Traveling with Kids- Entertainment
Keeping kids entertained and happy on long road trips
We’ve made it a goal to travel as often as possible. Consequently, the kids are used to getting in the car and driving for several hours at a time. We’ve often been asked how the kids do it… how do they stay entertained for such long distances? First of all, it’s not going to be easy for them if they’re not accustomed to traveling. But, here are a few things we do to make the miles roll away.
First, we bring electronics. All the kids have an electronic device they can use to entertain themselves quietly. We even bring an extension cord that plugs in the back of the van and an adapter with a cable to keep their tablets charged. Katie is old enough now that she just plays with her Nintendo 2DS or reads on her nook. Becca, Justin, and Parker have android tablets with games, books, and various applications to keep them entertained. We usually limit the amount of time on the tablets to about two or three hours a day. When we’re in a new place or if there’s beautiful scenery we ask them to put away their electronics and encourage them to play when the scenery is boring.
The boys are younger and don’t stay content for long, so they tend to bring Hot Wheel cars, super hero figurines, and even stuffed animals. They get excited packing them, so we limit the amount of toys to one small backpack.
Our kids LOVE to color! They can easily spend an hour or two coloring. Tradition has it now that I pick up a new coloring book for the kids before a trip and it’s filled up by the end of the trip. If you don’t want to buy a coloring book, you can download color sheets from the Internet- whichever topic you want. I learned the hard way not to bring crayons. Do yourself a favor and bring colored pencils. They don’t melt, they’re easy to clean up, and they’re easy to sharpen. Keep a cheap sharpener in a zip lock bag so the shavings don’t get all over the car. If they do, they aren’t too difficult to vacuum up.
Download Lego coloring pages:
We always require our little munchkins to read at least for thirty minutes at a time. Our boys don’t usually last longer than that. This works out well when they have reading time for homework. However, Katie would prefer to read the entire drive.
Part of the adventure is for everyone to look out and observe the beauty around us. As adults, we try to educate them about the surrounding environment- whether it’s a cornfield, a concrete plant, or a mountain range to the side. The kids (especially the boys) love to look for trains, dust storms, and a variety of facilities. We also pass our time making shapes out of the clouds or playing I Spy.
We have three “Trip Traditions“:
- Travel Journal and jotting down notes about the trip
- Playing the license plate game (listing each state we see and trying to get all 50)
- Planning our next trip
A trip is not complete without these three traditions. Oh, and there’s ALWAYS laughter and singing to a variety of music!
Recording our adventures and notes from the trip include your typical journal stuff but we also try to include funny things the kids have said, the animals we’ve seen (especially if you go somewhere like the Smoky MTs or Yellowstone), or new foods the kids have tried. I try to store the journal entries somewhere so I can access and read them while on the next trip.
We play the license plate game so often that sometimes the kids just start playing it while on a drive across town.
Planning our next trip is critical because it helps to keep away the end-of-vacation blues. Sometimes our ideas are crazy and far-fetched but this brain-storming session has lead to some of our larger trips. We’re in the car together and we talk about places we’d like to see.
In short, we have plenty to keep our kids entertained. And, yes, they do get cranky and fidgety occasionally and we have to deal with it as it comes. But for the most part, it’s easy to travel and entertain our kids and we build new memories each time we set off on a new adventure.
Homemade Travel Booklets & Coloring
On our long 6,800 mile trip we brought several USB sticks for the kids to watch videos. They only watched videos for a total of 8 hours on the entire trip. What did they do the rest of the time? Color! Seriously?!?!?, we couldn’t believe it either! True Story!
Remember the old TripTik books that would tell you all about the highway you’re traveling on?
