"An 8000 km road trip? For three weeks with a 10 year old? Are you crazy?" That is pretty much the reaction we received each and every time we told friends and family about our summer vacation plans. When they learned that we had no intention of packing a Game Boy or buying a portable DVD player, they were dumbfounded. "But won't he be bored?"
I'm sure there were times where he was a little bored, but boredom forces a child to be inventive. With his help, we came up with all sorts of things to keep the monotony at bay.
What's out the window?
A small pair of binoculars, combined with a disposable camera, can keep kids busy for hours. Before we departed, we downloaded and printed information about the various types of animals we'd see on our journey. Kevin, my 10 year old son, also spent time reading up on the animals and then scoping them out. The early morning hours are the best time to spot wildlife, and you may be surprised at what you see. Nighttime and nothing to look at? Give each child a glo stick, flashlight, or other glow in the dark toy and they'll be entertained for hours.
Get something along the way
A tried and true method is to never give your kids everything you packed all at once. Dole the entertainment out bit by bit, or the excitement factor will wear off, and soon you'll have cranky children and nothing to amuse them with. Pack light, and small, and allow them to pick something up along the way. Magnetic puzzles, travel games, puzzle books, and finger toys are all fun to fidget with.
Learn a new skill
One summer I learned how to plastic canvas, and my sister and I spent a drive from Saskatchewan to British Columbia making tissue box covers. Knitting, crochet, plastic canvas, rug hooking, beading, friendship bracelets, cross stitch...all can be done in the car by older children. Have a child that is really good with their fingers? Get a two foot long piece of nylon rope and with a lighter, melt the ends together. This rope can be used to do finger string activities such as cat's cradle and Jacob's ladder. Still itching for more? Sign out a book from the library on sign language, and practice talking without saying a word.
Play a game
Games with many small pieces should really be avoided, since they can easily be lost in a busy and full car. There are many different types of board games on the market to choose from, but our favorite continues to be Uno. Trivia games such as Brain Quest can be fun as well, and there is a version especially for road trips. Other car travel activities games that can be played include classic road trip games - spelling out the alphabet by looking at signs, finding each state's license plate, and travel bingo.
Pack a busy box
Younger kids (aged 4-7) are a little trickier to keep busy as their attention spans are much shorter. When Kevin was small we would visit the dollar store before the trip and I'd buy some items to give him along the way. Each item would be gift wrapped to make it more exciting. One year the collection was an assortment of plastic dinosaurs, and by the time we made it to our destination he had an entire family of prehistoric creatures to play with. They went into his busy box. A busy box is basically a square, shallow Tupperware or other plastic container filled with paper, crayons, blunt scissors, a glue stick, magazine cut outs, stickers, coloring sheets, and other craft type items like a brown paper lunch bag, etc. As he got older he began adding his own things into it, like small race cars and action figures. He would happily create things in the back seat to his heart's content. Best of all, the whole thing could be set in his lap and used as a 'desk' of sorts.
Music CDs and stories on CD or tape are a wonderful addition to a road trip. You can borrow them from the local library, look for them at garage sales, or purchase them online or from the local book store.
Start a collection
Kids love a collection, and what better time to do it then while on vacation? Stop at rock shops and pick up some rocks to look up in a gemstone book in the car. Stickers can be put into albums or scrapbooks, and postcards can be fun as well. Or, come up with your own collection.
Last but not least, books
Kevin's all time favorite road trip item is a selection of new books. Sometimes he reads to himself, sometimes I read aloud to all of us. I make sure to select a good variety of stories, and usually will pick up one that I know he's been dying to read. However, I'm sneaky. I give it to him half way through the trip.
A technology free road trip really isn't difficult, it just take a shift in one's thinking and a commitment to look for other ways to keep kids busy. In the end, you may be surprised at just how little you really miss that Game Boy. Instead of the kids grunting from the back seat in response to your attempts at conversation, you'll have the opportunity to re-connect with them through play. Besides, you could find out that little Henry really has a knack for numbers when he beats you for the 10th time in a row at Uno.
Karen Humphrey is the author of the Notes from the Cookie Jar Blog.