30 Screen-Free Road Trip Ideas for Kids

Summertime means vacations, road trips, and the inevitable chorus of “are we there yet?” Indeed, spending long car rides with kids can be hard and children, especially younger ones, often tend to get bored quickly. This can lead to children spending a lot of time in front of a screen, which is not ideal for anyone on a road trip. Children will not remember the drive day adventures if they are playing tablet games or watching a movie. Road trips with kids can be wonderful opportunities for children to explore new activities, see and learn new things, and play time-tested road trip games. Today, Sara Lesire, St. Louis based civil engineer, outdoor-loving, mom of two, makes road-tripping with children a breeze with these 30 screen-free road trip ideas for kids!

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screen-free road trip ideas for kids - traveling with kids

Screen-free road trip ideas for kids

Our family has been taking long road trips since our kids were babies. We rarely have to resort to screen time to keep them entertained and happy during our drives. Our kids don’t own tablets so I have had to get creative over the years on new ideas for those annual 14+ hour each way drives.  If you are looking for ideas on how to get your kids’ eyes off the screens without the whining, here are some great screen-free road trip ideas for all ages. 

Invest in a travel tray

First, while this is not exactly an activity, it does help make traveling with kids easier! We have been using travel trays in the car for several years now. They provide a flat surface for activities while the raised edge helps keep items from rolling off. They can use the surface for coloring, drawing, or any other hands-on activities. There is even a cup holder and pockets for storage. While they have a flat surface, the edges of the trays are soft and padded for safety in the event of a crash. They are also perfect for meals and snacks on the go.

Screen free road trip ideas with kids travel trays, keep kids occupied in the car, must haves when traveling with kids

Road trip surprise boxes

1. The surprise box! Each and every road trip, my kids always look forward to seeing what is in their “surprise box.” The boxes are just lunchboxes I found at a garage sale. Each long trip I fill them with inexpensive trinkets and toys from garage sales, Dollar Tree, or things I find on clearance. This is always a hit, because the contents are new to my kids, making each item or activity that much more exciting. I also add in some snacks and special sweet treats.

Screen free road trip ideas for kids surprise boxes

If you want to extend the suspense or use it as a reward for good behavior, you could try making multiple small surprise bags to be opened at certain times or at each road trip stop. Ideas of things to include are Legos, Hotwheels cars, fidget toys, small dolls, small stuffed animals, stickers, crayons, notebooks, travel games, fruit snacks, applesauce pouches, or coloring books. Dollar Tree is an amazing resource for budget-friendly goodies. 

Screen free road trip ideas with kids - surprise bags, goody bags

Keep little hands busy

There are so many great interactive and no mess activities available to pack along. Do a little browsing in your house and online to prepare some of the following activities. 

2. Fine motor control games: Use an empty can with a lid such as oatmeal or a whipped topping container. Cut in some holes in the lid just large enough for kids to push pom poms through.

3. Pipe cleaners: These are so simple but so much fun for kids. See what shapes they can make with them or what sort of creation they can make by bending them in different ways. 

4. Fidget toys: Any kid (or adult) that loves popping packing bubbles will enjoy popper toys

Screen free road trip ideas with kids, fidget toys, must haves when traveling with kids5. Busy toddlers: Busy boards can be a huge win for toddlers and preschoolers as they learn to buckle, snap, and tie. 

6. Window art: For kids that have a window seat, inexpensive window clings from the dollar store offer a creative way to stay entertained while making an artistic impression. 

7. Magnetic toys: Our kids enjoy the challenge of making different shapes using a magnetic tangram set or making funny faces with this fun kit. You can also grab a cheap dollar store cookie sheet and bring along alphabet magnets or magnetic tiles that you probably already have around the house. 

Screen free road trip ideas with kids, travel toys, travel games for kids, traveling with kids8. Water painting: Melissa and Doug created a hit with their Water Wow books. Kids will love the easy painting while parents love that they are mess-free. Even if they happen to leak or spill, the amount of water is pretty small. Hold them up to the air vents in the car for a quicker drying time. 

Screen free road trip ideas with kids, traveling with kids9. Post-it art: Give kids a set of sticky notes and crayons. Let them draw pictures to stick around the car and make their own “art gallery.” (Just remove when you get out of the car to avoid the glue getting too hot and sticky on car surfaces!)

10. Toy tubes: These toy tubes and pipes were huge hits for my kids when they were toddler and preschool ages. The pieces are larger too, which helps avoid them getting lost in the car. 

11. Mess-free coloring: Crayola’s Color Wonder markers have been in use in our house for years. They only color on the special paper for no messes!

12. No mess drawing: This simple LCD drawing tablet has been a favorite of our kids.  Easy to draw and it erases with just the press of a button. 

Screen free road trip ideas with kids, must haves when traveling with kids, favorite drawing toy

13. Lego box: Use double-sided sticky tabs to stick a lego baseplate into the bottom of a dollar store tray or plastic box. Add in a variety of lego bricks for a traveling box of creative fun. If you are worried about losing parts of a set, Dollar Tree sells lego sets and baseplates for an inexpensive version. 

14. Make a sensory I-spy game: Fill a plastic bottle or Ziploc bag with rice. Add in several small toys, tape closed the container, and let kids shake the container to search for the treasures. 

15. Etch-a-Sketch drawing: This is a hit with most kids, especially preschool age and up. Twisting those knobs to create a drawing is a challenge and children love seeing what they can create (even if the results are often staircases).