They were created by AAA back in the mid 1900’s at the Chicago Motor Club building. Grandma Wesley used to love getting those pamphlets as a young girl; visiting gas stations while exploring the US. She has told us about them so many times that we’ve started to make our own. We started by purchasing the United States Coloring Book by Winky Adam (the publisher is Dover ISBN-10: 0486401685) and added the Kids US Vacation Word-find Fun book with illustrations from Craig McKay ( ISBN-10: 0762535784 ). Then we find other coloring pages, a blank US map and a couple of kids atlases (the ones that tell interesting facts about the states). Yes, it seems like a lot to bring along on a trip but we found that on some trips the kids really didn’t know where they were, despite mom and dad showing them on a large map. This way the kids color and discover interesting things about each state. We have them trace our route on the blank US map (an older kid helps). By the end of the trip the kids are quite proud of their trip packets and they make great souvenirs to go into their keepsake boxes. Sometimes the pamphlets are only four or five pages long. On our more 6,800 mile US trip we visited 30 states. The pamphlet for that trip included weather, regional, and cultural maps (found online), several crossword puzzles, coloring pages for each state, and more. We scanned in the books, coloring pages, and online maps, and used our $40 laser printer to copy off five of everything (whichever parent wasn’t driving got to do the activity). Our oldest daughter, Katie, was in charge of the pamphlets and as we’d cross a state line she’d prepare a clipboard with that state’s activities on it. We used a plastic accordion binder to organize the hundreds of papers. Each day Katie would grab her blank US map and, using the real road atlas, trace the previous day’s path. She would include cities and would draw little points of interest on her map. Then she’d pass her map back to the younger kids to copy. Parker, the youngest, would sometimes need help so Katie would create a dot-to-dot and label the cities for him. He’d then just trace between the dots.
Our packets include rudimentary topographical maps, maps discussing crops & agriculture, climates, and more. The state word-find, crossword, and coloring pages had lots of other graphics on the page’s parameter. For example a page about Mississippi would have a Natchez paddlewheel boat, a magnolia, a Mockingbird, the state flag, and information about the capitol, large rivers, and more. The kids still talk about different state’s birds when they hear about them on TV.
There are lots more coloring books that the kids love, from Steampunk to fashion to gardens. Our favorites are the Dover branded books. They seem to be the best price and easy for the kids to color. You can find them at many of the National Parks or order them online. They cover a range of topics from the underground railroad & Civil War to Victorian clothing.
We would like to remind you that wax colors and heat don’t go together, especially in a car. We recommend coloring pencils (yes, we’ve mentioned it already in this article but they are GREAT). Cheap ones work great, but if your kids are older and can take care of things we’d recommend Prismacolor coloring pencils. Yes, they are expensive but it really makes a difference in quality. There are several other knock-off brands out there that seem nice and are half the cost. Regardless, I’d recommend a quality sharpener that won’t fall apart and leave your call full of pencil shavings. I’d also recommend a quality case to carry them in. Catch them while they’re on sale for $10. Sure, it’s a lot of money for silly coloring pencils, but adults often spend $30 on special shampoo tubes or clothing cubes to organize. It’s the same thing.
If you already have Copic markers (the Wesley’s favorite markers EVER) then we’ve had fantastic success taking them on summer road trips. The heat doesn’t seem to hurt them and it gives us an excuse to stop at art supply stores (in larger towns like Chicago and Atlanta) for refills.
Videos & OTG Cables & Media Servers
Okay, regardless of how enthusiastic the TV salesman from (Insert your cell carrier here) there’s a good possibility you won’t have Netflix on your road trip. Whether it be a slow internet connection at a hotel, too expensive to pay for Wifi at the airport, or if your cell connection just isn’t up to par…. there are solutions. If you are tech savvy and if you have a few children’s DVDs legally ripped onto your home computer, we recommend putting them onto cheap 8GB USB disks (or whatever you can find on Black Friday, etc). Then you can play them on the kid’s iPhones and Android phones, tablets, iPads, laptops, etc. Here are two products that might make things easier.
