WTI: Getting the BackSeat Ready For Road Trips

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By Eileen Gunn

Last week, our family hit the road for a 10-hour round trip drive to Lake Placid, NY, up in the northern Adirondacks. We are one of those crazy families that tries to avoid handing our child an electronic screen the second the key is in the ignition, so we know well what entertainment works on a road trip.

But having rounded her 7th birthday, Tiny Traveler has evolved beyond stickers and Play-Doh to keep her entertained. Here is a run down of what we pack in the back seat now.

Food, Glorious Food

I always stash a food bag in the car that has a mix of salty, sweet and healthy snacks. I usually include something we don’t often eat at home, like Pepperidge Farm Milanos. This time the treat was kettle-cooked potato chips. We also had trail mix, granola bars, Annie’s Bunny Mix and dried-fruit strips.

I used to put a 6-pack of water bottles in the car before a trip, but last winter I kept forgetting to bring them into the hotel overnight and so was driving around with a 6-pack of bottled ice for most of our trips. This time I filled our own water bottles. TT’s somewhat insulated Thermos bottle actually kept her water from freezing despite some really low temperatures. I wasn’t so lucky.

fancu nancy diaryDear Diary, Car Trips Are So Boring…

I hadn’t really thought of diaries for a 7-year-old, but I’d seen a wide range of them at the Toy Fair this year and learned most were strong sellers. I particularly liked Klutz’s All About Me diary, which is filled with questions to answer about oneself instead of blank space. Klutz’s is probably more suited to tweens, but at I found similar diaries for younger set with Junie B. Jones and Fancy Nancy themes.

I chose the latter and chose well (if I do so myself). TT sat in the back seat for more than hour at a time, reading and scribbling away, in love with the idea of having secrets from us (and bonus, without her realizing it, she was practicing writing while on vacation!)

Car Games

On a five-hour drive, Rich and I run out of things to do, too, so we don’t mind playing I Spy and 20 Questions. We’ve recently added Packing for Paris, where everyone takes turns adding items to the suitcase in alphabetical order, like apples, Band-Aids, cuddly toys, etc.. We vary the game with cooking and zoo themes, pretty much anything you can list.

On this trip we also tried a card game called Beat the Parents. Parents and kids take turns posing multiple-choice questions about themselves. The rest of the family has to guess what they think the reader will answer.

This or That from Peaceable KingdomI’ve seen a few variations on this type of game, and I don’t think this one was the best. Too many questions had no good answer or too many. Peaceable Kingdom has a  similar game called “This or That” that looks like it’s designed better. You can’t easily keep score in the car but the questions in these games can spur discussion and usually a few laughs.

Busy Hands = Happy Kids

ZoobWe also tried Zoob (above and left), a building toy I spotted at the Toy Fair (read about more of my finds). The interlocking plastic pieces come with a booklet showing all kinds of fanciful things you can make (a dinosaur, a rocket-man, a kayaker). TT was mostly interested in making sticks of various sizes, but these sticks filled a wide variety of imaginary purposes (shooting aliens, making candy, tickling the parent sitting in front of her). So even if her design ambitions were more modest than I hoped, it entertained her.

Plan B: Technology  

Last winter I dug up my old iPod for TT and put three songs on it (yes, they were all from Frozen). We’ve since added a few songs from Annie, and Into the Woods, too. The good news is that TT can throw on headphones and listen to these songs over and over for hours. The bad news is that while she’s listening on her headphones she has a tendency to sing…loudly…and not particularly well…for hours at a time. You win some, you lose some.

My iPad contains a bunch of educational games TT largely ignores, four Disney apps and two Lillifee apps she plays and a handful of favorite videos. Jigsaw puzzle apps are handy in the car (and often free), so three of the above apps include puzzles. Rich has a couple of brainteaser games on his phone, Train Yard and FarbenBlind that she’ll play, too.

Minnies Bowmaker AppFor the last leg of the drive home, when she’d run out of things to do (and sing), we let her watch Sophia the First and play “Minnie’s Bow Maker.”

One reason I hold the iPad/iPhone in reserve is that I’ve learned videos and games run your battery down very fast. I don’t want to find myself stuck in a traffic jam a few miles from home with a pent-up kid and no juice left.

What do you pack for your car trips these days? And what have you learned to leave home?

#wkendtravelinspirationThis blog is part of Weekend Travel Inspiration. These are our partners:
• AlbomAdventures
• BayEssence
• ContentedTraveller 
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• ReflectionsOnRoute 
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  1. March 3, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    You left off a game my girls loved (and so did we, but for different reasons). The Quiet Game. we all simply stop talking and the one who lasts silent the longest is the winner. We also used to do math games, and they learned all their multiplication tables on drives, without ever realizing it. The other thing we did was books on tape.

  2. March 2, 2015 at 6:57 am

    Boy, I love hearing that you do not turn to electronics straight out of the driveway. Do you know I saw two boys playing electronic games at Hagia Sophia in Istanbul? Their parents had brought them all the way from the States to one of most famous and exotic cities in the world, and they played video games. Love your ideas, Eileen!

    • March 2, 2015 at 5:30 pm

      Hope those boys eventually, one day, realize what they missed on!

  3. February 28, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    I remember those days so well