I go on quite a few road trips with my kids (it’s in my description, after all,) so they need something to beat the boredom of sitting in the car for long stretches. We’re planning an epic Southwest road trip for the Fall when the temperatures won’t be so hot. We’ll be gone for 9 days, driving a total of 2000 miles for an average of 4.5 hours per day. I decided it was time to replenish their travel fun packs, and I’m sharing all of my best finds here. I figured it would make the most sense to classify everything by child, so you can get a good idea of the age range and interest for all the items. Though some things will work well for all age groups, so it’s worth scrolling through.
Child #1 is a 5 y.o. boy who’s interested in robots and all kinds of electronics
Help! My Robots Are Lost In The City! This is a seek and find book with super cute robot illustrations. The pictures are larger and the challenges are not quite as difficult as in some seek and find books for older kids.
Robot Coloring Book. What I like about this coloring book is that it has quality illustrations – not just a bunch of generic robot pictures thrown together.
Flexi Crystal. Here’s a really cool and unusual manipulative toy that was new to me. It keeps hands busy and comes with 4 puzzles to solve.
View-Master. My son has been begging me to get him a view-master. It’s a perfect toy for car trips since it can be pointed at the window. This is a classic toy that’s slowly being replaced by electronics, so it’s hard to find a variety of new reels, but you can find plenty of used ones on Ebay. Personally, I like the vintage reels better than modern cartoon ones anyhow. I especially love the old style Disney 3D reels.
The Anti-Boredom Activity Book. I love the illustrations in this activity book, but what really makes it a good fit for younger kids is that it doesn’t rely too heavily on reading or word searches, but keeps the activities at a slightly easier level.
Magnetic Silly Faces. Sort of like Mr. Potatohead, but with human faces, and in a magnetic tin.
Child #2 is an 8 y.o. girl who loves all kinds of animals and likes to draw
Dover Unicorns Coloring Book. We’ve been using Dover coloring books for years and keep returning to them because they have quality artwork and excellent prices. A couple of other Dover favorites that we’ve bought several times are the horses coloring book and the dinosaurs coloring book.
Unicorns and Dragons Coloring Book. This is a high quality coloring book by artist, Selina Fenech. The artwork is a little more intricate, like an adult coloring book, but still good for kids. Check out her other coloring books if you like fairies, mermaids, and magical forests.
The Klutz Cat’s Cradle Book. In today’s electronic toy market, the classic games stand out as even more special to me – the games that kids have invented over the centuries, just using whatever they had on hand, like a piece of string. Cat’s cradle is a good cooperative game, but some of the formations can also be completed alone. If you never learned how to play string games when you were young, the instructions will show you how.
DK Pocket Genius: Human Body. DK Pocket Genius books are perfect for road trips. They’re only about 4×5″, so they fit into backpacks well, and they’re very affordable. There are so many interesting subjects to choose from, including bugs, rocks and minerals, animals, dogs, horses, and dinosaurs.
Horses & Ponies Drawing & Activity Book. This is so much more than just a coloring book. If you have a child that’s obsessed with drawing horses, this book will teach them how to get the proportions right, and also has tracing paper for kids who are just learning how to draw.
Travel Tangrams. The classic picture puzzle game in a size that’s perfect for travel.
Origami Fortune Tellers. AKA cootie catchers. What I like about this book is that some of the fortune tellers are pre-printed, which gives kids an idea of all the possibilities that they can dream up on their own.
The Secret Woodland Activity Book. This is a really special activity book, one of the best I’ve ever found. The artwork is charming, but what really makes it stand out is that the activities are so original and fun. My kids get bored with the same old word searches and “find the hidden items” – not with this book. It’s full of imagination.
Child #3 is a 11 y.o. boy who’s interested in marine biology, comics, and games.
The Marine Biology Coloring Book. The nice thing about this coloring book is that it has loads of information alongside the pictures of sea creatures, so kids can learn as they color. It’s similar to the college level anatomy coloring books, but the subject matter is not as dry.
Mad Libs on the Road. I’m pretty sure every one of my kids has been in to Mad Libs at some point, and the bonus is that they teach kids grammar at the same time. This one is even a road trip version!
Manifold, The Origami Mind Bender. This particular kid enjoys both origami and puzzles, so this activity is perfect for him. Each paper has a different folding puzzle printed on it.
Pierre the Maze Detective. I recommend this book with caution because it’s large (14″ tall.) It might fit into a backpack depending on the size. The book is so cool though, it’s definitely worth mentioning, and I think it will keep someone entertained for hours if you can manage to bring it. It’s like a “seek and find” book, but with the added twist of mazes on each page, and a storyline that continues throughout the book. The pictures are so imaginative, you can stare at them for a long time, noticing new details.
Destroy This Book in the Name of Science! This activity book is a little different than most because it contains a lot of punch out projects rather than just coloring pages. A few of the projects might need to be saved for the home setting, but most can be done in the car. It’s a really interesting book because it includes biographies and explains a lot of scientific concepts. Alternatively, you could opt for the very cool “Destroy This Book in the Name of Maths: Pythagoras Edition.”
Choose Your Own Adventure Series. I loved reading these books as a kid, and my son does too. I think the enduring appeal is being able to have some control over how the story goes. They also have sort of a retro/kitschy aspect to them that reminds me of my childhood in the 70’s. You can buy them singly, or in sets.
The Cartoon Guide to Biology. As a homeschooling mom, I’m always looking for books that make learning seem natural and fun. My ultimate goal is for my kids to be genuinely interested and not aware of the “school” aspect of the books they’re reading. Cartoon books almost always fit the bill. There’s actually a whole series to go along with this one, including chemistry, physics, and a variety of history books too.