HooToo Travel Media Server – That’s right, there’s no reason you can’t have an unlimited wifi media server in you car as you speed down the highways of America. Here’s the one we purchased several years ago for $15. It has served us well. All we need is a USB stick of movies/shows and the right charging cable and we’re good for a long adventure. If you get creative with a USB Y-cable you can power a smaller USB hard drive. Then you’re not limited to only a few Gigs. However, some cars turn off their 12V plugs when you shut off the car. FYI, the HooToo we purchased has an internal battery that we can use in an emergency to charge our cell phones. Because of the internal battery it will last at least 6 hours without any need for external power (completely wireless). Here is an old article on how to use the HooToo. The principles should be the same
On The Go Cables (OTG Cables) – They trick your cell phone into connecting to a USB stick (not normally possible without a special chip embedded inside the tiny cable). From there you can use VLAN media player on most phones to play most files out there.
Finally, many BluRays and videos you purchase these days come with digital downloads. Many of those services allow you to pre-download a movie to your phone or tablet before you hit the road. This is a popular option for us with newer movies.
This is just a nudge in the right direction. You’ll have to do some research on each of these to see if and how they fit into your travel plans. If you have any questions about these products or services, please send us an email.
LEGO Travel Kit: Airplanes, Medium & Long Trips
Our kids are embarrassingly addicted to LEGO. Brian’s an engineer so we don’t mind so much. Brian found this idea on a LEGO blog and adapted it a bit for our kids. You start out with a plastic container. We bought ours from The Container Store (5×7 photo holder – item #10060351). we liked this because it was just tall enough to keep LEGO from falling all over the place, the hing seemed to be strong and would hold up (unlike some rigid plastic hinges). The best part, they were less than $3 a piece.
Next we purchased a LEGO baseplate at our local LEGO store. You can find one similar here on Amazon. We could have done gray but we actually had a beat-up green baseplate at home that needed to be put out of its misery. We replaced the old one with the new one (from the store) and then used a ban saw to cut it to shape.
We used the E-6000 strong glue to secure the baseplate to the bottom of the plastic case. The E-6000 is strong as well as flexible. This is important because the plastic case has a little give and we wanted these to last. The glue takes about 24 hours to dry but a few days to stop stinking. We kept the finished containers opened in the garage for a week to keep from stinking up the LEGO pieces and instructions we’d place inside.
We went to our local toy store and bought the smallest LEGO sets available. Although we added extra pieces from our own LEGO set; we wanted the kids to have something to actually build as well. We’re luck to have a LEGO store nearby, but Brian always brings home miscellaneous LEGO pieces each time he or the kids visit the LEGO store. They sell pieces from a “Pick A Brick” wall. This means there’s plenty of extra pieces that don’t go to a nicer expensive set. Brian and Katie collected some of these smaller pieces. If they get lost on a plane or in a rental car… o well! It doesn’t ruin a larger castle or space ship set back home.
Normal kid-wear-and-tear might open the LEGO travel containers. Brian suggested we place the kit in a large Zip Lock bag. The bag also serves as an overfill bag if the kids need more room on the baseplate. They can pour extra pieces into the bag and work from there.
We made several kits and filled them each with a different LEGO set and different types of extra pieces. In some kits we even put a generic Minifig. This way the kids can trade the kits around and have a different experience each time.
Travel Gift Game: for VERY long trips
Brian was first introduced to this travel gift game when he and some friends went to Southern California one weekend to help one of the parents move. After the move was all done the mom handed these grown adults a canvas bag full of small wrapped gifts with “clues” or “tasks”. One would say, “Open this if you see a big red truck” and it was a pack of Big Red gum. Another would say “Open this when you pass a state border” and it would be a Nerf ball or a slinky or a snack food. It was so fun to see Brian’s face as he described the fun they had riding home playing with little dollar-store kid’s toys.
If adults had that much fun… I knew we had to do this on our next big trip!
The next summer we would be driving over 5,000 miles to visit Grandma’s and tour some of the country. We started preparing about three weeks before the trip by spending about sixty to seventy dollars buying snacks, toys, and other items from the dollar store. Each were wrapped in old newspapers and sales ads to save money.
Our long trip took several days so Brian went through each item and carefully split them up into a pile for each day and placed them into a tied plastic bag. As each day passed the plastic bag would be dumped into a nicer canvas bag which made it easier for the kids to rummage through. The remaining plastic bags were placed in the back of the van until needed. This way the kids could look through all of that day’s gifts and become familiar with the clues… the kids would keep their eyes and ears alert for the clues. I have to admit; when we first started the trip the game took up a lot of room in the van. The more gifts we opened the more room we freed up.’
