7 Ways to Occupy the Kids on Road Trips without Electronics

Do you want your kids to remember more about your vacation than what movie was playing in the DVD? Here are 7 Ways to Occupy the Kids on Road Trips without Electronics.
Thanks to the many electronic advances in the past decade, long trips aren’t nearly as painfully boring now as they were when I was growing up. My teenagers have the luxury of watching DVD’s, playing Xbox, texting their friends and updating their Facebook profile all along our route. On our 1,000 mile trip to Florida in December, I didn’t hear “Are we almost there?”, until we crossed into Florida. I think that’s a record for my crew.

Electronics in the car may help pass time but sometimes I want my teens to remember a bit more of the trip than what movie is playing in the DVD player. Over the years I’ve come up with several ways to occupy the kids on road trips without electronics- if only for a short portion of a long road trip.

1. Talk to your kids.

Road trips are a great time to talk to your kids. Many of the deepest, most meaningful conversations I’ve had with my kids have taken place in the vehicle.

2. Listen to a book on CD.

Technically, you could probably count this in the electronics category but I’m going to keep it on my list anyway. When my kids were younger, I was better about turning everything into a learning opportunity. I was sure to visit the library before a trip to see if I could borrow a book or two that referred to our destination. If that didn’t work, I could always find a classic story that they’d enjoy listening too.

3. Play a game.

My kids still love to play the memory game, “I’m going on a road trip, and I’m going to pack…” Everyone takes turns saying what they will take while reciting each earlier response. The only difference between playing this game now as opposed to when they were younger is now they try to shock me with their response.

When my kids were younger, they’d play the license plate game, I Spy, Road Trip B-I-N-G-O or eagerly check items off a custom scavenger list that I’d prepare for the occasion.

4. Have your child help you navigate.

I remember the days before a GPS was commonplace. Sometimes the kids and I would travel 8 to 9 hours to meet my husband when he was on the road. They weren’t very old but I taught them to be familiar with a map so they could help me navigate. I’m pretty good with directions so I didn’t normally have a problem, but they did enjoy holding such an esteemed position when daddy wasn’t around.

5. Create a photo journal of the trip.  

My kids used to get a brand new journal right before a trip. I would give them prompts and encourage them to jot down the important who, what, where, when and why’s. They didn’t particularly like this exercise and considered it way to “school-ish”, but they enjoy glancing back at those journals now. My daughter was exceptionally diligent and even took the time to write down the time we passed into another state, what the weather was like and any notable changes she witnessed when compared to our home state.

Now that the kids are older and each have a camera of their own, I encourage them to create a photo journal of our trip. They may photograph road signs, traffic jams, roadside attractions and photo opps at rest stops along the route. It’s fun to look at their pictures and see their three distinct photography styles and areas of interest.

6. Pack some books, a magazine or Mad Libs.

I’ve been known to read to my family while in the car. A book has saved us from absolute boredom on more than one occasion. Unfortunately, my kids aren’t especially tolerant of read alouds anymore. They’d prefer to pack their own reading material, normally in the form of a magazine. Mad Libs are a fun way to pass the time for younger kids.    

7. Sleep.

This is probably the number one way my boys prefer to spend their time in the vehicle. They love to sleep and road trips give them the opportunity to do just that. After all, teenagers require quite a bit of sleep, you know.

Normally, electronics on a road trip aren’t a big deal to me, but in my book, road trips are synonymous with family time. And quality family time is too often neglected due to distractions. Road trips are the perfect time to unplug and reconnect to the people in your life.

What are some of the ways that you occupy the kids on road trips without electronics?


This post is linked to Travel Tips Tuesday with Walkingon Travels and Suitcases and Sippycups.

© 2013 – 2014, Tonya Prater / The Traveling Praters. All rights reserved.


  1. says

    Wow…you’re brave! I insist that my kids use their electronics on long drives just for my own sanity. My parents used to make us play those car games when we traveled and I hated them. On the other hand, my kids don’t watch too much TV at home, so long drives are a great chance for them to catch up on the shows they like.
    #7 is my favorite suggestion though. Nothing passes the time like catching up on a little sleep.

