“Are we nearly there yet?”… Coming up with ideas to keep children entertained in the car can be tricky. Especially on long journeys where patience can start running thin as boredom sets in!
We’ve compiled a list of ideas to help keep children occupied whilst stimulating their creative sides. Electronic gadgets and devices are often the obvious go-to items when it comes to keeping kids calm in the car, but we wanted to give some fun screen-free alternatives (which are arguably more enjoyable).
Some are intentionally super simple and others are a little more involved. Feel free to use them as a starting point and adapt them according to the ability levels of your passengers. Some will take just a few minutes, whilst others have the potential to while away a couple of hours or more.
Don’t miss the essential tips and hacks we’ll share at the end to help make your journey go a little smoother. So buckle up and get ready for some unplugged, old-fashioned car journey fun!
Things to do on a road trip
Screen-free road trip games:
Vehicle spotting treats game.
Choose a sweet snack which comes in various colours (perhaps gummy bears, jelly babies or similar). Each player picks one at random, but they are not allowed to eat it until they spot 10 cars of that colour. Alternatively, players could pick vehicle types at random and only be allowed to take a sweet treat when they spot that vehicle. For example, a tractor, emergency vehicle, motorbike, camper van, or convertible.
Plot your journey in real time on a printed map.
Provide your children with a printed map and ask them to plot your location using a marker pen. Encourage them to look out for landmarks, road signs, and natural features that will help them determine your position. Additionally, you might also use the pen to indicate any points of interest that you come across during your journey.
We’ve found this to be a really engaging activity which has the potential to hold a child’s attention for quite some time. It gives them a sense of ownership and investment in the journey rather than being just a passenger. It can be quite a challenging activity, so is probably more suited to those aged around 8 and over.
Get creative with license plates.
To play this creative storytelling activity, take the letters from the license plates and come up with words that fit (the wackier the better!). For example ‘MRS’ might be ‘Magical Rabbit School’, or XSC might be ‘Extra Strong Cheeses’. Then come up with short stories based on the phrases. This road trip game requires nothing more than a keen imagination and be a lot of fun.
Time traveller roleplay activity.
If you’re on a trip with several breaks or stops, give this role-play activity a go. Imagine you are from a certain time in history – a caveman, someone from the 1920s or 30s, even someone from the future. Then describe everything you see as if through the eyes of your character. Give them a me, a back story and even an accent. For the duration of your stop, assume the role of this character. It can add an extra layer of fun when you have multiple characters from different eras all communicating with each other.
On the surface, it’s simply a fun role play activity but on another level, it can teach children about empathy by getting them to interpret surroundings from another perspective.
Road trip bingo.
To make your road trip more exciting, create a checklist of things you’re likely to see along the way. The winner is the person who can complete the checklist first. If you’re feeling more creative, make physical bingo cards featuring the items on the checklist, and play to complete a line or a full house to win points or prizes.
Ideas for checklist items don’t have to be too obvious. For example, they might include a windmill, a broken-down vehicle, a duck, a left (or right) hand-drive car, a dog, or a dead tree. Obviously, the more unusual they are, the longer the game is likely to take, so adjust according to the length of your journey.
‘Don’t open until’ bags.
To add some excitement and variety to long journeys, try packing small bags with sweet treats, activity prompts, or even riddles. Place a label on each bag indicating that it should only be opened at a specific time or location. This will create a sense of anticipation and help alleviate boredom during the journey.
If you’re stuck for riddle ideas, there are numerous websites dedicated to lists of these, ranging from very simple to mind-bendingly challenging! Here’s one to get you started: “I come out at night, but I’m not a star. I’m made of moonlight but I’m bursting with colour. My ghostly appearance is often seen near waterfalls. What am I?”.
Children have the chance to become real-life cartographers in this exciting activity. You’ll need to prepare a printed version of your road trip route in advance of your journey and give a copy to your child before you set off.
Give them some markers, coloured pencils or crayons and get them to highlight key landmarks or attractions along the way. These might include natural features like mountains or forests towns and villages, or even interesting buildings like windmills or farmhouses. Encourage your young explorers to keep a keen eye out of the window on your journey and note down anything that catches their interest on the map. Be creative and use images and symbols – there’s no need to be too precious about the map – be expressive! Perhaps even encourage them to jot down a few notes or descriptions to describe what they see along the way.
