Tech-free tips for keeping kids happy on the go

Unpredictable moods, constant whining and non-stop hunger make traveling with children a daunting task for families. And, while many parents, including me, are grateful for the wealth of tech products to keep our kids entertained, often we need, or want, to leave the gadgets behind.

Whether you are a tech-free family or your devices simply ran out of power, there are lots of reasons to turn to old school forms of entertainment on your next family road, air or train trip.

I asked my followers on Facebook to share their tech-free tips for keeping kids occupied and happy while traveling, and they delivered.

Traveling can be especially hard for little ones, who don’t understand the difference between one minute and one hour. Mandy McCarty Harris, who blogs at Happy Like This By Mandy McCarty Harris, has a unique way of helping her four-year-old understand how much longer she has to travel.

“We estimate the length of our trip, and fill a baggie with a coin for every 30 minutes of our trip. Every time the alarm goes off, she gets to move a coin to a new bag and when we finally arrive at our destination she gets to spend those coins on a special treat. It’s a great visual to help her see how far we’ve gone and how long is left,” Harris wrote.

Coloring books, sketch pads, sticker books and other arts-and-crafts products remain a popular staple for traveling families. Mess-free options include magnetic drawing boards, water pens, and “Color Wonder” coloring books. Many stores offer ready made activity sets or you can make your own.


Jennifer Weedon Palazzo, who offers all kinds of great tips in her video here, suggests letting kids play with the window clings used for holiday decorations and even finger knitting and friendship bracelet making.

Writer Stacey Lehl recalled how she spent her childhood road trips making balloon animals with a little hand pump and package of balloons.

Books are a classic way for kids to entertain themselves on long trips. Personally, as someone with motion sickness, I was never able to read in a car, but if your kids are able, books, from board books to chapter, are a wonderful way to keep kids smiling on the road.

When in doubt, food is always a good choice for keeping kids satisfied. Palazzo suggests keeping treats in compartmentalized containers to give kids variety and keep them entertained. But, as reader Melanie May Moore warns, be careful with candy and overly sugary snacks, which can get kids all worked up.

If the snacks run out and the kids grow bored of their stuff, there’s nothing like turning to those old-school traffic games like “I Spy,” searching for a license plate from each state, finding letters and numbers on traffic signs. Or, as one reader suggested, just let the kids use their imagination.

I won’t guarantee these strategies will prevent meltdowns or complaining, but they can’t hurt.

Here’s to stress-free and safe travels with your family.

In addition to those already mentioned, I would like to thank the following people for their contributions to this post:

Amanda Wells,
Danielle Sherman-Lazar,
Jillian C. Benfield,
Kristen McCarty Gardiner,
Zaray Dratch
Lauren Rossman








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