Thursday, June 30, 2011

Road Trips with Kids and NO TV

With the holiday weekend upon us it is predicted that 39 million Americans will hop in their cars and get on with the good ol' tradition of summer road trippin'. Hitting the road is one of my favorite parts about summer. To me road trippin' means freedom, adventure, lively and unpredictable circumstances, new places, tight spaces, roadside picnics and uninterrupted time with the people I love. All good things in my book. 

But road trips with kids can be a source of panic and anxiety for many parents, grandparents and godparents. And for good reason. When trapped in the car with children we brave endless hours of...

She's touching my seat.

He's looking at me.

Mommy, I have to peeeeee. I can't hold it. I have to go nowwwwwwwwwwwww.

Are we therrrrrre yeeeeet?

Over the years, the biggest words of advice we've ever received are "make sure you bring a DVD player for the kids". So early-on in our adventures in parenting we bought a portable DVD player to entertain the kids on our road trips. 

I don't know if it's just my kids or what, but bringing a TV with us in the car is a nightmare on wheels. 

As of this year I've vowed never to bring that thing into my vehicle again.

With the DVD player in the vehicle I endure endless hours of...

What's wrong with this thing. Why isn't it working? Every 31 minutes.

I don't like this movie. I want the other one. Every 7 minutes.

I don't want to watch her movie, it's for girls. Every 4 1/2 minutes.

I can't seeeeeee it. Every 3 minutes.

As a result of this torture, I banned all sources of motion picture from our latest road trip. No TV. No computer DVDs. No Gameboy.

Instead I found 13 simple ways to keep the children happy and engaged on our 32 hour round-trip excursion. Granted it was just me and my three monkeys. I needed some serious strategy.

As I was plotting out my no-TV method of road trip survival, my strategies fell into three categories—
Passive Engagement


For my brood, food is the most important component in maintaining our composure. All hell breaks loose when the children are hungry. Prior planning goes a long way such circumstances.

A few strategies that worked well for us:

Large Tote — I filled an 18 Gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck Tote with endless snacks. Gluten-free and diary-free stuff that was easy to grab such as Larabars, Kettle Chips, Mrs. May's Sesame Strips, Stretch Island Fruit Strips, juice boxes and so much more.

Cooler — Then I packed a cooler with all kinds of fresh fruit, vegetables, peanut butter, jelly and lunch meat. 

Impromptu Picnics — This made it super convenient to stop for impromptu picnic lunches. 

Fresh Air — With my gaggle of young kids, the best picnics were had at old-school vintage playgrounds.

Prepared Smoothies — One of the treats we looked forward to the most was the frozen smoothies I packed in the cooler. Blend them up the day before you leave and stick them in the freezer overnight. They serve as convenient ice packs for the cooler and halfway through the day you'll have a fresh icey cold treat waiting for you. Don't forget to pack cups and straws, you'll need them when you stop in the middle of nowhere.

Icey Cold Beverages — Lest we forget the driver, be sure to pack some icey cold beverages that will help maintain focus on the road. Nobody needs an adventurous road trip turning into an adventurous visit to the roadside ditch. While coffee and tea may work for many of us to keep our attention sharp, a fantastic non-caffinated option for energy and focus is Kombucha. Pick some up at your local natural grocer before heading out and be pleasantly surprised at how invigorated you'll feel when you finally reach your destination.


Notebook and Pencil — I am always amazed at how far a simple pen and paper will get me when it comes to keeping the children busy. Each child received a new notebook for the trip and a small sack of colored pencils. They had hours of fun drawing the things they saw out the window.

Pipe Cleaners — We had great success with bringing along something crafty to keep their little hands busy, such as pipe cleaners. I found them at the Dollar Store and bought a pack for each kid. You should have seen all the beautiful rings, bracelets and necklaces I was adorned with by the end of the trip.

Binders — I prepared a three-ringed binder filled with age appropriate material for each child. For the baby this was coloring sheets of lions and hippos. For my eldest child the binder was filled with maps of the United States so he could draw our route as we traveled.

Library Books — There is a lot to be said for the captivating factor of new library books. Enough said.

Digital Camera — The kids love, love, love taking pictures of all they see. So many new and interesting things to capture. You should have seen my son trying to get the perfect picture of the military trucks as they passed. It kept him busy for over an hour.

Passive Engagement

Historically, this is where the TV makes an appearance. Not anymore, my friends.

Books on Tape — Instead, we opted to borrow books on CD from the library. Talk about happy and content. All three little ones sat and listened intently for hours. Then they would nap. Then they would listen intently. Then they would nap. The pattern continued until we listened through eight full disks. I was in road trip heaven.

Tunes — It wouldn't be a road trip without your favorite tunes to rock out to. Make at least two CDs ahead of time, one with the kids favorites and one with yours. Rockin' and rollin' is how it was meant to be.

So there you have it. Thirteen ideas that kept me and my children sane on our latest long road trip.

I'd love to hear your ideas for keeping the children engaged when on the road. Please do share your thoughts below.

Here's to safe, happy and contented travels!

1 comment:

  1. I give praises to any parent that can take a road trip with no DVD player. I usually bring my iPad with me on road trips for the kids to play with. They can play games, watch movies, and watch TV. It’s great to have with us when the kids are getting restless. With my provider/employer DISH Network I can access all my subscription channels from anywhere I am at. The kids can watch all their favorite shows live right from the iPad. I just had to buy a Sling Adapter for $99, which right now DISH has a great promotion for. Check out this link for more details about the promotion . I try my hardest to use it as a last resort, but it always gets turned on in the end.


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