Car Travel Games - Travel with Toddlers - Car Games for Toddlers and Preschool

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 101 Car Travel Games & Ideas for Kids
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Car Travel Games & Tips for Toddlers
(and Preschoolers)

by Laurel Smith (Road Trip Mom)

The main thing to keep in mind with toddlers is to plan a stop every 2-3 hours to let them get out and stretch their legs. Sometimes those car seats can be pretty hard to sit in for several hours in a row, so give them a little break as needed.  Here's a list of ideas to keep them busy and happy on the road.

Child's Portable Air Bed
This portable travel bed is wonderful for toddlers!

Travel Games & Ideas for Toddlers:

Surprise packages
Prepare ahead with paper bags of items to be given out every 25, 50 or 75 miles -- marked on a map with the location, it takes a little bit of preparation to do this but it REALLY helps young children. In each bag put a wrapped item -- usually a small toy. Then in some of the surprise packages you can add juice or a snack, stickers and a piece of paper, or something pertaining to the trip that you can talk about.

Travel Tickets
Use some colored construction paper to cut out some "tickets" for your trip. Give your child a pre-counted baggie full of tickets. Every half hour (or every 30 miles) they can turn in one ticket to you. When their tickets are gone, the trip has ended!   This really helps young children get an idea of how much time is left on the journey. Go here to print some printable travel tickets from Momsminivan!

Aluminum Foil modeling
Give everyone a sheet of aluminum foil. Have them mold it into anything they want: animal shapes, Frisbees, balls, jewelry, crowns, headband, necklaces. Be creative. Here's a link to  article I wrote about more ways to have fun with aluminum art!

Drawing boards
Such as Magna doodle, Etcha Sketch, and small white boards with dry erase markers. These are great and very popular with toddlers and moms!

Make a mini car racetrack
Use with little Matchbox type cars. Take a shoe box, draw on a racetrack before you leave, or have the child draw one on when you are driving and you have a racetrack and holder.

Pipe Cleaners
Pack a new bag of multi colored pipe cleaners (about $1 or so) and let their creativity run wild. They can make letters, flowers, animals, chains, jewelry, twist ties in their hair, practice braiding, and by the end, just balls of many colors. Read my article on Pipe Cleaner Fun  (submitted by reader Penny W. Thanks!)  Need help? Try a Pipe Cleaner activity book !

Felt Boards
These are fun, and you can even make your own. Use a large piece of felt for the back ground mounted on a sheet of cardboard, and cut out characters and shapes from different colored pieces of felt. Tell stories like the 3 pigs or Little Red Riding Hood using characters you've made. Let your child manipulate the pieces.

Sewing Cards
You can buy these or make your own by cutting out shapes from thin  cardboard and using a hole puncher near the edge every inch or so.  Then take a shoelace or a piece of yarn with some tape wrapped   around one end and "sew" all the way around your shapes. Big kids might enjoy having a "Lace Race" and see who can sew their card the  fastest, or who can make the most interesting sewing stitches. Try Lacing or Sewing Cards for fun.

Colorforms !
Similar to felt boards, but the pieces are made from thin plastic that sticks by static cling. These are also fun to stick on the windows of the car. Be careful not to block the driver's view. Here are a few fun Colorforms suggestions:

Colorforms - Play Sets

Animal Sounds 
Make animal sounds and let your children take turns naming the animals. If your children are able to do so, let them take turns making the animal sounds and have you guess the animal. 

Teach your kids to like YOUR Music 
Hey, it's worth a try!  Get a tape of the kind of songs you HAVE to sing to-- such as Respect, The Big Chill Soundtrack, even some Elvis tunes if he's your man. Or just play the music you liked when you were a teen and see if you can brainwash them into liking YOUR music before they become teenagers themselves. (This really can work -- My 5-year-old-knows all the words to "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor just from singing along in the car with me!) 

Play Classical Music
When it's time to calm the kids down, a little classical music helps young children.... so does a Dr. Suess tape, or a story tape. 

Puppets are fun on trips!

Have a Puppet Show
Do the show in the car, in the hotel, or anywhere, kids love puppets! Break up the monotony by having your puppet "tell" the kids what's coming up next on the trip. If they won't listen to you, maybe they'll listen to a silly puppet. Then give them a chance to each have their own puppet to "talk" to each other.

Tip: Give each child a "Trip Bag"
This can be a backpack for each child, or a canvas bag or even a big plastic bin that is used specifically for road trips.  Kids can load it up with all their favorite road trip stuff an other toys so they can have it all handy and easily accessible to them in the car. You can even decorate the bag to designate it as their special trip bag and use it to collect stickers or pins from various trips. 

