Road trips are an affordable way to travel — more people in the car may add nominally to the gas charges, but the overall per-person charge goes down with every person you add.
The downside to road trips is that they are almost always longer than flying. (I say almost because my brother lives in an area of the US where there is so little airline service that, until very recently, it took almost the same amount of time for him to drive as it did for him to fly.)
One consequence of a longer trip time is that people get bored during the trip. Adults are fairly capable of keeping themselves occupied, but kids get bored very quickly and need help passing the time.
With the holiday season just around the corner, here are 7 tips for making that car trip way more fun.
New crayons/Coloring book
If your children are like mine, you have tons of crayons already — right now my purse is full of crayons given to us at restaurants. And while crayons last a long time, those sad, worn-down crayons just aren’t as exciting as a brand new box. Stocking up during back-to-school sales is a great way to save money on crayons and surprise your child with their very own box — no sharing on these long car rides! Cost: $.25 – $4.00
Michael’s craft stores almost always have coloring books for $1. The hours of fuss-free driving is easily worth $1. Take the kids with you and let them pick out the coloring book, or surprise them in the car — children love to color. Cost: $1
I am not a big fan of allowing children to watch endless TV and movies, but my feelings change instantly when I am confronted with a long — and let’s face it, boring — car trip with my children.
We go to the library and check out a couple of movies each, then bring them home and transfer them to the iPad. Cost? Oh, yeah, FREE. (My favorite!)
Each child has a pair of headphones, and we purchased a headphone splitter so they can watch their movie while my husband and I have uninterrupted conversations. Headphone splitters cost $5-$10, so again totally worth the price.
Books on CD
My girls have fallen in love with the Harry Potter series. The same person read the entire series, and is a wonderful recording artist. He made up different voices for each of the characters, and keeps the same voices throughout the entire series. Children can really connect with the characters, and those books are really, really long. We ate up hours of Nebraska listening to Harry Potter face the dark forces.
If Harry Potter isn’t your thing, rest assured there are thousands of other books on CD to choose from. The best part is, your local library most likely has a collection of books on CD for you to borrow free!
Snacks don’t really take up a lot of time in the car, but they can distract from the boredom of the road — especially if they are snacks your child hasn’t had in a while. Treats don’t have to be sweets — my children love those new applesauce squeeze packets. I love the ingredients — apples. Pretzels are also a good snack, but limit the amount of salty foods they eat — salt means thirst, which means another potty break.
When you’re packing snacks, think of things that take a long time to eat — foods with dips, like veggies with ranch are always fun. Make-your-own lunchables by using tiny cookie-cutters to make cute shapes out of the meat and cheese, then add crackers and let the kids put it together. The longer they’re occupied, the more quiet you’ll have.
We try to eat healthy at our house, so the car is a perfect place to break out treat-treats. My girls love Cheetos and Doritos so they are extra excited for car trips when they know they’ll get these treats.
Remember all those fun games you played in the car as a kid? Your kids can play them, too. The License Plate Game, where you keep track of plates from different states. The Alphabet Game, where you keep track of letters you see on road signs. The Number Game, a variation on The Alphabet Game. My dad’s least favorite was Make the 18-Wheeler Honk. My sister and I couldn’t get enough of that one, though.
Our trips always seem to take us through sunny areas, making it difficult for the girls to take naps or watch their movies. Pillowcases or small blankets make great sun blockers, but you have to do this before you start moving. Roll the window down and hold the blanket by the top, while your partner rolls the window back up. Be careful not to pinch your fingers!
I have an 8 year old who has been reading forever, and loves it. The 6 year old can’t read yet, but is learning how and loves to spell out words. Grab a cookie sheet (not an aluminum one) and a package of those letter magnets and have your kids spell the words of the things they pass. T-R-U-C-K, T-R-E-E, you get the idea.
OK, so these mostly pertain to road tripping with children, but like I said before, adults can probably figure out how to keep themselves occupied. And if the kids are happy, everyone is happy!
Read more: Which tablet is right for a kid?
For more money-saving road trip advice, visit our Travel section!