Keeping Kids Happy on Long Car Rides: Tips and Tricks -
Award-winning travel guidebooks

   guidebooks   |   news   |   podcasts   |   boards   |   blog   |   worksheets   |   photos   |   articles   |   updates   |   register   |  

Article Tools
Print Article
Download PDF
Visit Forum

Keeping Kids Happy on Long Car Rides: Tips and Tricks

Photo illustrating U.S. Travel - Traveling
by Sharlene Rollins, PassPorter Guest Contributor
Last modified 7/9/2009 > Articles > U.S. Travel > Traveling  

I was first confronted with this daunting dilemma while managing my neighborhood toy store. A frazzled mother came in hoping to find some ideas for keeping her busy kids happy on a car trip to her parents' home. After working there for six years before becoming a mother myself, it had become clear that parents quite capable of tackling everyday parenting issues often freeze up when it comes time to bringing their little ones on long trips in the car. They have no idea how they are going to avoid chaotic meltdowns, hours of screaming, or whines of, "Are we there yet?" There is hope and with a little planning most, if not all, of these situations can be avoided.

Let's get the obvious distraction tactics out of the way so we can get into the really good stuff. A portable DVD player, along with some classic favorites or some new, never-before-seen stuff, can be a lifesaver. You can bring along favorite upbeat tunes for you and the kids, always a good idea. Allowing iPods and mp3 players is also an option but you may want to set limits on them. Be sure to discuss these limits with the kids beforehand. I think the same applies to hand held games like Nintendo DS - set up any limitations or turn-taking guidelines you'd like to have beforehand in order to avoid disagreements later.

Now let's get started!

About a month before your trip grab a laundry basket and go through the house with two thoughts in mind: a) what toys/activities are their favorites and b) which of these can be used in the car? For the younger kids, you may not want to let them know you're doing this and for the older ones they might be able to do this themselves.

Great! Now that you have your pile of stuff, pick out the best and keep it hidden until the trip. This way you will be armed with toys that have a "like new" appeal but are also bankable favorites for your trip! Some ideas include card games, favorite stuffed animals, action figures, Polly Pockets and Transformers, etc. Many times I'll pack each kid a little bag of their own, but as our family has grown I have found it easier to keep one fun bag at the ready rather than deal with too much stuff underfoot in the van.

Next, make a trip to the nearest dollar store and purchase new items like sticky stretchy toys, activity and coloring books, blank and lined notebooks, noisemakers (it's better to hear a harmonica than a screaming toddler), small puzzles that can be done on a book on a lap, magnetic play boards, sticker activities, chewing gum (in case you need to drive through any higher altitudes it will help ears to "pop"), and my personal favorite, glow-in-the-dark necklaces, bracelets, etc. for when it's too dark to do anything else. Be sure to buy the non-toxic ones, as many children tend to put them in their mouth at some point! We even placed them around the hotel room as night lights for the kids to navigate their way around a strange room at night.

Consider making your own games - older kids can help with this! Car Bingo is a classic in my family. Simply take squares of paper, and then with a thick black marker and a ruler draw five lines down, and the same across. Then after a trip to the dollar store put stickers of farm animals, cars, trucks, road signs, wildlife, dogs, birds, cats (whatever you manage to find) in each square, make one card for each player and simply have the kids mark them as they spot the things on their cards - a line is a bingo! Then the cards get passed along and a new game begins. The best way to mark them is to get them laminated and then use a dry-erase marker, since you'll need just a facial tissue to rub off and start fresh.

Other games include looking for neat license plates, red barns, counting horses (or other items), or the classic "punch buggy" game minus the hitting; we slap the seat in our car! Another classic with my family involves a deck of cue cards with a thing to find on each one. Road signs, railroad crossings, emergency vehicles, churches, speed limits, pylons, animal crossings, gas stations, favorite restaurants, etc. We make up the cards beforehand and to play we deal out three at a time. When you spot one of your items you put the card in your lap, score a point, and draw another card. First to five wins! Variations can involve each item having different point values, or event cards like "steal a point card from another player," "choose one card and place it in your points pile," "lose (or gain) one point," "trade hands with another player," etc. Be creative and inventive - maybe you can add in landmarks or rules specific to your route of travel!

A final thought, consider stopping along the way at fun, free, or cheap places. It adds time but makes for a memorable journey. When our family was faced with a 21-hour drive we opted to spread it out over three days and stopped in at little museums, aquariums, a cave tour, a mall with a huge old merry-go-round inside, a state park, and other neat stops along the way. Before your trip, make a list of the cities you will be driving through and then Google the area to see if there are any neat places to stop that might be a perfect side trip for your kids. Taking these moments where and if possible can relieve a lot of the stress and tedium of a long drive with the kids.

By planning ahead for fun you are sure to arrive at your destination a much happier family and will have made positive car trip memories that will last a lifetime. Happy Trails!

