Kid-Tested Road Trip Hacks
“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.” Ralph Waldo Emerson might have changed his tune if he’d ever taken his kids on a road trip for summer vacation, but fear not! It’s doable – even fun – with a little planning. Our team of parents here at Playper, with lots to say on the subject, contributed their favorite ideas -- here are the top ones that we recommend!
Make a Mix Tape
Yes, this will involve explaining what a “tape” is, but it’s a lot of fun gathering everyone in front of the computer prior to the trip and putting a playlist together. Everyone gets to add their songs, and shrieks of “Nooooo I can’t stand that song!” are ignored. (Our marketing manager says he has only one rule: he starts with Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty,” and then everyone else chimes in.) By the end you might have a mix that includes K-pop, Disney songs, classic rock, the Wiggles, even Broadway tunes. Then name the playlist “Summer Road Trip 2023” for a fun time capsule to revisit later. It just really sets the tone, and the communal listening of music together is a great way to start the trip.
Pack a Bag for the Car
This is another item that needs preparation, but be sure each kiddo has their own bag for the car, with their own supplies and diversions for the road. That might include a favorite toy to nap with, crayons, books, a digital tablet, a few of their fav snacks, etc. If they have everything they need ahead of time, you won’t have to keep pulling over to grab a juice box, or find their stuffed rabbit buried under all the bags. It also helps them feel a little grown-up if they’re in charge of their own supplies.
Plan to Be Spontaneous!
Some people are all about “getting there,” but try to get in a short, spontaneous stop along the way, and be open to interesting things along the road. Once while driving through western Kansas with his two boys, one of our staff spotted a sign about a farm/museum with a 19th century house and a one-room schoolhouse. He recalled it being such a great and eye-opening experience for his kids, and spurred interesting conversations for miles.
Pack ‘Surprise Bags’
Here's a great hack to get the kids' noses out of their tablets and create a little fun family time. Fill a few brown paper lunch bags with small treats and toys, like the ones you can get at your local party supply store. Then write a question, or a conversation starter on each bag. For example, “Would you rather be famous, or rich?” or “How many states can you name?” or “Can you count up to 20?” then seal up the bags. Every hour into the trip, pull out a bag for each child and have them complete the task or answer the question on their bag. Once they’ve completed it, they get to open the bags and discover the treats inside.
Games for the Road
Of course, road trip games are a classic diversion, and we would be remiss if we didn’t include a few of our favorites!
The Alphabet Memory Game. Everybody has to say what they could be bringing on their vacation using each letter of the alphabet – but must remember what went before, too. The driver goes first: “I’m going to the Gulf Shores and I’m bringing an Apple.” Next: “I’m going to the Gulf Shores and I’m bringing an Apple and a Banjo.” Next: … well you get the idea. Sometimes the real little ones need help, but yes you do make it all the way to Z! Play it a couple of times and you’d be surprised how many wacky things you end up “bringing.” (Spoiler alert: Whether it’s the beach, a city, or the mountains, we guarantee you’ll always end up “bringing” an X-Ray machine and a Zebra.) For a fun variation, try the game using only movies or songs or books.
The Story Game. This one is loads of fun, and helps kids practice their storytelling and sequencing skills. First the group agrees on 3 random objects, then everyone take turns making up a story using those objects. So maybe your objects are a shark, a can of green beans, and a cell phone; either each person can make up a complete story incorporating those objects, or have each person say one sentence and pass it around the car. You’ll get a few twists and turns!
Car Ride Bingo. We love this game because it’s another instance of getting kids looking out the window. This game is a good investment (under $8), and challenges the kids to keep their eyes peeled for travel trailers, green cars, restaurants, etc. (On a long trip to one staffer’s childhood home, she made her own custom bingo list, specific to all the things she knew her kids would see – Stuckey’s anyone?)
The License Plate Game. This needs a scorekeeper – the challenge is to spot as many different state license plates as you can, then shout them out before someone else does. For extra fun, print out map of the United States, and have the one who spots that state color it in. At the end of the road trip, or maybe at the next rest stop, the winner gets a prize!
Take Advantage of State Rest Stops
Speaking of rest stops… unless you’re driving through Alaska or Hawaii, did you know all the other states have rest stops? We’re big fans of them because they typically have playgrounds, or at least little trails where you can stretch your legs among trees (as opposed to circling a gas station of questionable repute). You know what else is great about these? Everyone you meet is on their way someplace! We somethings get into the most fascinating conversations at these (and yes most have vending machines for that diet Dr. Pepper kick the driver needs).
Breathe…You’ll Get There
Another thing for you to remember, especially on those long 10–12-hour trips, is that it doesn’t really matter if you get there at 6pm or at 8pm; you’ll get there, so relax. Yes, you’ll pull in at exit 127 so Ethan can go to the bathroom only to learn that Matty needs to go at exit 131. Take it all in stride and enjoy the time together. With a bit of luck and some planning, the journey to your vacation spot can be as memorable as the vacation itself.