10 Screen-Free Toys and Activities to Keep Your Kids Occupied on a Road Trip

published Jun 29, 2022
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It’s time to hit the road for summer vacay! For my family of four, the most important part of a road trip is making sure everyone’s needs are met before we pull away from the curb. That means packing easy snacks, getting everyone comfy, and planning ahead with games that will keep the complaining to a minimum. 

Here are 10 road trip-friendly toys and activities that have been a hit with my kids over the years. (And pro tip: don’t forget the grabber! Putting a grabbing tool in the backseat where the kids can easily reach it empowers them to pick up anything that might fall below arms reach, while keeping the parents safely buckled in up front.)

1 / 10

As a kid, one of my favorite road trip activities was trying to find the ever elusive Waldo. I could get lost in those dizzying scenes, trying to spot his bespectacled face. Highlights Hidden Picture Puzzles are an even better version of my beloved Waldo books because they encourage kids to look for all sorts of shapes in a variety of age-appropriate puzzles, from water-activated scenes to fuzzy sticker books. I like to pack up the Hidden Picture Puzzle books with a little plastic magnifying glass to really capture the feeling of investigation.

2 / 10
was $36.99

Let the kids capture their travel experiences with their very own camera. This camera is a great choice because it’s so durable and waterproof, meaning I don’t have to worry about it, a nice departure from most electronics. To make it even more of a road trip activity, I give my kids a list of things to photograph during the trip, like landmarks, license plates from far away places, and cows. Once we get settled at our destination, we enjoy a little camera show and tell to see how many things they could find.

3 / 10

This compact memory game comes with 7 reversible game boards that slide into place easily, and there are no fiddly pieces to get lost or broken, making it perfect for the car or even an airplane. Kids can play solo or with each other, with a built-in point counter to help keep score.

4 / 10

Awesome for building fine motor skills over hours (minutes?) of concentrated play, lacing cards are always a hit in the car. These super cute Wee Animals lacing card sets are perfect for my four-year-old, who loves dressing up each critter with colored thread.

5 / 10

Something we can all do together, Mad Libs turn a boring car trip into a hilariously good time. I give my ten-year-old the reins, and we go around the car taking turns filling in each word until we have an objectively absurd story of our own creation. With a seemingly endless variety of Mad Libs, from Muppets to Avengers, plus Mad Libs Junior, there’s truly something for everyone.

6 / 10
Honest History

Magazines are perfect for road trips, and luckily, there are some great options out there for kids right now. My 10-year-old loves to pore over issues of Bravery and Honest History, while my 4-year-old enjoys the bright pictures and games in National Geographic Kids, Chirp, and of course, Highlights. When we’re done, we leave them in our AirBnB (or a little free library if we can find one) for the next reader to enjoy.

7 / 10
Melissa & Doug

These are the hands-down favorite road trip toys for both of my kids, 10 and 4. The removable stickers are durable enough to hold up over multiple uses, and my kids like to mix and match stickers from one set to the other. The sets offer a range of themes, like Cool Careers, Pet Place, and Dress-Up. And best of all: They’re small enough to fit in my bag so we can take the fun in with us whenever we make a pit stop.

8 / 10
Rainbow Resource Center

Thanks to the proliferation of navigation software on our phones and in our cars, reading a map has become a dying art. What better time to introduce kids to the trusty road atlas than on a car trip! The Rand McNally Kids’ Road Atlas includes games and activities to introduce map-reading to kids in a fun and engaging way, so maybe they can find their way even if the GPS goes out.

9 / 10

Though not a toy itself, a travel tray just makes it so much easier for my 4-year-old to enjoy her time in the car. There’s a cupholder and plenty of surface area for enjoying a snack or packed lunch. There’s also a spot to hold a tablet and lots of little nooks and crannies for storing all the essentials that you don’t want getting lost under the seat. I add a pack of wipes and a mini clipboard to the tray to make it even more functional for those long drives.

10 / 10

The Yoto Mini player uses physical cards to play stories, music, activities, and podcasts. Kids can listen to the player through headphones or the built-in speaker, while the small size makes it easy to pack in a bag for car or plane trips. Cubby writer Tyler Moore loves the Yoto Mini for his kids. As he says, "The best part is that it’s totally kid-controlled, which lets them play and listen independently."