    • says

      Now Steve, I didn’t say that every trip is an electronic free trip. I’ve not totally lost my mind. I’m not a fan of the car games but my kids love them. Everytime they want to play “I’m going on a road trip….” I cringe inwardly. But that will be our little secret. :)

      • says

        Good tips Tonya. Just now stumbled onto this article. If you do a follow-up, please consider adding FUNGO BINGO “Family Car Trip” to your list. Reusable cards are sold on ebay and a proceed of every sale goes to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We are a start-up run by a “mompreneur” and can also be found on FB and Twitter. Thanks!

        XOXO From the working mom behind FUNGO BINGO. :)

  2. says

    We play the alphabet game. Each person has to find the letters a through z in order. You can find letters on anything outside of the vehicle like license plates, road signs, stores, billboards, etc… You call out each letter as you find it so each player knows how far along everyone is.

  3. says

    My kids are too young to use electronics during road trips so we usually listen to their personalized CDs (almost as bad as being addicted to electronics I think!) and try to schedule driving during nap time.

    When they get older this tips will definitely come in handy

  4. Sally@Toddlers on Tour says

    Great to see ideas without the electronics.

    I remember as a young girl on road trips we would all guess how long until we reached our destination. The last half hour is always the longest no matter how far you’ve travelled.

  5. Justine Ickes says

    Great post, Tonya. I couldn’t agree more about using car time as family time. But in our electronic-obsessed culture, it can be hard to get kids to let go of the electronics. But once they do, you can have some terrific conversation and experiences. My kids and I are big fans of books-on-tape but on long trips when we’ll be away for a few weeks, we end up racking up a tab of overdue fines at the library. So I was really happy when fellow blogger, Elizabeth Rogers created the Audiobooks app. It’s only 99 cents! And, as you say, playing word games is fun too. I wrote an article a while back about no-tech travel games http://www.njfamily.com/NJ-Family/June-2011/10-No-Tech-Travel-Games/

  6. Duncan Faber says

    We do a lot of traveling. And we have a lot of kids. 5. (Holy cow, what were we thinking?) Anyway, we keep our kids occupied with audiobooks, and lots of them. There are a lot of sites where you can download them, but we use this one a lot because the stories are all free and they’re original. Here’s the link if anyone is interested. http://www.twirlygirlshop.com/short-stories-for-kids Yeah, I know. It’s electronic. But at least it’s better than watching a dvd.

  7. Michele says

    Great tips. I have 5 kids and we have made only one major road trip but it was a doozie ….over 5000 miles and 18 days on the road. We had a great time and are planning our next cross country-ish trip this summer. We love to talk in the car but I use conversation starters to help it flow and stay creative and interesting. I found some on clearance at Hallmark but there are lots on pinterest. You never know what they’ll come out with and I feel like I learn a lot about them …and their responses usually spark conversation between them. We also love “art” activities. Markers (use color wonder if kids are younger or you have a much nicer car than I do), coloring pencils and paper, coloring pages, etc…chenille stems can be used to create all sorts of sculptures. We had an assortment of items In a small tote bag in each row of the car so everyone had items within their reach…and sometimes traded between seats. I also kept a bag of stuff by me in the front seat to pull out when needed. I avoided goodies that were purely toys …but had lots of brain teasers, small rope or metal puzzles, things that could occupy some kinetic energy when needed on the road. Travel journals …books about the USA so we talked about each state we went through (18!), license plate games, you name it. We may have even resorted to looking for shapes in the clouds and distant mountainscapes. We did electronics but only as a small part of the trip. They can look at Mario anytime….can they say the same about the land and skies around them? Wish you all the best trips!

    • says

      I also have a conversation starter set that I pack with me when we travel. My kids are older so many of the activities I would have used when they were younger just don’t work anymore but you offered many great suggestions.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *