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Friday Faves: Summer Road Trip Guide for Kids

We finished The Marathon Week–also known as the last week of school–ending with a sleepover last night that included Lainey’s list of “37 Things I Want to Do at Our Sleepover.” Needless to say, I need a nap. We have a few more weeks of Florida fun before we head north to see family, but we’re already planning our road trip which brings me to today’s Friday Faves–our family favorites for car entertainment and convenience on long trips. I made this old road trip guide a few years ago for what still remains as my favorite road trip of all time. Every time I watch this old movie from the trip, I feel all the feels again.

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We do bring iPads and screen entertainment on long trips, but we switch them up a lot with games, drawing and screen breaks because, frankly, we all get bored and tired of screens. Our hittin’ the road favorites this year:


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1. We love the Doodle Books series (Boys Doodle Book, Girls Doodle Book) which give kids lots of creative ideas and starters for illustrations. Lainey loves to draw but sometimes gets stuck in the dog/princess/palm tree/flower rut and can’t think of anything else to draw. This book takes care of the rest. A few people asked about the illustrations on my last post and what drawing resources we use. Our most used drawing books are  20 Ways to Draw a Dress for clothes and accessories (series by the same author, Julia Kuo, also includes 20 Ways to Draw a Shoe and 20 Ways to Draw a Tulip) and Let’s Draw Happy People by Sachiko Umoto–both authors are great for kids and adults alike. We use several different brands of art supplies, but I’ve found a great inexpensive line at Michael’s called The Artist Loft. We use their watercolor colored pencils, watercolor paints, chalks, brushes and drawing pads, and most are sold in $5 packs.

2. Kids Thermos. We’ve done the water bottle, juice box, sippy cup–you name it–route on trips, but our best solution has been giving each kid an insulated Thermos for the trip. Everything stays cold, it’s easy to keep track of, no trash to clutter the car, we end up using them later for school lunches (so it’s a good investment), and I can refill them as needed. I bring one small cooler on road trips for milk/water/juice.

3. Mad Libs On the Road. These are a great way to be part of the car games, even if you’re driving. The kids can ask for your answers, fill the stories in and read them out loud from the backseat, brushing up on some language arts skills while they’re playing. Result? Hilarious. I remember Mad Libs when I was a kid. We tried to use as inappropriate words as possible to make the stories funny and then put names of people from our church in them. It was basically a giant rotation of Pastor Pat/Deacon Russ/Brother Bob completing sentences with butt/bra/poop/toot. Toot’s as bad as it gets when you’re a 12-year-old sheltered homeschool girl. And yes, everyone was referred to as Deacon, Brother or Sister. Sometimes I have to stop myself from addressing Brett as “Brother Brett”. Mind games.

4. Find It Games. This will keep ’em busy forever. Tiny treasures are hidden inside this tightly-packed cylinder, and you have to spin it, shake it and twist it to reveal them one by one as you cross off your search list.

5. Hershel Backpack. Instead of dragging suitcases in hotels every night as we make our way north, I pack the things we’ll need for overnight in a backpack so that we can easily make our way in and out of stops. This is especially helpful if we arrive late at night and are carrying sleepy kids in. It also works great for day excursions along the way.

6. Kids U.S. Road Trip Atlas by National Geographic. This kid-friendly activity guide is full of fun facts and information about each state, maps, photos and games that not only entertain kids but teach them some history and geography while you travel.

7. Hardback Blank Books. Stock up! These versatile blank books have so many purposes. Kids can write and illustrate their own stories with them or use them to document their travel adventures. Decorate the cover, tape photos of your trip on the inside pages and add fun travel stickers to transform it into a road trip scrapbook.

8. Fuji Instax Mini Camera. A great kid camera with instant gratification–pictures that print out as soon as you take them. Kids can document their own favorite memories from the road trip and use the above blank book to preserve it all.

9. Road Trip Stickers ( 3-D fun ones from Jolee’s Boutique or these road sign ones) for your scrapbook

10. Cheap flip-flops. On long drives, my kids kick off their shoes and get comfortable. When we’re stopping to quickly use the restroom or grab food and the backseat’s covered with pillows and blankets and travel games, it’s nice to have flip-flops stuffed in the seat pockets for a quick grab-and-run so we aren’t frustrated searching for that one lost sandal. These cute stars & stripes ones from Old Navy are only $3.

11. Travel Lap Desk This one folds and stores flat plus the lid lifts up to store crayons, books, etc. Last year, we got cheaper ones from Joann’s that worked great but didn’t fold up or store things. Either way, it’s nice to have a lap desk for coloring and games or to use as a tray for meals on the go.

12. License Plate Game. We had so much fun with this last summer, and the game is so well made with attached pieces that won’t get lost. It’s a great way for kids to learn some US geography and a fun challege to pass the time.

