What to Pack to Keep the Kids Busy on a Long Car Ride
A long car ride with children can be trying, even if your little ones are usually well-behaved. These tips of what to pack and fun things to do on a long car ride 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 ball game 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 through our window en route to a national park, or even just our grandparents’ house?
If you have kids now and are planning a long car trip somewhere, you’ve undoubtedly thought about fun ways to make the voyage better for your little ones. These three parent-approved tips of what to pack for a long car ride will ensure you keep kids occupied and having fun during those seemingly endless 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 packing 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 four options) so there’s no doubt as to which pack is whose. Then use the additional cubes in each set to organize each child’s clothes for even more seamless unpacking when you reach your destination—the National Geographic Adventure Series duffel is a bag designed for active families.
2. Let the kids plan the next stop.
This can get a little wild, but it’s a lot of fun, especially if you carry a guidebook, map, and a list of potential activities ahead of time. There are many kid-friendly and educational road trips in and of themselves that incorporate fun elements, but you can use kitschy landmarks (anything in the “world’s biggest” genre) and famous state cuisines (hello, philly cheesesteak). And for truly fun stops on your road trip, find local hikes along your route—state and national parks are a good place to start looking for low-key hikes for kids of all ages. Strap a sling backpack on each member of the family and make it a true adventure where everyone stretches their legs and enjoys nature before heading back to the car with a fresh and fun outlook for the continued drive.
3. 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.
4. 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 Switch, 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.
And don’t let your kids be the only ones with fun things to do on the road trip—pack your day pack with a few extra goodies that you can bust out when the kids need a change of pace. Things like state fact cards, riddles, and such are fun additional games that you can all do together. Then 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.
No matter where your travels take you, the National Geographic Adventure Series by Eagle Creek is designed to keep up with you and your kids every step of your great adventures.
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By Shannon O'Donnell on May 31, 2019
Shannon O'Donnell is a long-term
traveler who has been on the road since 2008; she
travels slowly and supports
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.