Your family is itching to get going, but first you make one last run through your checklist to make sure you've got it all. Luggage? Check! Snacks and beverages? Check! Emergency car kit? Check! Maps and GPS? Check! You're just about ready to head out on one of the most popular forms of travel: the family road trip.
One other thing you absolutely need to have in the car is entertainment -- especially if you have children. Anyone who's ever traveled with a kid knows that if they don't have anything to do in the car, within five minutes they'll start asking, "Are we there yet?" This can make even a one-hour trip to grandma and grandpa's seem like an eternity.
Just as you should have plenty of snacks to stave off hunger, being prepared with a lot of entertainment can help prevent road trip fatigue in children of all ages. The key though, is to make sure the games and activities you bring along don't create so much noise that your children distract and hinder the driver. Even though the concept of quiet children can seem like an oxymoron, many car games can keep your kids occupied and happy without causing you any headaches.
Need some ideas for your upcoming road trip? Read on for some great games.
Hunting for Bottled Treasure
Create a self-contained buried treasure game that your kids can do together. In "Bottled Treasure," you fill a 2-liter bottle or other plastic container about three-quarters full with rice or birdseed. Then add a variety of small household objects such as paperclips, buttons, marbles and different colored toy Army men. Be sure to keep track of how many objects you put in and what they are. Most importantly, seal the container tightly so you don't get rice or seed all over your car.
Your kids can then shake the bottle and try to find all of the treasures you "buried" in the bottle. If you've got a long trip ahead of you, they can also guess what the objects are. Once they've found everything on the list, reward them with a treat, like choosing the music for the next hour.
Fun With Maps
Maps are not just essential for knowing where you are on the road; they can also be the source for many great car games. Another plus to using map-based games is that you can teach your children map-reading and geography skills.
Give your children each a map and let them mark it up to help them keep track of where you are in your journey. Let them color, draw on it, highlight your route or use stickers to help them create their own personalized mementos of your road trip. As you pass different towns and landmarks, they can note them on their maps.
Older children can maximize their map-reading skills to figure out how many miles you have left until your next stop, and they can also calculate how long it might take to get there based on your speed.
When you have younger children who are learning their colors and numbers, your fellow drivers on the highway can provide the perfect opportunity for them to practice. Come up with fun, yet age-appropriate challenges like being the first to find five green cars or 10 semi trucks. Engage older children with guessing how many of a certain type of vehicle you'll see in 10 minutes. Let the winner choose the next DVD or hour of music.
If you're traveling with teens, make the game a bit of a surprise. Have everyone in your family choose a color and when you find 10 vehicles of that color, you have to provide a reward for the family. Whether it's dessert at dinner or a family activity like mini-golf, it's a way to engage older kids who may want hide behind their iPods and cell phones during the trip.
Watch for Plates
License plates can be the basis of a number of fun car games. Before you start your road trip, ask each person in the car how many different state (or province) license plates you'll see along the way. Write down everyone's guess and keep a running list of all the states and provinces you see. At the end of the trip, the person with the guess closest to the actual number wins a prize. If you're doing a multi-day trip, you can even play this game on a day-to-day basis.
Kids can also mark off all the state license plates they see on their maps. If you have older children with really keen eyes, they can track the different specialty plates you see along the way, like those promoting education or animal rights.
Don't underestimate the power of a deck of cards or a board game. Simple card games -- whether they use standard decks of cards or are specialized card games like Uno or Apples to Apples -- can keep children occupied for a long time.
Several board games come in magnetic versions specifically designed for travel. The board is usually a metal case, and the pieces contain magnets that stick to the board. That way your children can play their favorite games and you don't have to worry about losing the pieces.
A different type of contained game is the "wipe off" or "wipe clean" game. These games are played on dry erase boards that can easily be wiped off and reused. Dry erase boards also give your children a place where they can draw without making a mess and scattering paper all over the car.
Be Media Savvy
Books, movies, music and games are all ways to keep your kids quiet for a longer period of time. To get your children excited about your trip, have them pick out a new book or movie they can read or watch during the ride.
If you have younger children, bring a V.Reader and several book cartridges they can read on the trip. A portable DVD player with a new movie can also be a big hit. Handheld electronic games can keep hands occupied. Let your older children zone out to their favorite music on their MP3 players.
