We’ve done our fair share of road trips. In the last year alone, we had six – racking up 109 hours of drive time.
In fact, right now I’m typing from the passenger seat, rain splattering the windshield and the bumpy roads of North Texas giving me a nice roller coaster effect. One-year-old Bailey is snoring in the backseat, and her big sister is zoning out on The Pirate Fairy…again.
Last year, our very first road trip as a family of four was horrible. Five-week-old Bailey screamed approximately 40 of the 42 hours we were on the road. And those two blissful hours of silence were only thanks to these songs. I wish I were exaggerating, but it really was that miserable.
So thankfully, we’ve come a long way just one year later.
A big part of that is Bailey finally learning how to relax in the car and snooze the day away.
The other part? The iPad.
The glorious, glorious iPad.
What did parents do on road trips before?
Did you have to TALK to your kids the whole time?
Sends shivers up my spine.
Bonus: Download this free printable road trip activity for kids.
The Road Trip to End All Road Trips
During a road trip, our limiting screen time rules go out the window. We let Abby watch movies, play games, draw pictures – whatever floats her 6-year-old boat – as long as she wants.
She grows tired of it eventually, so then we have to be parents again.
To stave that off as long as possible, before a trip I print off a dictionary-sized stack of coloring pages, worksheets, and other fun printables for kids.
On that fateful 42-hour road trip last year, we were about halfway through the trip back home, enjoying a rare break from the screaming.
The only thing that would keep Bailey calm was me, sandwiched between the two car seats in the back with my hips at an awkward 30 degree angle so I could fit, and my head bent down toward her face and my hair over my shoulder so she could run her tiny little fingers through it.
(I think my chiropractor gets excited every time he hears we’re planning another road trip. I’m sure I’ve single-handedly financed a boat by now.)
A Pothole in the Road
There I was, trying to stay as still and as quiet as a human pretzel can be. Bailey was asleep, and our ears were happy.
Abby was silently working on her pile of worksheets.
I closed my eyes. Maybe I could fall asleep too?
“I’m done,” Abby said.
I startled. Bailey whimpered.
“What?” I whispered.
She held up her stack of worksheets. “I finished.”
“All of them?”
She grinned. Proud of herself. But I was panicking.
“Why don’t you watch a movie?” I asked.
“I don’t want to.”
“It makes my neck hurt.”
This was BAD.
Think, Kelly, THINK.
I looked out the window at the cars all around us. Red, blue, black, white.
I had an idea. “Abby, let’s do an experiment.”
“What’s a spearmint?”
“Experiment. It’s what scientists do.”
Her face lit up. The kid digs science.
“What color car do you think is most popular?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Pink?”
I laughed. “Maybe. Do you want to do an experiment to find out?”
“How do we do it?”
We divided a sheet of paper into different sections for each color (yes, even pink).
“And now we form our hypothesis,” I said.
She stared at me.
“A hypothesis is your best guess for what the answer will be. You said pink is the most popular color for a car, so that’s your hypothesis. Our experiment will find out whether that’s right or if it’s another color instead.”
Then Abby started counting.
For each car we saw, she added a tick mark in the corresponding color’s section.
And it was magical.
Something she could do independently to keep her brain engaged, with no talking to wake up her baby sister.
Every little while, I would ask how her experiment was going.
She would have to count up each section’s tick marks and figure out which number was highest.
Counting, comparing numbers, color recognition, AND the scientific method.
It was pretty much the most educational travel activity ever invented.
The Result of Our Experiment?
When we stopped for dinner that night, Abby presented her findings.
The look on her face while she read out the totals for each color?
She did something on her own, from start to finish, and she couldn’t have been happier.
We all loved it so much I decided to make a printable version of it for this week’s trip.
I’m sharing it with you here so on your next road trip, your kids can have a fun project and you get a little peace and quiet without having to resort to zombie-ifying screen time.
On this week’s trip, Abby took the printable on a test drive.
“Ty and I will be your research assistants, Dr. Abby,” I said. “We’ll tell you what color cars we see, and you can mark them off.”
“I’m the boss, but I won’t boss you around,” she said.
I smiled. “That sounds good to me.”
“I’m going to be the best boss ever. I’ll even let you leave work early.”
Bonus Travel Tip!
If you don’t have this desk-to-go, it’s a MUST-HAVE for kids on road trips. Abby keeps her pens and pencils in the zippered side pockets, and the desk part has elastic straps to hold paper in place.
Download Your Free Printable
- Download the experiment. You’ll get the printable, plus join my weekly newsletter! Just click here to download and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be a little sturdier for the kiddos.
- Pack the experiment, give it to the kids when you get desperate, and enjoy the peace and quiet!
Here’s the second page…
Download my FREE cheat sheet as a bonus for joining my newsletter: 16 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child
For more ways to entertain your kid on a road trip without turning her into a zombie, check out 7 Brain Food Games: The Best Educational Apps for Kids.
How do you pass the time on a road trip? Share your tip in a comment below!
I’m a mom of four, a recovering perfectionist, and the author of Happy You, Happy Family. Parenting is hard enough without all the guilt we heap on top of ourselves. So let’s stop trying to be perfect parents and just be real ones. Sound good? Join my mailing list and as a bonus, you’ll get 25+ incredibly helpful cheat sheets that will ease your parenting struggles.