Keeping Kids Entertained While Traveling


No matter whether you’re traveling for a family vacation or heading to visit family during summer break, it’s easy to overlook one of the biggest challenges–traveling with kids. Long hours in the car can be hard for little ones with lots of energy, so we’ve put together some supplies and fun activities to keep your kids entertained while traveling and from constantly asking “are we there yet?”

Activity Bag Ideas

Part of the reason that road trips can seem to drag on for kids is that there isn’t much to mark the passage of time. A great solution to this is to plan out a series of activity bags to give to your kids throughout the trip. Grab a couple paper bags and fill each with some surprise supplies for a different activity every so often. Here are some ideas:

  • A coloring book or sketch pad and a pack of crayons,
  • Some age-appropriate mad libs books,
  • Crayola window markers,
  • Glow sticks that they can shape into creations (fun for when you’re driving at night),
  • Modeling clay, play dough or silly putty,
  • Different colored gimp to make lanyards (they might need your help to start it off, but kids 6 and up should quickly get the hang of it),
  • A new book to read, and
  • Wikki stix.

You can space these bags out throughout the trip based on your own judgement of when they’re getting restless, or write a location on each of them and tell your kids that they can get the next bag once you pass through a certain state or landmark. These bags give kids something to look forward to, breaking up the monotony of the car ride and helping them feel like progress is being made.



Car Trip Supplies For Kids

In addition to activity bags, it’s a good idea to have some supplies on hand at all times during the trip to keep kids occupied. While not necessary, a car seat back organizer can make road trips easier. These strap to the back of the seat in front of them and offer a variety of helpful pockets perfect for storing snacks, drinks, activity books and coloring supplies, and all within reach for your kids. Car rides go more smoothly when your little ones aren’t constantly asking you to hand them snacks or toys or when they aren’t arguing over whose turn it is to play with a certain toy. Another option is a car seat travel tray, which provides pockets and a portable desk surface for drawing, building duplos or playing card games. If you stock a car seat organizer, bag or other container with necessities, kids can move from activity to activity at their own pace.

Our top 10 list of the most helpful supplies to keep on hand:

    1. Water bottle or sippy cup. Cars can get hot during the day, so make sure your kids stay hydrated! Just don’t forget to plan a couple potty-breaks throughout the trip.
    2. A healthy snack. It’s hard to tell at what point kids will get hungry, so be sure to keep snacks on hand! Applesauce pouches, clementines, baggies of dry cereal, granola bars, fruit leathers, baby carrots or sugar snap peas are all good to eat on-the-go. Don’t forget to bring along a trash bag for disposing plastic bags and wrappers.
    3. Art supplies. Kids have big imaginations, and drawing can keep them occupied for a long time. Crayons, colored paper, pencils, stickers and patterned washi tape are all low-mess supplies that also won’t stain your kids’ clothes. Crayola color wonder books are another mess-free option, as they come with special markers that only show up on the coloring paper. If your kids run out of ideas, suggest they draw pictures of family members or the things they see outside their window. They can even play tic tac toe, hangman or connect-a-dot with their siblings.
    4. Toys. While you shouldn’t bring your whole play room with you, letting your kids pick one or two toys to bring with them on the trip allows for imaginative play. Stay away from toys with tiny pieces that might get lost in the back seat, but toy cars, action figures, stuffed animals and dolls work great! Duplos and tinker toys are also great when kept in a Tupperware container.
    5. Activity booklets. Mad libs, word searches, crossword puzzles and word scrambles are all classic activities for passing time! You can often find these booklets at the dollar store or craft store, or you can print out some kid-friendly ones that you find online. These work best for kids who know how to read, but toddlers can still enjoy mad libs if helped and read aloud!
    6. Sticker activities. Stickers are great for the car because they’re unaffected by any jostling that might happen while you’re on the road. You can find activity books with reusable stickers, booklets with sticker puzzles and window clings that kids can put on car windows. Just be careful not to roll down the window while they’re on!
    7. Magnetic playsets. Just like stickers, these work great in a moving vehicle. These themed sets usually come in portable tins. There are tons of options for these online, from dress-up games to dinosaur play scenes.
    8. Earbuds or headphones. While they shouldn’t be on screens the whole trip, there’s nothing wrong with watching a movie. You can download one onto the iPad ahead of time, or use a portable DVD player for everyone to watch together. If you have multiple kids, bring a headphone splitter so they can watch together while not distracting the driver.
    9. Books. Hours of uninterrupted free time is a perfect opportunity to get some reading done. Chapter books are great, but so are seek and find books like “Where’s Waldo” and picture books like The Girl Who Carried Too Much Stuff. If reading makes your little ones carsick, another fun option is to listen to audiobooks during your drive. These can be played over the car speakers, or they can listen individually to ones you’ve downloaded on a phone or tablet ahead of time.
    10. Sleep mask and a pillow. Car rides can be tiring, and sometimes a nap is the way to go. Bring a small pillow that doesn’t take up too much space, like a travel pillow or a pillow pet, and a sleep mask to block out sunlight (or car headlights for night driving). This neck pillow in the Wine & Country Shop is perfect for babies and toddlers. Ear plugs are optional, but they can help reduce sounds on busy highways.