13. Travel Scavenger Hunt. Another fun way to involve everyone in the car. We used these cards on our Tampa Spring Break trip this year, and it was a blast–searching out cars to find a dog, a person with red hair, someone singing while they drive. :o)

14. Pass the Pigs. It’s kind of like Yatzee, but simplified with cute pigs. One of our family’s favorites–even the little kids can roll and keep score–Pass the Pigs is an easy game to play in the car (you’ll need that lap desk or something flat to roll the pigs on).

Hitting the road this summer? Have any lifesavers that have made your travels with kids easier? Do share.

And Happy Friday!


Leave a Comment
  1. Perfect timing! Love this list and I’ll have time to stock up before our trip in a month. Any suggestions for your little guy? Mine is 18 months. I’m thinking of stocking up on some toys he hasn’t seen yet.

  2. #14 looks interesting- what is it?

  3. Kristi Matelski says:

    Great post (as usual!) One idea I stole from you in the past is a smallish cookie sheet with a lip on it. We use them for magnets, as a food tray, coloring surface, etc. I’ve also created 1st aid kits with bandaids, alcohol wipes, kid scissors, medical tape, gauze, and sports wrap to make a cast. It makes a bit of a mess, but it keeps them busy for a LONG time while they doctor up dolls or their own limbs. Before I knew you could buy it, I created my own “Find it” game. I used old baby bottles, rice, and random items like paper clips, dice, hair binders, pennies, etc. I keep the list of about 20 things on my phone and call out the items for them to find. Have fun on your road trip! Can’t wait to read about it!

  4. Thank you! Such a great list!! We are heading from Minneapolis to Montana this summer..lots of time on the road. I love road trips though. This stuff is going to be great! Thanks!

    • Funny you said that. I’d looking to purchase it too! I use an old Microsoft product that isn’t sold anymore but need to upgrade.

  5. PS: I’m thinking about purchasing Adobe Illustrator…is that how you create collages or do you use Photoshop? Thanks!

  6. Natalia says:

    Kelle, you listed #10 twice, so it confused some of us (previous question). Great suggestions!

  7. Excellent ideas! When I was a kid though, me and my siblings must’ve made our parents miserable by fighting with each other — at least I remember being miserable. So that’s what I was dreading when my children were little, and I knew I was going to break that cycle no matter what! Mine are all grown and trained now, but when they were little and learning to road trip (we’d be going from Arkansas to Northern Michigan) we had quite a long drive. I shopped the Dollar Store for a bunch of prizes and wrapped them up individually then stuffed them in a big “Prize Bag” in the back of the van, and whenever we’d gone an hour or two without any complaining I’d pull out that Prize Bag and let them choose a prize. It was the most peaceful, loving and polite drive we ever could have imagined once they realized there was a bag of prizes for good behavior in that van! From that trip forward my kids have been the best road trippers in the world — and I’ve dragged them all over this country!

  8. Cassidy says:

    I traveled 1100 miles with my daughter one fall and one of my friends wrapped up some gifts- little dollar store things, or a book, or a snack, new crayons, coloring book etc… and when things got rough I would let her unwrap one of the gifts. Something about it being wrapped and the anticipation of the next gift kept her happy and entertained!

  9. My ideas for road trip travel (for adults!): pack ibuprofen and icy hot gel! My long drive is usually the 18 hours between Asheville and Vermont and I often do it alone and in one shot. I use these things when my lower back starts hurting around hour 15. The gel in particular buys me a few hours. I also bring a cooler with ice packs that I use on my back.

    Strange, but on roadtrips, I don’t really listen to music. I get started immediately with an audio book and stick with that, interspered with Radiolab and This American Life podcasts.

    It’s impossible to find drinks on the road that aren’t pure sugar! Except unsweet iced tea I suppose. So I always pack really fun and unusual drinks that make me feel really refreshed, like cold pressed fruit and veggie juice, kombucha, watermellon juice, turmeric juice, weird things like that from whole foods.

    Healthy snacks like sea weed snacks, ginger chews, hard boiled eggs, cheese sticks, cut up mellon, rolled up prosciutto with cheese.

    I know nobody asked for adult suggestions, but for some reason I think it’s really fun to talk about road trip stuff 😉 plus I just made the drive up to Vermont a few days ago, but not alone…I had a person with red hair in the car 😉

    • “It’s fun to talk about road trip stuff.” Yaasss! I have yet to pick out the soundtrack, but podcasts will definitely be part of it. And I love that you didn’t make the journey alone. xo miss you!

    • Bronwen says:

      We’re runners and some times have to drive to races that are far away. We love playing games in the car, makes the time go so much quicker. I hadn’t thought of Mad Libs but I’m going to pick it up for our next trip! And the kids games, we love that stuff! Thanks for your list, it will make our trip so much more fun!