Once the journey is over they can continue to develop and work on their maps, turning them into colourful keepsakes to remind them of their adventure.
Alien world exploration activity.
If you’re bored in the car and looking for fun road trip ideas which don’t require any equipment, give this fun activity a try. Imagine that your car is a spacecraft that is exploring an alien world. Let your imagination run wild and interpret everything you see as if it is of alien origin. For instance, if you drive through a tunnel, it could be a wormhole to another dimension! If you see a farmer working on a tractor in a field, it could be a giant robot that is harvesting unique plants used to power spaceships. And, if you come across a police car, perhaps it is an intergalactic guardian keeping a watchful eye on the garglebloxer alien race, who are notorious for stealing people’s thoughts and selling them on the black market. Let your imagination run free and be as descriptive as possible.
Does your route include historic landmarks or sites? These might include historic towns, battlefields, museums, monuments or any other place of notable significance. This educational road trip activity offers children the opportunity to engage with history in a tangible and immersive way.
Before your car trip, compile a list of landmarks and gather some interesting background information on each site to show the children. Each stop on your list should offer a compelling glimpse into life in a different era. To bring each landmark to life, get them to research guidebooks, images, history books and online resources related to each site.
Sort the landmarks chronologically and create a visual timeline on a large piece of paper. This timeline will serve as your road map through time! As you pass each landmark on your trip, get them to make a sketch or two of each. This reinforces the historical context of the journey and should spark reminders of the interesting facts you’ve already learned about each place. When your journey’s over attach the sketches and any other notes or images you may have collected on your journey to the visual timeline to make a compelling visual reminder of the trip that hopefully awakens an intrigue into the wonders of history.
ETA maths prediction game.
Want to make your journey both interactive and educational? Incorporate some mental arithmetic into your trip by getting passengers to estimate the arrival time. This seemingly simple exercise can help to nurture thinking critically by getting them to contemplate lots of variables to arrive at a considered estimate.
First, set the scene by sharing the destination and distance with your passengers in addition to any planned stops you intend to make. Have them consider all the factors which might affect the arrival time and try to work out an average speed for the journey. To make calculated predictions, it may be easier to break the journey down into ‘legs’. Regularly check in with passengers to allow them to update their predictions if they need to. This fun activity provides a real-world example of how mathematics can be applied to everyday situations, and specifically, how it can be useful in planning a trip.
Road trip I-spy alphabet game.
For a simple twist on the age-old classic game, a player races against the clock to spot items for each letter of the alphabet. Choose who will be the spy and run through each letter in sequence until you find an item beginning with every letter… “apple tree”, “bus”, “cyclist”, “dog”, and so on. Include a rule that allows the player to skip a letter three times (to help avoid getting stuck on the tricky ones like ‘X’ and ‘Z’). To add an element of competition, choose another player to be the spy and see if they can complete a round in a faster time than the first player.
If this all sounds too simple, you might also compile a list of disallowed words such as ‘tree’, ‘road’ or ‘car’ to really get the cogs turning and increase the difficulty level!
Sustainable business idea brainstorming.
Want to nurture young entrepreneurs? Turn your family road trip into an exercise in inspiration and innovation. Invite the passengers to observe local businesses along the way and identify ways in which they could improve and better serve their community. Brainstorm as many ideas to reinvigorate them as you can, with a particular focus on sustainability and environmental responsibility.
The local businesses you observe might include shops, restaurants, launderettes and even rural farm shops. Discuss what you see with your fellow passengers and take a few moments to observe their current state based on what you saw. Pay attention to any obvious strengths or weaknesses and any potential sustainability issues. Then generate ideas for how they might improve, considering factors such as reducing environmental impact and which products or services they could offer to better serve the local community.
This exercise encourages children to think creatively about the impact businesses can have on both the community and the environment (positive and negative). It helps us understand the responsibility business owners have and the challenges they sometimes have trying to balance profitability with sustainability.
Who am I? – Simple road trip guessing game.
Turn your car into an exciting guessing game arena by playing a game of “20 questions: On wheels!”. First, choose someone to act as the game master and get them to pick a figure, either historical or someone everyone knows. The other passengers then ask questions to try and determine who the game master has chosen, only answering yes or no. If a player guesses correctly, they take up the mantle of game master and pick a new character. If nobody guesses within 20 questions, the game master wins. You can introduce twists to make the game more interesting such as introducing a time limit, themed rounds (Hollywood actors, rock stars, or famous artists for example) or reducing the number of questions.
