Travel and Activities

Never a Dull Moment: Car Trip Activities and Organization for All Ages

Esther Pransky August 3, 2020

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We are on the road again with Part 3 of our Road Trip series.

In Part 1, we covered satisfying meals for your vacation, and in Part 2, we discussed food for the car trip itself.

But road trips aren’t only about the food (even if it feels that way sometimes.) Being in the car together for hours on end can be quite challenging for children’s patience and parents’ sanity.

In the absence of planned activities, children will entertain themselves by kicking the seat in front of them for hours on end, throwing food at each other, coloring the baby’s hands, or making rude faces at passing cars.

You need an arsenal of activities to keep the troops constructively occupied. Read on for activities for all ages and practical organizational tips so you can enjoy the activities you planned.

Games and activities for preschoolers

Even young children can play in the car. Here are some activity ideas:

  • Magnatiles on a baking pan (they stick to the pan)

  • Stickers
  • Colorforms – Remember these? They’re repositionable vinyl “stickers.” Each set is a theme or a scene with the Colorform pieces and a background.

  • Clipboards with paper and crayons or washable markers
  • Coloring books
  • Age-appropriate books

Note the emphasis on magnetic toys. Those are the ones that won’t fall on the floor, out of reach.

Games and activities for young elementary

Elementary schoolers are old enough to play simple games with a sibling to stay busy. Some of the preschool ideas will work for them, too, plus:

  • Tic tac toe – Get a magnetic set, use a whiteboard, or do it on paper
  • Travel bingo
  • Activity books

  • ABC game – An oldy, but a goody. Looking out the window, find the letters of the alphabet, one at a time, in order, on signs, cars, buildings, etc. You can play it together as a family challenge or compete with each other.

Games and activities for older elementary and up

Some of the previous ideas will work for them, too, plus:

  • Dots and boxes – This is another classic pen and paper game. Start with a grid of dots. Players take turns connecting the dots, trying to complete boxes and win points.

  • Hangman
  • Are We There Yet? card game – You gotta love the name of the game! Players find fun sights like “a driver with only one hand on the steering wheel” or “a car with only one working headlight.”

Yes, we’ve got the music!

Music can lift everyone’s spirits. . . or cause endless fighting. Some families bring along extra headphones (with splitters) for music or audiobooks on personal devices.

Parents, if listening to Uncle Moishy’s pizza song 25 times in a row is driving you insane, remember that you can fade the music to the back of the car.

Here are more practical and fun tips for enjoying music and other audio content together:

  • Tailor the music to the mood, upbeat or calming.
  • Let the kids rotate choosing the music.
  • Play “Guess that Song.” Play a song intro and then pause for everyone to guess the song. This works best if you mix your own collection of intros.
  • Audiobooks – Public libraries have a huge selection of free CDs and downloadable audiobooks, or you can pay for Jewish audiobooks. If the book is read well, younger children can enjoy listening to books that are ordinarily above their reading level.

Tips for busy, happy kids

Even with bags of activities, some strategic planning may be needed.

First, remember the famous real estate maxim: location, location, location. You can never eliminate fighting completely, but you can reduce it by separating certain children. (You know which ones.) It also may help to have a parent sit in the back with very young children.

Next, timing is everything. Many families like to drive through all or part of the night so the kids will sleep. That also saves you time and space packing breakfast, lunch, and supper. And when you drive during the day, try to work around naptimes and mealtimes as much as possible.

Timing is important for activities also. Save some activities for set times, like after the first rest stop or after lunch. It will help space out the action and give something to look forward to.

Keep a surprise game up your sleeve. You might need it if you get stuck in unexpected traffic, take a wrong turn, or for those last cranky miles of your return trip.

Car organization

But none of the above activities matter if the car is so disorganized that they’re buried in the mess. Being able to get to the activities is just as important as bringing them.

You can have all the kids pack their own bags with small toys and games that they’ll keep near them in the car. If your vehicle allows, hang a caddy from behind each seat with supplies for each child.

Garbage disposal and cleanliness take planning, too. In each row, hang a shopping bag for garbage either suspended from an armrest or a ceiling hook. Keep a stock of tissues, paper towels, hand soap, sanitizer, Clorox wipes, or baby wipes.

The number one item that gets lost in cars is shoes! When you get in the car, collect everyone’s shoes, and put them in a designated bag. You might also want to keep an extra kippah or two handy.

And, finally, keep the kids’ luggage easily accessible. If you do lose a shoe or need an outfit change, you don’t want to take apart the entire luggage pile to get to it.

Ideas for longer car trips

Multi-day car trips present more challenges than short ones. Here are some activity and organizational tips for those brave souls planning longer road trips:

  • License plate game – Print a list of all 50 states license plates and see how many you can find. You can do this on shorter trips, too, but you’re less likely to find a variety of states.
  • Pack a bag per night – In each bag, put everything you need for ONE DAY ONLY. Think PJ’s, bathing suits, change of clothes. When you stop for the night, you only need to take out one bag and can avoid packing and unpacking the car.
  • Make it a road trip – Instead of staying focused on getting there, make the journey part of the fun. Stop at interesting sights along the road like lakes, state parks, or flea markets. The trip will take longer, but you’ll have fun along the way.

Which, in the end, is what it’s all about. It takes planning and patience, but we hope you’ll enjoy your journey as much as your destination.

Happy and safe travels!

Special thanks to my roadie friends and family for contributing their tips and tricks!