They say that the journey is just as important as the destination, and while that may be true, no one wants to spend countless hours in a car with kids who are tired, restless, bored, hungry or ready to be there 5 minutes after they've just left the house.
Keeping your kids enjoying the journey on long car rides is tough. Doing so without reverting to hours of mindless screen time is even tougher. We've found screen-free must-haves for the littlest road-trippers in your life.
BE Travel Kids Car Seat Travel Tray Messenger Bag
This is a number one must-have for screen-free road trips (although if you choose to use a screen, this travel tray bag does have a tablet holder that is detachable for making that easier).
When it comes to road trips, the more you can have contained but easily accessible, the better. That's why this Travel Tray Messenger bag from Be Travel is awesome. It basically is like a little life-line for your child-holding all the things they'll want while they're road tripping.
There are several roomy side pockets that will zip close and allow you to pack all sorts of things your child will want on the trip-cards, books, little toys, play-dough, stickers, what have you. And the best part? The mesh of the pockets means that your kids don't have to open each and every pocket to find what they want-they can see before they open, and that means you don't have to unload the whole tray! And, when you're ready to close the tray so it zips into the messenger bag feature (which kids love) you just flip the inside of the Tray and zip it up.
The outside of the bag has a large book pocket designed for coloring books, art pads, workbooks, stickers or more and it has an adjustable headrest strap that keeps it strapped to the back of your headrest and nice and handy for your kiddo. The pencil case holds markers, pencils, crayons and more, and essentially is a nice little workstation for your kiddo as you ride down the road.
The tray can be separated to be two unique units, which is nice if they just need their supplies OR if you do decide to have a bit of screen time as you travel (no judging).
Most, we love the lap tray that is sturdy and durable but not heavy and bulky. It has a deep drink holder so your child can stay hydrated, and allows them a lot of space to play, draw, color and more. Perfect for lunch/snack in the car.
- Detachable tablet/screen holder
- Folds into a messenger bag kids can carry themselves
- Sturdy mesh pockets let you see what you're looking for without unzipping all pockets
- Attached pencil case
- Deep drink holder
Best Travel Puzzle For Kids
Mental Blox Go
The best games to be screen-free for road trips are ones that travel easy, are light, portable and stay nicely together in their own cases.
That's why we love Learning Resources's Mental Blox. If you're going to be on a road trip with some time on your hands, why not utilize it to do some brain-boosting while you're at it? Mental Blox is designed to help kids practice following directions-on the challenge cards as well as orally (so siblings/parents can get involved too if you'd like) as well as help them solve problems and work on critical thinking skills. Activity cards give examples for your child to try to recreate. There are over 30 challenges that target different skills-math, number sequence, visual-spatial design and more.
Kids can also use Mental Blox to challenge siblings by giving instructions on what to recreate. The 3-dimensional aspect of this game makes it even better for tactile kids looking to do something with their hands other than color or draw, and they're working on fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination without ever needing a power button.
It's like kids' Soduko in a way, and what we really love is that kids can continue to challenge themselves with it by creating new patterns or trying to see if they can solve the puzzles in the same way they had before. The different levels will give your children different experiences, and make it a game that can go through siblings over five pretty easily.
- Travel container
- Smooth pieces that are big enough not to get lost in car
- Over 30 challenges
- Can be individual or group use
Related: Study: Screen Time In Kids Results In Reduced Sleep
Best Travel Game For Kids and Families
HABA Magnetic Game Box Creature Creations
We love games and activities that come in their own containers, or store easily while in the car and that's one of our favorite things about HABA's magnetic Creature Creations.
This fun creativity game comes with three background images and 5 animals that your child can accessorize and decorate to their heart's content using the 51 included magnetic elements. Don't worry-they're magnetic and powerful at that, so they either cling like glue to the background board or are in the sturdy carrying case as your child is designing.
There are tons of accessories for the dog, cat, pig and horse to use and become whoever your child wants them to be. Their imagination will only add to the fun, and we especially love having each family member in the house take turns creating someone silly and then telling a story about what they've created. For that feature alone, this game is worth gold because stories can truly be endless…with family members each adding a part to keep the story going.
- Powerful magnet background boards
- Sturdy carrying case/workspace
- Inspires creativity and imagination
- Individual or multiple child use
Best Activity Book For Kids On Road Trips
Don't Let The Pigeon Finish This Activity Book
The Pigeon really, really wants to finish this activity book! But that pesky Duckling keeps getting in the way. Oh, and there's someone new on the scene causing all kinds of problems....
Follow the Bus Driver's lead as you write, color, draw, create-even build an airport!-in this fun-filled book starring the Pigeon and YOU.
Kids love Mo Willems. Actually, so do adults. And kids (and adults) especially love Pigeon, the lovable character from Willems's "Don't Let The Pigeon…" series of hilarious books.
True to his style, Willems continues to implore with your child through the Bus Driver character to not let the Pigeon finish all 272 pages of this super-fun activity book. With lessons on how to draw the pigeon himself (though he argues the point) as well as coloring and completing mazes, word play activities and family portraits, your kids will be DYING to finish the book before Pigeon.
