Family Travel

Unplugged Road Trips

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» Check out our game review. Nine games to get you through the road trip.

10 Activities To Get You There!

So much about family road trips has changed! I remember what a big deal it was when FM joined AM on the radio, but now—OMG —kids have more entertainment and ways to interact and connect than ever to stave off boredom and enjoy the ride.

Still—all that electronic media can leave family members disconnected from each other. We have to be more intentional than ever in our decisions about the uses of technology. We have to be consciously sensitive to and protective of the images and information we welcome into our lives.

But plugging them in keeps things quiet. Why unplug?
All parents want a little more peace in the car. But there are plenty of healthy creative unplugged activities for kids to enjoy which will keep them occupied during the long drives. In fact, the old fashioned tried and true may appeal to them because it’s so—well—radically different and old school!
Here are ten suggestions to create lasting memories before you even arrive at your destination and to re-connect with the ones you cherish most. They are not complicated or costly. Best of all, there are no batteries or instruction manuals.

1 Pipe Cleaner Paradise

A pack of inexpensive pipe cleaners and a nail clipper will keep fidgety kids happy for long stretches of travel time. They can bend the fuzzy sticks or wrap them around pencils to form cheerful colorful creatures. The best part? When they’re satisfied with their creation, they can play imaginative games with them for more stimulating fun.

2 Cootie Catcher

Remember these things? You pick a color, then a number, then you get to read your fortune. You only have to show your kids how to do this once before they’ll be able to come up with variations and stay busy for hours!

3 Figures & Games with String

Only supply required: string. They can make “Jacob’s Ladder,” “Kitty Whiskers,” “Cup and Saucer,” or play “Cat’s Cradle.” Best of all, it’s quiet!

4 Go Nuts with Foil

Remember when shiny, reflective aluminum foil was magical to you? Give your artsy imaginative kids a cheap roll and watch them go to town! They can transform themselves into superheroes, making masks and “power bracelets.” Girls especially might enjoy constructing tiaras, jewelry and headbands. It’s fun to sculpt foil into cool animals—with no cleanup.

5 Old School Card Games

Card games are great for traveling because a deck is easy to transport, and there are tons of games to play. Crazy Eights and Old Maid are two possible kid pleasers.

6 Virtual Hide and Seek

This guessing game is a hoot. Pick a place inside your house to hide—and here’s the fun part—it can be any size at all! A sock drawer, the dishwasher, the medicine cabinet … everybody asks questions until they narrow it down and find you.

7 Take a Wacky Roadside Stop

Go to to find quirky, eccentric, touristy, places to visit. The kids will remember these nutty detours with you forever.

8 Get Grooving

Families have been singing and car dancing for generations for a very good reason. It’s beyond fun, it’s liberating and it releases stress. Tone-deaf family members usually enjoy this activity as much as “American Idol” finalists! Car dancing involves exercising the upper body and loosening muscles that may otherwise stiffen on long car rides.  

9 Take Turns Doing Stand-Up

Everybody takes a turn telling a joke until you are no longer able to recall another punch line. In my own family, there are certain jokes that my children love to hear repeated—they are tickled every single time by the wordplay and imagery, and the jokes have become family heirlooms.

10 License Plate Games

One easy game is to try to spot a license plate from all 50 states. Before you leave, visit and print their checklist for recording the sightings.

Whether you incorporate one or all of these activities, give yourself a pat on the back for your efforts. In today’s fast-paced, streaming news, over-stimulated culture, it’s the simple small things that often get overlooked. But they’re not small things—they’re the stuff of memories and togetherness.

Michele Ranard has a husband, two children and a master’s in counseling.