I used the gift game as incentive for the kids to be good while traveling. Let me just say it worked! The kids were elated to open the packages when it was their turn. Here are a few other examples of clues we left for the kids.
- “Open this if you see the ‘moon’.”
- “When you see an ‘American Flag’ open this.”
- “When you cross a ‘Bridge’, open this.”
- “When you get ‘Hungry’, open this.”
- “Open this when you see the ‘Golden Arches’.”
I’ll include a longer list at the end of this post.
Write up your own clues and tailor your “gifts” to your family and trip. For example, Katie always says, “It wasn’t me.” So one of the clues was “Open this when Katie says, ‘It Wasn’t Me’.” Three of the kids love Hot Wheels so we were sure to buy a few of those when they went on sale. One was a dump truck so the clue was, “Open this when you pass a big dump truck.”
Get creative with the toys. Buy little Nerf guns, gum, rubber alligators, felt hats, and Frisbees. Get creative. Yes, the driver WILL get shot with a Nerf dart and you’ll probably have to take one or two toys away for a while… but hey, put up with it as long as you can. This game really helped us make fond memories. If a particular toy becomes too troublesome, in theory you only spent one dollar on it so it can disappear with a little help from mom!
Sometimes one of the boys would open up a gift that was intended for the girls. The first time they were disappointed but once they expected that they didn’t complain again.
Maybe we went a bit overboard with the sixty gifts… but it was a long trip and we felt we got way more entertainment value out of that sixty to seventy dollars than a night out to dinner.
Please share with us the games your little ones like to play to pass the time while driving.
Here’s a list of a few of our travel questions. Some might not make sense because they are catered to us.
- Open if you miss Grandma and Grandpa
- When you cross the “Mississippi River” open this. Open if you are feeling sleepy.
- When you get out of the county open this.
- When you see an “RV or Camper” open this. Open after you take your first “Pit Stop”.
- When you see a “Double Transport Truck” open this. When you cross the “Texas State Line” open this.
- Open this when you see a “Train”.
- Open this when you see a “Funny Billboard”. Open this when you see the “Golden Arches”.
- Open this when you see a “Hawaii License Plate”.
- Open this when your Mom says, “Stop that right now!” Open this when your Dad says, “leave them alone!”
- Open this when Rebecca says something funny.
- Open this when Parker hollers or screams.
- Open this when the sun goes down. If you see an “Oil Well” open this.
- If a car passes you going too fast open this. If you see a “Wendy’s Sign” open this.
- Open this when you go under an overpass. If you Dad honks the horn open this.
- When you get hungry open this.
- If you get hot open this.
- Open this when you wake up from a nap. When you cross a “Bridge” open this.
- If you see a “Picture of an Alien” open this.
- Open this when you see a “Rest Stop” sign.
- If you see a “Picnic Table” open this. If you see a “Storm Cloud” open this. Open if you see a “Dust Devil”.
- Open when you Mom says, “Put those electronics away!” If you see an “Airplane” open this.
- If you see someone on a “Motorcycle” open this. When you get to “Louisiana” open this.
- After you sing, “Why Can’t My Goose?” open this. When you see “ROADKILL” open this.
- When you see a “National, State or City Park Sign” open this. When you see a “Cow or Cattle” open this.
- Open this when you see the “Price of Diesel”.
- Open this when someone says, “I have to go to the bathroom.”
- When you see a “Police Car” open this.
- Open if you see a “Storm Cloud”.
- Open if Dad complains about someone talking on their cell phone while driving.
- If you see a “Boat” open this.
- Open this when Katie says, “I didn’t do anything.”
- Open this if you see the “Moon”.
- Open this if you see a “Moving Van or U-Haul”. If you see an “Antebellum Home” open this.
- When you see an “American Flag” open this.
- Open this after singing, “Itsy Bitsy Spider”