- Get kids outside and active before leaving for the trip. We didn't do this as much as I would have liked, but we did try.
- Have a plan. Boy howdy. This made all the difference, and our plan wasn't even all that rigid.
- Schedule the toys. Don’t play with them all right away. Think about it.
- Every time you stop is a potty break and opportunity for exercise. Again, we didn't do this as often as I would have liked, but we tried. Jumping jacks, little sprints, walks around the rest area, it all helped.
- Stop regularly. Every two to three hours was about how often we stopped. It might seem excessive, but sitting for so long is just not comfortable or healthy at all.
- Try not to rush. We had a schedule to keep, but we had to be relaxed about it. Things went much better when we weren't rushed.
- Don’t start a movie until absolutely necessary. I don't think we even brought out the DVD player until the second night on the road.
- Wrap some of the toys in the “fun bag” for an extra surprise. This worked out so well! We even wrapped toys she had already seen. She didn't care. It made it more fun for her.
- Swap drivers, if possible. We didn't do this, but our driving days weren't usually too bad. I always tried to stay awake to keep B company, though.
- Make note of parks near your route, if possible. We were lucky enough to have some decent rest stops along the way, so I didn't bother with the parks, but there were times I wish I had. We did, however, plan our stop the first night to coincide with a trip to the Corvette Museum the following day. Stops like this make the driving portion of the vacation a lot more interesting!
- Cover the car seat with a crib sheet for easy cleanup at the end of the trip. There was no need for us to do this, and really no easy way to do this, but it's not a bad idea. We did take one trip with her that resulted in crumbs all over the car seat. This trip was mostly mess free, though.
- Pack food for lunches to save money. It's amazing how much food costs can add up. It can also be healthier to pack your own lunch, as well as more convenient.
Pack snacks, even if you don’t plan to eat in the car. Inevitably, there will be a time when your child (or you!) is hungry and you’re nowhere near a stopping point. Besides, it’s much cheaper to shop at a grocery store than a convenience store.
- Yogurt Tubes
- Granola Bars
- Mini quiches
- Boiled eggs
- Snack mixes
- Baby carrots
- Sugar snap peas
- Water bottles
- Make up your own words to sing to favorite melodies.
- Let your child suggest her favorite songs for singing.
- Wheels on the Bus
- Farmer in the Dell
- Bean Song (My Dog *Bean* Likes to Roam)
- Down by the Bay
- Father Abraham
- Alice the Camel
- Baby Shark
- Twinkle, Twinkle
- Pack a few new books and a few favorites. We had one book, which happened to be new, in the car. She read it multiple times, thankfully.
- Audio books are also great for car trips since they’re so compact. We didn't do this on this trip, but I'm storing this tidbit away for future trips.
- Work with your child to create sequels or continuations of stories. This is almost always fun. Let their imaginations run wild!
- Make up your own stories. Write them down and work on illustrations. One of our favorite things was to have Sophie draw the pictures. She always came up with fabulous drawings.
Use this time to get to know your child better. Ask them about things they like to do and what makes them happy or sad. Discuss with them the world that surrounds them and what’s important to them.
There are so many thinking games that don’t require any accessories. Take a list or book of ideas to flip through when the dreadful “I’m bored” is heard from the back seat. Many of these types of games are also great teaching tools. To be perfectly honest, we didn't do many car games. We had some flashcards we worked through together, and she did do some activity sheets, but that was about it. In retrospect, I wish we had done more together.
- One of these things is not like the other (which item doesn’t belong and why?)
- Basic word problems (which number is greater, how many do you have if?)
- Find the letter (and then list words that begin with that letter)
- I Spy
- Twenty Questions
- Learn to speak Pig Latin
- Word games, such as Opposites, Rhyming, Definitions, I'm Going on a Picnic, or What Begins With…
- Roadside/Car/License Plate Bingo
- Simon Says
- Printed activity sheets
Rest Stop Games
Don’t make rest stops be just potty breaks and eating. Everyone will benefit from a little activity, even Mom and Dad.
- Red Light, Green Light
- Follow the Leader
- Jump rope
- Simon Says
- Jumping jacks
The best toys for the car are small, but not with many small parts. Small dolls are great, but their accessories are not.
- Lacing cards We decided to leave these at home. Next trip, I'm considering making some of our own to make them a little more fun.
- Drawing boards such as Magnadoodle, Aquadoodle, or Etch-a-Sketch The Magnadoodle was a hit for quick map drawing.
- Dolls We had no dolls with us, but we did pick up a little stuffed animal on the way back. That was a huge hit.
- View Master This was one of her favorites!
- Colorforms We didn't take any Colorforms. She only has one set and it's rather large, so we passed on it.
- Coloring books and colored pencils (crayons melt and markers are messy) I think she was frustrated easily by the colored pencils because they didn't produce as rapidly as her markers or crayons. She also had dry erase markers and twistable crayons that did not stay in the car. We didn't do coloring books, but coloring pages instead. Crayola has free pages on their website that were excellent for the trip.
- Blank paper This was a big hit. She drew many maps and pictures.
- Small cookie sheets and magnets or magnetic toy sets She had a little magnetic set in a case so we didn't do the cookie sheet.
- Two maps – one for coloring states as you drive through them and one for coloring when spotting license plates from individual states We didn't do this on this trip, but we did ask her to draw plenty of maps. She was a fan of the map drawing. Next trip, we'll have maps for her.
- Notebook for journaling (pictures or words or both) She had the blank paper for this.
- Pipe cleaners This was another big hit. She made lots of sculptures. We made letters together. Sometimes she would ask me to make things. We all had fun with the pipe cleaners.
- Clip board We had a little clipboard from Crayola that opened up to store papers, stencils, and even little markers, etc. This was perfect for the trip.
- Flash cards This were a bigger hit than I expected. Then again, I used to play with flash cards when I was young, so I should have known better.
- Stickers Praise stickers are especially great, but any kind of stickers will do. We liked stickers that were related to our trip, too.
- Stencils I picked up a set of three stencils at Michael's for $1 that fit right into her pencil pouch. She had fun with them, although I don't think she quite understands how to use them just yet.
These are just a few of the many sites I visited for ideas. A lot of the sites had repeated ideas, which is to be expected.