The family road trip can be a time to bond and learn about each other's interests and points of view — or an ordeal that makes you want to scream every time you hear "Are we there yet?" from your kids.
A road trip can be a fun, educational, and sane experience with just a little planning, creativity, and preparation. Sure, electronic games, apps, and portable DVD players are great distractions. But don't overlook these family-friendly games and activities that can keep everyone happy as the miles go by.
Don't underestimate the power of a deck of cards. It presents endless possibilities for all ages and can provide hours of entertainment and concentration. If your kids are sick of the standard Go Fish, Crazy Eights, and Rummy games, buy — or borrow from your local library — a kids' card games book for new ideas. Or buy a deck of quiz or trivia cards to keep their brains busy.
Hold an official family spelling bee or trivia contest using index cards to write down words or questions. Winners can earn trinkets, stickers, activity or coloring books, trading cards, food treats, money (the younger the child, the smaller the amount), or extra minutes of hotel pool time or stay-up-late time.
Good Ol' Games
Use the fallback road-trip games — 20 Questions, the License Plate Game, and I Spy.
Try the Alphabet Game. Pick a topic (for instance, animals) and a letter (A), then have everyone name animals that begin with that letter, like aardvark, antelope, ape. The best thing about this game is that kids can pick a topic of interest — cars, TV characters, countries, cities, foods, names, etc. — and there are 26 possibilities (one for each letter) for every topic.
Make the games into marathons, awarding special treats or trinkets to whoever wins each round. Then have lightning rounds or finals for extra-special awards.
Buy cheap but sturdy journals (or use plain notebooks or create your own from construction paper, hole puncher, and yarn) and have kids write down and describe what they see along the way. Have them collect something small (a stone, a seashell, a flower, etc.) or buy a super-small trinket from rest stops (buttons, stickers, postcards, etc.) to glue into their journal, describing each stop and each location or landmark they pass.
Bring along a stack of old magazines and have kids cut out and paste pictures into their journals to illustrate some of what they've seen (cows, fire trucks, palm trees, deer, cars, etc.). Give each kid a disposable camera to capture their own memories and keep the pictures in their personal road-trip journals.
Make It Magnetic
Stock up on a few super-cheap magnetic games (like tic-tac-toe, checkers, etc.) at the local dollar store or at gift shops along the way.
Bring a large map (or smaller map book that little hands can better handle) just for the kids. Have them use stickers and highlighters to mark each road you take on your journey.
Road Trip Box to the Rescue
Find a sturdy cardboard box or hat box (one for each child) and paint the top with chalkboard paint (black or green). Stock the box with tons of handy-dandy arts and crafts items and playthings: chalk, chalkboard eraser, washable markers, crayons, pocket-sized coloring books, colored pencils, scrap paper, mini dry erase board, dry erase marker and cloth eraser, construction paper, stickers, stencils, colored pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks, tape, colored tape, mini pom-poms, child-safe scissors, hole puncher, yarn, and small dolls or action figures.
Long road trips are a great time to put kids' imaginations to the test to create puppets, masks, journals, and more.
Silence Is Golden
When all else fails, use the standby game "See Who Can Be the Quietest." After hours of singing and crafting, your little ones just might appreciate the challenge of not saying a peep. Make prizes worth their while, with incentives such as money (quarters, a dollar), gift-shop trinkets or games, and a few extra minutes at the hotel pool or staying up a few minutes longer that night.
Sing, Sing a Song
Bone up on sing-along songs. Or buy or make a tape or CD of "round" songs (like "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," "Three Blind Mice," etc.) or sing-along/participation songs ("Old MacDonald," "B-I-N-G-O") that will get everyone — even the most tone-deaf — involved. Buy a kazoo or plastic harmonica for every family member for added accompaniment.
Bring a few of your kids' favorite books — or those they've been wanting to read — both in the printed versions and on tape/CD. You can listen to the story as the kids read along.
If you'd rather not spend the money, visit the library to check out copies of the books and tapes/CDs before you go. Or just bring the books and take turns reading the stories out loud (making sure to use your best character voices, of course).
Ask each family member to create a line for a story (e.g.,"There once was a boy name Hugh..."), then have everyone add a line until you're all stumped ("who lived in the town's biggest zoo" ... "he often had nothing to do" ... "so he decided to make an igloo" ... "with a big polar bear named Sue"...).
To make things really interesting, go as fast as you can, rhyme as much as possible, and take turns out of order (pointing to someone new each time). Write down the story as you go, then have kids create drawings to coordinate with your silly tale. When you're done, you'll have your own custom-made family story.
Use washable window markers to make colorful creations that even passersby can enjoy, or to play endless, paper-free games like tic-tac-toe and hangman. Keep a cotton cloth or dust rag handy so kids can keep the window fun going throughout the trip — just make sure the driver's view isn't blocked!
Have kids write down various words they see as you drive along (from billboards, bumper stickers, roadside attractions and stores, license plates, signs, the sides of trucks, etc.). Ask them to write a story, poem, or song grouping all of the words they see together. Have them read, perform, or sing their creation for everyone when they're done.
A little creativity and planning can cut down on the fighting and fussing and leave fond family memories of your time together — on the road and off.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2012