Are there even Toddler Car Activities that don’t include screens these days?
When you think about going on a long road trip with kids, most people assume it’s going to be some terrible, miserable event for everyone. It’s not. Or it doesn’t have to be. In fact, I think making a point to be screen-free on your family road trip actually results in better-behaved children, more family bonding, and just an all-around better experience for everyone.
Traveling with kids just requires a little extra preparation. To be honest, long car rides with my kids are actually kind of relaxing and enjoyable. Our last two road trips were 12 hours and 6 hours with a 1, 4, and 6-year-old. The key is preparation!
Much like my theories on having a playroom filled with toys for all ages, I also think if you have a variety of ages on your trip, with older kids and younger kids, it’s good to plan activities that can be shared. Obviously, not everything will be suitable but it’s worth a try.
Why your road trip should be screen-free
We used to be a screen family and we used to plan for iPads to take care of most of the entertainment for our trips. Most guides you will find these days include iPads or tablets very high on the list of must-haves, but not this one.
I researched a lot of content creating my Essential Travel Tips for Families Guide which you can download at the bottom of the page. I couldn’t find a single piece that didn’t include screens of some kind, and any content that addressed screens that might be harmful to children still managed to reverse shame you for even considering NOT giving in and giving them screens.
It’s kind of bizarre really that we live in a time where it’s recognized that plugging your kids in isn’t good BUT they still say you should do it anyway because it will be easier on you. Nobody will fault you for relaxing the rules just this one time… Except how easy is it to keep relaxing the rules because it worked out so well last time?
And no, I’m not shaming anyone for how they choose to parent their children. There are lots of other parts of the parenting game that I am totally failing in. I’m just not going to give you advice on something I know is potentially harmful to your child. Especially if you have been working on creating a screen-free environment at home, why should it be any different on a road trip?
We still own fire tablets for our kids, but they are sitting, uncharged on the top of my fridge, and haven’t been on a trip with us for a while. I only break them out in dire circumstances, like if I was down with the flu or something.
There are a variety of reasons that my family personally goes without screens. One child has a pretty intense reaction to screens, creepy zombie-like behavior while on them, and extreme behavioral changes once the screen is taken away.
Reading the book Glow Kids was also really life-changing for me, in terms of scientific data that supports keeping young children off of electronics. It doesn’t make sense to me to completely do a 180 on something we feel so firmly about, so we usually don’t even bring the tablets on trips at all.
Families used to take road trips all the time, which is something that has fallen out of favor it seems. Most older people I’ve spoken with about past family vacations have fond memories of the time spent with their parents and siblings, packed up in a car together. If kids 20 years ago didn’t need iPads to keep them occupied in the car why do we insist that children today do?
Basic Traveling Tips with Young Kids on a Road Trip
- Do not give your children access to all the activities all at once. Space out the introduction of new activities. Wait until they are bored with one activity before switching to another. The new activity will be a nice surprise and one activity at a time is a great way to keep your children from being overwhelmed with choices.
- Invest in some sort of lap desk or travel tray! This will help keep whatever activity your child is working on in a place that is reachable for them. Nothing worse than having to constantly turn around and pick things up off the floor.
- Let your kids bring a few of their own favorite toys. Give them a certain allotment of space and let them take what they want.
- Bring your own favorite books. Board books are great for younger toddlers as they aren’t going to get crumpled or ripped if they fall on the floor.
- Glow Sticks for night travel. I hope I don’t have to explain why this is awesome. The Dollar Store almost always has glow sticks or you can always order them from Amazon. This pack even has glow stick sunglasses!
- Pack snacks! Healthy snacks that your kids will actually eat will help keep them full for longer, but pack a few of their favorite snacks too just to keep things exciting!
- Make pit stops often! We like to stop at rest stops instead of random gas stations because it gives the kids a little time to run off some energy and get out of their car seats for a bit.
The Best Books for a Long Drive
- Sticker Books – I generally like to pick up whatever is seasonal in the Bullseye Playground at Target. If you are going to get stickers make sure you get them somewhere to stick them! An extra notebook works great.