  10. Lanae Brown says:

    On our yearly 12-hour trip to Montana for spring skiing, we watch for animals and give our kids money for spotting them! Amounts are set when we first get going. (moose-$1.00, elk-$0.50, big horn sheep-$2.00, geese/ducks-$0.01, bison-$1.00, deer-$0.20, antelope-$0.10, mountain lion-$50! etc.) When someone spots something, someone else also has to see it for it to count and if animals are in a flock/herd, it only counts once. I keep track in a notebook of everyone’s sightings and the kids add it up at the end. This year they each only ended up with about $7.00, but they were thrilled! Our son just stared out the window for hours looking for animals. A great break from screens! For littler kids, it’s easy to spot animals yourself and then tell them, “okay, look out your window, I know this is a good spot, you might see something!”

  11. I love so many of these ideas. I plan to implement them on our road trip to Viriginia this summer, for sure! Thanks so much!

  12. Love the suggestions here, and perfectly timed as we’re embarking on a mini-road trip to Maine (6 hours) next Saturday just for weekend. So, that’s 12 hours in two days which is a lot for a 6 year old [and her mom if I’m being honest ;)]. Thanks to these suggestions and comments, I’m going to pack a travel kit for my daughter, some fresh snacks for myself, and I think the animal spotting game sounds awesome. Hey — we’re going to Maine….we might see something out-of-the-ordinary like a moose. That would be worth $2 alone! :)

  13. These are all great ideas, I unfortunately have two VERY travel sick kids so anything that involves reading or looking closely at is ruled out. Our trips consist of lots of crying and changes of clothes. I live in hope that they’ll outgrow it and then we could do some of these fun things.

  14. I know this would probably be awfully cumbersome but if you could throw out some ideas of where to stop between Michigan and Florida I would appreciate it. We are doing a family road trip from MI to Daytona and back in August and would love some ideas (3 kids, 2 13yo and a 4yo). Or anyone else on here for that matter. Thanks!!

    • Not quite what you’re looking for but wanted to share anyway:
      Google Maps now lets you search for places along your route & displays them as part of it- at least on my iphone. Handy when you want to promise to stop for ice cream if they will JUST STOP FIGHTING but hate to suggest a Dairy Queen when 1, they don’t have them in that state or 2, closest one is 384 miles away. Type in ice cream in search & voila! Cold stones will pop up close by.

  15. Love the lap desk idea! I also need to buy a small cookie sheet for magnets – bought the magnet dress up dolls from your suggestion (one of your posts last year, I think). The kiddo likes to look at all the bits before dressing up the dolls She is older now, and loves to draw. I thinking the folding lap desk with a few new art books and supplies might be a fun diversion for our pending road trip. These last a few hours before ‘mom, can I watch a movie?’ kicks in (monthly road trip from Sacramento, CA to Ferndale, CA is long and windy, with little to see in between and Miss A gets bored LOL, unlike mom who listens to some tunes the whole way).

    Thanks again for the good ideas!

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  17. Great tips! We also use mad libs. We get books on tape or talks on tape for the kids from the library. The best thing I do is make a map of our trip on the internet before we go and I do one of those long sequences with multiple destinations and a different location for A, B, C, D, etc, where each letter is about 60 miles or so apart. (as a bonus I try to do larger towns where there are likely to be restaurants and gas stations since we don’t have smart phones so we can plan where to stop). Then I write by each letter how far we have gone and how far we have to go. Then when I tell them we are at “G” they can see exactly where that is and it doesn’t just feel like endless driving.

    I pack by night instead of by person, too, so we can just take one backpack in if we’re only staying somewhere for the night.

    One I got from another blog- apple slices quench thirst without causing a need to use the bathroom every 10 minutes. My kids will drink for something to do while we’re driving in the car and it causes way more bathroom stops than they need. Obviously I let them drink water, too, but with apple slices they drink less.

    I buy a giant box of Clif Kids’ Bars from Costco before we go- they are great travel snacks. The adults love them, too! I buy and make other snacks, too, and put them in a box in the main part of the car (not the trunk) with a package of baby wipes, a pump-bottle of hand sanitizer, a roll of paper towels, a few grocery sacks and one large garbage sack.

    I bring a small potty even with a child who uses the big potty at home. You never know when you’re going to need it.

    With toddlers/preschoolers I bring duplos for the hotel room. That way they have something to do other than get into stuff while the adults unwind.

    I bring along cabinet locks and outlet covers for hotels, rentals, or other people’s houses. Once we used a cabinet lock on a gas fireplace that our two-year-old would have otherwise been able to turn on, open, and stick his hand into the flame due to the way it was designed.

  18. I love the list. Travel lap desk is so important. They can keep toys or pack of food inside while on travel.

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