10 Screen-free ways to keep kids busy while traveling
How to deal with cries of “I’m bored”?
As much as I love to travel, when my children were younger, I dreaded those long car rides, primarily because it was inevitable that they would annoy each other, bicker or ask me countless times when wed arrive at our destination. Years of hearing “I’m bored” and the constant desire of my children to stare at their phones, tablets or DVD players prompted me to get creative with games and entertainment options on the road. Here’s my top 10 go-to’s for your next road trip.
1/Play a road trip guessing game
With a little preparation, you can keep them guessing for hours while playing this game. All you need is a few paper bags and some interesting objects to pack up before hitting the road. Give your children the bags and have them search your home for small items such as toys, cotton balls, straws, pens, and plastic utensils. Be sure they don’t show each other what’s inside their bags! Then your children can swap bags and reach into them one at a time with their eyes closed while traveling to see if they can guess the objects.
2/Speed talking challenge
Indulge the little chatterboxes in your crew with a game that lets them chatter away while taking a walk or riding in the car. The object of the game is to see who can talk the fastest. Choose a well-known poem or verse for this activity that everyone in your group knows. For example, you can have each child recite the ABCs or even Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Start by appointing the first player and then with a stop watch, time how long it takes for him or her to recite the poem or assigned phrase. Then give each child a chance to beat that time.
3/Make travel LEGO kits
Keep your kids entertained in a hotel room, in the car or while visiting family members’ homes with this activity. Grab a few small plastic containers, gather up some LEGOS, and evenly distribute different colored pieces into each container. Then while on the road or sitting in your hotel room, break out the LEGOS and challenge your kids to create a shape, sculpture or figurine with only the LEGOS found in their boxes. Once they have finished the project, encourage your kids to mix and match their LEGO pieces and build a larger sculpture together.
4/Road trip rhyming
With just a moment of brainstorming for words, your kids can bust out some rhymes to keep themselves entertained. Start by jotting down random words on a sheet of paper, such as car, fish, book or pen. For younger children, stick with one-syllable words to simplify the activity while you can use more advanced two-syllable words with older kids. The object of the game is to have your children think of as many words as possible that rhyme with a word on the list. They can say them aloud or make their own lists if you prefer to have a few moments of silence. The child with the most words that rhyme wins.
5/Play “If I Lived Here…”
As you are trudging along on a road trip, ask each child to guess what it would be like to live in the cities and towns that you pass along the way. Have each child start the sentence with “If I lived here…” and then allow them to finish the sentence with activities that they’d engage in. Or have them point out a home along the route that they’d like to live in. You can expand this activity by encouraging them to detail the type of friends that they’d meet or the jobs that they'd have as adults.
6/Predict travel times
All you need is a paper map that your kids can open up, view, and analyze to get this activity going. Point out your starting location on the map and then circle the destination. Ask each child to trace the route with his or her finger and then guess how long it will take to get from point A to point B. While older kids may want to use their math skills to calculate the time based on the map scale, your younger children just can venture a guess. Let each child know what time it is and have them tell you what time that they think you’ll arrive. Write down all responses and cross off those guesses once the time has passed. The child who guesses closest to your arrival time wins the game.
KidTripster Tip: Reading a map is becoming a lost art! Help your child learn how to navigate a road map, just in case they don’t have GPS in the future.
7/Launch a customized memory game
While standing in line at an amusement park or driving along the highway, start this game by quizzing your children about recent events. Questions such as “What did we eat for dinner on Tuesday night?” or “Who was your first grade teacher?” are easier to navigate for younger children. Put your older children to the test with questions such as “What is Mom’s middle name?” or “How old were you when you started walking?” Keep a tally of how many questions your children get right to add a competitive component to the activity. You also can prompt your kids to come up with questions to test each other’s memories.
8/Create travel amusement centers
With a fabric shoe rack or bag with pockets that you can easily tie to the back of the front seats, you can have your kids help create an activity center filled with their favorite toys and games. Start by asking your children to select a few small toys from their rooms before heading to the car. For example, you can place a doll or small plastic fire engine in one of the pockets and a coloring book and colored pencils in another pocket. Add a few snacks and bottles of water to quench their hunger and thirst, as well as a few small games and puzzles to keep them entertained.
9/Craft conversation cards
Before getting in the car, have each kid write down her favorite activities, hobbies or interests, ranging from superheroes and animals to athletics and school activities. Put each topic on a thin strip of paper, fold, and enclose in a small plastic bag. While traveling, break out the bag of conversation topics and draw one out. Give the kids five minutes to discuss the topic before reaching for a new topic to spark a different conversation.
10/Magnetic cookie sheets
Before heading out for your next vacation, gather up a few cookie sheets and magnets to entertain the kids. While driving, place a cookie sheet on each child’s lap. Then distribute the magnets and let them arrange them in various shapes. If you have plain magnets, bring a page of stickers so that your children can decorate the magnets, too. This can also turn into a collaborative activity where one child starts to create a shape or design with the magnets and then passes the cookie sheet to another child to add his or her personal touch to the final product. If you have letter magnets, use those to make words or phrases.
Shannon Philpott-Sanders, the author of the forthcoming book Screen-Free Fun: 400 Activities for the Whole Family, has written extensively about the joys of parenting for local and national newspapers and magazines. She and her husband live in Illinois with their four teenagers and 2-year-old grandson.