Keep Kids Entertained While On the Road: 5 Budget-Friendly Ideas

by Allison Martin · 4 comments

“Are we there yet?” “No!”

I used to get a kick out of The Simpson’s Ride commercial each time it aired on television. But when my oldest son began to ask this question repeatedly on an extended road trip, it suddenly wasn’t so funny anymore. In fact, I felt like Homer cruising down the highway, and vowed to do whatever it takes to keep him entertained on subsequent car rides.

And now that we’ll be hitting the pavement soon for a few family visits and mini-vacations, making travel arrangements and packing our bags aren’t the only items on the to-do list. We’ll also be make preparations to keep our children entertained for the long haul.

There aren’t televisions in our headrests and we’d prefer they not spend the entire ride glued to a handheld device. So how can you keep kids entertained on long drives without spending a lot of money?

Here are a few cost-efficient activities, that have been tested by my kids, that you can use to ensure a fun car ride for everyone.

1. The Toy Bag

You spent way too much time cleaning the car in preparation for the trip, and you have no desire to do it again anytime soon. But if you want to keep your small children quiet and entertained, you may have to deal with a few backseat messes.

Besides, scattered toys are much easier to clear out than other tiny objects, such as shredded paper or beads. Put together a small toy bag that you take with you on trips, that contains some of your kids favorite things.

Our toy sack usually consists of Legos, action figures, and small trucks, and I make the kids pitch in to clean up the mess when we arrive at our destination. For most kids, the toys are the highlight of their ride since they get to build their favorite structures or play pretend.

2. Diary of a Traveling Kid

Are you taking a scenic route? If so, let your children capture the moment in their very own diary. If you’re confident they won’t doodle all over the interior of your car, ask them to create pictures using crayons or markers. If not, a written description will suffice.

Another option is to ask them to write a story about the entire journey, and then ask the rest of the family for input and questions to stimulate their mind.

If you have toddlers that may not be able to write legibly or read just yet, have them draw pictures of their favorite places and share so they won’t feel left out.

3. Traditional Car Games

Old car games are some of the most fun! And all you need is a functioning set of eyeballs to play them. I’m amazed at long traditional road trip games keep them entertained, and it’s so simple to play.

For example; the game “I Spy” is where one child describes what he sees while the other plays the guessing game until he gets it right. This is even something the whole family can join in and play — I know I do.

4. Sing-Along Playlist

My kids and I love to sing, so before leaving for our trip I always take a moment to compile a playlist of our favorite tunes. Choose a few songs that your kids love — like soundtracks from favorite movies — and listen as they sing along.

Sometimes, we even have karaoke contests to heighten the fun. And this activity will help them get rid of any pent-up energy, so they will be much calmer after they belt out a few tunes.

5. The Snacks

One way to keep the kids quiet and happy is to load up those bellies before departure, and distribute healthy snacks along the way to curb hunger from coming on too quickly.

We typically bring a cooler along with chips, goldfish, diced fruit, veggies, water and ingredients for sandwiches. At some point, you may have to stop at a restaurant to pick up a cooked meal, but at least you’ll have enough food to hold you over until you find a cost-efficient dining option.


When taking your family on a road trip, make sure you use these ideas to help the car ride be as smooth as possible.

Most importantly, prior to departure ask your kids for suggestions as they may have a few creative ideas. And if restlessness sets in, simply take a break. It’s not the end of the world and you’ll be glad you did, at least for the sake of your sanity.

What’s another way to entertain children while on the road? How do you keep your kids happy in the car?

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  • Kayla says:

    When I was a kid we played car games, like the I Spy you mentioned. We also tracked car tags from different states to see how many of the states we could find along our trip. We sang songs and played “Name that Movie”. Ahh good times!

  • Emily says:

    We bring toys, snacks, books and our tablet. Our toddler is at the age now where sometimes she just wants to look out the window, and that’s great!

  • Well traveled mom says:

    We start each trip a with visit to the used book store. Where my children love to go. I also pick up some used little toys to hid until needed. My children are usually so excited about the new books i have to hide them until the trip. We pack some toys and lots of snack as well as hidden treats. We also have some question and answer books which causes some grumbling but we all play. Taking turns reading, and making up rules for the treats ,how many points for a cookie or treat. With over 15000km in the van we find we find that keeping the electronic devices to the end of the day works best and lets us keep driving. Of course a pool at the next hotel helps.

  • Mrs. Frugal says:

    All good ideas! We used to play the alphabet game in the car–you pick a theme (for example: types of fruit) and then you go through the alphabet with each person listing an item in the theme for their letter. It’s endlessly entertaining because you can select any theme your kids enjoy (types of trucks or sports teams, etc).

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