We are counting down the days for our favorite event of the entire year—our road trip to Michigan. I wouldn’t completely agree with the over-Pinterest’d quote “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey” because we’re talking about Northern Michigan here, and—Newsflash—it’s about the destination. I will however agree that the journey getting there holds its own magic. I love road trips, and because this one is especially long and a repeated tradition for our family, it’s even more special. Besides the anticipation of the destination, there’s so much more crammed into the (cramped) quarters of our car for the 1,522 miles it takes to get there—the snacks, the games, the Audible books, the rest area breaks to stretch our legs, the cheering and honking every time we pass a state line, and all the stops along the way.
We’ve taken this trip year after year since Dash was a baby. Consequently, I’ve learned a lot of things about what makes road trips memorable, fun and as easy as they can be considering five people and a dog are stuck in a car together traveling the entire stretch of I-75. This is what my kids are going to remember someday though. As beautiful as the ordinary details of our day-to-day life are, the memories of them will grow fuzzy with time. These road trips though? They won’t forget them.
So we’re talking all the road trip things today. I’m sharing things we pack to entertain the kids, fun traditions we’ve started and a few hacks to keep things organized.
The “When Are We Going to Be There?” Display
Several Instagram followers messaged me the cutest TikTok video of this hack (I can’t find the original because I don’t know how to search TikTok). To give your kids a good idea of where you are on the trip, how far you have to go and where your stops are, stretch a piece of masking or painter’s tape (I used white painter’s tape) along the width of the car ceiling above the dash, and write out locations you’ll pass through from home to your destination. I underlined and added red stars to cities where we are staying overnight. Print off and laminate a photo of a car (I pulled a photo of ours from the Internet and photoshopped our bodies in it) and add Velcro or duct tape rolls to the back (Velcro won’t stick on all car ceilings). As you are traveling, move the car along the length of the tape so the kids understand a good visual of your location in reference to where you’ve been and where you’re going.
The License Plate Game
We’ve played versions of this game with state stickers, journals and a wooden puzzle (too bulky to bring in a packed car), but I wanted to make something easy this year and kick up the fun factor with some prizes. The goal is to find as many state license plates on the road as possible. I made a printable with all the states listed (minus Hawaii and Alaska because the chances are so low of seeing those on the road) and created a little incentive guide for tallying them up. I left the incentive number blank depending on the age of kids and length of road trip, but the prizes are fun for all. There’s pre-packed car goody bags when my kids find license plates for 15 states, a drive-thru stop for ice cream or milk shakes for 25 states, a $3 iTunes or in-app purchase for 35 states, a gas station stop for treats for 35 states and a “mystery prize” (yet to be determined) for all 48 states. Want to print one? Download yours here.
Speaking of goody bags, I used to make up goody bags to pass out when my kids were toddlers; and guess what? They still love them. It’s all about the mystery of what’s inside. This year, I made them for the “15 states found” goal on our license plate game. What to put inside? I did a little shopping at Five Below and dropped in several candy treats (they have the best bulk candy—treats you don’t normally find other places), a fidget (they’re all the rage now), some cool neon gel pens and a pad of black paper for Lainey and some travel stickers for their travel journals (Travel Journal post coming later this week). Other fun things to put in goody bags: jewelry making supplies (friendship bracelets are fun to make on road trips), hair accessories, fuzzy socks, a card game, etc.
Road Trip Entertainment
As far as road trip entertainment, I have no problem with my kids being on devices in the back seat. Thank the Lord in heaven for iPads and phones and the way they’ve made traveling with kids easier. But even the kids get weary of screens after a while, and there are so many fun road trip games and activities we all love that make our trips memorable. Some of our favorites:
Rubberneckers – A Road Trip Scavenger Hunt Game where opponents acquire different point values by achieving the things on their cards—fun things like spotting a dog in the backseat of someone’s car, spotting someone singing while they’re driving, convincing a truck driver to honk back at you, etc. This similar version is also great.
Road Trip Mad Libs – Nothing brings me more joy than hearing my children laughing uncontrollably trying to get through a Mad Libs story where they have offered nothing but inappropriate words for answers.
50 Cool Things to Do in the Car – This little tin is full of so many great ideas for families to do in the car—creative games, questions to ask, conversation starters, etc.
Grab & Go Battleship – I loved this game as a kid, and this version is the perfect size to take along in the car.
