When our experience of road tripping more than 75,000 kms with our three kids comes up in conversation, the reactions range from an “are you crazy?” look to trying to figure out how far 75,000 kms really is, to thinking “if they can do it maybe we can too?”.
While I don’t recommend starting off with a two-week road trip full of ten and twelve hour driving days (been there, done that!), I’m always happy to give tips and tricks on how to make road tripping with kids a memorable family vacation for everyone.
Part of this road trip + kids = fun equation is keeping the kids entertained in the car for hours at a time so I’ve teamed up with my 12-year-old daughter to bring you this list of essentials to keep your tween entertained on the road.
Something That Starts With “i”
If you’re on a two-hour road trip or less, your tween’s iPhone, iPod, iPad or some other type of electronic may be the only thing you need to keep them entertained the entire time. But no matter how far the destination, my daughter’s phone is at the top of her must-have road trip entertainment list for music, movies, games, texting, photo taking and more. Just remember to pack the car chargers too!
New Apps, Games, Music and Movies
The night before a long road trip, we’ll often give our daughter an iTunes gift card (or a budget) and let her go to town downloading new apps, music and movies. When it comes to apps, she looks for ones that let her draw and paint electronically, travel journal (especially apps that allow voice recordings and lots of pictures), edit photos, create collages and make mini-movies of her adventure. I also like to do a quick search to see if there are any kid/tween-friendly apps featuring our destination that can help the kids learn a bit about where we’re headed, plan our pit stops along the way and get excited from the backseat.
Colouring Books and Pencil Crayons
Colouring for kids doesn’t mean crayons, princesses and dinosaurs anymore. Thanks to the adult colouring craze, there are tons of great colouring books with challenging, creative and complex colouring pages that are perfect for tweens. Just be sure to pack a pencil sharpener too!
Postcards and Stamps
I am a fan of old school “snail mail” and road trips are a great time to teach your kids the value of sending a letter or postcard to a friend. Before we leave, I encourage my daughter to enter a few of her friends’ actual mail addresses (not just email or phone numbers) into her phone and at every pit stop she has fun looking for interesting and fun postcards she thinks her friends will like. When she gets back into the car, she’s entertained writing, colouring and addressing her postcards to get them ready for posting at the next stop. Postcards are always easy to find along the route, but unfortunately, that’ not always the case for stamps – if you’re staying in Canada, pick up a book of stamps before you hit the road or if you’re headed across the border buy a few extra international stamps when you get across the boarder and not just enough for the first round of postcards.
A Good Book
Never underestimate the road trip value of a good tween novel. Back in the “olden days”, where my kids think I’m from (since we didn’t travel with anything electronic, except if you were lucky enough that your parents’ car had a tape deck and occasionally they’d let you play one of your own tapes) my go-to road trip entertainment was a really good book (or two). Fast forward to the future and books are often left in school bags back home while the kids gravitate to iPods and in-car movies. But long road trips are the perfect place to re-introduce kids to the love of reading, because there is no where else to go and nothing else to do. My trick is to buy new books for all three kids and keep them in my own road trip bag in the front seat. Right when I start to think they may be headed in the “I’m bored… are we there yet?” direction, I pull out the books!
Note: my daughter doesn’t totally think this is fair, since she loves her e-reader and it almost always makes it into her “car activity bag” (almost).
A Map and Highlighter
Yes, I know there are “apps for that” (according to my tween who isn’t totally convinced this is actually a road trip essential), but learning how to read a map is a great life skill and an excellent way to get your tween involved in planning your road trip. This is a great pre-trip activity or an in-car one where your tween can highlight the route and research interesting stops, facts and maybe even some back roads worth the detour.
Your tweens are getting older and that means they can take care of many of their own needs in the back seat. It goes without saying that all road trips with kids (and mothers with bladders that babies have sat on for 9 months) need lots of planned bathroom break stops, but for many of their other “bio” needs, your tween can take care of them on their own without having to yell to the front seat “Mom, I’m hungry!” Pack your tween a bio-break kit, with a few favourite (healthy-ish) snacks, lip balm, hand cream (but not anything super smelly), a water bottle and hand sanitizer for those moments when you don’t want to stop to wash your hands in a questionably clean bathroom.
While little kids are confined to car seats and boosters, your tween has the added bonus of being able to shift and curl up (with seatbelts on of course!) into more comfortable positions and maybe even nap. A pillow can help “divide” the back seat into personal space, be used to make the car door more comfortable to lean against, or even help prop up electronics for better movie watching.
Tween music, video game sounds, apps beeping, movie watching, tweens texting… need I say more? Putting in the ear phones is also my tween’s universal sign to her younger brother and sister that she needs a bit of quiet time.
Road tripping is one of our favourite ways to spend time together as a family and an integral part of our commitment to showing our kids every province and territory in Canada. No matter what activities or electronics you pack to help make long hours on the road more bearable for everyone, make sure to leave time for conversations with each other and just simply looking out the window… you never know what amazing things you’ll see from the backseat of the car.
Yes, these pictures were taken from inside our car when we road tripped through Yukon and Alaska…
PS: Want to read all about some of our most recent family road trip destinations? Check out my posts on Boston, Quebec, Blue Mountain and Winter Camping (yes – it’s a thing!).