Road trips can be a daunting task for parents to embark on. We typically go on 1-2 a month, and they vary in length. We travel to the Colorado (10 hour drive) almost every month by car to either ski in the winter or hike in the summer. We have recently taken shorter trips camping or to the lake (3 hour drive).
This is a compiled list of the toddler road trip activities that we bring to keep our kids occupied from ages 6 months to 5 years. I hope to write a separate post on how to road trip with a nursing infant soon since both our boys took their first trip to Colorado at 6 weeks old.
Some of the below toys do overlap with the age groups, and my boys now share more of the toys I bring.
6 to 12 Months:
VTech Musical Rhymes Book
This musical rhymes book was a must pack for both boys for road trip activities! The difference in texture, light, and sound than a typical board book kept them both entertained for about an hour (I know, right?!). When I am sitting back with them, I generally talk them through the different sounds and help them move the different slide components around.
Carrier Hanging Toy
This hanging octopus (or any carseat hanging toy) are great road trip activities for infants that are still reclined, facing backwards. I clip it on the handle bar for them to watch it move, and when the boys got more active, I unclipped it (or just moved it to the side) for them to touch and chew on.
Indestructibles: Peek A Boo Book
Just like the brandname, these books are indestructible for infants and this particular one (there are many options) makes playing peek-a-boo even more fun in the car. Both boys, would love to crinkle the pages too. These road trip activities definitely entertain!
Musical Soft Book
These fabric books are also great as road trip activities to keep the these little ones busy as are engaged with the varying textures throughout the pages. This one also has different button sounds on each page to add even more entertainment. We also pack a few board books to read too but more for reading than playing with.
Other Tricks for the 6-12 Month Age Group:
This is one of the easiest ages because of how frequently they nap. We typically pack two bottles and expect two 1-2 hour naps and base our departure time and stop schedule around nap time. I had no problem feeding the bottle to either of my boys in their carseats as we continued on with our drive; I just made sure I was next to them or could quickly reach them. I was less comfortable giving any type of food (like I do when they are older) and didn’t feel comfortable with that until at least 12 months or in the carseat that was less inclined than the regular carrier.
12 Months to 2 Years:
This is a huge gap in developmental age, but this is still when they should be facing backwards but less inclined than the infant carrier (obviously that varies for each infant), and so the road trip activities are a bit different when they are less inclined. I think that 15-20 months is the most difficult age to travel with by car because of their curiosity and inability to reason with; I tend to sit in the back seat with them more at this age to help with entertainment. I still do not give them an iPad (I will explain how I manage this in the next age range) until ideally 2 years or right before it.
LeapFrog Scout’s Learning Lights Remote
This toy remote is an upgrade from the musical rhymes book above for road trip activities because not only does it make noise and light up, the buttons are smaller for more tactile practice, and number and shape games can be played on it. This particular toy has been on several years of road trips, and I think my 3 1/2 year old will also still play with it.
Carseat Steering Wheel
This carseat steering wheel as road trip activities cracks me up when the boys use it; they are all-things car related junkies. Currently, they do fight over it, but I just limit their time, and they have a blast! It can connect to the car seat, but I have not figured that out yet or needed to because they seem just fine with it how it is.
Age Appropriate Cars or Favorite Toy From Home
These Cars was the biggest time occupier for my 18 month old the last few road trips we took. He drives one or two all over his carseat (well as much as he can). They also have been both boys favorite toys at home, so if your toddler isn’t into cars, maybe bring his or her favorite toy from home for them to just play with in the seat if that is possible.
Wooden Lacing Apple
This lacing wooden apple was the newest addition to our road trip activities this past trip and was by far my favorite entertainment for both boys. To be honest, my 3 1/2 year old enjoyed it maybe more because he and I could switch back and forth of who tied and untied knots. We seriously killed 2 hours with just this toy. Highly recommend!
Other Tricks for the 12 month to 2 year Age Group:
We pack quite a few books for this age too as road trip activities. Both my boys seemed to enjoy pointing to different objects (closer to 12 months) and practicing their speech. As they are closer to two, I tried/try to pack books I know that they were/are more familiar with.
Random toys from Target or Walmart are very special as road trip activities: this is the age that I think some random little trinkets from the dollar section tend to add some entertainment as they are more entertained by the spontaneity of the toy, not the familiarity (unlike books mentioned above).
2 to 4 Years:
This is when the iPad has come into play as road trip activities and has been very HELPFUL! We avoid it for shorter trips (2-3 hours), but it is all charged and downloaded with a variety of games, shows, and movies for longer trips.
