Seven Ways to Entertain Kids on Long Road Trips

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My husband and I love long road trips. We enjoy the freedom and flexibility of being on the road. And we love being in control of where we go and what we see.

Every year, we take a long road trip from our home in Seattle down to Southern California to visit my mother-in-law in San Diego. It’s 1,500 miles, one way. And the trip takes us at least two days to make the drive.

This post was updated on April 3, 2020.

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The landscape during a long road trips in the United States
The landscape during a road trip (January 2016)

Taking long road trips with kids

People think we’re either super crazy or extremely brave to do long road trips with young kids, but we absolutely love them. We’ve done several cross-country road trips as a family, and dozens of shorter ones as well.

We prefer this method of traveling as the travel costs for a family road trip can be much cheaper than flying. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve found that long road trips can be less stressful than flying with kids, especially during the holidays. The trick is finding ways to entertain the kids.

During our recent trip to San Diego, it took us two and a half days to drive down. And coming back, we only had two days to travel before needing to go back to work, so that meant at least fifteen hours of driving each day. It may seem like a long time to be in a car with kids, but we have several tricks up our sleeves to make the ride enjoyable. The kids did great, and didn’t even complain about being in the car for a long time.

lighthouse at cape disappointment in washington state during long road trips
A lighthouse in Washington state (January 2016)

Keeping kids entertained on long road trips

The key to keeping kids entertained during a road trip is to have multiple strategies. Bring a mix of toys, games, and activities to fill up the time. And break up the road trip so that you’re not in the car for too long.

From our experience as seasoned family road trippers, here are our seven tried and true ways to entertain kids on long road trips.

Taking a road trip in our car (May 2019)

Stuffed animals, action figures, and lap games

Most of the time when we travel, we try and pack as minimally as possible, but with kids, it helps to pack along some toys that they can play with in their seat. For my daughter, she usually chooses several dolls that she can dress up and do imaginative play.

For my son, however, we brought along a Melissa and Doug latches board that he recently received for Christmas. He liked being able to open and close the latches. And it helped to occupy his attention during the trip.

Playing with a latch board in the car (January 2016)

Coloring books and activity books

Whenever we travel, we always make sure the kids have a journal and crayons to draw. As an avid journal writer, I like giving my kids an outlet to express themselves.

We’ve found that the Moleskine cahier journals work best for us, as they’re inexpensive and small enough for our kids to carry around on their own. My daughter always fills her books up by the end of the trip, and it’s a great way to encourage self expression and reflection.

My daughter drawing in her notebook (July 2012)

Leave some time for nap time

Since your kids are going to be spending a lot of time in their car seats, it helps to make them as comfy as possible. We gave each of our kids pillows to sleep on, and a blanket to snuggle with.

If you have a car seat that reclines, set it to the most reclined setting to encourage your kids to sleep. And if your kids sit in a booster seat, put them next to the window so they have something they can rest their pillows and heads against.

Napping in the car during a road trip (January 2016)

Have your kids read storybooks

If your kids aren’t the type to get car sick easily, then storybooks are a great way to help pass the time. Have your kids pick out a few of their favorite books before you leave home.

We like to bring a mix of books that are suitable for both of our kids and their age groups. While on the road, you can either read the books out loud, or have your kids flip through the pages on their own.

Reading a graphic novel (September 2018)

Break up long road trips with roadside attractions

If you have the time on the road, consider visiting some roadside attractions to break up the drive. On our way back to Seattle from San Diego, we stumbled upon Bravo Farms in Kettleman City, a western themed restaurant and store. After eating lunch, we walked around the store, which included a section full of antiques, and then finished the visit by letting our kids play in the playground which was decorated like an old west town.

On long road trips, it helps to stop every few hours to let your kids stretch out and run around. Roadside attractions are a great way to incorporate some interesting sights into these stretch breaks.

Taking a break at a roadside attraction at Bravo Farms in Kettleman, CA during long road trips
Playing at Bravo Farms (January 2016)

Listen to audio books together

We recently introduced my daughter to Harry Potter. And on this recent road trip, we listened to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling on audio book. At the risk of sounding like an old person, audio books are actually a great way to pass the time during a road trip.

We liked listening to the story together, and since it was an audio book, we could pause and talk about the different scenes that we were listening to. As someone who has always enjoyed books, I like the idea of introducing my kids to literature.

Taking a road trip in California (May 2019)

Relying on the iPad on long road trips

As a last resort, it helps to pack along an iPad preloaded with movies and games. We usually manage to get through most of the road trip without pulling out the iPad, but sometimes we can’t avoid it.

And when it gets too dark on the road, an iPad can be a good way to keep the kids occupied before the dinner break. We use a shock proof iPad case to keep our kids’ iPads from getting too banged up.

The kids playing on the iPad in the car (January 2016)

Making long road trips fun for kids

As a family, we love taking road trips. They’re the perfect way to feed our wanderlust, and experience the world around us. We try to make long road trips fun for our little ones. And we also try to make them memorable.

During your next road trip, try a few of these tips to keep your kids entertained. Or make up your own car game to do together as a family. I hope with these tips, your family will love road trips too. And I hope that road trips will become part of your family’s travel traditions, much like they are part of ours.

Have you done long road trips with kids? What are your tips for keeping your kids entertained on the road? Share them in the comments!

Seven Ways To Entertain Kids On Long Road Trips | The Wandering Daughter

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2 Responses

  1. This is a fantastic blog Astrid. I love it. Next trip I’m going to give the ‘limited ipad use’ a go!

    1. Thanks Brandon! I have to admit, we do give the kids the iPad towards the end of the road trip. Now that the kids are older, we have a scavenger hunt game that they like to do from time to time too.

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Hi, I'm Astrid

Photo of Astrid Vinje
I'm full-time traveling mom who's passionate about worldschooling.



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