Be sure to bring headphones for these electronic gadgets, or your trip won't exactly be noise-free. Also make sure your electronic gear is charged up or has enough battery power to last for your current leg of the drive.
You may also want to consider limiting "screen time" so that you have enough opportunities to connect as a family during the ride.
What do you spy?
"I Spy" is a classic car game that many people played on family road trips when they were young, and it helps children develop observational skills.
Find a fixed object that everyone in the vehicle can see and say, "I spy with my little eye something that is …" Then give a clue as to what the object is.
Everyone else in the car takes turns asking yes or no questions about the mystery object and guesses. This pattern repeats until someone guesses the right item. That person then gets to choose next, and the game continues.
To give everyone a fair chance, rotate the order in which people guess.
Rest Stop Athletics
Being cooped up for hours on end isn't fun for anyone, so be sure to take regular rest breaks. While you're stopped, help your children burn off some energy.
Pack some small athletic gear in your car. Small, squishy footballs and Frisbees don't take up a lot of space, and they can get the entire family involved and the blood circulating.
If you just don't have room for sports gear, make up some quick, simple outdoor games. Create races where everyone has to run from tree to tree in different ways: Run to the first tree, hop to the second, jump to the third and run back to start.
Getting everyone moving will make your driver more alert, and it will help calm down your children, maybe so much that they'll nap for an hour. That will definitely give you some silence.
Create a Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are great ways to keep your children involved in the traveling aspect of your journey. While you're preparing for your trip, create a list of items you think you'll see along the way. It can be a list of random objects, or it could have a theme like types of vehicles, farm animals or road signs. Make copies for all the passengers in the car, and as each person sees an item, he calls it out, another person in the car verifies it and he crosses it off his list. The first one to cross off the entire list wins a small prize.
Another variation of this involves creating a bingo card for each person. Whoever creates a bingo on their card wins. You can find ready-made printable cards on the Internet, or you can make your own.
Say Your ABCs with Billboards
Billboards and road signs can be a source of educational entertainment, and a way for children to practice their ABCs. As you pass signs along the road, try to find each letter of the alphabet in order. The caveat is that you can only get one letter from each sign you drive by.
When you see the letter, call it out. For example, you'd say, "I see an 'A' on 'Dairy farm this exit'." Nobody else in the car can call out a letter using that sign, even if it also said, "Fresh butter." You'd have to get the "b" from a different billboard.
This is a game you can play all together as a family, or you can pit family members against each other. To sweeten the pot, you can guess how long it will take you to get through the alphabet. Provide prizes or rewards for the winners.
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More Great Links
- Cohen, Arianne. "6 Road Trip Games for Kids." Real Simple. (June 27, 2011) http://familyfun.go.com/vacations/classic-road-trip-games-713633/
- Fox, Susan. "Classic Road-Trip Games." FamilyFun. Aug. 2005. (June 27, 2011) http://familyfun.go.com/vacations/classic-road-trip-games-713633/
- KidsHealth. "Road Trip Boredom Busters." KidsHealth.org. May 2009. (June 27, 2011) http://kidshealth.org/parent/positive/family/road_trip.html
- Landau, Ian. "Family-Friendly road Trip Games to Keep Your Kids Entertained--And You Sane." ReadersDigest.com. (June 27, 2011) http://www.rd.com/travel/familyfriendly-road-trip-games-to-keep-your-kids-entertainedand-you-sane/
- Mattes, Megan. "5 Toddler Travel Problems, Solved." Parents. Aug. 2008. (June 27, 2011) http://www.parents.com/fun/vacation/ideas/toddler-travel-problems/?page=1
- Mohler, Mary. "No-Stress Holiday Travel with Kids." Parents. Dec. 2008. (June 27, 2011) http://www.parents.com/fun/vacation/ideas/holiday-travel-with-kids/?page=1
- Putnal, Olivia. "10 Road Trip-Ready Kids' Apps." Woman's Day. June 7, 2011. (June 27, 2011) http://www.womansday.com/Articles/Life/Travel/10-Road-Trip-Ready-Kids-Apps.html