How to Keep Kids Busy on a Long Trip

posted: 05/22/15
by: Courtney Reimer
kids in the back seat of a car

You're all packed and ready for the family trip when it dawns on you: what on earth are we all going to do to keep these kids occupied for the next several hours? If you're at a loss for how to keep the "are we there yet" yelps from starting as soon as you pull out of the driveway, fear not. We're here to help. We have a few of our own tips, and the internet also abounds with great ideas on this topic, some of which we've compiled here for you in a handy-dandy list. Clip, save and cherish for every vacation from now until the kids go off to college.

1. Make your own soundtrack.

Remember the words of wisdom imparted by the Tasmanian Devil's apprehenders: Music calms the savage beast. This wisdom also applies to cooped-up and amped-up kids. I've found there are endless things that can find their way onto the bus for extended verses of Wheels on the Bus -- who knew that the rabbits on the bus go hop, hop, hop? -- but if your children have outgrown the nursery-school anthems, try making up new words to popular songs ("Because I'm slippy" can provide a nice banana-based alternative take to "Happy," etc.)

We also enjoy putting on their favorite movie soundtracks and then asking the kids to describe what's going on during the movie during each song. It's not the quietest activity, but it's definitely engaging!

2. Idle hands are the devil's way of forcing you to make playground pitstop.

Okay, you've exhausted your repertoire of sing-along songs and the CD collection has been tapped. Now what? Time to get their hands busy. Fortunately the dollar stores are chock-full of little tidbits that can make their way in to grab-and-go bags to keep little hands from getting idle. Take a cellophane bag and put a few stickers, a toy car and a ball in it. You'll be surprised at what little minds can do with such simple ingredients. If you've got a little more time before you leave and you want to take things to the next level with car activities, the Make and Takes blog has some excellent ideas.

3. Inspect your gadgets.

If you don't have the time or patience to create Pinterest-worthy road-trip activity bags, don't worry: there are other options for hand-busying and convenience-making solutions. Travel and Leisure has compiled a great list of the things that will make traveling with kids just a little easier. We especially love the idea of our little ones keeping their own little travel journals.

4. Get some great, and greatly engaging apps.

Of course screen time isn't always avoidable. If you've often wondered: "How did parents get by before tablets and mobile devices?" You're not alone, and thankfully the tech world has dreamt up all kinds of engaging and educational tools to keep your kids' brains active for long stretches of time. We especially like this list of apps from USA Today, broken down by age.

5. Give them the gift of unwrapping a gift.

If you've ever tried to pry a screen away from a kid you know it's about as easy as taking candy from a baby (which is to say: not very). One pretty ingenious idea for distracting the kids away from their screens: give them a little present. We're not saying you need to give them an elaborate gift just to get them to toss aside their tablet -- it's more about the unwrapping journey than the goodie itself. Even a tiny slinky takes on grand proportions when it's buried in wrapping paper. (Hat-tip to Cloudy with a Chance of Wine for this idea.)

6. Make breaks really special.

Sure, you're trying to make good time, but nature, hunger and cramped legs will intervene at some point. Might as well make those breaks happen somewhere more exciting than a boring rest stop -- Cozi.com recommends Roadside America (among many other great things on this extensive list of how to entertain kids in the car).

Do you have good tips on how to keep kids busy on long trips? Share them in the comments, Tweet us @TLCmeNow or tell us on Facebook!