/markers to figure out where we were on the map. I was surprised at how quickly they caught on; not only does this occupy the time but it’s a valuable life skill.

If your kids like music, you may want to consider letting them put together their own road trip mixes. There are a ton of online music services, but one of my favorites for putting together play lists is Spotify. One of the features I enjoy the most is listening to playlists offline. For example, here on the farm, when I’m outside working out of the range of the wi-fi, I do not get a cell signal at all. Having those offline playlists sure helps the time go faster. And, to apply this to road tripping, when you’re in the middle of the United States driving through corn field after corn field and the only song playing on every single radio station is “Call Me Maybe,” and you don’t have a cell signal…well, suffice it to say Spotify will save you some sanity.

Cracker Barrel has a great assortment of road trip activities, to include audio books. This is something I’ve yet to take advantage of, but I have friends who love listening to audio books.

One other thing, I almost forgot to mention – postcards! Remember to take along addresses of friends and relatives; your kids will love writing postcards, even if it is just a picture. And, friends and relatives love getting postcards!

Hopefully some of these suggestions will be tips you can apply to your next road trip; whether it’s 6 weeks, or 6 hours. Next up in this series is how to provide educational value to your kids, without them realizing it.

What topics are you interested in? How can I help you in your family travel?

Roadtripping Part 1:  Planning for Success

Roadtripping Part 2:  Keeping Kids Occupied, Connected, and Happy

Roadtripping Part 3: Educating Kids On the Sly

Roadtripping Part 4: Take the Stress Out of Packing

Roadtripping Part 5:  Be Prepared


©2015 Stacy De Smet

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