About the Author:
Sharlene is a mother of three and has a ton of experience with kids from her years as a nanny, managing a toy store and now with her own busy kids, one of whom has special needs. Sharlene considers herself a Walt Disney World fanatic.

Recent U.S. Travel Articles:
The Eastern Coast of Oahu, Hawaii - Things to Do While Visiting Aulani last updated 04-23-2015
The Pearl Harbor Memorial - Things to Do While Visiting Aulani last updated 04-16-2015
Kennedy Space Center - Things to Do Near Port Canaveral last updated 04-09-2015
The Bishop Museum in Oahu - Things to Do While Visiting Aulani last updated 04-09-2015
Discovery Cove - An Orlando Attraction Review last updated 04-02-2015

More Related Links:
Traveling Carry-On to Walt Disney World - Avoid Those Baggage Fees last updated 3/2/2011
New York City - Something Old, Something New last updated 01/02/2009
On the Road to Walt Disney World - Doing "The Drive" last updated 01/20/2009
Airline Security - 10 Important Tips and Reminders last updated 1/21/2009
Sick at Sea - (But Not Sea Sick!) last updated 5/14/2009

Reader Comments:

So what do you think? Click here to share your comments, feedback, and experiences on this article and topic!

(Note: You must be a member of our PassPorter Message Board Community to leave comments. Join today for free!)

Updated 7/9/2009 - Article #119 

Read additional articles from

Subscribe to our free e-mail newsletter, PassPorter News, published for more than 58,000 opt-in subscribers worldwide. As an added bonus for subscribing, you will receive a 20% discount coupon for the PassPorter Store -- no catch!

E-mail Address:

First Name:

E-mail Format:
-Text/Don't Know  



We respect your privacy and never sell or rent our subscriber list. Subscribing will not result in more spam! We guarantee it.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

Copyright 1999-2015
by PassPorter Travel Press, an imprint of MediaMarx, Inc.

Learn More With Our Award-Winning Guidebooks


RSS General PassPorter Community - Boards & Forums on Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, and General Travel - Globetrotting: General Travel Planning
PassPorter Community - Boards & Forums on Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disn...
Planning a trip around the globe, or just away for the weekend? Ask questions and share experiences! Forum Sponsored by

August trip with 7 yo...Where to go?
by KimmyAnn1147
22 Apr 2015 at 10:56am
Hi All, DH and I have about 4 weeks to take a trip this August with our 7yo son. We live in Oregon. We're saving for bigger trips so it needs to...
(click title above to view replies)

California highway 1 advice
by phoebec
19 Apr 2015 at 12:07pm
We are thinking about going from LA to San Fran at least part of the way on highway 1. I am a bit concerned about Big Sur. is it safe? Is it...
(click title above to view replies)

Alaska cruise, cruise and land, or explore on our own?
by Ann2
13 Apr 2015 at 8:32pm
In the beginning of planning Alaskan vacation, and finding this research more overwhelming than my usual planning. I'm trying to determine if going...
(click title above to view replies)

Adventures By Disney Mail Indicates Special Announcement April 14--"A Whole N...
by toddjodybrent
7 Apr 2015 at 8:51pm
Had some Adventures by Disney mail arrive today with information about a "surprise" being announced on April 14 about a "whole new way to travel."...
(click title above to view replies)

DL Hong Kong-advice needed
by jeebugs
5 Apr 2015 at 4:22pm
Anyone have any advice on these things or any other things we need to know?- DH and I are traveling to China in about a week and I have...
(click title above to view replies)

cruising out of nyc
by skateycat
4 Apr 2015 at 8:28am
this will not be a disney cruise, but who better to ask about general travel plans? hubby and i will be sailing out of nyc this october. will...
(click title above to view replies)

Tokyo Disney Questions...
by Meggera
31 Mar 2015 at 9:42am
HEY PASSPORTERS!!! I haven't posted on here in a few...years. Our family dynamics have changed quite a bit since I posted last. I'll have to tell...
(click title above to view replies)

Total Visits: 6425

PassPorter ~ 1998-2015 ~ 17 Years of Making Dreams Come True!
Publishers of bestselling travel guidebooks and proud recipients of 13 national book awards
About PassPorter
About Us
Site Map
Privacy Policy
Images & Artwork
News & Updates
Message Boards
Concierge Desk
Books & E-Books
Customs Office
Register Books
Book Updates
Help & Info
Finding Answers to Questions
Help Desk
Using Your PassPorter Forum
Store Customer Service
E-Mail Us
Follow Us Front Page (Updated Daily!)
PassPorter Newsletter (weekly and free)
Latest Posts
YouTube Channel
Questions? Check our Site Map and visit our Help Desk to learn how to contact us online, by e-mail, and by phone.
Please feel free to link to this page so that other vacationers can find it.