Summer is just around the corner and a family road trip is a great way to spend time together and make some memories! Road trips with small kids can be exciting, stress free, and fun no matter where you are headed if you plan ahead. Make the car trip part of the fun and adventure! Last year we took a 16 hour car ride to visit close friends and their new baby and I was seriously nervous about having my 3 and 5 year old kids in the car for two separate 16 hour rides! This was our first family road trip and first vacation, really, so I wanted to make it extra fun. Here is a whole slew of ideas on how I turned the car ride itself into a vacation they would remember!
First let me start by letting you know, we are not really vacation people. Well, I bet we could be… but our schedules, budget and lives don’t really allow it. Two horses and a blind dog to care for and small businesses to run don’t really allow us to leave home for more than a day or two at a time. Because our road trip didn’t end with a trip to Disney World or something that was overly exciting for the kids, I felt the need to turn the car ride into a fun filled experience. I filled the hours in the car with simple surprises, little treats, and activities to occupy their little minds. Once we got to our destination their was really no draw for the kids, other than meeting a new baby and visiting some amazing friends, so I looked at the car ride and visit with friends as the kid’s vacation and a way to spend quality time with them, so I tried to make it into something fun!
With a week long trip that required a lot of the space in the old minivan to be used up by our luggage – I had to get creative with ways to keep the kids entertained on the road. The stow-and-go space in the van was the only space I had allotted for the kids stuff while on the go. It worked perfectly because each child had their activities stowed in front of their seat in the stow-and-go and I could reach it all from my own seat. This is everything for both kids that I had stowed away that I could pull out to entertain them while we were driving. This is everything I took to entertain the kids on two 16 hour car rides as well as a few day visit at our friends home.
It looks like a lot, but it really isn’t so bad, and it was a well throughout out and organized pile of goodies. Each child received a Travel Treat snack pack as well as a travel magnetic chalkboard tray before we left home. They each also had a cloth lunch box which contained their special items as well as some surprises for the trip.
This is a trick I have used since my kids were toddlers – you know, when they decide that they needed to take 20 little toys every where we go. They could take anything they wanted as long as it fit into the box. It was also their job to make sure everything that they brought got put back into the lunch box before we got in or out of the car. This is a great way for them to be able to take something into a family or friends house to occupy themselves, or even out to dinner or shopping without having armfuls of stuff to loose! They each had a few little toys, a package of tissues, chap stick, sunglasses, and an electronic game of some kind.
This was something that I let them leave out the whole trip long and they did a great job of keeping track of everything using their little boxes. They have the perfect little handles so they can grab it and go and an easy zipper that they could close themselves to secure toys. The perfect way for them to tote their favorite things wherever they want to.
Next was one of my favorite additions to the road trip activities because it was completely free, and worked like a charm! I literally went into their rooms about a week before our trip and collected a bunch of little toys and trinkets. I knew they wouldn’t miss them, and quite honestly I don’t know if they even know they have half of this stuff! I used toys that they already had wrapped in tissue to help entertain them in spurts throughout the trip.
I put the toys into little groups (whatever I thought they might like to play with together, and then wrapped the little toys separately in tissue paper. I then stuck the wrapped toys in a little tote and stashed it in the stow and go. Every half hour or so- I would pull out a new “surprise” and give it to the kids to play with.
I was actually quite shocked at how much they enjoyed this, even though, it was their own toys. It wasn’t really about getting something, it was about the fun of unwrapping and being surprised by what the package contained. Then they were free to use their imagination for the next half hour with those toys and anticipate the next surprise too.
My next car ride trick was similar but involved a few new items that I picked up new from the dollar store and other department stores. These were “big surprises” to them because they had never seen them before, and were also a huge success.
Most of these items were things for them to use to color, read, play cards, or listen to while we were traveling.
The items included coloring books, crayons, chalk and magnetic letters for their Travel Fun For Kids – Magnetic/ Chalkboard Play Tray, a story on CD, color Wonder books and markers, a roll of quarters to use however they wanted, and a set of playing cards for in the car.
I also included a chip clip with their playing cards so they could easily hold and play while in their seats. They loved using these and they even use them when we are at home so they can hold and see all of their cards at once.
I then took all of these dollar store items and wrapped them in some leftover wrapping paper that I had on hand. They loved the whole unwrapping thing, and it really kept the car ride from going stale. If I felt like they needed a little pick me up or that I was loosing one of them I would pull something out and it would entertain them for the next leg of the trip.
Along with all of their wrapped activity surprises, I also included a stack of “Look and Find” books that we checked out from the library as well as a notebook and board books. In the right hand bottom corner of the tote you can see a drink bottle and cup. These were the perfect way to give the kids breakfast and snacks in the car so we didn’t have to stop. I filled the cup with cereal or a snack and they fit right into their car seat cup holders.
The last surprise was a biggie and something that the kids knew nothing about until we were on our way home from our trip. After a 16 hour car ride, a week away from home, and half way through the next 16 hour car ride I pulled out their biggest surprise. I had a little bag that contained a movie that they had been dying to see, a box of cracker jacks for each of them, and a little toy (which we already had) that was a character from the movie they would be watching. They squealed with delight and the last hour and a half of the trip was calm, quiet, and relaxing. Surprisingly this was one of the only times we used the DVD player in the van throughout the entire trip! Apparently my entertainment system worked because they really never even asked to watch anything!
They were thrilled to have a new movie to watch and they held their toys through the whole thing. It was a great way to treat them after they had been so good on such a long trip!
All of these simple ideas are a great way to help entertain kids on a car ride. Use just one, try a couple, or go all out and make the car ride into a vacation in itself. By no means do I feel like the kids NEED all of this for a car ride, but like I mentioned earlier, this is, and was probably the only vacation we will be taking for a very very long time. I hope that the kids enjoyed all of the surprises along the way, and I know I had a great time watching their faces as they unwrapped even the smallest surprises.
I hope your family plans a road trip this summer and that you enjoy the ride as much as we did on our little vacation!