Screen free road trip ideas with kids, traveling with kids

Let them follow along

16. Map fun! Print out a map of your travel plans or pick up a state paper map and let them follow along on the route. Mark off your stops with a star to give them an idea of how far there is to go. Both my kids absolutely love looking at maps. Add in a toy car for some pretend driving fun. 

Make a road trip binder

17. Create a road trip binder full of printables! There are so many amazing and free road trip game printables out there created by graphic snazzy parents. I like to put a group of them together in a binder for each child. The pockets of the binder are great for adding in crayons or markers. Pro Tip: If you want to avoid the expected lost markers, try taping string around the crayons and markers and then taping it to the binder.

Some of the blank pages I leave tucked in the binder pockets to be used for any sort of coloring or drawing. But, others I put in clear, protective sleeves to be used multiple times with a dry erase marker. If you are reading this at midnight the night before a long road trip and need something quick, a clipboard instead of a binder also works great too to keep the pages together.

Below is a list of free printables for kids of all ages. 

Screen free road trip ideas with kids, travel games, traveling with kids, road trip bingo, free printable road trip games

Preschool/Elementary Ages

Older Elementary/Tweens

Let them capture the moment

18. Take pictures! My kids have loved being able to take photos of both the journey and the destination. And now that almost everyone has a smartphone, you can often find cheap point-and-shoot cameras at garage sales or local swap pages. My kids have been loving these child cameras that are just the right size for little hands. They often will spend part of the ride reviewing their past shots on the camera. 

Screen free road trip ideas with kids, traveling with kids, camera for kids, kids camera

Play car games

There are so many great games that the whole family can enjoy together. Most of these ideas can be adapted for a variety of ages. Even better, most of them require no prep. 

19. Counting game: Pick an item to keep track of and then count them together. For example, count the number of red cars or the number of barns, train crossings, or speed limit signs. 

20. Car hide and seek: Take some small objects or print out some pictures of animals, cars, etc. and hide them around the car but in viewing sight. Tell kids to look around and find them.

21. Ask questions: Have everyone take turn asking a question such as everyone’s favorite ice cream, or a place they want to visit someday. If you need some ideas, check out these cute printable conversation starters. You can also buy this ready-made Table Talk list of questions for kids. 

22. Travel scattergories: Take turns picking a topic such as animals, fruits, ice cream flavors, etc. Try to name as many as you can in each category that starts with a certain letter. 

23. Would you rather: Older kids many enjoy Landeelu’s printable Would You Rather game plus a list of road trip games for tweens and teens. 

24. That’s different: Take turns pointing out something you see out the window that is out of the ordinary. It could be a crazy sign, a fun-colored car, or a unique landmark. 

25. When I go: The first person starts off with “When I go to (destination name) I am bringing a (an object, the sillier the better.) Then the next person repeats the phrase and adds on another item. For example: When I go to Florida, I am bringing a flamingo, a picnic basket, an umbrella, and a guitar. See how long you can keep it going. 

26. Guess the animal: One person thinks of an animal and everyone else takes turns asking questions to try and figure out which animal it is. This is similar to 20 questions, but we never set a question limit. Model asking broad questions first, such as does it walk on four legs or does it have fur, before moving onto the more direct questions, like is it a fish or is it a hippo. 

27. Mad Libs: Mad Libs are sure to bring a laugh to everyone in the car. You can find versions online to print or buy a whole book for endless smiles. 

28. Travel games: Magnetic and travel-sized versions of classic games like Bingo and Fishing can be fun for multiple kids. I’ve already added these super adorable chicken shuffle and woodland animal strategy games to my kid’s wish lists. 

Book it

29. Read or listen to books! Hit up your local library before your trip for some new reads for the car. I like to search garage sales, thrift stores, and local book shops for some new-to-them books to help the miles fly by. Another great option is Audiobooks! This way the whole family can enjoy listening to the books together.

Make a game out of it by having an informal book review when the books are finished. Ask the kids what their favorite book of the day was and why. Extend the conversation to ask what they would do if they were the main character in the story or which character they liked the most and why. 

Screen free road trip ideas with kids traveling with kids

Plan kid-friendly stops

30. Make the stops fun! One final easy way to keep kids from becoming restless on long trips is to break up the journey with some fun stops. I like to use the GoWhee or Roadtrippers apps to look up fun destinations along the route. Or you can just search for “best playgrounds near city/town” to find a good spot for a break.

If you travel often, I highly recommend the Next Exit travel book. It lists all the gas stations and restaurants at each exit along the entire U.S. interstate system. It also lists amenities and locations of all rest areas so you can see which rest areas have playgrounds. 

If you’re traveling in/around either the St. Louis, MO area or the Bentonville, Arkansas area, be sure to check out our Get Out Guides for all kinds of fun OUTDOOR things to do in these cities! 

Screen free road trip ideas with kids traveling with kids

What are your favorite ways to keep kids busy and happy while traveling?

About the author

Sara has been married to her high school sweetheart for 17 years and together they have two children. Sara spent many childhood hours outside on her grandparents’ farm and strives for her kids to have similar carefree kid adventures. Based in the St. Louis area, she loves to share on her blog and social media all the scenic and fun places to explore around the St. Louis area and beyond. Hiking is the most popular activity for her whole family followed by hitting up the best local playgrounds. Photography is also a passion of Sara’s and she continues to be amazed at the natural beauty and wonder of God’s creation. When she is not hitting the trail, Sara works as a civil engineer.

You can find more from Sara online in the following locations:
Instagram: @midwestnomadfamily
Facebook: Midwest Nomad Family
RWMC posts: Sara Lesire

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