- Color Forms – I didn’t even know these things were still made until my mother-in-law brought some for my kids recently. These are better than stickers in my opinion because there are no accidental/permanent stickers stuck to the windows in the car!
- Hidden pictures – Did you do these when you were a kid? Still fun all these years later
- Wheres Waldo – A classic! There are lots of other varieties now too if your kids are into something specific like Mickey Mouse or Dinosaurs.
- Specialty Books – On our last trip I got my doll-loving child an American Girl Magazine type book where the front was filled with pictures of dolls and the back was filled with stickers of their clothing and accessories. It was a huge hit. The book section at Target has lots of great options but I’m sure a bookstore would be a great place to check as well.
- Check out Etsy for lots of great ideas for toddler car activities. You just print them out and laminate them or use plastic page protectors to keep them in good shape for a long time.
- Epic books – If you absolutely have to bring tablets on your trip you MUST check out Epic! Books. It’s a huge digital library of children’s books. There are even options for read-to-me books if your child isn’t reading yet. The best part is you can try Epic! FREE for 30 days!
While it isn’t technically screen-free Epics library includes tons of audiobooks which I DO think is a great idea for a road trip!
Mess-Free Coloring for a Long Trip
Lots of guides list crayons and markers but I’ve found these to be terrible. Marker gets on hands and clothes and crayons manage to get dropped and then melt in between the seats. For toddler car activities I opt for mess-free coloring options or colored pencils.
- Water wow books – These are a favorite at our house. It’s great for all ages and the kids can paint over and over.
- Window markers – We’ve not actually tried these but they looked like a super fun idea for kids that can actually reach the windows in your car.
- LCD Writing Tablet – These are great because they can be used over and over.
- Dry Erase – I like to get the dry erase activity books, you know the educational kind. The kids still enjoy them though because erasing them over and over is cool.
Best Travel Toys – Perfect for Long Car Rides
- Polly Pocket- Polly Pocket is still around even if it is totally different from the ones we grew up with.
- Lego Set– Lego does have very small, pocket-like sets that would be great IF you have a contained lap desk as I mentioned above.
- Tegu Blocks – These are awesome, although slightly expensive. Again, great for all ages and can be played with over and over.
- Find it Toys – These are fun even for the adults!
- Tangram Travel – Tannegram is fun but the magnetic version is great for travel.
- Magnetic Games– These would be great for older siblings to play together.
- Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars – Toy cars are a great idea when driving a long way as they are small and save on space yet they allow for hours of imaginative play.
- Busy Bags- You can usually make busy bags from items you already have at home. Like pipe cleaners and cotton balls. Or you can get some great ideas of toddler activities you can put in a busy bag on Pinterest.
Mess-Free Art for little hands
- Wikki Sticks– These are small, wax-covered sticks that you mold into whatever you want.
- Scratch Art– I like the books that have scenes already created and you just scratch away the parts you want VS full-page blank scratch cards.
- Playfoam- Supposedly this stuff NEVER dries out, although it will probably fall on the floorboard and get dirty if you don’t have a lap desk.
Fun Family Travel Games
Why on earth anyone would recommend card games for a car trip seriously blows my mind! How is it even possible to deal Uno cards in a car? Games are so doable but let’s at least be practical!
- I spy – My family plays this almost every day in the car anyways but it’s fun on road trips because they can spy things they’ve never seen before.
- Singing – My husband and I have always been Disney nerds so we love singing Disney classics along with the kids. Amazon Music has lots of great collections of kids’ music which you can download ahead of time if you don’t want to steam. Kids’ song CDs are also fun.
- Brain Quest – I had so many of these as a kid and loved them! Brain Quest now makes workbooks too but the cards are great for travel.
- Scavenger Hunt Letter Hunt
- Would you rather?
- Rock, paper, scissors
- Staring contests
Final Electronic-Free Toddler Car Activities
Kids Podcasts– We aren’t much of a podcast family but this list by Milanas Travels was too good not to share!
I hope this list has helped you to see that it’s still possible to have a road trip without electronics. No one has to be bored, and it can be a great bonding experience for your family. Don’t forget to grab the Essential Travel Tips Guide and comment below with your favorite road trip tips!
Holiday Traveling with Kids Guide
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