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
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
I decided to make some road trip activity kits for my
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:
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
Me? I bought three plastic bins (approximately 14 x 11
inches) with locking lids. Boom. Done.
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
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.
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
a half-completed tablet of Mad Libs
partially finished workbooks
books my kids hadn't taken off the shelves
tiny hand-held games they'd forgotten
since they'd taken them out of their Christmas stockings
crayons—including the broken ones—and
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.
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
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.
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.
These kits won't eliminate all whining, arguing or
declarations of boredom. They won't prevent anyone from asking, "Are we there
But with some road trip activity kit luck, your kids
might discover that your journey can be just as fun as your destination.