Summer Road Trip Tips: How to Keep Peace in the Backseat

When I first imagine my family on a summer road trip, we’re smiling, singing, snacking, and snapping photos. We’re making sweet memories that will last a lifetime. But a moment later, I’m panicking, imagining teary toy battles, bored screaming, and endless complaining.

Having survived it more than once, I know you can take more than one high-energy kid on a road-trip and survive. Sure, I’ve cheated, using DVD players and Kindles to pacify them – yet, I’ve found some of the best activities don’t involve electronics.

For happy car travel, try one of these boredom busters…

For the Littles:

  • Mesmerize them with the magic of coloring books. My girl was never big into coloring, but for some reason the mess-free magic really appealed to her. This worked out great because I’d rather not worry about melted crayons or permanent marker on my seats! I tried a few different varieties, but preferred the ones from Bendon books. The colors are vibrant, the character selection is good, and the pages are bound together so they’re not flying out the open window. (Just hang onto the cap, so your child doesn’t lose it… and buy a stack of books to last!)
  • Let them enjoy “being a kid” with the whimsy of bubbles. The idea of bubbles used to make me cringe, but Fubbles no-spill bubbles is a game-changer. If your child recently learned the art of blowing bubbles, then you know this activity can keep them busy for quite a while – especially when they realize the unending joy of bubbles drifting lazily down the interstate. (Note: I figured the cars behind us may not appreciate the free window cleaning, so we reserved these for the lonelier stretches of road.)
  • Encourage your little engineer. My 1-year-old likes anything he can bang, pound, or disassemble. I like the little tool box toys with hammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, drills, shape sorters, and sound effects. The portable tool toy not only kept my son busy in the car, but relieved boredom during hotel downtime as well.
  • Draw them into an imaginative environment (that isn’t the car) with magnetic toys. Many a mom has sworn by the use of cookie trays and the classic alphabet magnets. What’s not to love? It’s easy enough to procure and pack. (Only use these toys if your children are beyond the stage of putting toys in their mouths!) For our trip, I picked up a couple of Hape’s magnetic travel sets. My imaginative 2-year-old loved playing “Vet Clinic” and “Circus.” Other magnet kits I’ve seen let children change a character’s outfit – which, any mother-of-a-toddler knows, never loses its novelty.

For School-Aged Children:

  • Inspire your aspiring architect with Legos. For the 4-7 demographic, Legos are always a hit. If you have Legos already, you can make a DIY travel case out of a baby wipes container, metal lunch box, or craft organizer bin. I was starting at square one with my kids, so I found myself browsing the Lego Junior Suitcase kits, which were compact and ready-to-travel, with themes like Supermarket, Fire Patrol, Farm, and Vehicles for hours of creative play in the car.
  • Beat boredom and make time pass faster with classic board games. What better time to play a board game than when you’re cooped up in the backseat? Kids ages 8 and 9 will love Grab & Go classics like Clue, Battleship, Trouble, Connect 4, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Monopoly, and Life. For younger ones, try Guess Who. Kids ages 4-7 may also like memory games that challenge their budding skills.
  • Show your thoughtfulness by making each child their own Activity Binder. There’s something so special about having a binder with your name on it and a set of art supplies that is all your own. If you have the time and desire to prepare, visit the craft store to pick up: a three-ring binder, sheet protectors, scissors, pencil pouches, glue sticks, colored pencils, a pencil sharpener, drawing paper, and stickers. Activities can include Road Trip Bingo, Scavenger Hunts, Word Puzzles, Crosswords, Art Prompts, Story Starters, Mad Libs, Word Searches, and other activities. Check out this PDF for ideas on making “Road Trip Activity Binders” for each child. (If you have no time, you can be rest assured Melissa and Doug make everything… and I mean, thing.)

For Game Lovers:

  • Get zany and creative with a game of License Plate Lingo. I love this variation of the classic License Plate spotting game. Read off the license plate letters of a car ahead of you, and ask the kids to come up with a silly acronym. For instance, “CKU” might be “Colorful Kangaroo Underwear” or “Creepy Koala Umbrella,” or “Cat-Kissing Unicorn.” I’m competitive, so I like to make the game more exciting by doling out dole out stickers for the funniest or zaniest ideas each round, and offering the winner a small toy or treat at the next rest-stop.
  • Build memory skills with The Picnic Game. You may recall this game from school, which is played by simply adding foods onto a picnic list ranging from A to Z. The first player begins with, “I went to a picnic Saturday and I brought…” then states a food that starts with A like apples. The next player repeats the first bit and adds a food starting with B, such as: “I went to a picnic Saturday and I brought apples and bananas.” It’s not so easy to remember 23 items, plus coming up with something you can take to a picnic that starts with X!
  • Reward observant passengers with the Cows On My Side game. For the rural road trip, Cows On My Side is an easy game kids as young as 3 will appreciate. When you see a cow on your side of the road, holler, “Cows on my side!” to get a point. You can also call out, “Cows on your side!” to steal a point from another player. If you see a cemetery, shout, “Ghost cow!” and steal all of the other side’s points. There are, of course, many other games you can play, powered by your collective minds. The guessing game “21 Questions” should be familiar to all parents. Simply think of a person, place, or thing, and have each player take turns asking questions to find out more about your noun. Another game that always has me busting a gut is “Fortunately/Unfortunately.” One person starts by saying “Fortunately,” and describing an event. The next player begins with “Unfortunately,” and puts their own twist on what has happened. The last player tries to find the silver lining by coming back full circle to “Fortunately.” So, for instance, a round might go: “Fortunately, I finally saw someone after 20 miles of driving down the desolate highway. Unfortunately, that person was a zombie. Fortunately, I, too, was searching for a pit stop serving brains for lunch.”

Snacks and activities are enough to keep most kids occupied. (Oh, we had cheese sticks, pretzels, carrot sticks, yogurt melts, nuts, apple slices, and granola all over the floor of the SUV… but, by God, the kids were happy!) If yours are particularly rowdy, you may have to up the ante. One mom said she gave each child a roll of quarters to be spent on whatever they wished once they reached their destination – but only if they were “polite, patient, and obedient” during the drive. If they had to be asked to do something (or not do something) more than once, they lost a quarter. And if all else fails, you can always build your own backseat divider like this clever father of triplets did!

Happy traveling!

By Jenn Fusion for Shine

Jenn Fusion is a Buffalo, NY based wordsmith with more than a decade of experience researching, writing, and editing informative and insightful articles for business clients. Her work has been featured online and in print editions of USA Today, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and The Houston Chronicle, as well as niche publications for vice presidents, celebrities, music, and beer. You may have seen on Huffington Post Live TV or heard her on Minnesota Public Radio. Best of all, she’s the mother of busybody toddlers Josephine and Henri. If she’s not writing, rest assured she’s out enjoying nature, digging in sand, cruising the high seas, drinking coffee, or hanging out with a pair of German Shepherds.

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