And since half of the entertainment is the Pigeon's hilarity as your kid goes page by page, they'll love the intricate details Willems purposely crafts to keep kids thinking, creative and having a blast. All in the car, screen-free and working on additional strengths-fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and more!
- Sturdy Binding and Cover
- 272 Pages to keep kids busy
- Entertaining and familiar characters
- Great for restaurants and other places kids need to wait
Related: Natural Alternatives to Harsh Bathroom Cleaners
Best Travel High Chair
Summer Pop 'n Sit High Chair
When you're on the road, taking bulky booster high-chairs (or dealing with whatever the restaurant/destination place you're visiting has) is not the optimal option.
That's why we love the Summer Pop 'n Sit High Chair. It's perfect for pulling out to picnic at a rest area, just as much as it works for actually taking into a restaurant or family member's home when visiting. That's because it is a super light-weight chair that innovatively pops up and opens quickly and easily, and does the same when you need to fold it.
The seating is removable, machine washable fabric and has a dishwasher safe tray with cupholder for making meals anywhere you go easy to use and clean.
We love that the detachable wet/dry bag lets you keep bibs/mats inside, and when your kiddo is all done, you can put all the messiness in the bag and get back on the road.
It uses a 3-point safety harness so you don't have to trade safety for convenience and a carry bag to make it a breeze to take wherever you need to go.
- Pops open and closes easily with a fold
- Detachable wet/dry bag
- Dishwasher safe
- 3-point safety harness
How to make every road trip a great one--without screens
One of the most important things you can do when planning your road-trip is plan when you're leaving.
That looks different for every family. Some families wake their kids up super early because they hope an early car nap will make some of the hours float away. If your kids will sleep in the car, that's great, but many kids won't because the anticipation of the trip itself and wherever it is that you're going makes it hard for them to do so.
Some like to pull the all-nighters--driving at night while kids sleep with their natural body cycles. This is usually an efficient way to make the trip with little worry about what to do with and for them in the car, but that also means mom or dad are going to be exhausted, and frankly, driving while you're tired isn't advisable for anyone.
Some choose to just get up whenever everyone naturally gets up, hoping for better nights' sleep and some time to leisurely enjoy that part of the journey too. Maybe even taking some time to get lots of energy out before the travel begins. Whatever time you decide to leave, make it a time you can all live with happily.
Food and sleep are pivotal
A lot of your thought process about naps and food will be based on what time you decide to leave. You'd think if you left after everyone had a great breakfast, bellies would be full and no snacks needed for a while. Maybe, but if your kids are like most, and you're like most moms, you have a snack bag ready and your kids are just waiting to dive in.
The best tip we've found is to pack snacks and lunches in individual bags that kids can easily get to. Have a separate snack back that might have some of the treats you don't often eat at home as motivation to continue the drive without too much wailing or begging for screens. Eating in the car can be a major time-saver, but there's merit in stopping and taking a few minutes at a well-planned rest area to get moving about and get the wigglies out. Again, this will be family dependent and could be a combination of both. Most importantly, just keep blood sugar levels level, and food that they can get to quickly available. And we admit it, this is when lollipops (organic) come out--they're treats we NEVER have and keep kids content for a good chunk of time. Unless they're biters...
As far as naps--try to keep your kids on their nap schedule even on the road. Yes, Great Aunt Sally may tell you it's a special visit and they can make up for their sleep later, but Great Aunt Sally doesn't have to be up with them at 2 am when their nap schedule is off. Take the important nap things with you in the car--lovies, blankies, stuffies...music, whatever it is that makes them comfy enough to nap at home. Make sure those are easily accessible for nap time in the car, and assure them that dozing off even if NOT naptime isn't a terrible thing either!
Make the most of listening
Long car rides are the PERFECT opportunity to really practice your children's auditory processing and listening skills. Receptive and expressive language skills can shine in the car as you listen to and sing fun music, hear great stories through audiobooks and podcasts and even have conversations that come with fun conversation starters. This is like free time in your kids' lives because they're sort of captive audiences and you can take the time to really talk about things, explore literary features of books and just have heart-to-hearts about what's going on in life.
Road Trip Entertainment Tips
If you want to do this without screens, (or as little screen-time as possible) you're going to have to be sure that the 'novelty' of whatever you bring to entertain is still there. Gather early in the planning stages of your road trip and make your road trip items only for road trips.
That's right--have things only purposed to be road trip entertainment or necessity. It is hard, because we've found some cool road trip must-haves that are screen-free and lots of mamas want to have those items all the time. We understand, but also know that part of the entertainment factor for anything when it comes to a kid is its novelty. If it's something they always have access to? Meh. Something special for the trip? Yes please!
Also remember that if the journey is to be part of the fun, you're going to want to stop often enough to let it be so. Stop at cool, preplanned places for the experience of it. Don't wait until kids 'have to go' to the bathroom, but instead plan breaks every couple of hours so that they can get out, run around, get the wigglies out and just get some fresh air and perspective. We're always in such a hurry to get there, but the reality is...you're not going to regret this time with your kids at all--particularly if you take some time to soak it in. Yes, fast and furious will get you there, but...what will you miss in the process?