How We Manage the iPad:
I hide the iPad until we are at our halfway point, and as Frank (3 1/2) is getting older, he associates driving to Colorado with the iPad. I make it clear to him that he is NOT getting it for awhile and give him a cue of a stop that he recognizes (our Sonic stop is about halfway) where he will be able to have it. It can be a battle, but it is worth it because he will get bored with the downloaded content in in 2-3 hours and will become frustrated with me because he can’t do more with it; besides that, I don’t really want him on the iPad longer than a movie or two and a few games.
So yes, the iPad is a battle, but we start out with our toys and activities listed below. Every trip is always different, and I purposely pack toys and snacks that I know will keep him occupied for that amount of time. I wish he napped like the younger ages, but I can never count on a nap from his age (3 to 3 1/2).
Here is the iPad case we use:
Magnetic Doodle Board or Etch-a-Sketch
We have both of these boards, and I tend to rotate them on trips as road trip activities. I will probably bring both on our next trip because I think my 18th month old will be interested in one of them. My 3 1/2 year old uses both of them great. At first he got frustrated with the Etch-a-Sketch because he couldn’t figure it out, but now it keeps him much more occupied because of the challenge of actually creating shapes. The Magnetic Doodle Board was a hit from even before 18 months. At around 18 months, Frank ate part of the pen, so it freaked me out and I will monitor it closely with my youngest.
Stickers have been our newest addition to our road trip activities! They can be messy, but they entertained my 3 1/2 year old for close to 2 hours on our last trip. He did put them on the seat and window, but I removed them right after the trip, so there was no residue. I am trying the Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Scenes on our upcoming trip to avoid that, but I think part of the novelty of stickers is putting them all over the car.
Water Wow Coloring Book
These Water Wow Coloring Books are lifesaver road trip activities for years on car trips and also a great stable for the diaper bag. I personally find that both my kids fiddle with the pen quite a bit so they will sometimes leak. I either put them in a plastic bag for my diaper bag. We also use wipes on these books if we have dropped (or like many times lost) the pen in the middle of the trip.
Stacking Peg Board Set
I generally try to pack toys that have just a few pieces, but the multiple pieces of the Stacking Peg Board Set are well-worth it road trip activities; I also limit it to 10 pegs, so we don’t have pegs every where for weeks after the trip or a peg fight between the boys. This one was great because my 3 1/2 year old actually created different shapes and letters that I prompted him to create. This is one of the most unexpected successful road trip toys!
Car Trip Bingo
This Car Trip Bingo is our most recent addition of road trip activities and my 3 1/2 old is starting to get more engaged the older he gets. This hopefully will continue to be more fun as the boys get older.
These are some of our top activities that keep our boys busy on long road trips! What are some of your favorites to entertain?
4 to 5 Years:
This age has been easier for us than the previous for a few reasons, but still has it’s obstacles. It is easier because they are engaged for longer periods of time, so they change up of road trip activities is not so frequent. We can get away with a lot less toys, and I turn around a lot less frequently to intervene.
The challenges include a lot more fighting with each other and the iPad not entertaining for as long. My boys get bored with what is uploaded on the iPad quickly and want WiFi. Thankfully, hotspots can help with that during some parts of the trip (but usually the part we don’t use the iPad – at the beginning for us when we travel to the mountains).
Here are a few of the toys and activities we have added in during this age:
Writing Tablet Doodle Board:
These boards can be road trip activities that are used to write letters or numbers. I usually tell Frank (5) to draw a specific letter or number, and he writes it. He also enjoys coloring the entire board, so it is multiple colored, which takes the most time! George (3) also spends a good amount of time on this board.
Interactive Wipe-Off Boards:
These Melissa & Doug Wipe-Off interactive boards are great road trip activities that can be really played with at age 5 1/2 with assistance, but it can also be used when they are younger as road trip activities. The games can be played with someone in the front seat and back seat as well. This kept my boys very entertained for awhile on the last 4 to 5 road trips. Buying more of the perfect these road trip activities.
I pack a bag of crayons and a notebook for both boys, and they spend a good chunk of time coloring. Coloring books are perfect for this. I do spend some time picking up the crayons during stops, but this is a newer activity the boys are both enjoying at the older age.
We are able to play more games with the surroundings at this age. Here are some simple games that keep Frank’s attention.
I Spy: This is one of my favorites! I spy with my little eye… This one has to be done with an object in the car.
Color Find: We set a goal of how many items outside the car that we can find in a certain amount of time. Usually, we will try to find 20 examples of 1 color in 5 minutes.
Truck Find: Similar to the Color Find game, but we are looking for trucks. I usually set the goal a bit lower for this one.
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