Making car travel easier with kids!

On long car trips, older kids are usually happy to listen to iPods or play with their GameBoys, but younger kids require some planning to keep them from fights, meltdowns and the dreaded whining: “Are we there yet?” 

When our children were toddlers, our secret weapon was the “travel goodie bag.” They knew it was coming days before the trip, and anticipated all the coveted little things that I would put into those little bags, which, by the way did not emerge until the kids were quietly in the car, strapped to the seats, ready to go. The highlight of the goody bag was a little toy—a Polly Pocket doll for my daughter and a new Matchbox car for my son. I admit I added some bubblegum, popcorn balls, and yes, even small bags of potato chips or Air Heads to the bags. Looking back, I think I could have gotten away with more wholesome treats, because the magic of the goody bag was its novelty, which made the trip itself seem like a great adventure.
 We quickly learned to never rely solely on the novelty of a goodie bag to take you through an entire trip. Forget about the DVD player for a moment.  Parents need a Plan B.

Plan B -1: Food and Water
Make sure that you and your children have eaten a solid breakfast or lunch (with protein), have water bottles on hand and that everyone has visited the bathroom before you leave.  Keep a small cooler in the front passenger side of your car to retrieve easy-to-eat snacks, such as cheese cubes, crackers, carrot sticks, dried fruit and nuts. Also bring a roll of paper towels and a container of wipes—you may need them. A travel potty has also come in handy on more than one occasion when we couldn’t find a rest station and the woods were not an option (according to the child). If you are traveling during lunch or suppertime, you may want to pull over and stop for a quick meal rather than try to deal with feeding the kids while going 65 miles an hour.  It will also give the whole family a much-needed break from the confines of the car.
    If your child gets car sick, make sure he or she eats and drinks only lightly before the trip (fatty foods and soft drinks sometimes make nausea worse). Ask the child to avoid reading or coloring since looking down can cause carsickness. You can play games like “ABC” (see Plan B #2, below) instead.
    Consider bringing an easily accessible change of clothes for each of your kids in case of accidents or spills.  You may also want to bring a small pillow or blanket in case your children fall asleep during the trip.

Plan B #2: Entertainment
Car rides can be boring for kids who have to stay strapped to one place and watch endless stretches of highway. Entertainment options depend on the age of the child, but here are some ideas:


Any bright or new toy or rattle

  • Musical or pop up toys

  • A safe plastic mirror
  • Soothing lullabies (sing or play a CD)


  • Busy boxes

  • Board books

  • Simple “speaking” toys (that you can control the volume!)

  • Favorite stuffed animal

  • Favorite music or books on tape


  • Picture books
Stickers and activity books

  • Square crayons (so they don’t roll away)

  • Finger puppets

  • Masking tape (to stick and unstick)

  • Age appropriate books on tape

School Age

  • Felt boards

  • Travel desk sets

  • Etch-a-Sketch

  • Magnetic puzzles (small)

  • Silly Putty and newspapers (our kids favorite)
Polly Pocket or other “mini worlds”
Comic books

Older Kids

  • iPods or CD players (with headphones)

  • Electronic toys (with headphones)

  • Travel size board games

  • Books

  • Travel games, such as “I Spy” also become more popular as kids get older. 
  • Our favorite is the “ABC” game. Each child in the car (or an adult can play too) tries to find something outside the car that begins with “A” (such as an airplane), or a word on a sign that begins with “A” (such as “Apple Stand”).  This game can be modified into a “123” game when you try and find the number “1” on license plates or road signs, then number “2”, etc. You can go all the way up to 100 if you’d like.

For more ideas on car and travel games visit:

For travel games to print out (license plate game, connect the dots, mazes & more.) visit:

Marcia Passos Duffy is a freelancer who writes frequently about parenting issues. She is married and has two children.  Marcia is also editor and publisher of

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