Myth Match: A Fantastical Flipbook of Extraordinary Beasts. The artwork in this book is nothing short of amazing. It’s fun to learn about all the mythical beasts and to create some silly new chimeras by flipping through the pages.
Magnetic Travel Chess. It might be a good idea to gift this game with a beginners chess instruction book for kids. The Purple Cow also makes a bunch of other magnetic travel games, like battleship and hangman that are worth checking out.
“Child” #4 is a 14 y.o. girl who likes to draw.
Historium Activity Book. I recommend all of the activity books from the “Welcome to the Museum,” series. They have stellar illustrations and activities that are geared towards older kids. You can also choose from the Planetarium, Animalium, and Botanicum activity books. Each book has a cardboard back cover, which is perfect for travel when you don’t have a flat surface to write on. Each workbook actually has a corresponding picture book to go along with it. They’re stunningly beautiful books with lots of interesting info, but not that great for car trips because they’re oversized and wouldn’t fit inside of a backpack.
How to Make Hand-Drawn Maps. I have so much love for this book, I’m sure I’ll be using it myself. Drawing maps can be a super useful tool for gaining context in life, not just about your surroundings, but about yourself and your place in the world. I think of how special and informative it is that anyone can look up a map of virtually any place in the world using google maps. My kids love to do that, and we all learn a lot from it. But it’s just as important to take it to the individual level and harness the control of map creation in our own lives. You will get so many ideas and be inspired to make all kinds of maps, especially because a variety of artists and styles are included. There are also blank map templates in the back to tear out and use.
Disney Villains and Thomas Kinkade Disney Coloring books. This Thomas Kinkade coloring book is one of the most beautiful coloring books I’ve ever seen. I was really surprised at the variety of images it includes – all your favorite Disney cartoons. Let’s not leave out the villains either! We wouldn’t have a story without them. Both of these are geared towards older kids because of the fine detail.
I Was Here and Lonely Planet Kids travel journals. I looked at a lot of travel journals and these two were hands down the best that I found – great artwork and interesting writing prompts in both of them. I bought one for my 11 y.o. and 14 y.o.
Mini Kawaii Doodle Class. I’m a big fan of all step-by-step drawing books. Some people feel that it’s cheating, but I think it draws kids in to art and gives them the confidence and know-how to start drawing more of their own original artwork. For this activity you’ll need to include a pad of unlined paper and I highly recommend purchasing a set of Staedtler colored fine liners. They’re easier to control than ball point pens and the artwork will benefit from the variety of colors.
Atlas Obscura. This book is kind of hefty for a cart trip, but if you can manage to squeeze it in to your packing it’s totally worth it. This has to be one of the best car trip books ever – filled comprehensively with interesting and bizarre facts from all over the world. Sort of like Guinness Book of World Records, except more cool.
The Atlas of Monsters. This one is also large, but worth it. It’s published by the same company that puts out the awesome Welcome to the Museum Series, so you know it’s going to have great illustrations. If you read my blurb about the map drawing book, then you know why I value maps so much – context. To have a visual of time and place allows us to get more out of these stories that teach us about the cultures that shaped us. This one will keep someone interested for hours. They also have a version called “The Atlas of Heroes.”
Vertical Worlds Coloring Book. This is definitely the coolest coloring book I’ve ever found. The detail is amazing and the settings are all captivating – carnival, aquarium, cathedral, and space station, just to name a few. I think that kids will enjoy seeing the inner workings of many of these things.
Best Ever Back Seat Games and Rubber Neckers. These are both travel games. “Best Ever Back Seat Games” is a book with a bunch of different car game ideas, whereas Rubber Neckers is just one card game. Each person gets a card with their own individual list of items that they need to find in order to win the game. Some of the searches are very silly, and all things that you would find while driving. These games could be played by all ages, but I’m giving them to an older kid because I need a ringleader.
A few extra things worth mentioning…
- Be sure and pack markers, pens, pencils, and a notebook for each child. These are the essentials.
- Don’t forget snacks! Some of our favorite traveling snacks are Larabars, plantain chips, Nick’s Turkey Snack Sticks, and Heavenly Organics three ingredient peppermint patties.
- Include a set of travel utensils, like this one by To Go Ware. It’s a fun, easy way to support zero waste, and your kids will never be stuck without silverware for any meal.
- I think every kid should have a printed map with the route highlighted and some of the stops marked. It’s an easy thing to include and it’s free. Being able to point out where they are on their own map gives them understanding, and at least a little sense of control over what’s happening. It’s tough never being in the driver’s seat, so to speak.
- You can get ideas for more activities by thinking about your child’s particular interests. For example, I got a used book that explains all the different animal related careers for my daughter who is wondering if she should pursue that for higher education.
- Comic books are perennial favorites. My kids read everything from The Walking Dead to Anime. But our tried-and-true, tame enough for all kids favorites are the Asterix the Gaul series and any comic book byMarcia Williams, who specializes in classical stories.
- You can get a travel pillow that wraps around the neck for kids who fall asleep in the car.
- It’s a good idea to bring disposable emesis bags if someone in your family tends to get car sick.
- I have one honorable mention that you probably would only be interested in for a road trip of the West Coast, but it’s such a great book, I wanted to include it… “The Best Coast: A Road Trip Atlas” It’s written for adults, but I think it would work well for older kids too, especially ones who want to follow along with a map and understand the itinerary. It’s not compressive, but it does include all the most famous stops, and where it really shines is with the hand illustrations on every page and the history that’s explained for context.
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