Tips for keeping kids happy and active on long road trips

Road trips are a staple of summer and often lead to the best adventures, making memories that last a lifetime. But sitting in a car for long stretches can make for cranky kids (and parents). Taking time to stop often for stretching and being active is the solution, though one that requires a bit of planning.

We asked our Role Models how they keep their kids happy and active on long car rides and they definitely have this road-tripping thing down. Here are their awesome tips:

We stop at cool, fun playgrounds we pass along the way and I usually do research to find neat ones that will be in towns we are passing.
— Tanya Koob

Embrace the journey! (slow travel with many stops)
— Karen Ung

When my daughter was younger and we lived a long way from family (min. 10-hour drive) we would leave very early …. between 3-4 am, so that we could get a good start on the drive while she was sleeping. We also planned our first stop of the day at a place with a playpark (possibly a controversial tip but we always stopped at a McDonalds because of the play structure, coffee, and clean bathrooms). Once daylight hit we stopped every couple of hours in small towns to stretch our legs, wander, and snack. Now that she is older we load geocaches and look at maps ahead of time to plan stops and breaks in areas were can also find a cache or two. We’ve also always picked up maps from CAA of where we are heading and give our daughter stickers so she can mark the communities we pass through and have an idea of how much father to the next stop and final destination.
— Heather Gardiner

Pack a soccer ball. Even if you can’t find a playground, any green field will do. Specify that everyone has to get out of the car and play. Pack tons of snacks. I use a $1 plastic shower caddy in the car and fill it full of healthy snacks for kids to munch on.
— Holly LaRochelle

Playgrounds are always a winner. But we also try to stop at public pools and water parks on the way or even lakes for a quick swim. If you stay at hotels, choose ones that have pools, and campsites that have places to swim. I also pack a cooler with healthy foods and snacks. Another option for food on the road is to stop at a Supermarket deli counter and buy a whole chicken, salads, veggies and dips, and have a picnic.
— Kari Marie Svenneby

I think everyone has said most of our tricks… leave super-early, stop at playgrounds, pack plenty of novel and nutritious snacks, have a soccer ball for when we stop, and pack lots of little activities for in the car. We don’t offer screens in the car, so there are lots of family games (find a car in every colour of the rainbow in order, tell a story using one word each until someone can’t go on, word association games, etc.) that we just make up as we go. I think we might also add a new tradition of listening to a Broadway musical soundtrack each summer road trip after falling in love with Hamilton on our long drives last year. We have three little cardboard trays (I think initially meant as paper sorters for a desk) and each kid gets one on their lap for drawing, Lego, etc.. A little IKEA box filled with Lego and with one flat Lego board (for building on) glued to the lid is a favourite road trip toy.
— Stephanie Slate

As Stephanie said, most of our tips are covered, too. In the past when we’ve traveled with friends we carry walkie – talkies. They are so much more fun than cell phones and keep the kids entertained for hours. We also map our road trips around interesting places to see (largest truck in the world, anyone?), playgrounds where we can let the sillies out, and of course coffee shops. Inside the car along with snacks I carry a large baking pan. It makes a great base for playing games where the pieces have magnets attached, and we can pass it around easily. Kids love hangman, a simplified version of scrabble, dominos and of course puzzles.
— Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma

For ideas about what do with the kids when you stop, check out our Activities section, as well as this list of other fun options:

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