Family road trips always sound like a great idea. After all, what’s better than listening to your favorite tunes as you hit the open road with your loved ones? In reality, though, going on a road trip with kids can turn into an utter nightmare if you don’t have toys and games to keep them entertained. We’re talking screaming, fits of tears, and more “are we there yet” questions than you ever thought possible.
But there are a few things you should keep in mind when it comes to packing the perfect road-trip activity bag for kids, starting with portability and ease of use. Sure, tossing a coloring book in the back seat may seem like a no-brainer, but do you really want to risk getting marker stains all over your leather seats? We didn’t think so.
In addition to educational apps (if your kids are allowed to use tablets) and a collection of the best kids books, you’ll want to pack puzzles, interactive games, and mess-free doodling materials. That way, you can focus less on freakouts and more on how to make your family road trip enjoyable. Below, we’ve listed some of our favorites.
License Plate Map
Whether you’re road-tripping with kids across the U.S. or just driving for a few hours, you’re bound to see plenty of out-of-state license plates. Encourage your kids to look outside the window by giving them this wooden game from toymakers Melissa and Doug, in which they’ll match the license plates they see to a map. The best part? Your kids will learn about state locations and capitals while they’re traversing the country.
Melissa and Doug children’s license plate game, $19.97 at Amazon
Boogie Board Writing Tablet
If you want to encourage your little Monet to create masterpieces without trashing the interior of your car, you’ll love this innovative LCD writing tablet. The Boogie Board was designed to feel like a paper notepad and includes a stylus for doodling and writing; it even syncs to an app so you can save, edit, and access all of your kid’s work once she’s finished.
Boogie Board Jot 8.5 LCD eWriter, $23.74 (was $29.99) at Amazon
AquaDoodle Travel Doodle
While the Boogie Board is excellent, it may be more difficult for younger children to grasp the concept of saving and erasing their work. Thankfully, there’s another product that removes any intricacies: the AquaDoodle. This nifty travel set has a fabric exterior with two plastic panels that house different-colored sheets of paper on the inside. To use, kids simply take a pen, which parents can fill with water, and doodle straight onto the panels, where their artwork will (briefly) come to life. Once the water dries, the artwork will disappear. It’s as simple as that.
AquaDoodle travel set, $21.99 at Amazon
Puzzles are great, but you always run the risk of losing a piece (or ten) while you’re driving. The Coggy brainteaser puzzle, on the other hand, won’t go anywhere — since its chain of gears is connected. Each set comes with a booklet of 40 challenges, varying in difficulty, for kids to recreate in either bright neons or black and white.
Fat Brain Toys Coggy brainteasers, $14.95 at Amazon
Magnetic Town Maze
Mazes are another great way to keep little ones’ minds active and engaged on long drives. With this STEM toy, kids will use a magnetic stick to navigate metal balls through town to align each ball with its matching garage. They’ll have to think critically as they encounter roadblocks and other obstacles.
HABA magnetic town maze, $20.99 at Amazon
You may be tempted to buy PlayDoh or putty before your road trip. Don’t. While these activities keep small hands busy, they’re sure to end up in every nook and cranny in your car. Spare yourself the mess and opt for Wikki Stix, which are straw-shaped items made out of wax and yarn that won’t leave residue everywhere. This travel set includes 144 sticks in a variety of bright colors, as well as an activity book to inspire little artists as they mold countless creations.
WikkiStix Traveler set, $14.01 (was $19.99) at Amazon
Etch a Sketch
Sure, there are dozens of brand-new toys on the market, but don’t discount the classics. Introduce your kids to one of many parents’ childhood favorites, the Etch a Sketch magic screen, and watch as they spend hours drawing like quiet little angels.
Etch a Sketch, $12.95 (was $14.99) at Amazon
While we’re on the subject of classic games, why not bring Tic-Tac-Toe into the mix? This transportable magnetic version will keep kids entertained without wasting a ton of paper. And because you don’t have to worry about the pieces flying off the board, non-driving parents can even join in; just pass the game between the back seat and the passenger seat. Why should kids get to have all the fun?
Take ‘N’ Play Anywhere Tic-Tac-Toe travel set, $9.99 at Amazon
Paint by Sticker Kids: Zoo Animals
The Paint by Sticker Kids book series is a fantastic choice for kids who love puzzles and creating works of art. Kids will have to match sticker shapes with their corresponding numbers to create 10 different zoo animals, including a peacock, elephant, giraffe, and koala bear. Once your kids have finished, you can tear out the pages to display their masterpieces.
Paint by Sticker Kids: Zoo Animals book, $7.96 at Amazon
You Gotta be Kidding!
Get to know your kids better with this interactive tell-all game in which players of all ages (yes, including parents) reveal the silliest, weirdest things about themselves by answering hundreds of family-friendly “would you rather” questions.
You Gotta be Kidding! book, $6.98 at Amazon
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