Difficult Riddles for Smart Kids – My kids LOVE these questions and get very competitive trying to be the first one to answer it. Such a great activity to kill time in the car.
The Best Brain Rebus Puzzles – I fell in love with plexers when I was in fourth grade. I couldn’t get enough of them. Kids will get hooked on trying to figure these out (and they’re good brain builders!).
Family Talk – Trapped in the car for hours with each other? Might as well have some meaningful conversations together. This little keychain holds so many great conversation starters for families. I love these questions so much…questions like: Whose house is the most fun to visit? How are you different from everyone else, and what does ‘celebrate your differences’ mean? What are some creative ways to TELL each other you love them, and what are ways to SHOW it? Is it ever okay to lie?
Usborne Never Get Bored Cards – A great collection of wipe-clean cards full of puzzles, games and treasure hunts for both one-player activities as well as multiple player.
Other Things We Bring on Road Trips:
Bissell USB Charged Car Vacuum – This is the game changer right here. I’ve done enough road trips to Michigan where my car is absolutely trashed by the time we arrive. I bought this car vacuum a couple weeks ago, and I’ve already sold three friends on it. I’m obsessed. It’s compact, portable, charges with a USB cord right in your car and has two attachments. And it works! I used the brush attachment on the kids’ bodies the other night at the beach to get the sand off them before they climbed in the car. The best part is the kids love to use it themselves, so they’re cleaning up the back seat on their own.
Kids Travel Tray – This is a great lap set-up for kids for long trips. We have one that Nella uses. It holds everything—lots of pockets for crayons and notebooks, a whiteboard built into it, hard surface for drawing, a foldable iPad holder that props up, etc. And it all folds flat into a compact pouch.
Or you can go the simple clip board route. They slide under the seat and are available for the kids when they want to write or draw.
Plastic bins – An online friend suggested these bins for road trip eating. They’re great because they all stack together, and you can keep them in the back of the car but pull them out for lap trays when you need to eat meals in the car. They keep everything contained for spills and crumbs and give the kids a flat surface to hold a drink and have something to eat on. I bought them for our road trip but used them as snack trays for our movie night this past weekend, and I wish I would have thought of them before—they’re perfect.
Headphones – Headphones are a must if the kids are on different devices. Lainey has ear buds, but we love these for Nella and Dash. When Nella was smaller, we loved these headband headphones (the bulky headphones sometimes slipped off her head).
Pouch or Ziplock for Device Charging Cords and Cord Labels – I got smart and started labeling our cords for trips. With all the devices we bring (iPads, phones, portable projector, back up batteries, etc.), it’s easy to mix up cords or forget them—and then everyone starts blaming each other for taking their chargers. I keep a zip pouch for all our cords, so when we’re staying at motels or Airbnb’s, I can keep them all organized and in one place. I label all our cords with color-coded labels so we can quickly identify and locate the one we need.
Other basics we always have in the car for long trips:
First Aid Kit
Plastic Grocery Bags for garbage and miscellaneous needs
Dog Waste Bags, collapsible bowl for Friday’s food & water
Ball (for tossing or kicking at rest area stops)
Snacks – We love pretzels, Goldfish, Cuties oranges, fruit leathers from Trader Joe’s., trail mix, granola bars. Also, road trips are a fun place to get wild and be Fun Mom who pulls out Fruit by the Foot and Combos.
I almost forgot one of the most important road trip tips: DOCUMENT THE CAR! We often think to take photos and video of the destinations, but there’s so much love inside the car on these trips. Grab 5-10 second snippets of video of what’s happening inside your car—the kids playing games in the back seat, your partner driving, the baby’s head all slumped over in the car seat while she sleeps, the cars passing by as you drive, the mountains in the distance, the rain falling on the windshield. Piece it all together in iMovie later with a great song, and you have yourself an epic family video for the archives. Need a great song for your family movie? Check out my list of favorite songs for family movie montage videos.
Whew! That was a long one. Later this week, I’ll be sharing posts for travel journals and a list of our favorite summer books. Summer and Christmas are always my favorite times to share content—so many things we are loving that I love to pass on.
Also, if you didn’t see the printable Summer Bucket List this year, you can print yours here.
Are you adventuring this summer? Hitting the road? We love to hear where you are going and any great road trip tips you have along the way!