Magnetic Games
Like this original Wooly WIlly game. Use the magnetic wand to draw hair, eyebrows, whiskers, or a mustache on Willy's smiling face! Or try the doodle balls, or others. These magnetic games are always very popular with my kids. They ask when we'll be taking a car trip just so they can play some of these games. Keep them stashed away and used them only on the road so the novelty stays fresh! 

Cookie Sheet Magnet Board
Use an old cookie sheet and a collection of magnets such as ABC magnets. Older children might like to use it as a tray for snacks or for playing cards or other games. 

The Animal Game
Play it sort of like 20 Questions.  Take turns thinking of an animal and giving everyone else clues about it until they can guess it.  "I'm thinking of an animal that has a long neck and eats leaves", or "I'm thinking of an animal with sharp teeth, a long tail and spots...". Tailor it to fit all ages of kids in your car.

Chalk and black paper
This makes an interesting artwork and is easy to clean up.  You can use colored chalks or just a box of white chalk and black construction paper.

Name the clouds
What do they look like ? Find as many different shapes as you can.

Silly Sound Game
Make up your own. Make sounds for different things you see. For example, say "beep-beep" when you see a yellow car, "ding-dong" when you see a yellow house, "ho-ho-ho" when you see a red house, and "honk-honk" when you see a goose, etc.  You want things that you don't see too often. Big kids like this game too.

Tell Jokes
Take turns telling silly jokes like Knock-knock jokes or riddles.
This is especially fun when the kids use their creativity to make up their own jokes. Even a two-year-old can tell jokes! They may not make sense, but they sure are hiliarious.  If you need help getting started, try a good joke book for kids like these:

500 Hilarious Jokes for Kids --  paperback edition 
Available at Amazon for about $4.99

The Everything Kids' Knock Knock Book
Jokes Guaranteed To Leave Your Friends In Stitches  --  paperback edition 
Available at Amazon for about $6.99

The Rainbow Game
Call out a color and they have to find something that color. Make the older kids find five things while the 2 year old looks for one. Pink and Purple are the hardest! (Submitted by reader, Jessica ~ Thanks!)

Crocodile Dentist

This one is always a hit with my kids, especially when they were preschoolers, and it's self contained so you can't lose any of the pieces! It's fairly small and fits into a backback too. The secret to keeping it fun is to keep this stored away and ONLY use it on long trips, so that it is fresh every time. Available at Amazon (about $9).

Treasure Bottle
Prepare this one ahead of time.  Use a large soda bottle or a large clean peanut butter jar. Fill it no more than 2/3 full  with uncooked rice or birdseed. Then put in about 20-25 small objects (safety pin, plastic bugs, button, M&M, nut, bolt, paper clip, penny, bead, piece of macaroni, tiny lego, and other misc. toy pieces or stuff that is probably rolling around in your kitchen junk drawer.)  Keep a count of the items and write down the number of items on the outside of the bottle. Put the lid on tight (super-glue it if necessary).   Let the kids take turns rolling the bottle around in their hands until they find them all. Kids of all ages love this game.  You can make more than one treasure bottle so kids don't have to take turns - put different items in different bottles.
Car Seat  Travel Tray
Child Travel TrayI found this travel tray called "Snack & Play" Travel Tray for car seats. It's a softer-sided version of a travel tray, and it helps keep their things from sliding off the sides. 

This is a great way to enable your child to do many activities while trapped in his car seat! Strap it to the car seat and it povides a handy tray for all kinds of things, including a cup holder.  VERY popular with Momsminivan readers.  Genius!

Harness Buddy
If you've got an escape artist or a run-away child, do yourself a huge favor and get a toddler harness like this one. It's also called a "Toddler Tether" or a "Security Harness".  Sometimes you can find them at department stores that sell child safety items. I found one online at Amazon that sells a really cute one that also doubles as a small pack for your child and is fun to wear. This is really great for airports and amusement parks!

TV - VCR - DVD for your car
When you're all out of other ideas and they're trapped in those car seats, let them watch some of their favorite videos. It's a little expensive, but it might be worth it for your peace of mind if you can afford it. You can get tv-vcr combinations that will plug right into your car lighter. 

DVD Car Games- Are We There Yet?  Starring Ice Cube (ages 3-8)
If you already have a DVD player, this is a great alternative to regular movies. This cute DVD is interactive and made especially for the road. It teaches the kids several easy and fun road trip games that they can play even when the DVD is turned off. The music is funky too. My 6-year-old really enjoys it.