Car Game Ideas

If you don’t want to break the bank to keep your kids entertained, don’t worry! There are plenty of fun games you can play out loud without spending any money.

  • 20 questions. Take turns picking an object as everyone else in the car tries to guess what it is. The classic version picks from “animal, mineral or vegetable,” but you can adapt these categories to appeal more to kids.
  • Let your kids play DJ. Listening to music is a great way to pass the time during a road trip, and kids love hearing their favorite songs. Download some music beforehand or hook up Spotify and let them take turns picking songs. You can even make a road trip playlist to remember the trip!
  • Teach your kids some simple songs. Look up some classic campfire songs before you go and teach some to your kids while on-the-go. Some examples are “99 bottles of milk on the wall,” “my highland goat,’ “down by the bay” and “fried ham.” These don’t need musical accompaniment and are usually pretty easy to pick up. The only downside is your kids might not want to stop singing.
  • ABC picnic game. This game involves the alphabet and memorization. It starts with the first person saying “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing (a food that starts with the letter A).” The next person says “I’m going on a picnic and I’m bringing (a food that starts with the letter B).” Then they repeat what the person before them brought. This should go on until the last person, who says a food that starts with Z and has to repeat all of the previous foods.
  • Collaborative story time. Start by saying the first sentence of a story (ex. “Once upon a time, there was a pirate who loved to swim.”) and then ask one of your kids to come up with the next sentence. Take turns adding on one sentence at a time to create a one-of-a-kind story together. You can even write it down and read the entire story back once done.
  • “I spy.” Pick an object in the car or one outside your window and see how fast your kids can guess it!
  • Haikus. Haikus are short three-line poems where the first line is five syllables, the second is seven and the third is five again. Challenge your kids to count the syllables and come up with their own poems.

There are so many strategies to distract your kids from the trip, but why not get them involved? Here are some fun activities to keep your kids focused on the road.

  • Plan the route together. Before the trip starts, print out a paper map and show your little ones where you’ll be traveling. Point out some interesting natural features like rivers you’ll cross over or mountains you’ll pass. If you’re planning to sightsee along the way, point out where those stops will be, or choose some together. Your kids can take the map with them in the car to check your progress as you go, or let them borrow your phone and they can follow along on google maps!
  • Play the license plate game. Challenge your kids to try and find a license plate from every state! You can keep track of these yourself, or find printouts online where your kids can cross states off on their own.
  • Teach them about road signs. Your kids won’t be driving for a while, but that doesn’t mean they can’t start learning about the road! To get them involved in the trip, tell them the name of your next turn or exit and ask them to look for it on a sign. Or teach them about the different colors of the road signs and what they mean.
    • Red = stop or prohibited.
    • Orange = construction or detour.
    • Yellow = warning.
    • Green = guides or directions.
    • Blue = motorist services (like rest stops or gas stations).
    • Brown = public recreation or historical markers.
    • White = regulatory signs.

Challenge them to collect the whole rainbow of road signs during your trip. Even if they don’t find them all, looking at road signs is a great way to find fun stops you may have missed otherwise.

  • Alphabet billboard game. Challenge your kids to find all the letters in the alphabet on billboards you pass! This is a great way to encourage reading and letter recognition in your kids. For an extra challenge, try to find the letters in order. This can also be played with license plates. 
  • Come up with stories about the other cars. Look at the other cars around you and check your map to imagine what destinations they could be driving towards. Encourage your kids to come up with creative scenarios (maybe the cars could be going to the beach, visiting their grandma or even be on a secret spy mission!). Bumper stickers or luggage attached to the top of a car can provide fun details for your stories.

Car Clean-Up Supplies

Despite your best efforts, car rides can sometimes get messy. Be sure to bring along some tissues for runny noses, wet wipes for sticky hands and a garbage bag for keeping the car clean. Travel-sized hand sanitizer is also helpful, especially if you have to use any gas station restrooms along the way. If you have infants or toddlers, make sure your diaper bag is accessible and doesn’t get trapped under your other luggage. For younger children, consider keeping a change of clothes ready just in case someone has an accident.

See our Family Fun page for more activity and daytrip ideas. For upcoming, family-friendly events, hop over to our Event Directory.


LAUREL FREDERICKS is a third-year Media Studies major at UVA with a love for all things creative. The eldest of 13 cousins, she is always on the lookout for fun ways to keep the little ones (and not-so-little ones!) entertained. 

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