I’m a hard core road-tripper. Yep, I’m one of “those people” who just like to get in the car and drive. Why? To me it’s all about connection and adventure. Long car trips just help the whole family to slow down, take a breath, explore… and unplug from technology. Yes, I said it! It’s time to stop relying on tablets and phones to entertain our kids in the car.

Why Does Screen-Free Matter?

Is all technology use bad? Of course not! I think there’s an appropriate time and place to use iPads, tablets, or other technology with your kids. Here’s my issue, and maybe you’ll agree. When kids use tablets or phones for entertainment on road trips they become glued to that small screen. They’re in self-centric mode, isolated and closed off from the experience. What’s the point of exploring the world as a family if technology prevents your kids from connecting with the adventure?

Your kids may complain that they’re being deprived. So be it, I say! Don’t succumb to the lie that you need to constantly entertain your children. It’s time to give your kids the opportunity to be creative. Show them they are capable of keeping their minds and hands busy. Screen-free activities for road trips are the perfect antidote for the over-scheduled lives we lead.

My hubby and I recently took our son up to Savannah, Georgia to visit the Georgia Railroad Museum. My little man loved every minute of the museum, but he also did a great job travelling there and back! He’s two years-old, so the six hour trip was quite an accomplishment for him. We had some hands on practice in screen-free road trip activities. He rocked it! I’ll take my little guy as a travel buddy any day.

When I was a kid, my mom was fantastic at making road trips fun . She always packed her infamous “activity bags” for my sisters and I. Books were a staple, of course, but she was also the master of putting together fun, mess-free crafts and activities to keep us busy. We didn’t have tablets or phones in the car because these small screens didn’t even exist back then.

I bet your mom got creative when it came to road trips, too! Let’s capture that power for our own generation of motherhood! Mamas, it’s time to give the gift of screen-free travel skills to your kids. Because it is a skill, you know. Especially if you’ve fallen into the habit of offering a phone or tablet to your kids every time they buckle up. It takes willpower , a little planning, and a whole lot of courage.

I have three simple qualifications for a great screen-free road trip activity.

  1. It must be containable. I have a cringe-worthy vision of a whole box of crayons scattered on the floor of my van. No, thank you.
  2. It must be quiet. Or semi-quiet. But you better believe we run and play like banshees when it’s time for a rest stop.
  3. It must be open-ended. I need activities that will keep my little one occupied for more than one minute. Anything that requires constant, specific instruction is definitely out.

Top 10 Screen-Free Activities for Road Trips

So, what do you need to keep your kids busy in the car? Are you read to say no to screens on road trips? Are you ready to say yes to real adventure and connection with your family?

Here are my top 10 toddler screen-free activities for surviving family road trips:

1. Books

There’s nothing quite as heart-warming to a former teacher like myself than seeing my little guy lost in a good book.

Don't pull out that iPad just yet! If you're searching for screen-free travel activities for kids, search no longer, my friend. I've got 10 portable ideas, perfect for family road trips or car rides.

My little man, lost in a good book.

For road trips, there are four types of books I’ll bring along for my toddler. Here’s a cute rhyme to help you narrow down your selection and not bring the whole bookcase in the car!

  • A book that’s old: His tried-and-true, read this a hundred times, hands down favorite.
  • A book that’s new: A brand-new library book, or one that we borrow from Grandma.
  • A book that’s big: A large sized book, with bold and beautiful illustrations that he can get “lost” in.
  • A book to do: A lift-the-flap book, or something he can DO with his hands.

2. Stickers

Have you discovered the power of stickers? I just recently had an epiphany about how completely amazing stickers are for my little man. They keep him completely engrossed for literally hours. Plus, they’re cheap! My son loves the little sticker books that give him a picture of an animal and allow him to finish the animal features with stickers. This reusable sticker pad by Melissa & Doug is absolutely perfect!

3. Counting Games

This idea is as old as dirt, but it works. You probably played something similar when you were little. On our most recent road trip we counted big semi-trucks when my little man started to get antsy. He loved it! He got really quiet for a minute while he searched for a truck, then burst out with excitement, “I see ’em! Three trucks!”

4. Magnet Toys

Magnets are so great for car trips! We have a set of magnetic blocks  that we absolutely love. I really love the way magnetic blocks help expand my son’s creativity. For road trips, I’ll pack just a few of these magnetic tiles. I bring a small kitchen baking sheet as well. My son loves building tiny houses with his magnetic blocks! Magnetic letters and numbers are perfect to use with the metal baking sheet, too. You’ll have a captive audience on which to implement tot school time!

5. Sing-Along

When I was young, my parents invested a lot of time in taking our family on road trips. My dad has an amazing voice, and my mom has an amazingly cheerful attitude. This combination was incredible! I learned to sing in the car. I learned harmony in the car. I learned fantastic patriotic songs and hymns in the car. Ones that I still remember and teach my son today! My point is, even if you can’t sing a lick, sing with your child in the car. It’s really just about letting your guard down as a family and having fun together!

6. Finger Puppets

Long road trips are prime time to hone your story-telling craft! What’s better for story time than a few finger puppets? You can make your own easy pipe cleaner finger puppets with this cute tutorial by Debbie at One Little Project at a Time. Or, I love this set of story time finger puppets, which includes 10 animals, and 6 people puppets. These are so cute, and sure to keep your little one having fun!

7. Stamps

Looking for something artsy to do in the car, but worried about getting art supplies everywhere? Stamps are the perfect solution! Remember that baking sheet I mentioned earlier for magnet toys? Break that baby out one more time. Tape paper on the side and give your toddler one or two stamps. My son has a great time experimenting with different stamps, and figuring out what picture each stamp makes. This Happy Handle Stamp Set is perfectly portable for the car.

8. Dinosaurs, Dolls, or Trucks

What are your child’s favorite imaginative play toys? Bring them along on your next road trip! If they get stuck in an imagination rut, use the scenery outside for inspiration. My little guy loves playing with dinosaurs and trucks. There are always adventures and epic battles coming from the backseat!

9. Felt Board

My little man loves playing with his felt shapes. First, you’ll need a felt board. I made a DIY felt board tutorial you can read about here! Felt is perfect for road trips! It’s quiet and there are endless ways you can play with a felt board. Just make sure you make a travel-sized board to fit on your toddler’s lap. If you’re some sort of genius of something, you could even make the board with a half-circle cut out on one side so it can fit right up against your child as he sits.

10. I-Spy

I-Spy is so great for young toddlers. Not only does it help them identify and interact with sensory information, but it teaches them how to take turns and switch roles! If you get tired of “spying with your little eye,” mix it up a bit. “I hear with my little ear, I smell with my little nose, I feel with my little finger…” You get the idea!

So, what’s in store for your next family road trip? I hope these ideas will inspire you to go screen-free!

Chat with me below, are screen-free activities something you’d try for your child? What are your favorite road trip tips and tricks to keep kids busy?