Having screen free travel activities for my kids when we are in the car is important to me. Whether I need to keep them happy and entertained for an hour or two while we drive to visit family or we’re looking at a longer trip (such as the 10 hour trip we recently took to Disneyland), I’ve come up with some great activities (including some you may have never heard of before)!
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If you’ve ever traveled with kids, one of the most dreaded phrases you can hear from them is “Are we there yet?”. Like I mentioned above, we recently returned from a trip to Disneyland. Including stops, it took us about 10 hours each way. At the time of our trip, my kids ranged in age from 19 months to almost 8 years old so there’s a little bit of something for everyone in this post. Below you’ll find a list of what we’ve found to be 15+ of the most enjoyable screen free travel activities for kids.
How to Store Your Screen Free Travel Activities
When you’re traveling, keeping the mess to a minimum makes the trip so much more enjoyable. Here are the ways I’ve found to help keep our car and travel activities clean and organized:
- Small Bins with lids – I have a couple of these bins. They are perfect because when we’re not using them, all our car activities are easy to store in a closet or under the bed at home. Having designated bins for screen free travel activities makes bringing them with you so much more convenient. Depending on your needs, there are a lot of different sizes you can get.
- Expanding File Folder – If you are planning on printing out travel activity pages, an expanding file fold is perfect for keeping them organized, wrinkle free and all in one place. They are compact and again, easy to grab and go.
- Zipper pouches – Condensing boxed activities or smaller items in a zipper pouch is another great way to stay organized. They are more compact and easy to store.
- Designated Trash Bag or Container – When you’re traveling, especially with kids, there will inevitably be trash. Having a specific spot for all the garbage will help keep your vehicle cleaner so you can find what you’re looking for.
- Car Seat Hanging Storage – Odds are that your kids will each have their own items they want to bring with them in the car: a stuffed animal, books, etc. Assuming each child has their own spot in the car, having a seat organizer that hold their personal items will help keep things organized and accessible.
I heard about Wikki Stix from a friend of mine who had recently returned from a long road trip with her family. They are basically durable pieces of string covered in a food grade wax. This makes them flexible while also holding their shape. My kids made glasses, bracelets, cars, chains, pictures and so many other things. It is still an activity my kids are reaching for even when we’re at home. I purchased our kit on Amazon and chose one that came with a travel case. It also came with an idea/activity book and enough Wikki Stix that my kids each had plenty.
Color Wonder Markers and Paper
Have you tried the Color Wonder markers? They were perfect because I’d been planning on bringing coloring books and colored pencils, but I wasn’t sure what to do about my 19 month old. The fact that both she and the older kids could use these markers was a bonus because then I didn’t have to stress out about markers getting on clothes, seats, bodies or anywhere else. I didn’t have any of these markers and paper at home so I purchased them from Amazon. My friend Justine from Little Dove suggested these to me. She has six young kids and their family travels regularly so she knows what she’s talking about!
Melissa and Doug Water Wow books
If you haven’t heard of or seen the Water Wow books from Melissa and Doug, you are in for a treat! The whole idea behind these coloring books is that they only require water to be put into a special paintbrush (included with each book). This means that if it spills, there’s no harm done because it’s just water! Your child can then use the paintbrush to reveal what’s behind each page. While these books are geared a little more towards younger kids, my older two also loved discovering the pictures and doing the activities in each book. I found that purchasing the books in bulk was definitely the best deal.
Print and Laminate Car Games (with washable dry erase markers)
I found and printed off a variety of car games for my older kids to play. I printed them off at home on card stock and then put them through my personal laminator to make them reusable. I also laminated a few blank pieces of card stock so the kids could draw or play a game that was different than what I’d printed out. To play each game/activity, I had a set of washable dry erase markers and a clipboard. I’ll include links to each of the car games I printed out below:
- Hangman from Trip Savvy
- Road Trip Scavenger Hunt from Trip Savvy
- Traveling Alphabet Game from Trip Savvy
- Robot Drawing from Picklebums
- Traffic Jam from i Car Hire Insurance
- Car Color Search from Productive Pete
- License Plate Game from Raising Whasians
There’s a reason fidget spinners and other fidget toys are such a hit with kids (and adults): there’s something about them that is just entertaining. There are many different types out there so I decided to buy a kit that came with a bunch of different fidget toys: squish balls, spinners, mini cube puzzles, and much more. I liked this option because there was something for everyone, including whichever adult happened to be sitting in the passenger seat. Some of the toys weren’t appropriate for our baby, but a few were which meant we had one more option to keep her occupied.
