going on a family road trip

How to Entertain Kids on Long Road Trips

The first known American road trip occurred in 1903 when Dr. Horatio Jackson (along with a co-driver and Bud, his pet bulldog) took off from San Francisco in a 20HP touring car to cross the U.S.

Then, after President Eisenhower authorized the construction of a national interstate highway system in the 1950s, road trips became routine for most American families.

The one constant with road trips throughout the years is how to keep children entertained as the miles pass by. Bored children and cramped vehicles for hours at a time do not mix very well. The result can be lots of whining, fidgeting, and even fighting.

So for your sanity and the sanity of everyone in your vehicle, check out these activities for keeping kids of all ages busy and entertained on a long car trip. Read through to the end for a bonus of some tips for planning a smooth road trip when traveling with children.



Who can locate the most animals as you travel along? Any animal is fair game: cats, dogs, pigs, different types of birds, different colors of cows and horses, and so on. You may decide that pictures of animals (such as signs and billboards), bugs, and insects are also eligible.

Animal spotting can be very competitive or non-competitive, as appropriate. For prizes, consider a special treat at the next stop or the right to choose which podcast to play next.


Yes, you read it correctly; lingo, not bingo. Most license plates have both a series of letters and a series of numbers. In this game, kids pick out a car going by and take turns coming up with what the letters on its license plate stand for.

For example, “LSP” might stand for “Loud Saxophone Player,” “Low-Speed Platypus,” or “Lifetime Superhero Pass.” The winner of the round is the child who comes up with the most ridiculous, funniest, or realistic explanation for each license plate.


Child-focused podcasts can keep your little ones entertained for hours, regardless of age. Podcasts tell stories, take children on adventures, explore history, discuss scientific discoveries, and much more.

Here are just a few of the popular podcasts for kids:

  • Book Club for Kids: young readers talk about books they have read
  • Brains On!: award-winning science from American Public Media
  • But Why?: for curious kids from Vermont Public Radio
  • Dream Big: encourages listeners to follow their passions to achieve big things
  • Little Stories for Tiny People: whimsical bedtime stories for younger children
  • Professor Theo’s Mystery Lab: imaginative stories, in short, 15-minute episodes
  • Purple Rocket: creative stories full of wacky voices and sound effects
  • Short and Curly: a fast-paced, fun-filled podcast about ethics for primary school children
  • Spare the Rock, Spoil the Child: “indie music for indie kids” out of Austin
  • Storynory: stories featuring lots of imagination, good writing, and excellent narration
  • The Past and the Curious: history podcast for children and families
  • Tumble Science: science podcast for the whole family
  • What’s New Today: kid-friendly news and current events


“Magic pen” writing and painting books provide no-mess entertainment. They are a parent’s dream, providing all the benefits of writing and coloring books without giving kids the ability to mark on their skin, clothing, or car seats. Children can write, draw, and color only by using magic pens with the special paper.

There is also invisible ink along with special writing and coloring books. Although not a new technology – spies used it in the Revolutionary War to send secret messages – invisible ink never loses its appeal.


You’ll probably remember this one from your childhood. One person says the first and last name of a cartoon character, historical figure, or celebrity. The next has to come up with someone whose first name starts with the same letter as the previous person’s last name. They are out of the game if they cannot do so within 30 seconds. The last child left is the winner.

For example, the first person might say, “Abraham Lincoln.” The second child needs to say something like “LeBron James.” The following line needs to say something like “Jiminy Cricket.


At a certain age, kids become fascinated with stickers. Fortunately, reusable stickers have come to save the day. Peel these off and reposition them for use the next time. All kinds of themes are available.


Treat the children to at least one roadside attraction if your route allows it. There are thousands of roadside attractions around the country. Consider downloading this handy app to research those located on or near your way. It gives the whole family something to talk about before and after and, for that matter, for years to come.

Here are 12 roadside attractions that have proven perennially popular with families:

  • Cheese Haus Mouse (Frankenmuth, MI): A cheerful gray mouse pokes his head out of a six-foot wedge of Swiss cheese in front of the Frankenmuth Cheese Haus store. The store itself offers 140 varieties of cheese, including chocolate (yes, chocolate cheese).
  • Chomsky the Garden Gnome (Kerhonkson, NY): More than 13 feet tall, Chomsky is the cheerful, bearded gnome in front of Kelder’s Farm. He stands over a mini-golf course, playground, and petting zoo.
  • Eartha (Yarmouth, MA): Eartha is a 41-foot-tall rotating globe inside the lobby of the DeLorme Map Company. While in town, travel to nearby Freeport to take in the 17-foot boot in front of the L.L. Bean Factory Store, too.
  • Giant Whale Skeleton (Santa Cruz, CA): Stretching 87 feet long and 18 feet high, this skeleton belongs to a female blue whale that washed up on a California beach in 1979. Ms. Blue welcomes you to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, which offers 30-minute guided tours for families.
  • Hood Milk Bottle (Boston, MA): This 40-foot milk bottle weighing 15,000 pounds is both a roadside attraction and a snack stand. Built in 1934, it’s next to the Boston Children’s Museum.
  • Hugh Mongous (Virginia Beach, VA): Hugh is a grinning, 45-foot-tall,11,000-pound gorilla in front of the Ocean Breeze Waterpark. He’s the park mascot and wears a Hawaiian shirt, board shorts, and sunglasses. Ocean Breeze Waterpark has a million-gallon wave pool and 16 waterslides, among other features.
  • Man of Steel (Metropolis, IL): This full-color, 15-foot-tall bronze statue of Superman is in front of the county courthouse, steps away from the world’s most extensive collection of Superman memorabilia.
  • Saturn V Rocket (Huntsville, AL): Easily seen from Interstate 565, this 363-foot-tall replica of the Saturn V moon rocket is in front of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (USRRC). The actual rocket is on display inside. The USRRC is the largest museum in the world devoted to space artifacts and the site of the SPACE CAMP program.
  • World’s Largest Baseball Bat (Louisville, KY): This 120-foot-tall scale replica of a bat originally custom-made for Babe Ruth stands in front of the Louisville Slugger Museum, and Factory has been making all the bats for Major League Baseball since 1884. There are lots of activities inside the museum to enjoy, too.
  • World’s Largest Buffalo (Jamestown, ND): This cement sculpture is 26 feet tall, 46 feet long, and weighs 60 tons! He greets visitors to the National Buffalo Museum, whose exhibits include a replica of an Old West town and a live buffalo herd.
  • World’s Largest Coca-Cola Bottle (Las Vegas, NV): The 100-foot-tall glass Coca-Cola bottle in front of the Showcase Mall contains an elevator to the Coca-Cola store, which has a soda fountain where you can create your own 130 different flavors. Nearby is a four-story M&M store.
  • World’s Largest Santa Claus (North Pole, AK): Located 13 miles south of Fairbanks, this 42-foot, 900-pound fiberglass statue has been attracting roadside visitors since 1983. It was initially built for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle. Nearby is a live reindeer herd.


Scavenger hunts are super easy to conduct on a long road trip, and few kids can resist them. The winner is the first to find everything on their list.

Suggestion:  If you have three children, use at least three different lists, classifying them as A, B, and C. Each time you play the game, ensure each child gets one of the list versions they haven’t had before.


Singalongs can delight children for many miles. Pack CDs or digital downloads of “Kidz Bop” or other kids’ music collections (Disney tunes!) and have fun belting them out as a group. Child-focused channels on Sirius XM or other satellite radio services are also great.

You may hear the songs in your head for hours afterward, but you know you wouldn’t trade that for the delighted sounds of happy children, especially on a long car trip.


The Story Game is a great one because it has just a few rules. Mostly, it is about using the creative side of your brain to think up characters in unexpected situations.

For example, one might start with, “There once was a little boy named Billy Bob.” The next player adds a new fact: “He lived in a shack in the woods behind the school playground.” The next player might add something unexpected, like “The shack contained a trap door that led to a cave.” And so on.

Before you know it, players have put Billy Bob through all kinds of trials and tribulations, and have sent him on multiple adventures. This game tends to bring about a lot of giggling, and a great way of passing the time on long road trips.


“Animal, vegetable, or mineral?” “Is it made of smaller parts?” “Is it bigger than a loaf of bread?” So goes the classic parlor game of “Twenty Questions.”

To make the game easier, limit subjects to specific categories, such as famous sports figures, Disney movie characters, or cartoons.  To crank up the difficulty, allow completely random topics.

The contestant selects a subject, for example, Spongebob Squarepants’ sidekick (Patrick the Starfish) or the sandwich brand Steph Curry advertises (Subway). Or the person they don’t want to discuss in the Disney movie “Encanto” (Bruno).

The other players try to guess the subject by asking up to 20 questions that the contestant can answer with the single word “yes” or “no.” The contestant wins if they can’t guess the correct answer by the end of the 20 questions.


If you are traveling with another family in separate cars, consider taking walkie-talkies for the two sets of children to communicate with one another. These are much more fun than calling or texting on their cell phones!



Plan your route to include child-appropriate rest stops and play areas at reasonable intervals – roadside attractions, parks, playgrounds, geocaching sites you can explore, etc. The exact number and interval of visits depends on the ages of your children and your own needs for bathroom breaks, stretching, and fresh air.


The biggest mistake that parents often make is not being truthful with their children about how long a trip will last. It does not help to be less than straightforward with children old enough to understand time and place (usually, about four and up).

Tell them when the trip will start and when you expect it to end. Explain that you will stop for meals, bathroom breaks, and fun here and there. For most kids, this will significantly lessen the frustration and whining that often accompanies long car trips.


Make sure you bring along plenty of drinks and snacks. You do not want to stop at the wrong time because the kids are hungry or thirsty. Often, a series of well-chosen, well-timed snacks and drinks can delay having to stop for a full meal, which can be very helpful if you are running behind on your schedule or traveling at odd hours.


Give your kids a say regarding the trip – let them choose the attractions or restaurants you stop at from among the options you have presented. Give them choices as to the stories or music that will be playing in the car.


If you do not have purpose-built car travel desks, pack a large, flat sheet pan for each child. These make good lap desks, and the edges will keep toys from rolling off. Magnetic toys such as numbers and alphabet letters also usually stick well to them, providing another game for them to play.