Listen to audiobooks.
Reading physical books has obvious benefits, but they’re not suited to everyone when it comes to car journeys. Some of us find that the motion of the car can either give us headaches or make us feel a little queasy. Audiobooks, however, offer an entertaining alternative which can still stimulate our creativity whilst keeping us entertained. Either listen on headphones or enjoy stories together as a family.
If you’re ok with reading in the car, having a stash of physical books for car journeys is also a useful backup to fight boredom.
Board game fun.
Just because you’re bobbing around in a confined space doesn’t mean you have to ditch the board games. Lots of classic games come as mini-travel versions which ingeniously make use of magnets and simplified pieces to make them perfectly adapted for car journeys.
Alternatively, if you’re a trivia buff, simply take the question cards from a trivia-based game and have fun asking these to each other in the car.
Road trips with kids – tips and tricks
Now you’ve got a list of road trip activities for your journey, check out these hacks for travelling with kids in the car.
We love family trips to the seaside, but for us, this can often involve a car journey of 4 or 5 hours. Whether your journey is a few hours or an epic 20-hour drive, here are a few useful hacks that we’ve incorporated over the years which can help make travelling with children a little bit easier. Do you have any others? We’d love to hear about them in the comments!
Having a tray of some kind provides a versatile surface for various activities. From drawing and colouring, to playing games and eating snacks, they help to minimise mess and allows children to be creative in a confined space. You don’t need to spend lots of money on fancy folding trays either (although admittedly some of these are great) – we once successfully repurposed a flat baking tray!
By planning a few stops along your journey, you provide passengers with an opportunity to stretch their legs, use the facilities and perhaps even have a little runaround. As well as providing some physical relief from being in a confined space, the stops also give a chance for a little mental break. Long trips can be monotonous and everyone can benefit from a change in scenery whilst recharging and relaxing. By actually planning breaks in your journey ahead of time, you can make sure you stay on schedule and also stop somewhere that suits your needs.
Comfort – pillows/blankets/toys
When travelling with children, it’s important to bring along a few essential items to ensure a comfortable journey. Pillows and blankets are useful for napping during long trips and can come in handy in case of emergencies. Additionally, bringing along your child’s favourite toys or dolls can help them feel more at ease by providing a sense of familiarity and companionship. This is especially helpful for children who are prone to anxiety or homesickness when travelling. By having these familiar items on hand, children can feel more physically comfortable and emotionally secure during their trip.
A snack box
Having a well-prepared snack box can be a lifesaver for parents on long journeys. It not only helps keep hunger at bay but also prevents the need for impromptu food stops. These can often include unhealthy ‘fast food’ and somehow always seem to involve chocolate when kids are involved! It also ensures that you have a variety of snacks to suit everyone’s preferences. Make your snack box nutritious and healthy by including cut-up fruits, veggies, and nuts, along with some family favourite homemade treats. We try to avoid pastries and biscuits because aside from their questionable healthiness, they have a tendency to cover the back seats in crumbs!
Have a special ‘car kit’ – First aid kit
A specially curated “car kit” or a well-stocked first aid kit can give extra piece of mind when travelling with children. These trusty kits can help you provide swift solutions to unexpected situations should the need arise. You’ll obviously want to consider the usual basic first aid supplies. Bandages, antiseptic wipes, plasters and so on. Also include any items that are specific to your child such as medications, and allergy remedies if applicable. Other than the first aid items, add some other useful tools and items to your car kit. A flashlight, scissors, toilet paper, charging cables and even duct tape (which let’s face it, is useful for so many things!). Finally, a sick bag is essential if you have a passenger who’s prone to feeling car sick.
Other items for your kit will be dictated by where you’re going and the environment you’ll be in. There may be lots of others, but we’re just looking at a few of the items that might help whilst travelling with children.
Backup power for electronic devices
Our list focuses on screen-free road trip activities but staying connected and informed can be essential for a safe journey. We also realise that going completely screen-free might be more than a little challenging. There will probably be times when you’ll want to make sure the entertainment remains uninterrupted to keep the journey running smoothly. Charging up devices before you set out will help, as will remembering charging cables and adapters. You may also want to consider carrying a power bank for when batteries are running low.
Wherever you plan on going, we hope you enjoy these road trip activities and find some useful information for your car trip. Safe travels, and have fun!