37 Things To Do On A Long Car Drive With Kids

open road things to do on a long car drive with kids
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Headed on a road trip with your family?

Maybe you’re moving across the country with a toddler, traveling for the holidays with 6 kids, or driving the next state over to attend Grandpa’s funeral. Whatever the reason, going on a long car drive with kids can be a little daunting.

It’s not easy for everyone to be cooped up in close quarters for hours (or even days!) on end with limited opportunities to stretch and move around. It’s especially challenging when it involves babies and toddlers, any event with big emotions attached to it (moving, funerals), or family members prone to motion sickness. Add sibling squabbles, whining and complaining, and the proverbial “are we there yet?”, and long drives with kids can put even the most patient parent at their wit’s end.

But on the other hand, a long drive is also a golden opportunity to make cherished family memories and strengthen family bonds.

  • Like the time we saw the Grand Canyon
  • Made up a new favorite game
  • The time the cousins laughed until they cried telling Brian Regan jokes in the back seat
  • Or the time we were moving across a few states, in two vehicles, and we got separated when the freeway shut down because of a fire. Half of us had to sleep at the quirky roadside hotel in Small Town All-The-Stores-Are-Closed, USA, without any toiletries, change of clothes, or overnight bag, because they were in the other vehicle (lesson learned, haha) while the other car drove on to the destination.

Good times!

On long car rides, you have a captive audience and plenty of time. So make it count. ūüôā

With a little planning and a few boredom buster ideas up your sleeve, you can make the most of your time in the car with the family.

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Here are 37 things to do on a long car drive with kids:

  1. Screen time –¬†NOT a lot, just a little. Embrace the wonder of the digital age we live in and pass a few hours with the kids watching a favorite DVD, digital download, or playing a game. If there is ever an occasion for screen time, long drives are it.
  2. Audiobooks –¬†Harry Potter, The Boxcar Children, and The Magic Tree House series are a few of our family favorites.
  3. Sleep –¬†Well, let the kids sleep anyway. ūüôā When you’re facing a 12-hours-in-the-car day, the drive seems to go so much better if you can get on the road by 5 am, or earlier. Even my kids who rarely sleep in cars will get a couple hours of snooze time in the early morning hours. A few hours of quiet early morning drive time can make a huge contribution to both logging a lot of miles before lunch and having well rested (aka happier) kids.
  4. Empathize –¬†While car seats are wonderful for safety, and you should definitely use them, they can be very frustrating for the littlest ones because they restrict almost all movement. So when Johnny is screaming because he’s tired of being trapped in the same position for 4 hours, try to imagine how you’d feel if your seatbelt had no give. At all. Respond to his tears and screaming as calmly and as lovingly as possible. Make eye contact, touch him, let him know you care. And let him run free and wiggle when you stop for breaks.
  5. Plan fun active things to do when you stop –¬†Find a playground, a hiking trail, or a restaurant with a play yard. At a rest stop, climb trees, play tag, race each other, play a round or two of Simon Says or Mr. Fox, Mr. Fox, What Time Is It?
  6. Under! –¬†Under! is a game we made up during the last hour of a 12-hour drive I once made with just myself and my 2-year-old. I was desperate and kiddo was DONE being in the car. The road we were on happened to have an overpass every mile or two that we had to drive under. So when we started driving under the overpass, we’d shout UNDERRRRRRRR as loud as we could and hold it until we came out the other side. It was a hit and got us through that last stretch of the drive without having to stop. Kiddo loved it so much he played it for another 10 years and taught all his younger siblings and expanded it by playing in tunnels and adding Over! while on bridges.
  7. Books –¬†Libraries are one of my most favorite places on earth. Borrow a stack of books before your next trip and have new reading material for free. Epic! is an app similar to Netflix but for children’s books. One membership covers up to 4 profiles so each child can customize their account to their interests and reading level. Cost is $7.99 per month, cancel anytime. You can also download books and save them for offline reading. Click this link or the picture below and you can try it free for 30 days.¬†Read FREE for 30 days!¬†While we were living abroad on a tiny island with very few books, Epic allowed our family to access great books and keep growing as readers. It is awesome!travel tales s
  8. I’m Thinking of an Animal –¬†This game is a little like 20 Questions but geared to the preschool set. One person thinks of an animal without revealing what it is and says, “I’m thinking of an animal.” The other players take turns asking questions to try to guess the animal. Questions do NOT have to be yes or no answer type questions. So you could ask, “what color is it?”, “what is its habit?”, “what does it eat?” or “does it make a sound?” When someone correctly guesses, play moves on and someone new thinks of a different animal. This game also works with other categories: I’m thinking of a person, a cartoon character, a place, etc. Just choose something the kids are familiar with or are interested in.
  9. A few new-to-the-child toys –¬†Now, I am not one for giving my kids new toys just because. Too many toys are one of the recurring happiness depletion struggles at our house. But since unfamiliar toys can hold their attention longer, a long car ride is a time I am prone to make an exception. One of the best toys for travel we’ve ever used is Melissa & Doug Water Wow!¬†You simply fill the brush with water and as the child paints on the white page, it magically changes color to reveal hidden objects. The best part is, in just a few minutes, the page fades to white again and the child can enjoy it all over again. Each book has 4 different sturdy pages, spiral bound in a cute little notebook, complete with built-in paintbrush holder.¬†
    Other low-cost ideas are toys from second-hand stores, garage sales or borrowed from a friend. If you have time for advanced planning, you can secretly take away a few of your kids’ favorite toys several weeks before your trip and hide them until the trip. When you pull them out, it’s almost like having a new toy.
  10. Alphabet Game – you know how it goes, first find the letter A, then B, then C… Good luck with Q and Z.
  11. Name that Tune – turn on some tunes and see who can name the song first.
  12. Tell A Fill-in-the-Blank Story –¬†You start making up a story and pause to let the kids join in. For example, “Once upon a time, there was a gigantic _______.” Let the kids fill in the blank to make up a silly story you all create together.
  13. Listen to music 
  14. Sing 
  15. Mad Libs Make up silly stories while sneakily reinforcing grammar and language learning.
  16. Play I Spy
  17. End your drive day at dinnertime –¬†On a multiple-days drive, when you’re nearing your daily stopping destination, order healthier-than-fast-food takeout from the car with your phone. Pick it up on the way to your hotel and eat it in the hotel so the kids aren’t expected to sit still in a restaurant after being in the car all day. When possible, stay in a hotel with a pool and swim after dinner to let the kids get their energy out and tire them out to be able to sleep better.
  18. Mr. Stuffy –¬†Especially during a move or at other transitional times, bring along a favorite toy, blanket or stuffed animal. Some comfort from home can help the little ones cope with all the change from routine.
  19. Color –¬†Coloring is a great way to pass some time and calm the mind. For the little ones, try Crayola Color Wonder, or a coloring app on a tablet for mess-free coloring.
  20. Set a schedule –¬†If you’ll be in the car for multiple days, set up a few scheduled time blocks. Kids do better with routines. For example, games after snack time; quiet time after lunch – listening to an audiobook while the little ones nap; screens the last hour before dinner.
  21. Shade the windows –¬†Sunlight is a beautiful thing, but not when its shining straight into your child’s eyes. Sunglasses work too if Junior will keep them on.
  22. State license plate search games –¬†try to spot license plates from all 50 states.
  23. Etch A Sketch Classic time passer, and develops hand-eye coordination and using both hands to do different tasks.
  24. Journal
  25. Needle Arts – Cross stitch, crochet, knitting, embroidery, and needlepoint keep hands and minds busy
  26. Origami
  27. Share 3 Gratitudes¬†–¬†a great way to turn a grumpy mood around.
  28. Tell Jokes
  29. Photos – let kids take pictures with your phone. Get a glimpse of the world from their seat.
  30. Mix up the seating arrangement
  31. Take turns driving¬†–¬† 8 hours of passing out snacks, squelching sibling squabbles and entertaining the kids gets old. So does driving for 8 hours. Swap roles with your spouse for a few hours. You’ll appreciate each other more.
  32. Conversation Cards –¬†a quick search on Pinterest and you will find many printable cards geared to creating conversation with kids. A great way to form stronger connections.
  33. Share Your Childhood Stories –¬† Like the time you were 4 and you dropped your dog off the second story balcony because you thought you were fast enough to run down and catch him before he hit the ground. You didn’t tell your mom so Sinbad’s broken leg got blamed on your sister’s friend who rolled over it with her roller skates a little while later. (So sorry Sinbad.)
  34. Share Memories – Ask your kids to tell you things they remember from previous family activities.
  35. If you could_______then what?¬† go anywhere, spend a million dollars, fly with a rocket pack, meet a celebrity, be a cartoon character…a fill-in-the-blank conversation game to get creative juices and dreams flowing.
  36. Chart Your Progress –¬†Help the kids have a visual idea of the drive by mapping out the trip and marking your progress. Use a paper map, a digital one, or even masking tape on the ceiling with adhesive velcro and a Hot Wheels car to show how far you’ve come (and how far you still need to go).
  37. Write One Sentence, Fold, and Pass –¬†This one is for older kids. Start off by writing a sentence at the top of the page, fold it over, and pass it to the next person who then writes another sentence, folds, and passes. Repeat until you’ve written 6 sentences and now have a bunch of silly stories. The first sentence should introduce who,¬†2nd: what,¬†3rd: how¬†4th: when 5th: where¬†and 6th: why.

There you have it. 37 small things ideas to help make your next long car drive with kids just a little bit happier. Enjoy your time as a family!

What are your best long car drive with kids tips?

What would you add to the list? Please share in the comments.

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5 Comments

  1. Melissa
    March 21, 2018

    I love these ideas! My 8-year-old still enjoys the guess-the-animal game (although we play it with only yes/no questions now).

    When my kids were younger, we used to bring books with peel-off vinyl stickers – they could play with them in the book like at home or stick them to the windows for something new.

    Reply
    1. Rhonda
      March 21, 2018

      Peel-off vinyl stickers, great idea! Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  2. I love this list! I wish I would have known half these things on our trip to Idaho 2 Summers ago for our 24-hour drive! Thanks for sharing #WanderingWednesday

    Reply
  3. Wrae Sanders
    May 10, 2018

    This was full of great ideas! I pinned this for ideas. My family is going to Florida late this summer.

    Reply
    1. Rhonda
      May 11, 2018

      Have a great time making memories in Florida!

      Reply

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