10 Entertaining Ideas to Keep Kids Happy During the Drive

published May 25, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Courtesy of Overstock, Walmart, and Etsy

This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids.

Cubby. Real solutions for unreal times.

Join us for a weekly dose of fresh, modern ideas for life at home with your kids.

Road trips are a fantastic way to awaken the explorer within — and traveling hundreds (or thousands) of miles with kids in tow is a great way to awaken the monster within! In an effort to keep the monster at bay and help make your trip as fun and stress-free as possible, I’m sharing a few items and ideas I’ve discovered to help make car travel easier on everyone.

While screen time in the car is great (I happen to love it; it gives us a quiet few minutes to ourselves!), part of the fun of a road trip is having kids discover what’s going on in the world around them. Depending on the length of our trip, we usually plan to let our daughter watch one movie towards the end of the trip when she’s getting restless. It gives her something to look forward to — and to be honest, it’s nice to use an incentive for good behavior. Here are a few other things we incorporate to make travel easier: 

Kids Travel Tray

A travel tray might seem overboard but if you have a kiddo in a car seat for a very long trip, it’s nothing short of genius. This one comes with a map on the tray, and a buckle to keep it from falling off their lap. Stuff those pockets with crayons and window clings and other items to keep their little hands busy. 

An On-the-Go Meal Caddy

Craft caddies are small in scale and work great as a food carrier — they’re especially helpful if you have more than one kid in the car. Keep them stacked up in the front seat, and fill them up to easily serve and pass around. Grab them in bulk; you never know when they will come in handy!

Sketchbook or 3-Ring Binder

If you have a budding artist, a sketchbook or three-ring binder is so much better than having a bunch of loose papers floating around the car. You can pick these up at the dollar store, thrift store, or any big box store in the office supplies section. I recently found a Lion King trapper from the 90’s that my daughter and I both love, but you can’t go wrong with a cute animal design. Challenge them to draw what they see out the window for a fun way to capture some on-the-road memories.

Wireless Headphones

I love headphones for when it’s time to fire up the screens (or to drown out an argument). I’ve never bothered to buy my daughter her own because mine fit her perfectly. And honestly, when we’re on the road, I try not to pack multiples of anything. Headphones are a must, noise-cancelling if possible! A bluetooth version minimizes wires and discomfort. 

Shower Caddy Suction Cup for the Windows

Another genius idea for keeping things within reach! Suction a few caddies to each of your windows and fill them with lightweight snacks, or other things your kids might ask you for. They can also make a fun pretend play area for little dolls or toy cars.

A First Aid Kit

If left to my own devices, I could create a first aid kit the size of our trunk, but all you really need for your car is something small and compact that can fit in the glovebox and live there forever. This kit is small, but does the job. And trust me — when they need a bandaid, this will be a quick and pain-free fix — no emergency runs to the drugstore necessary. 

DIY Car Trash Can

Potentially the most life changing thing you can do for your car is to add a garbage can that is big enough, and easy for everyone to use. Sure, there are plenty you can buy, but this one made the most sense to me. All you need is a 10” embroidery hoop and whatever size garbage bag you prefer. And it makes for easy storage after the road trip.

A (Free) Solution to “Are We There Yet”?

This is more of a hack for keeping parents stress-free. To avoid the inevitable “Are we there yet?” being asked one million times, tape a piece of masking tape to the inside roof of your car, and use a sticker or toy car as a distance marker to show how much further you have to go until you reach your destination. When (if) they ask, all you have to do is point.

A DIY Tissue Holder

This coffee cup tissue holder is genius, and looks pretty easy to replicate. Sure, you could go with a small travel size tissue bag, but those things are tiny and really difficult to get tissues out of. I love that this DIY tissue holder fits in a cup holder and is super easy for your kiddo to find, and can be made from a recycled to-go coffee cup. 

Podcasts and playlists

Part of the fun of a road trip is talking about where you’re going and where you’ve been, but let’s be honest — questions are exhausting and sometimes you just want someone else to answer them for you. Some of our favorites: Brians On, But Why, The Radio Adventures of Dr. Floyd, and The Saturday Morning Cereal Bowl.   

Yes, there will be arguments, yes, there will be lots (and lots, and lots, and lots) of questions — but there will also be really pure, memory-making experiences that will last a lifetime. Hopefully some of our favorites will be useful to you too. Happy trails!