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How to Keep Kids Entertained on a Road Trip

It’s road trip season! As the weather gets warmer, parents who have been cooped up all winter with their little ones are looking for a chance to get out and explore. For many families in this stage of life, road trips are the best way to experience a family vacation.

But one thing that holds some parents back is the prospect of keeping their kids entertained for long stretches in the car. With a little bit of preparation though, some fun toys and games, and the right attitude, every family can make their road trip a success.

We’ve taken dozens of road trips with our 4 young children, which means I’ve tried every road trip activity out there to keep the kids entertained! I’m going to share my top tips for what to do with kids on long road trips.

1. Keep a loose schedule.

This might seem silly when you’re cooped up in the car for hours, but kids absolutely thrive on structure. It helps everyone to know what’s coming next, because travel days can often feel very overwhelming to young children when they’re outside of their daily routine.

We like to have the kids play or read for a certain amount of time before allowing screen time, and we also try to schedule things like breaks to get out and stretch our legs, and snack or mealtime.

You can use a simple timer to let everyone know when the next activity is happening.

2. Bring lots of snacks.

I used to get upset that my kids kept asking for snacks on long road trips, until I realized that I’m no different! For some reason, I always feel the need to be eating when I’m trapped in the car.

So, I decided to make sure that we packed lots of healthy snacks. That way the kids could eat as much as they wanted, and I wouldn’t worry too much about them feeling sick or overdoing it.

We also make sure to bring a few special treats for when everyone is ready to have a meltdown.

I like to make the older kids a snack bag or box with a sandwich, some fruit, crackers, applesauce pouches, and a favorite treat, and let them decide when to eat everything. For younger kids, I portion out the snacks for them.

3. Plan for active breaks.

One fun tip is to find a park or playground along your route and stop for a picnic break along the way. Let the kids eat in the fresh air at a picnic table, then run, climb, and play until you’re ready to hit the road again.

Yes, it might make the trip last a little longer, but tired kids are quiet kids! It’s totally worth it.

4. Bring educational and engaging activities.

Activities for Toddlers

In my opinion, toddlers are the most difficult to entertain on a road trip. They’re still in rear-facing car seats, so it’s hard to interact with them. Plus, they don’t have the coordination to do many activities on their own!

Some go-to favorites I’ve found are interactive books, like the LeapFrog® 100 Animals BookTM, the LeapFrog® 100 Words About Places I GoTM book, and the LeapFrog® Learning Friends 100 Words BookTM.

Our almost-2-year-old is currently obsessed with animals and what sounds they make, so she had a blast using the touch-sensitive pages in the LeapFrog® 100 Animals BookTM to learn about animals from 12 different habitats!

I used to teach high school Spanish before becoming a mom, so you can imagine how excited I was to find that these books have both Spanish and English settings! There are also 3 modes on the LeapFrog® 100 Animals BookTM: animal names, animal sounds, and fun facts about the animals.

When my toddler plays with these books in the car, they keep her engaged for long stretches of time, more than any other toy I’ve tried.

Activities for Preschoolers

This stage is still somewhat of a challenge since kids can’t read yet, so you still have to be creative about the activities you provide.

As a former teacher, I always like to create my own educational activities for the kids. I’ve made scavenger hunts, which I print out and put in dry erase sleeves so they can use them over and over. I also put together educational activity packets for my older kids to get them excited about our destination!

Magnets in a tin or on a cookie sheet is another fun activity for kids. It’s mess-free and helps them to be creative in coming up with stories or scenarios!

Finally, my toddler also loves the LeapFrog® interactive books! He’s 4, and his favorite book is the LeapFrog® 100 Words About Places I GoTM. Each page features 10 locations, and there are 12 pages of places to choose from including the park, home, school, beach, and museum. I love that some of the locations can help prepare our preschooler for the destination we’re driving to!

Activities for Big Kids

Our elementary-age kids are so much easier to entertain in the car! I always create activity packets about the destination we’re going to, including word searches, games, spaces to write journal entries, and spaces to draw what they see.

We also always make a stop at the library or bookstore before our trip so each kid can pick out something to read in the car. They absolutely love graphic novels for easy and fun vacation reads.

And lest you think the LeapFrog® interactive books are just for little ones, I was excited to find that they kept my 6- and 8-year-olds engaged, too! I love to challenge them to learn the Spanish words, so we put the books in Spanish mode for them to practice. The LeapFrog® Learning Friends 100 Words BookTM is perfect for them since it offers basic vocabulary words from all areas of life.

5. Have something to look forward to.

Long drives can leave even the most patient adult restless and bored, so it’s hard to expect kids to behave perfectly the entire time.

It’s always nice to have something to look forward to at the end of the drive, whether that’s a swim in the hotel pool, a special snack or treat, or a fun way to relax and unwind in your hotel room or vacation rental.

The LeapFrog® LeapLand AdventuresTM learning video game is the perfect thing to bring along for the hotel room! My kids have quickly become obsessed with LeapLand AdventuresTM! We don’t normally allow our kids to play video games, but this one is so wholesome and educational that we’ve made an exception to our rule!

You don’t need an internet connection, downloads, or a cumbersome account setup for this game. All you need is a USB cable and HDMI game stick to plug into the tv, and a small lightweight game controller. That makes it super easy to bring along to a hotel and plug in and play!

Our kids have been begging to play this game, so it’s the perfect reward at the end of a long drive, and a great way for the family to unwind and play together. It’s easy enough for even our preschooler to play and engaging enough for the big kids (and even the parents) to get in on the action!

Road tripping is a great way to start making travel memories as a family, and it’s so nice to be able to bring everything you need to keep kids happy along with you! With the right engaging activities and keeping a positive mindset and sense of humor, your next family road trip will be one for the books.

Emily Krause is a mom of 4, an avid traveler, and the creator of the family travel blog A Mom Explores. As a former high school Spanish teacher, she loves to incorporate educational activities and learning experiences into family trips. She currently resides in Wisconsin with her husband and 4 little ones, and has made it her mission to explore the Midwest one road trip at a time.


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