Every parent knows long car trips and kids rarely mix. Best case scenario they sleep through the whole thing, but we all know it’s more likely that they’re going to spend much of the journey frustrated, restless and craving attention.
If you’re not a fan of shoving a screen in their faces or tricking them into staying quiet with sugary treats, don’t fear: there are other, healthier ways of making sure your little ones are entertained on long car rides to family, friends and vacation spots.
This post is part of our family travel advice series
Long the saviour of parents with restless children, travel toys are a great way to channel frustration and creativity into something more productive and time-consuming.
There are a whole host of great travel toys out there that’ll make the hours fly by and give kids something to focus on beyond the other cars rolling by.
Window toys are a particularly good choice. They make fun use of the surroundings and allow a child to be more creative, building their games around what they can see before them and how they integrate the toys into it.
Kids’ subscription box toys have become brilliant assets to parents on long journeys — many of the activities you can find in the Sago Mini box and similar deliver-to-your-door packages are as fun and educational on the road as they are in the playroom.
Not all toys are great for travelling. It’s best to find ones that keep your child entertained for hours (the last thing you want to be doing is constantly reaching into the back seat to give them something new) and suit life in the back of a car. For example, something that inspires imagination rather than requiring lots of fiddly parts, especially true if your traveling with toddlers.
A good supplement to travel toys is a car seat travel tray. They come in all different sizes and varieties, some include an eraseable whiteboard surface, whilst others give kids a pocket for their drinks and snacks as well as creative building areas, even a spot for a tablet, all within easy arms reach.
You can see our advice for the best types of travel toys for every age group here
The radio and podcasts might be a little much to keep the attention of little minds, but kid-friendly audiobooks are becoming a godsend for parents across the world.
Unlike letting them run wild on YouTube with their iPad, sticking on an audiobook allows you to control what your child is exposed to and forces them to use their imagination to engage with something — much healthier than mindless auto-playing video content.
There are a ton of great audiobooks out there perfect for long car journeys, with epic series suitable for everything from older toddlers to pre-teens.
Silly short stories will have them cracking up the whole trip. While magical tales of adventure will have them eagerly anticipating the journey home. You can even try podcasts for toddlers too! Just make sure you throw in some suitable headphones if you don’t want to hear the same shows on repeat for hours on end!
Get creative with your stops
For your sake and there’s, it’s important to litter your car journey with lots of little stops. It’ll give you some chance to refresh, refuel and get yourself ready to be both parent and driver again.
These trips don’t just give kids a chance to get some fresh air and stretch their little achy legs, but they also provide an opportunity for you to make the trip more entertaining and hopefully tire them out a little.
If stops are necessary, they might as well provide you an opportunity to play a new game or engage your child’s brain.
Try and take breaks in more interesting areas. Rather than the roadside gas station or restaurant try and build your stops around quaint villages and towns you’ve always been curious about. They add a bit more flavour to the trip and give your child something to be excited about. You can even make these trips into mini-scavenger hunts as you search for famous landmarks and wildlife.
A little pre-planning can make the journey as enjoyable as the destination.
Get them enthusiastic about the destination
Car journeys often feel so endless to a young child because as far as they know, they are.
One way to make being trapped in the back of the car without access to their toys, games and parents’ affection more enjoyable is to get them enthusiastic about the destination.
If you’re heading out on vacation, remind them of how much they enjoyed playing on the beach last time — or that, if they’re lucky, they might be able to run into the same ice cream truck. Memories are a powerful thing, even for kids who have lived short lives, so use that power to your advantage.
Relating places and attractions to characters they’ll recognize is a great trick for making the destination more enticing and taking their mind off the cramped nature of the car. A few days before you set off, find a children’s book or film set in the same or a similar place. This will help them build up a picture in their mind and give you something to draw back to. This is particularly good for when you want to take a museum tour or visit a historical location.
So there you have it, some helpful tips to quell the screaming, crying and climbing up the car doors of little ones in the back seat. Of course, every child is different though. Some will sleep through the whole thing, while others will kick up a storm until you pull up at the beach. Do you have any tricks to entertain kids on long car rides?
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Want more family travel advice?
The Globetrotters Blog is packed full of advice for family travelers like you. You may also want to check out next:
- 45 Road Trip Essentials – Items we never head off on a long trip without
- Road Tripping With A Baby – advice especially for first-time parents looking to hit the road for long stretches; here’s what we always pack and how we break up the journey
- Toddler Flying Mistakes we’ve made (and I bet you have too!) – the do’s and don’ts of toddler travel for a smooth journey
- Everything you need for a perfect day at the beach – don’t get caught short out in the sun, our complete packing list for a day out at the beach and important sun protection tips
- 20 Toddler Travel Essential – be prepared for travelling with your little ones with all these important toddler travel items