August 4th, 2017

What to Pack to Keep the Kids Busy on a Long Car Trip

What to Pack to Keep the Kids Busy on a Long Car Trip

A long car ride with children can be trying, even if your little ones are usually well-behaved. These tips will ensure your trip goes smoothly and everyone arrives happy! 


Road trips can be fun, memory-making adventures, but road-tripping with kids can be a whole different ballgame than road-tripping with adult friends. Who among us doesn’t have fond (or queasy) memories of piling into the family vehicle, luggage stuffed in every available crevice, bickering with our siblings as we watched the miles drift slowly by?

If you have kids now and are planning a long car trip somewhere, you’ve undoubtedly thought about ways to make the voyage better for your little ones. Here are some parent-approved tips for keeping kids occupied during long drives.

1: Use color-coordinated packing cubes to keep everyone’s stuff separate.

Every parent knows and dreads the drama that siblings stir up over possessions. Cries of “that’s mine!” and subsequent fighting can ruin many-a-moment both in and out of the family vehicle. That’s what makes Eagle Creek’s packing cubes so fantastic. One large cube per kid will allow plenty of room for individual coloring books, crayons, snacks, handheld electronics, and all the goodies that will keep the clan happy while driving. Assign each kid a cube color (there are five options) so there’s no doubt as to which pack is whose.

2: Make everyone happy with rotating music selections.

Driving with kids doesn’t need to be one endless loop of “Let It Go.” A road trip is a great time to introduce your impressionable kids to the brilliant musical stylings of classic acts like The Beatles, Bob Dylan, or REO Speedwagon. (I myself am partial to Meatloaf and subject my nieces and nephews to him all the time, so I know that of which I speak.) Devise a system where every passenger—kids and adults alike—gets to pick a few songs. If it’s a particularly long car trip, each person can choose one full album of their choice.

3: Use electronics sparingly.

Nowadays, it seems every new minivan or SUV comes equipped with an in-car theater system; and every kid in America is armed with a tablet, a Nintendo DS, and maybe even a smartphone. And that means it can be easy to turn a car trip into one big device-palooza. To do so, however, is to ignore the opportunities for family bonding, as well as those for educational and enriching activities. Stick to standard road games (like “collecting” out-of-state license plates, playing “I Spy,” and doing singalongs) for the first few hours, then insist the kids do a few pages each from educational workbooks. If you want to break out the electronics, try waiting until the near-end of the journey, when your little passengers are the most restless. Then, it will seem like an extra-special treat, and you’ll have succeeded in limiting the kids’ screen time for at least part of the trip while enjoying some family bonding moments.

It doesn’t need to be a chore to keep the kids busy on a road trip. With a little ingenuity and some advance steps to troubleshoot potential problems, your ride will be as smooth as the tires on the road beneath you. Your turn, readers: What are your go-to tips for car travel with little ones? Let us know in the comments below.

Related links (from Eagle Creek blog):

Packing for a Family Road Trip

The Top 5 Destinations for Family Vacation Fun

Packing Tips: Help Kids Load Their Luggage

by Shannon ODonnell

Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she travels slowly and supports grassroots tourism along the way. She is an acclaimed travel speaker and works with universities and businesses all over the U.S. to talk about supporting developing countries.

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