There’s only really one tip that matters when it comes to keeping children entertained on a long journey and it’s this – embrace screen time. Be grateful that we are living in this modern age and exploit all the opportunities that portable DVD players and even games consoles and tablets offer. Just leave the guilt at the door.
No-one wants their kids to goggle for hours on end at a screen, which is presumably why you’re going on the road trip in the first place. You’re heading out to see the world, see friends, to explore.
By all means keep your wellies and raincoats to hand and if you see a lovely park, tempting wood or play area, be spontaneous, stop off and use the opportunity to have a stretch and a run around. If you’re really organised look in advance for a spot that might make a suitable stop and plan in the time – make the trip part of your overall adventure. You may also want to check out these free printable travel games.
A stress free journey makes for a happy trip
But, when in motion on a long journey, the real aim is to ensure everyone is happy, the driver isn’t distracted or stressed and you all arrive ready to enjoy whatever it is you are travelling to – and all still speaking to one another!
If the kids are totally bored, which they can easily be after 20 minutes in the car, let alone a couple of hours, none of that will be possible. The arguments, the moaning and the desperation is sure to bubble up.
Screens can be part of a balanced life
DVDs or downloaded shows keep kids enthralled. Just as chocolate can be part of a balanced diet, screen time can be part of a balanced life. Kids can learn loads of emotional and personal growth messages via a Disney film and a lot of kids’ shows are educational gold.
Just remember to give plenty of warning when you’re approaching your destination so your kids are ready to put their gadgets down and switch focus without grumbling.
You can throw in a few games on the tablet or your phone that focus on maths and literacy and being confined in a car for a couple of hours gives you a great opportunity to agree for your kids to spend a bit of time on one of those apps before moving on to something more mindless if they insist.
Similarly, you could agree for them to watch half a film then perhaps take a short break to look at the view and play a few more traditional car games like ‘I spy’, car bingo (challenging each other to spot various items out the window) or to be the first to see x-number of red or blue cars.
Other essentials for a successful family road trip
The car is a fantastic, non-threatening place for a heart-to-heart and creating a few gaps in the screen time, when everyone is feeling relaxed and happy because they’re not bored, may just allow a conversation to emerge that is less likely when you’re all sitting eye-to-eye.
Also pack a small rucksack for each child with a few favourite toys, books (especially activity books) and colouring pencils or pens (if you have some that wash off your upholstery) and they can flit between those and the screens.
Other essentials for a stress free road trip include taking regular stops for toilet breaks rather than waiting for the emergency wail to come in the middle of the motorway. An empty throw-away bottle will get little boys out of a nasty scrape. For younger or newly potty trained children throw a potty in the boot with a nappy folded out in it and you’ll be able to deal with all eventualities at the roadside.
Abundant snacks and a few drinks (be wary of those toilet stops) are essential and an empty bin bag gives you somewhere to put those apple cores. Tissues and wipes will help you deal with most unexpected incidents from spills to sneezes and sickness.
We are a family of four from the UK who thrive on adventure. We've lived in India, trekked the Himalayas, traversed Africa in a Land Rover, and now we're staying closer to home with our Mazda Bongo camper. Off the beaten track road trips keep our soul alive, and through this blog we share our itineraries and experiences with you.