I wish I could start this article by telling you how well-behaved our kids are on long road trips. Believe me: I WISH! I’m going to be super honest: If I were to give you the 10 worst moments during our travels, nine of them would be in the car!
One Winter we set off on a road trip to the Polish mountains. After a long, busy week at school, the kids were tired. And our car was bursting at the seams. We packed everything we could possibly need for a ski trip and things to make the journey more comfortable for the boys. We had a long drive—820 miles!—ahead of us and the weather wasn’t cooperating. Not even 10 minutes on the road and the boys were already complaining. They were bored and started to fight. The situation became unbearable and we were only four miles in. FOUR MILES AND 816 to go! Peer and I looked at each other and thought: “How are we ever going to manage the next two days in the car!”
As our family began traveling more, we started to understand we’d be taking more journeys in the car. Long distance traveling is usually more affordable in the car than flying. So, with this in mind, I began to plan each trip hour-by-hour so that the boys kept busy (and happy!) for most of the way. Like most families: when the kids are happy, we are all happy!
Here are 8 tools to keep kids busy in the car:
1. No WiFi Apps
No WiFi? No problem! I always search for suitable travel apps that don’t require WiFi since we never know if we’ll have connection. Here I’ve compiled a list of 10 apps, but note: I only download a maximum of 4 per trip. This means the boys have to really immerse themselves in each experience—and maybe even inspire some friendly competition. Here are some apps from our selection:
- Netflix Offline
- Trump Rope
- Minecraft (this app costs € 6,99)
- Crossy Road
- Bike Race
- Hill Dask
- Tom Gold Run
2. One new book
Is there a book your son or daughter keeps requesting? Well, I usually oblige, but with a twist! Instead of giving in to immediate gratification, I save the purchase and pack it as a gift each of the kids receives once we pile into the car. Oscar is really into Harry Potter right now. He finishes each volume within hours! So, why not save it until we’re in travel mode?
Is your kid too young to read solo? Or maybe just doesn’t enjoy reading? Casper prefers picture books. Where’s Wally (Where’s Waldo for our American friends) definitely keep him busy.
The best thing about audio books for the kids is that it’s a story the whole car can share, together. Once we drove to the South of France when the kids were much younger. We listened to traditional Dutch nursery rhymes and Peter and the World. The kids loved it and even years after, we still sing the songs. There are endless audiobooks available for download.
Another option is music—an important “time waster” on a long journey. If you don’t have Spotify, I recommend downloading it. Not only do you have access to virtually every song out there, but you can personalize playlists. We make playlists for our road trips with songs the whole family enjoys.
4. Sticker books, journals, and magazines
Nowadays, you can find really nice sticker books, whether you shopping for boys, girls, or even older kids. Our favorites are Star Wars, Harry Potter, Peter Bunny or any animal theme. I also always check the newsstand and put together a holiday stack of reads including funny comics, joke books, and even journals like the National Geographic Junior. Oscar and Casper really enjoy them.
5. In-Car Entertainment System
We decided to purchase an in-car video system, similar to those in the seat backs on airplanes since we knew we’d be traveling by car more often. My kids are allowed to watch one movie per half-day journey and two movies if we’re traveling more than eight hours. It’s definitely worth the upfront investment.
6. Little puzzles or toys
This can be tricky—but very rewarding. I always have to make sure that the toys we’re bringing along don’t have too many small pieces. Searching for that little Lego brick that’s fallen between the car seats with a frustrated kid who has just lost his toy is NOT how I want to spend the journey! Sound familiar? Now we buy bigger one-piece toys card games or anything magnetic that won’t fall off the game board.
7. Drawing set
Oscar really likes drawing with pencil. After he outgrew several “kids” sets, we invested in a semi-professional kit. Peer and I get so much enjoyment out of watching him sketch a horizon, or mountain landscape—even just watching him practice the techniques is rewarding. Casper loves to color. We always stock up on coloring books before we head off on our journey.
8. Food! Cooler bag with little snacks
I love my travel cooler bag. I bought one in the US and through so much use, discovered it saves us so much money! Complete with two little ice packs, I put the bag in between the boys, filled with small snacks, fruits, veggies, and even cheese and crackers. When all else fails–food saves the day!
Now that we’ve uncovered our tools for keeping kids happy on long car journeys, there is one more tip I have to share: Never give the kids everything at once! If you’re planning an eight-hour trip, make sure you have a new tool at your disposal about every other hour. The diversification keeps them occupied without the “I’m bored!” chorus.
Another important rule we have in our family: Save the best for last! That means no electronics (phones, videos, tablets, gaming systems) in the first hours of the journey. It’s my philosophy that kids need to learn to entertain themselves without relying too heavily on technology.
So, now you have my bag of tricks! Does it make our kids absolutely LOVE long car journeys? Nope! But, at least we have a few tools up our sleeves that keep them busy. As they get older—and they start to understand and appreciate their own sense of wanderlust—they know that a long trip gets them to exciting new places and opens the doors to new adventures.
Before I sign off on this post, I also want to share my budget overview. This is what I spent on our last trip to Provence. Everything we purchased kept the kids busy not only for the journey but also throughout our holiday
For Oscar 9 year old:
- 3 new apps € 0,00
- Harry Potter part 5 € 22,00
- National Geographic € 6,00
- Donald Duck Pocket € 5,00
For Casper 5 year old:
- 3 new apps € 0,00
- Where’s Wally? € 9,00
- The coloring book € 8,00
- Junior Ranger Book € 14,00
- Snacks during the trip € 15,00
Things we already have (for every trip):
- 2 iPads
- In-Car Entertainment System
- Professional drawing set
- Cooler bag (money saver)