How to make holiday travel with kids an adventure

Long car or airplane trips can be tedious for young children. Making a plan and gathering a few items will keep the kids occupied throughout the trip.

Long trips with kids can cause a case of the wiggles. Wiggles lead to boredom and boredom leads to “experimental activities,” which generally means trouble and yelling! Long trips can be tedious for all concerned, but with a little effort, you can turn traveling time into an adventure. The first order of business? Check your attitudes. If the whole family is dreading the trip and complaining before you get in the car the trip will no doubt be a strain from beginning to end. Decide that your celebration will start before you reach your destination, not when you reach it.   

Arm your family with a box, basket or a small suitcase of activities to keep kids engaged. This box of activities might also be helpful if you’re staying in a house not set-up for kids. Many of the items you need are probably already somewhere in your house. 

Look for these items to create an activity kit to keep your kids entertained on long journeys:

  • Coloring books, activity books, drawing paper, stickers, crayons and washable markers
  • Books to read and audiobooks
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Unbreakable mirrors for making silly faces
  • Flashlights
  • Small chalkboards and chalk (don’t forget the wipes for hands)
  • Playdough, silly putty, magnetic letters or small puzzles and a 9” X13” baking pan
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Photo album filled with photos of family
  • Pinwheels
  • A small blanket for each child
  • Music and headphones
  • Portable DVD player and headphones

If you’ll be taking a well-known route make a list of the towns you’ll be passing, especially watch for unusual names. My family always talks about a road sign announcing the exit for Fancy Gap, Virginia. A quick search on the internet told us Fancy Gap was located in Carroll County and 237 people live there. Use your imagination and make up a story about a town you’ve never been to before. If there’s time, or if you all need a break from the drive, take the exit and see what there is to discover. This can be a great way to learn more about different places that were once just a sign along the freeway.

Don’t forget to build in regular stops along the way for play time. This is a great way to work off energy and keep circulation going. Many roadside rest areas have children’s playground equipment, or at least a long sidewalk to walk or run along. When planning snacks for the trip avoid sugar-laden foods and instead concentrate on proteins, whole-grains and water.

With some advanced planning, a long car trip can be more fun than anticipated. More information related to families and children can be found through Michigan State University Extension articles and programming.  

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