To prepare for a summer of road trips, we’ve covered most of the basics: portable snacks, essential gear and offbeat attractions, but haven’t dared to mention a road tripper’s greatest fear: unruly kids. Never fear, weary travelers. We’ve found 11 simple ways to keep your kids engaged and entertained without electronics. So leave the tablets and smart phone at home when loading up the car and take a few minutes to try out these tips and tricks (your kids and sanity will thank you later)!
Healthy Snack Bracelets
A hungry kid is not a happy kid. Before you leave for the trip, round up some dried fruit and cereal to let your kids create their own healthy snack bracelets and necklaces. They’ll have fun getting to customize their favorite snacks and designs, and you won’t have to worry about constantly digging up things for them to eat. Not only do they keep snacks close at hand, the act of eating them will also work to keep the kids busy. Two birds, one stone, good snacking.
Custom Mystery Kits
Sometimes you just have to go with an old standby: rewarding good behavior with little gifts. The brilliance behind these mystery kits is that they can keep kids in line, excited for the journey, and entertained when the activities are unwrapped. Designate major milestones along the way, and reward good kids with little treats like activity books, stickers or small toys. Who can resist a good mystery?
A Seatbelt Pillow
No one likes the feeling of a seatbelt cutting into your shoulder, especially when you’re trying to catch some Z’s on a long trip. This DIY seatbelt pillow keeps you secure and snug, and only requires some felt scraps, stuffing and velcro. Plus the little pocket in the front holds a phone or MP3 player, so there’s no risk of anything dropping between the seats. Stay organized and comfortable!
LEGO Play Case
Before you panic at the thought of hundreds of little toy parts scattering around the car, give this lunch box upcycle a try! By attaching a LEGO board to the bottom of an old lunch tin or storage container, you have a firm foundation to let your kids play. Once they’re ready to move on to the next activity, simply toss the pieces inside and seal it shut. Now they can bring their favorite toys without the fear of something getting lost or left behind.
DIY Tugging Box
If you have babies or toddlers that need entertaining, this impossibly simple “tugging box” upcyles cardboard and fabric scraps into something guaranteed to keep little ones busy. Simply puncture holes through the sides of a spare box, pull a mix of string, ribbon or pipe cleaner through and tie it off on both sides. It’s pretty hard to throw a tantrum when you’re mastering the mysteries of this easy DIY.
Travel Activity Kit
Like with the LEGO box, having activities contained in one package lessens the likelihood of dropped item drama on the road. This activity kit is filled with neat ways to stay entertained: washable markers, paper, stickers, printable travel activities…essentially anything (not messy) that you know will help make the time go by faster for your kids. The variety of items helps keep boredom at bay, and the orderliness of the kits means their fun is contained in one neat little place.
Felt Tic Tac ToeThe future is now: you can play board games in a car! Well, preferably felt ones that are lightweight and can be easily packed. This DIY for a colorful felt tic tac toe board is perfect for tiny hands and only requires the most basic sewing skills. No choking hazards or tons of little pieces that can get lost, just the basics for some fun on the road.
My sisters and I used to make Christmas countdown chains months in advance, so I can understand the appeal of construction paper-based anticipation. Instruct your kids to tear off a piece of the countdown chain every hour or so and there’ll be a fun activity, pit stop or surprise waiting for them. Like with the mystery kits, it’s a smart way to keep everyone on their best behavior, while also suggesting fun things to do. And since they can visualize the chain as the whole trip, there will probably be fewer “Are we there yet?” questioning.
Washable Window Markers
Admittedly even as an adult, this sounds like my idea of a good time on the road. Washable window markers let you take the creativity off the page and onto a more versatile canvas, minus the messiness of window paint. I’m envisioning adding giant buildings to boring skylines, keeping track of license plate bingo, or just making weird designs to confuse fellow drivers. Good times all around!
DIY Chalkboard Tray
Doodling is a great way to pass the time, but you’ll need the right surface. Enter chalkboard paint, a magical substance that can instantly transform a cheap baking sheet into a fun activity center. This chalkboard tray offers a space to draw with chalk, acts as a traditional drawing board, and even has potential to bring magnets into the mix. It’s a cheap upgrade on such a basic item, so let your kids decide how they’d like to customize it.
I Spy Bottles
Along with providing a filling meal and aid for a water damaged phone, feel free to add this to the list of rice’s best qualities: an easy I Spy game to keep kids entertained. Fill a sealed container with grains and various little objects, and your kids will have fun shaking it around to spot the hidden treasures. Consider also printing out a photo of all the items inside, so the kids know exactly what they’re hunting for. But as a disclaimer, we can’t be held responsible if your kids discover these also make pretty great maracas.
You can never have too many helpful road trip hacks! If we missed a personal favorite of yours, be sure to share it in the comments.