Summer vacation is on the horizon and for our busy family that also means lots of time in the car getting to our fun destinations! Camping trips, visiting family and exploring new state parks, we have taken many road trips with our kids and have found some fun activities through the years to help pass the time, limit screen time, and have fun together. I have compiled our best screen free road trip activities for kids to share with you today. These activities would also work well when flying with young kids! At the end you will even find something for yourself 🙂 I hope these tips are helpful to you!
This post contains affiliate links, which means I will make a small commission at no extra cost to you. See my full disclosure here.
Mess Free Art Activities for the Car
Paint by Sticker books
One of my boys got a paint by sticker book for a birthday gift and we have been hooked ever since. There are so many different categories for both boys and girls and they even make ones for older children to challenge them a bit more! These activity books not only pass time quickly on trips but it is fairly mess-free and is a great way for kids to work on fine motor skills. They are a must have when planning for a family road trip.
Painting Without the Mess
My kids love crafts however I’m not a fan of the mess in the car. Due to this we often forego bringing anything along from our craft bin when we take long road trips. When I found these reusable painting books I was sold! The brush has a container that you fill with water and then your child can paint on the pages. The colors will activate on the pages when the water touches them from the paint brush, it’s like magic! Once the page dries it goes back to white so you can reuse this book over and over. I’m always on board for something that I can use more than once. This is a great option for kids who love to color but you would like to avoid the mess of coloring books and crayons.
These are perfect for younger children. There is no mess and, if they are anything like my little one, they will play with this for quite some time. My older kids also love these and it never fails that they both request to play with them when we travel. I find myself grabbing these for stocking stuffers or Easter basket gifts because they are such a great, inexpensive, activity.
Fun Games for the Whole Family
This game is one of our family’s favorites and we often play it not only in the car but at the dinner table, at bedtime and while waiting in line at the grocery store. You choose one person to think of a person, place or thing. Once they have a word in their head the rest of the family gets to ask clarifying questions to try to guess the word in 20 questions or less. We often allot the guessers 3 clues, which means they have to work together to decide on the best time to use these. This is a really great game to teach kids how to use problem solving skills and is an easy one for the entire family to play!
This is a great road trip activity and takes no materials and is easy to play anywhere. Our favorite way to play is by making it a cooperative game and all working together to see if we can find letters A-Z on license plates or road signs in record time. You can also play individually to see who can complete the alphabet the fastest. This is best played with kids who recognize letters of the alphabet and are emerging readers. It is easiest to work in alphabetical order, without skipping letters. We often ask the person who finds the letter to yell out the word that they found it in, which is a fun way to work on reading skills. They get bonus points if they find 2 words that are double the letter (like Jimmy Johns for “J”)!
License Plate Game
This is a classic and one I remember playing growing up with my sisters when we went on road trips. It is a perfect game for when you are embarking on a really long drive as it often is a game that spans over an entire trip. The goal is to try to spot license plates from all 50 states. You get a point for each unique state license plate you see on the trip. My kids love a good scavenger hunt so this one is always a favorite. It is fun to see if you can try to break your family record from your previous trip. Once we spot a new state my kids love looking at a map to see how far the car we spotted has traveled, I love throwing a little education into our trips. 🙂
This game was first introduced to us by a family friend and it is the perfect travel activity. All of the cards store in the board so it doesn’t take up very much space. It comes with 7 cards that are double sided, this activity can fill a lot of time! We have 2 boards and often will play tournaments or make up a competition of who can complete their board the fastest. Its easy for parents to play in the front seat with kids also playing in the backseat. Can you tell we love it? 🙂
On The Go Games
Okay, staying on the Melissa and Doug kick because they truly make such great kid toys, I wanted to share the Game on the Go books. These are so fun for kids of all ages. I often store one in my purse as it is perfect for when we are out and about. It has storage for the markers and the markers have erasers so you can replay the games over and over. There are a variety of themes to choose from, the top two in our house are Game On! and Spy Games. My older boys love the mad libs in the book and we have a blast taking turns choosing words and reading the story once completed (usually followed by a lot of laughter). This is on my top 5 list for road trip activities with young children and older kids alike.
Quiet Car Activities for Kids
Writing Tablets for All Ages
We have gone through a few different writing tablets with our kids and this one is by far our favorite. It has held up to some rough play, is slim enough to fit in a backpack or next to a carseat and provides so much entertainment. We use it to play spelling games like hang man or we will have the kids draw a picture of the landscape we are passing by at the time. My toddler loves this just as much as my big kids.
Lego play develops curiosity and encourages creative play. They are a great tool to foster STEM learning and development and also a great choice for car rides! This post talks through how to create a Lego travel binder for your child that is perfect for road trips. For extra fun don’t forget to print off these Lego challenge cards!
Books, Books, and more Books
We love reading in our house, in the car each of my kids has their own book basket next to their seat. The best is when my older boys read to my toddler and everyone is entertained for quite a while. We keep their books in a vertical paper organizer and it fits perfectly between their carseats and keeps the books off the floor which, we all know, if a book is on the car floor it’s a goner.
See my favorite books for toddlers here.
For my older boys I tend to try to pack books that take more time such as eye spy books, chapter books, and books with multiple stories. It’s also a bonus when I can find a book that correlates with our destination so the library is our friend in that department. National geographic magazines have an abundance of topics that will surely cover something you will find on your trip! I will sometimes also include a notebook for each boy with a pencil so they can create a travel journal of our trip. It is really sweet to look back at their writings and pictures once we are home and see what they found interesting and exciting on our trip.
Often our travels go into the evening hours where it gets dark so my two older boys have a reading light they can use so that their reading doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down.
Make the Walkman Cool Again
My kids have always loved audio books, there are so many to choose from at the library and we have a stash that we own of favorites (ie. Winnie the Pooh, Magic Treehouse and Berenstain Bears). We purchased this portable CD player below for my 6 year old and 8 year old and it has been the best purchase! We will frequently use these around nap time so the older boys are quiet and our toddler can try to take a nap. Its also nice to use at bedtime to calm them down and get them ready to call it a night. If we are planning a family vacation and have to travel more than 2-3 hours this is a must have in our car.
Bonus Book for YOU + Your Driving Partner
When the kids have fallen asleep or are playing quietly and you and your husband have time to talk sometimes conversation needs a little prompting. It can be hard to create engaging conversation, but when it happens it’s magical. It passes the time and allows you to have some meaningful conversations with your husband, which is a win-win in my book.
This question book starts out with easy surface level questions and as the numbers go higher the questions get deeper. It’s fun to pick a number and dive into interesting conversations that have maybe never come up before. You could also play this with your older kids as an easy way to connect with them. It’s a perfect book for a long car ride or evenings around a campfire 🙂