My family goes on a few long road trips every year. As head vacation planner and trip organizer, I’m always searching for car activities my kids can do to help pass the time and keep sibling rivalry at bay. My favorite finds are those that are screen-free and relatively mess-free.
Full disclosure, we also rely HEAVILY on screens while on longer road trips. Our minivan has a DVD player in it and we take full advantage.
I’m certain my husband and I would’ve gone mad driving 12 hours to Washington, D.C. last year were it not for our DVD player.
With that being said, I do have limits and I don’t want them tuned into a screen the whole time. It has been my experience that too much movie watching makes kids cranky and puts people in a bad mood.
Thus, I have sought out (and used!) the following products to keep my kids occupied as the miles tick by.
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1. Melissa and Doug Water Wow!
These Melissa and Doug Water Wows are great and only require a little bit of water. Make sure to have the water paint brushes filled up before the trip starts. And have a spare water bottle handy to refill brushes as needed.
The “magical” water pen makes pictures appear as you swipe across the page.
Bonus: These are reusable! Once the page dries, the picture is back to normal and your little one can relive the fun!
2. Invisible Black Light Pens
These black light invisible ink pens are awesome! I even like to have fun with these! They will make you and your kids feel like you are staring in the next installment of Spy Kids.
The ink is invisible so kids can write on paper, on their arm, on their car seat or wherever! It only shows up if you use the black light attached to the pen to reveal your secrete message.
3. Podcasts or Audiobooks
If you have not entered into the world of podcasts then you are really missing out. They are AWESOME! There are so many great series for kids that will keep passengers entertained on road trips and commutes around town.
Download an app on your phone that will let you listen to them (I use castbox). Then, connect your phone to your car’s Bluetooth. Or, bring a portable Bluetooth speaker and connect to that. Make sure you bring along some wireless Bluetooth headphones for the kids, too. Viola! Candy for your ears!
Audiobooks are also a great option! Kids are more entertained by them than you might think! We recently listened to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe followed by book one of The 39 Clues series and are getting ready to start the Harry Potter series during our morning and afternoon commutes to school!
There are two audio book apps that I use that connect straight to my local library. They are called Hoopla and Overdrive. No doubt there are others I have not discovered. All you need is a smart phone and a library card.
Audio books are also fabulous for parents who love to read but have no time (all of us). They make housework and commutes to work way more fun and exciting. When I am plugged into a good audio book, I honestly look forward to longer commutes in the car, school car line and folding laundry. Did you hear that?! I said folding laundry!
Just a heads up, however. If there is a book you have in mind and it is a popular one, try to put a hold on it ahead of time so it will be available for your trip. Sometimes the timing isn’t perfect but you can usually finagle it to have the book when you need it.
Or, if you’d rather not wait, give Audible a try. Amazon’s Audible program allows you to have almost any book, anytime for one, low monthly cost.
4. Imagine Ink and Crayola Color Wonder
Similar to the Water Wow! these Imagine Ink markers and accompanying booklets provide a ton of fun for kids and are mess free! Kids will discover a world of hidden pictures and magically appearing colors while doodling with the Invisible Ink pen.
A similar product that we have used in the car with lots of smiles and success are the Crayola Color Wonder products. The only problem with these (and with anything involving a marker or pen is that your kid may drop them and send them rolling under the seat. You may want to bring along a reacher grabber (not even kidding) to retrieve lost items or just sit in the back with your children to avoid both parent and kid frustration.
5. Mad Libs
Who remembers these?! Oh my gosh, I love them and so do my 8 year old son and 7 year old daughter who can read now! Aren’t kids who are old enough to read and write the best?!
Mad Libs are silly and provide some really good belly laughs for both you and your kids! Plus, mega bonus… they’re educational! They encourage reading and teach the parts of speech such as nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs!
Kids fill in the blanks with words that other participants provide and then read the story out loud for the other commuters to enjoy. Hilarious.
6. Magna Doodles
I have fond memories of Magna Doodles as a kid and was memorized by the picture creating magnet pencil, magnet stamps and the one-swipe erasing slide bar.
An added bonus is that the magnet pencil is connected to the board by a string, making this a mess-free and potentially tear-free activity should your child have a case of the butter fingers that day.
7. Travel Bingo
Travel bingo is a fun and interactive game to play in the car that doesn’t involve a million tiny square pieces of paper or plastic bingo chips. The bingo markers in these games are magnetic or flaps connected to the board. Again, potentially meltdown free* should your kid lack the fine motor control to keep track of itty-bitty items.
8. Magnetic Dry Erase Marker Board
If you are going to have a marker in the car that actually makes a visible mark, then I feel your best option is the dry erase variety. That way, if they decide to “decorate” the windows, it will easily wipe away!
9. Magnet Boards and Magnets
Kids love these magnet boards! They really are fascinating and chances of them hitting the floorboard is lower since they stick! Use the magnetic dry erase board (#8 above), purchase some baking pans from the dollar store or buy one of these sets off of Amazon for tons of fun on those long, summer road trips.
Once again, this activity can be educational, too, as kids can practice letter sounds, number recognition, sight words, spelling words and making sentences if you choose to bring along a set of letter and number magnets.
10. Reusable Sticker Pads
Reusable sticker pads are a great option for road trips. Should the kiddos decide to adorn their seat, window or baby sister with a trillion stickers, they won’t stick or will peel right off. You won’t even have to bust out the dish soap or Goo Gone.
They stickers that come with these things are more like cling-ables or window decals, making clean-up of unwarranted toddler sticker attacks much, much easier to deal with.
And, if the child actually uses them correctly, they can place them over and over again, using their imagination to create new scenes.
11. Bonus Item: Wikki Stix
We have seen and played with these quiet and mess-free Wikki Stix in some restaurants that hand them out in lieu of coloring place mats for kids. They are basically like wax pipe cleaners that are bendable and able to be molded into different creations. I love them because it is like giving kids a blank canvas and asking them to shape and create whatever comes to mind!
I hope you and your family enjoy these car activities as much as my kids did! Have fun out there on the open road and safe travels!