Water timers are another type of fidget toy. They are kind of similar to a lava lamp in that they have liquid that moves slowly through another liquid. We had one water timer in the fidget kit we bought and picked up another one that was different. Mostly my kids just watched the little beads of color move through the water before flipping them over again, but there are a lot of ways you could use these (both in the car and at home). Each timer lasts a certain length of time (ours was 2 minutes). I’ve listed a few ideas below.
- see how many cars, signs, gas stations, etc you can spot
- how many words you can come up with that start with a certain letter
- choose a category (ie. food) and see how many you can list
- help calm children down
- use as a tooth brush timer
- beat the timer to get chores done
- see how many chores you can do before it runs out
Drawing Pad with Colored Pencils
The clipboards also came in handy for when the kids wanted to draw their own pictures but didn’t want to use the Color Wonder markers. I picked up a couple of drawing pads from the dollar store and gave one to each kid. We already had a zipper pouch for the colored pencils, but if you don’t have one, you can use one from home or pick up a couple from the dollar store as well.
I had never heard of this toy before a friend suggested it to me. A MagPad is basically a board with small holes on the surface and magnetic balls underneath. You pull the balls up to the top of the holes by using a magnetic stylus. They don’t come out but the force of the stylus pulling them up makes them stick a little inside the holes. You use your finger to press down on the magnets and they fall back inside. My kids loved this toy so much and it was the only one they really argued over because I only bought one. It came with a small set of cards that had ideas of pictures you could make, but my kids also liked creating different patterns. Again, this was also a toy my baby could play with (under supervision) so it was a win for everyone!
Lego Car Kit
I shared how to make your own Lego car kit a few months ago and it definitely came in handy during our car trip. I was able to find everything I needed to make it from the Dollar Tree, including the storage container. The metal tin used in it can also be used for other magnetic activities, such as the magnetic puzzle listed below. This is a great option for kids who love building and Legos, but need to keep them contained.
While it might seem redundant to have another type of drawing option on this list, I’ve found that it’s helpful to be able to give my kids a choice. We actually keep mini Boogie Board sets (similar) in our car all the time. They are mess free, portable and don’t take up a lot of space. (I even threw one in my bag while we were at the Disney parks as a way to keep the kids entertained while we were in line.) I’ve also seen the larger Boogie Boards that draw in rainbow colors that look like fun.
Friendship Bracelet Kits
If you have older kids (8+), another great screen free activity is making friendship bracelets. I love this friendship bracelet kit from Melissa and Doug because it has patterns ranging from beginner to advanced, as well as enough thread to make at least 10 bracelets. (The only thing it doesn’t come with is a pair of small scissors.) The supplies can easily be stored in a zipper pouch and it doesn’t take up much room at all. I remember making these as a kid and just using a safety pin attached to my pants or sock to hold it in place.
Another fun idea I’ve shared with you before is how to make your own magnetic puzzles. These are so fun and so easy! I like to buy the puzzles that come in tins from the Dollar Tree because they are inexpensive and there are usually a good variety to choose from. Plus the tins are compact and you can store the puzzles right back in there. If you have a lot of them, consider buying a small storage bin with a lid. Another option would be to store the puzzles in a zipper pouch. You can find the full tutorial for how to make a magnetic puzzle here on my blog.
Small Activity Books
Variety is a great way to keep kids entertained on longer trips because it keeps their minds engaged. That’s why I love when I can find a good activity book. Something that includes mazes, puzzles, drawing, hidden message, trivia, word searches and other similar activities are perfect for kids who are old enough to read and comprehend basic instructions. I’ve been lucky and found some awesome ones at the Target Dollar Spot, but I’ll link to a couple below that are the type I like to buy for my kids.
- Highlights Kids Magazines
- Unicorn Activity Book
- Mad Libs
- Step by Step Drawing Book
- Jumbo Activity Book for Kids
I always keep a few books in the car for my kids to read and look through. For the baby, we had a medium sized book that played a few songs that went with the pictures that she really loves right now, as well as a few other small, colorful picture books. The older kids got a pick a few books (4 or less) from home to read in the car.
Audiobooks are a great way to include everyone in the car in one activity. We borrowed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone from the library. I found this list from Audible that has 20 family friendly audiobooks. Of course, if there isn’t a book that everyone wants to listen to, you could make sure to bring headphones or ear buds so people can listen to their own book on a separate device.
When I was asking for suggestions of screen free activities, a lot of people commented that they love to create playlists of songs that their kids enjoy listening to. This is a great idea, especially if you’ll be traveling through areas that don’t have good radio stations or access to the internet. Another fun idea is to pull out those silly songs you sing at camp and teach them to your kids.
I hope you found some helpful suggestions for keeping your kids entertained and screen free as much as possible during your trip! I’d love to hear other suggestions you may have that I could add to this list! Make sure to leave a comment with them below.