Keep Your Family Entertained on Road Trips - 2 Dads with Baggage
Empty road travels straight into the horizon near Taos, New Mexico

Keep Your Family Entertained on Road Trips

Taking road trips is a regular tradition for our family. We’ve been taking them for years from our home base of San Diego. There are so many places for us to drive to in California, Arizona, Nevada and more. Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and beach towns up the coast have been calling to us lately. The most stressful part? Entertaining family on road trips.

We just got back recently from a COVID-safe road trip to Santa Barbara, driving up the coast from San Diego. Putting our family bubble in the road was a carefully orchestrated endeavor. For tips on planning your own, check out our COVID-safe family road trip checklist!

Regardless of the destination, near or far we need our basic three things to bring on a road trip.

Entertaining Family on Road Trips

Figuring out what to do on a road trip before you leave is essential. Here are some suggestions on entertaining kids and adults on your family road trip.

License Plate Game

Playing the license plate game is something we’ve done since our girls were little. Finding a different license plate from each of the 50 states (and Mexico for us) is a fun way to entertaining the family on road trips. The girls are now teenagers and excellent at spotting a variety of states. I’m usually driving so I call out states to make them think I’m still playing. Alabama is my standard fake find, so imagine my happiness when I actually do spot an Alabama plate!

Kanab, Utah, USA - May 25, 2015: License Plates Collage in public place in Kanab Utah USA
The license plate game has kept our family occupied for miles and miles. (Photo: Mariakray)

Movie Time 

Keeping kids entertained on road trips isn’t easy. We’ve always tried to take our road trips without electronics. But as the girls have gotten older, it’s gotten harder to say no electronics at all. One way to entertain the whole family on one device is to have movie time. The passenger and those in the back seats will be the only ones who can watch of course. Be sure to include the driver in a selection, even though they can’t see the movie. We recently watched National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase. And oldie but a goodie!

Adults can pick some favorites from their childhood or come up with the theme of the types of movies you all want to watch. Some topics could be car movies like The Love Bug, family movies, cartoons – really anything your family loves to watch. We suggest getting a portable DVD player instead of using laptops or phones, which will eat up your data plan. If your car has WiFi that will help, but you could hit dead spots depending on wherever you’re traveling.

National Lampoon’s Vacation has to go down as one of the best road trip movies ever made.

Play Mad Libs 

Anyone who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s is sure to remember Mad Libs. A book that has short stories, there are blank spots where the players fill in words. It tells you what’s needed, like a noun or an adjective. Go around the car, asking everyone to complete the blank spots and then someone reads out the finished story. The results are usually hilarious and can keep entertaining the family on road trips.

Mad Libs come in various themes, including SpongeBob Square Pants, Rock ‘n Roll, special occasions and history. Order a couple of versions to keep the laughs coming.

Create An Activities Bag

One way of keeping kids entertained on road trips is to have them create activity bags. Take an old backpack or duffel bag and let each kid pack their bag. The bags can contain anything the child enjoys—coloring books, blank notebooks/drawing pads, markers, pencils, markers, stickers, books. You can even print out activities sheets or word puzzles and include those. Anything that will keep them entertained for an extended period.

Creating a bag doesn’t have to be expensive. Give each kid $10 to spend at a dollar store to help get things they don’t already have. And everything doesn’t have to be purchased. There are plenty of websites that have activity sheets you can print out in advance.

Then plan with them how they can access the bag. We used to allow the girls to dip into the bag for a new activity every hour. Make sure there are enough untouched for them to access on the drive home too!

Empty road at sunrise near Paso Robles, CA
We love to get an early start on our road trips to avoid traffic.

Digital Camera 

When deciding what to do on a road trip, don’t forget to pack a digital camera. Kids love taking pictures, and you can take pics inside the car and when you stop to take a break. Digital cameras are often better than phones, because photos of the scenery won’t work unless you have a specific setting on your phone. But let the kids take them anyway, even if you’d rather let them use a phone. You’ll get some funny shots and can even guess what the picture is.

There are a variety of different cameras. Your child’s age and experience can help you decide which camera to purchase if you don’t have one. There are many inexpensive point and click cameras that are great for the young ones. Once you get home, the kids can download their pictures and create a scrapbook of the trip.

Stopping the pickup truck on the side of the road in Sonoma, CA to take a photo of the beautiful terrain.
Sometimes it’s so beautiful you have to stop on the side of the road for a quick photo.

Family-Created Playlist 

Before your trip, have everyone come up with ten songs. You can use a theme (car trips, traveling) or let them pick whatever songs they’d like. Put the songs together on Spotify, iTunes or any app that allows you to create a playlist. Just be sure to mix the songs up or use the random play button so you don’t hear one person’s selection all at once. Once you’re on the road, have a passenger play through your phone or radio system. You’ll learn each other’s songs (our girls end up listening to a lot of 90’s tunes) and can even have a car sing-a-long.

Just be careful of some of those graphic lyrics. With teens in the car choosing some tunes, we’ve heard some cringe-worthy song lyrics we would rather have skipped!

Gotta watch those choices when the kids pick the songs!

Free Educational Apps 

Allowing a little bit of time for the kids to be online can take the education direction too. There are a lot of online apps that can help teach kids while having fun. A few of those educational apps are:

  • Scholastic – Scholastic’s site has books, games and activities for kids from preschool to pre-teen. They have books for Harry Potter and Goosebumps fans, activities for The Magic School Bus and I Spy books and games.
  • PBS Learning – Built for teachers, PBS Learning has topics in various subjects like Social Studies, The Arts and Science. There are activities and info for preschool children through high school. The interactive lessons and podcasts will keep children occupied no matter their age.
  • Science Journal for Kids – A non-profit organization, Science Journal for Kids was created to help put scientific information into articles that children can understand. From topics like ‘How Do Corals Spread In The Deep Sea’ to ‘What If People Use Too Much Antibiotics,’ the articles have plenty of issues to keep your science-loving kid enthralled for hours.
  • Duolingo – This app is for everyone in the family. Duolingo helps you learn languages right on your phone. Anyone using it will need earbuds so that each person can hear their specific language. There’s even a Duolingo Kids app so that younger children don’t have to type so much. The original version offers 15 languages to practice. They have the standards like Spanish and French. They also a lot of ones you might not think of like Hawaiian, Czech and Hindi. The kid’s version only offers Spanish and French. You can even connect with your family under the Friends section to keep track of how everyone’s doing.

Crowdsource New Ideas from Your Friends

What are your suggestions for entertaining family on a road trip? Share in the comments your tips on what to do on a road trip to make it go by quicker. We’d love to crowdsource additional ideas to add on this story!

Driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, taken through the windshield of the car at street level
When the road trip is not as dramatic as driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, you need something to keep the family entertained.

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