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Kid Road Trip Survival Kit

Three years ago, my husband and I decided to take our family on a road trip from our home in Columbus, Ohio, to the mountains outside of Fort Collins, Colo. We were mostly enthusiastic about this trip until we did the math: 26 hours of driving (52 round-trip) plus three kids ages 6, 3 and 6 months old.

In my panic over what that math added up to—namely disaster, mayhem and 51 hours of crying—I decided I needed to take some preemptive action.

I decided to make some road trip activity kits for my children.

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These kits ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to our family vacations. In fact, they have been lifesavers for four consecutive 6+-hour road trips. My kids are already asking me if I'll make them again for our upcoming trip this summer. (The quick answer: oh, hell yes.)

Here's my step-by-step how-to on making these activity kits:

1. Get a box for each kid

I'm not a crafty person. I don't have what one might call a "Pinterest-level skill set." Nonetheless, if you're super-crafty, you can construct a box out of reclaimed barn wood and decoupage it with vintage post cards.

Me? I bought three plastic bins (approximately 14 x 11 inches) with locking lids. Boom. Done.

2. Label each kit

Labeling is essential if you have more than one child. No one wants to hear, "That's mine! No, that's MY kit! NO THAT'S MINE!" for an entire road trip.

I busted out my label maker for these kits. You can use a magic marker. Pen on masking tape. Your bedazzler. Whatever floats your crafty-boat.

3. Pack some snacks—but not all the snacks

In my experience, if you include tons of snacks in the activity kits, your children will likely plow through them before the first hour of the road trip is done. Thus, I include one or two easy-to-open snacks in each kit. (Think: granola bars, yogurt-covered raisins, crackers, apples, etc. OK, chips. And cookies, too. Whatever, it's vacation.) I refill the snacks each time we stop for gas or a bathroom break. It's easy, and it helps to reduce the classic, "I'm huuuunnnnngry!" road trip whining.

4. You don't have to buy new toys or books

There's no need to go out and spend lots of money on these activity kits. Instead, look around the house for toys or books that already entertain your kids—or ones that they might even forget they have.

For instance, my past road trip activity kits have included:

  • a half-completed tablet of Mad Libs
  • partially finished workbooks
  • books my kids hadn't taken off the shelves in months
  • tiny hand-held games they'd forgotten since they'd taken them out of their Christmas stockings
  • crayons—including the broken ones—and scrap paper
  • pencils, pens and markers
  • a bag filled with Legos
  • a bag filled with little animals or action figures
  • a bag filled with all the garbage-destined, junky toys we've received in birthday prize bags

Have I aimed low here? Sure. But no one has ever complained about the re-used toys. In fact, my kids have loved rediscovering old toys in their road trip kits.

5. Create your own games

You don't need anything fancy to make these games: just your computer and your imagination will suffice. You can make a sight word scavenger hunt for young readers, a road trip bingo game for older children or even the classic license plate game for anyone willing to play. You can include multiple versions of each game, too. I tape these games to the top of our road trip kits, but you can just as easily stick them inside each box.

Of course, you can also turn to Pinterest. Search for "road trip printables." You'll find more road trip games than you could ever dream of.

My kids all adore these games. I adore them even more because (a) they keep the kids focused on something other than arguing with one another and (b) they encourage them to look out the window and pay attention to the journey itself.

6. Consider a prize bag

I am not too proud to bribe. Especially not during long car trips.

I've offered prizes when my kids have found all the words on their sight word scavenger hunt. I've offered prizes when they've completed a row on their road trip bingo. I've wanted to offer prizes when they haven't whined or argued about anything for more than half an hour, but I haven't. At least not yet.

In all honesty, these prizes do not need to be extravagant. They can be as simple as getting a couple dollars to spend on a snack at the next gas station or being able to pick the next movie that they watch in the car. (Okay, yes, I'll admit: these kits don't keep my kids completely away from the car DVD-player. But they have kept them going for a record eight hours without once turning on a movie. That's a major win in my book.)

Though these prizes get the kids motivated to complete their games, the real fun always seems to come from just playing the games.

7. Have reasonable expectations

These kits won't eliminate all whining, arguing or declarations of boredom. They won't prevent anyone from asking, "Are we there yet?"

But with some road trip activity kit luck, your kids might discover that your journey can be just as fun as your destination.

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Image via Twenty20/nikmock

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