Fun Activities for Long Car Trips


Recently, we went on a long road trip with our kids to go to a family wedding and visit their grandparents in Massachusetts. All total, we ended up being in the car for 54 hours and traveled over 2800 miles! I consulted with a friend of mine who recently moved from Indiana to California with her family (4 kids and a dog!) for ideas, and thought I’d pass on some of the ideas that worked well for us. Even though we didn’t camp on this trip, I know that finding awesome campgrounds can often mean hours in the car.

Cooking pan as a tray

This was hands down the best thing we got. When I was researching ideas for our trip, I found a lot of different ideas. There are products that hook to the car seat itself, but it seemed they were soft and were difficult to color on. Some people enjoyed lap desks. We ended up with a lasagna pan that I bought at Walmart. It is slightly bigger than a 9×13, and was almost perfect. The tall sides kept the toys and crayons on her lap and really minimized the number of times we had to turn around and get something. She was pretty good about keeping it on her lap and not letting it fall just for the fun of it. The only downside is it was that coloring books didn’t fit very well.


Surprises along the way

One of the tips my friend gave me was to have little surprises that I handed out along the way. She did a surprise at every state line, and when she could tell her kids were getting antsy. I actually went to the dollar store to get most of our surprises, and they were a big hit. We often used them to motivate our daughter to get back into the car after a stop.


I can’t remember how many I got – I wandered the aisles of the dollar store, collecting a range of toys, coloring books, stickers, crafts, and other miscellaneous things I thought she’d like. Some of them she got bored of after 5 minutes, and others she played with for an hour. Since they were all a dollar, it didn’t bother me when she wasn’t interested or if she somehow destroyed it. I think as she gets a little older, it will be fun to do more crafts – as it was, there were very few that she could do without our help.

I also bought a basket to help keep everything together in the backseat. I kept a few surprises in a canvas bag in the front seat, and the rest in the trunk. Every time we stopped, I refilled the bag with a few more. I know some people will wrap them, but I honestly didn’t want to deal with either taking the time to wrap them before we left, or with having wrapping paper all over the car. There was only one time when she spotted something before we were planning to give it to her, and that was mostly our fault for not being careful. (The bag fell open.)


Glow sticks for both girls after it got dark were a HUGE hit!

Homemade Gak

The only thing I made before our trip was homemade gak. I got the recipe from this website. It’s a fairly easy to make, mess free that is pretty good in the car. It was a hit, though it didn’t come off fabric. In retrospect, we should have taken away the baby doll before giving her the gak. 😉 However, everything did wash clean out of her shirt and mine.


One note – this uses Borax. There is a misconception that Borax is extremely poisonous and shouldn’t be given to children. I think most people confuse Borax with boric acid, which is not the same thing. You definitely do not want your children eating something made with Borax, but it is fine to play with. From this website:

The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on Borax lists it as “slightly” irritating to skin and eyes, and states that chronic exposure can produce eye irritation, cough, and skin rash. There is no evidence that the salt accumulates in the body, however. The MSDS rates it as a health hazard of only 1—the same as baking soda and salt.

If you are still concerned, I believe there are alternative recipes that use other ingredients to make gak.

Map showing our progress

Our map was a huge hit! Whenever she asked us if we were there yet, we would pull it out and show her the map. She then switched to, “Are we there yet? Maybe we should check the map!” (Which was really cute!) I took pictures of the map and uploaded them to Facebook to show our progress, and a lot of my friends told me they enjoyed that.


The map was very easy to make. I bought a clipboard at the dollar store to hold it. I took screen captures of our route from Google Maps and then printed them on card stock. I was pretty impressed with the print quality and resolution I was able to get from a screen capture. Since we went a different route on the way to Massachusetts than on the way home, I had two maps.

I found a picture of our car on the internet, and used that as our marker to show the progress. I bought a set of small round magnets at Walmart, printed the car pictures on cardstock, and attached them to the magnets. It worked really well. I made two cars: one facing one direction (“going”) and one facing the other (“coming back”). I used a magnet on each side of the paper to hold the car in place as we traveled.


If you’re prone to losing small pieces and have extra magnets, I would recommend making multiple cars. 😉 I also wish I’d outlined the state boundaries with a dark pen before we left. I started to on the way, but didn’t get a chance to finish.

Make it an adventure

Because we had so many long days on the road (15.5 hours the first day, then 14 hours, then 13, then 12), we didn’t really have time to do a lot of fun stuff. We started off by stopping at all the visitor centers and taking a picture. That was good in theory, but we quickly realized that it wasn’t always convenient to stop at that moment, and also not all of them had convenient signs for pictures. Also, once it got dark, it made pictures impossible. Too bad, because we visited 12 states on our trip!

We did try to be energetic and enthusiastic about the trip, and I think our girls picked up on the positive attitudes. We chose a few fun places to stop, like Scranton, PA where we got a picture by the sign featured in the intro of one of our favorite TV shows, The Office. When we were excited, our girls were excited.

Scranton sign