7 Ways to Keep Toddlers Entertained When Riding in the Car

While a little backseat boredom isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s always a good idea to plan ahead when it comes to traveling long distances. Oftentimes, when faced with a little bit of boredom, kids will get creative and use their imaginations to entertain themselves. But nothing is worse than a long car ride filled with a thousand questions of “Are we there yet?”  To combat the road trip woes, parents have to think of creative ways to keep toddlers busy and happy when traveling in the car for long stretches of time. 

One good place to start is to allow your child to be involved in partially “planning” the trip. Encourage your kids to help pack their own suitcases or backpacks. Allow them to pick out which toys, snacks, or books they want in the car with them. You may even want to give your kids some type of visual guide for the trip so they know how long they will be in the car before the next break or final destination. Some parents will even prearrange certain stops where the kids can get special treats as a small reward for good behavior in the car. This not only gives the kids something to look forward to along the way but also teaches them some level of critical thinking skills that they will continue to develop throughout their lives. Allowing your child to be part of the planning process can help set up some expectations for the trip before it begins. So while it isn’t a bad thing to let your child experience some boredom every once in a while, it also isn’t a bad idea to have a plan in place when it comes to traveling with toddlers. Here are some ideas for your family for your next trip together with the little ones. 

1. Have an Adult Sit in the Back

You yourself are one of the best forms of comfort and entertainment when it comes to your kids. Sitting in the back with your child can allow you time to bond and ensure that you are easily accessible for when they want or need you. 

*Bonus tip for the adult: Not only will this help keep your child entertained, but it will give you a special time together without as many distractions as you may have at home. 

2. Pack Travel-Friendly Toys

Creating a collection of travel-friendly toys to bring out for long car rides can provide a variety of activities and entertainment for your family. When looking for travel-friendly toys, it is important to search for some that are quiet, mess-free, and can be used independently. Crafty toys like coloring books or sticker books are traditional options that are always a crowd favorite, and there are even some mess-free coloring options like Water Wow! that will keep your car free of stains. You might also consider gel window stickers instead of normal paper stickers to ensure easy removal from car surfaces. Magnetic Play Sets are perfect for backseat travel with a small metal tin acting as the background for kids to decorate with magnetic pieces that won’t roll around in the car. Toys like these provide some screen-free time with added benefits such as developing creative skills like art or storytelling. Have a special bag packed and ready to go with all your family's favorite toys that the kids can access on their own independent play. 

*Bonus tip for the adult: Make a quick stop at a dollar store before hitting the road to pick up a couple of new toys. Then, if the kids get restless or bored with what they have, you can open new ones that provide some extra excitement and stimulation for only a few extra dollars. 

3. Bring Plenty of Snacks

Nothing says “road trip” like a stash of road trip snacks. When packing snacks for kids, open the snacks and put them in bags that the kids can open without help from an adult. Make “snack time” an independent activity for them. Also, consider packing snacks that your kids don’t normally get at home. This will make the snack more exciting and engaging than their everyday snacks. 

*Bonus tip for the adult: This is a good road trip tip for the grown-ups in the car too. Nothing is worse than having a car full of hungry occupants – no matter their age. 

4. Read Books

Books are one of the most educational options for traveling with young children. You can sit in the back seat and read to your child or you can get age-level appropriate books to let kids read independently. You can also find some interactive book options like Choose Your Own Adventure books or Mad Lib books. These options will allow kids to practice role-playing alongside main characters or participate in word games. 

*Bonus tip for the adult: Forewarning, this may not be a good option for your family if you or your kids tend to get nauseous when reading in the car. If you are packing books for a road trip for the first time, you might want to pack a few items of cleaning supplies as well just in case. 

5. Sing Songs Together

Just as music is often a go-to activity for adults when it comes to car rides, it is the same for kids. Singing songs together is a great way to allow your children to participate in a specific activity. This is an especially good activity for kids who are auditory learners. If you have time before your trip, you can create a playlist of your child’s favorite songs. Include songs from their favorite movies or TV shows for familiarity, or introduce them to new songs to create new memories. When it comes to young children, music is not only entertaining but also educational. Listening to music helps with cognitive functions such as sensory development and language skills. 

*Bonus tip for the adult: Programs like Spotify or Apple Music will have pre-made playlists specially curated for kids. You can search for playlists by categories such as age level, genre, or soundtrack. You can even find specially curated sing-alongs as well. 

6. Listen to an Audiobook

For those of you who have auditory learners for children, an audiobook would be a great way to pass some time in the car. This option can stimulate learning while also avoiding the potential for kids getting car sick. Programs such as Audible allow you to purchase just about any audiobook with ease from your phone. Or most libraries now use apps where you can check out digital audiobooks for free. 

*Bonus tip for the adult: Make sure to find an audiobook with a narrator that you enjoy. Otherwise, the audiobook may entertain your child but may bother you for the whole trip. If you find yourself bothered by the narrator’s voice, take out your headphones and listen to your own book, music, or podcast. 

7. Watch a Movie

While many families may choose to have limits on screen time for their children, a road trip just might be one of those moments where you allow more screen time than normal. Watching a movie is probably one of the most engaging options for kids and will take up a significant amount of time. This is an especially good option if you are traveling at night, considering it would be challenging to see toys or books in the dark. 

*Bonus tip for the adult: If you know your trip will last longer than one film length, find a movie that has sequels to prolong the story. This may be more screen time than you would prefer, but you can make up for it with lots of fun interactive activities once you make it to your destination. 

Additional Road Trip Tips for Toddlers 

  • Classic games like I Spy, 20 questions, or an alphabet game can be classic fun for the whole family. Use your setting around you to play an observation game, pick an object, and allow your kids to ask questions to figure out the answer, or have kids find the alphabet in order from individual road signs. 
  • Time your travel around nap times. Sleep can help the trip go by easier, so consider starting your trip early in the morning or right when it is time for a nice long nap. Our Voyager Travel Pillows are great for making car naps a little more comfortable. 
  • Give kids an old-fashioned paper copy map of where you are going and allow them to follow along. This will give kids a visual guide that can feel like a treasure hunt while also allowing the kids to actively engage in their travels. For example, you can all plan and mark prearranged stops on the map for kids to look forward to. Most gas stations can give you a paper map for free.
  • If you are a family that loves technology, you could hook up a gaming system (like an Xbox or a Wii) to a tv in the car with the right access. There are also lots of good iPad apps and activities available.
  • If all else fails, you can always take frequent breaks to get out of the car and burn off some energy. Spend a few extra minutes while on your bathroom breaks to let the kids run around before getting back on the road. Our Pop N' Go Playpens or our California Voyager Blankets are good for making any pit stop a little more fun and kid-friendly.