We’re planning a Great American Road Trip this summer and I’ve been trying to come up with good road trip activities for the kids. Our route includes visits to Denver (to see my brother and sister-in-law) and Golden, Colorado (where our friends Jen and Josh are getting married), then up to Rapid City and Deadwood, South Dakota, crossing the state to Mitchell and on down to Lake Okoboji, Iowa. We’ll visit Arnold’s Park, where my brothers and I took our first roller coaster ride as kids. The park was founded in the early 1900’s and still keeps much of it’s original charm. I haven’t been back and years and am really looking forward to sharing it with my little family.
I’m already excited. The voyage itself will provide Dave and I with plenty of amusement, but for a nearly 9 year old girl and 10 month old boy in the back seat, not so much. As much as I would love to think that Sophia will be watching out the window, moved by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains and the Badlands, it’s far more likely that her nose will be buried in a DS. So I’m cooking up a list of activities to keep her engaged in our trip and create some memories to savor at the same time.
Each state has a rest stop just across the border which usually provides free maps of the state. Sophia’s job will be to procure one from each border we cross. My brothers and I loved hoarding maps on road trips when we were kids.
I’ve packed a plastic shoebox-sized bin with a pack of colored pencils, a hole punch, and a metal ring that snaps closed. At each place we stop, Sophia will get to pick out a postcard on which she can write a note to herself describing what we were doing there. We’ll punch a hole in the top corner of the postcard, loop it onto the metal ring, then she can have a flip scrapbook of her travels complete with photos and notes.
We have a cargo bin for the top of the car, very Family Truckster-style. It’s old and ugly and is in need of some bumper stickers. So we’ll make it a rule to get a tourist sticker from each of our stops.
Get a small map of the US, about place mat-size and a pack of dot stickers. Each time you see a license plate from a new state, put the sticker on that state and write a little note about where you were when you saw it.
Bring a little home with you. We used to keep small baby food jars and scoop up a bit of dirt or sand from every place we visited. My father still has a wall of beach sand jars in his home, each labeled from different trips. Talk about a budget-friendly souvenir!
Then there is the usual assortment of coloring and activity books, cameras, and road trip bingo.
Traveling easier & on a budget:
Most of our overnight stays will probably be in KOA cabins ($40-$60 a night), which are almost always clean. You do have to bring your own linens, which I prefer anyway. Plus the campgrounds usually have lots of family activities available.
For most meals, we’ll pack a classic green Coleman steel belted cooler (a wedding present from our friend Dennis) in the back of the Subaru for drinks and perishables, and some small bins for items like bread, peanut butter, nuts, dried fruit, jerky, and other snacks. I’ve packed up a picnic blanket, melamine plates, cups, and flatware so we can wash up in the rest stops and campgrounds without leaving a trail of disposables behind us.
The Travel Tote:
Whenever we take a road trip, short or long, I keep a large tote (the LL Bean Boat Tote is my favorite) stocked up and within arm’s reach. It’s stocked with wipes, sunscreen, a first aid kit, bug spray, a roll of paper towels, books, magazines, a travel blanket, maps, itineraries, and a camera. Just general stuff that I don’t want to guess what suitcase it got buried in or know I’ll want to access quickly.
I pack a separate tote for the kids, which goes on the floor in the back seat area. It’s stocked with a pad of paper, crayons, books, DVDs, toys, snacks, and their own camera, an old digital one that I’ve since upgraded. Sophia is old enough to handle it responsibly and I love seeing photos from her point of view. If you don’t have a spare, Ilford makes a really cool black and white disposable camera that holds C41 film so it can be processed at any drugstore photo counter.
Up-to-date insurance cards (auto and medical)
First aid kit & pain reliever (Advil, etc.)
Wipes (baby and antibacterial for funky gas station bathrooms)
Linens (if needed)
Baby supplies (pack & play, extra changes of clothes, diapers, food, juice, bottles…and strong sunscreen for that sweet new baby skin!)
Anyone have any other good suggestions for keeping kids occupied on a road trip or making the voyage more budget-friendly? I’d love it if you’d leave them in the comments!