Keep them happy with food and snacks!

Make Your own trail mix
Make it with stuff that's on sale: mix dried fruit, nuts, M&M's, cereal, goldfish crackers, etc./ together.  Put servings into small sandwich bags to be passed out at the appropriate times.

Cereal mix
Mix ALL different kinds of cereal and package in individual zippy bags. Or just package individual kinds of cereal in bags. Pass them out for breakfast in the car.

Pack a picnic for lunch/dinner
Eat in the car, or at a roadside stop. This saves a lot of time over eating at a restaurant. It's also less expensive, and often times a lot cleaner than some of the Interstate fast food places I've seen.

Apple slices 
dipped in Sprite (keeps them from turning brown)

String cheese

Bottles of water
This is the only drink my kids are allowed to have in the back of our van. It's healthy and makes cleaning up spills a lot easier than juice or soft drinks. All that sugar just gets them too hyper in the car anyway.

Juice boxes
If you freeze these first, they help keep other stuff in the cooler cold on the road. Drink them as they thaw. We only get these out if we are having a picnic at a roadside rest stop. Otherwise, it's only water in the car.

Fruit roll ups
Now they even have tattoo roll ups. Oh the fun you can have with food!

General Travel Tips

Use plenty of zip lock bags for everything
Use them to store small parts of games, toys, for clothes, food, individual snack packs, wipes, and for storing dirty diapers when you can't find a trash can at the rest stop.

Keep a box of baby wipes or travel wipes in the car -- helps with everything. If you don't have room for a whole box, put some in a quart sized zip lock baggie!

If possible, put toddlers in a Pull-up if they haven't been toilet trained for at least a year. It makes cleaning up accidents so much easier if you can't pull over to  find a bathroom in time!

Bring a Travel Potty in the car
For those toddler emergencies when you can't find a clean bathroom anywhere! ALSO - You can line the bottom of a little potty with a disposable diaper so that nothing spills out -- especially helpful if you aren't able to rinse it out. There are some nifty travel potty products available that fold up flat, and can even store toilet paper, wipes and extra liners. 

Use a plastic "toy leash"
Keep stuff within reach with a child-safe plastic leash. Attach one end to car seat strap, the other to cup handle  or favorite toy. Your child can retrieve what he drops without you having to hunt for it in the back seat (while you are trying to drive!). Here's an example of one called a Bottle Bungee which can also be used on toys.

Pack a handy change of clothes for mom and the children that is easily accessible in the car..

Bring pillows and blankets for comfort.

Lay towels or old sheets on the seats to keep the car clean. Makes it easy to dump out all those crumbs that seem to get everywhere during a car trip!

Bring sleeping bags.  For some kids these can be like a "home away from home" to make them feel comfortable when sleeping in unfamiliar surroundings.  Or try a Toddler Travel Bed to make them cozy at your destination. 

Leave really early in the morning.  Traffic is light, kids are sleepy and you can usually drive several hours without stopping. Make your stop for breakfast your first stop.

Pack your car the night before
I have a whole article about this lovely tip! Read it here.

Make at least one stop last an hour or two right before bedtime if you are traveling late into the night.  Let the kids run around outside and wear themselves out so they will sleep and you can keep driving.

Keep an emergency first aid kit in your luggage.  Include cold medicine and pain reliever just in case.

Tips for moms traveling alone with children:
Only stop to go the the bathroom at busy gas stations or restaurants where there are lots of people.  LOCK your doors and take all of your children with you when you go to the bathroom or pay for gas.  Stop for gas at stations where you can pay via credit card at the pump. Park in full view of the attendant.

Hotel Tips:
Equipment:  booster seat with a tray, flattens, goes entirely into dishwasher for cleaning, straps to any straight backed chair for hotel room feeding. 

Toys for the hotel: keep it simple: take a book, a stuffed animal and a set of stacking cups (doubles as a bath toy).

Use a white noise machine when staying in hotels to drown out the outside noise and keep your kids sleeping.  I have one that makes nature sounds like rain and waterfalls.  It works great for grownups, too.

Stay in a Hotel that serves breakfast and leave early.

Be sure to check out the section on travel freebies. You can find some great free phone cards that are wonderful to use from any phone, free driving directions, lots of good magazines, travel catalogs, shopping catalogs, and books to read while on the road all for free.

Food Ideas for the Car

General Travel Tips

Car Games for Big Kids

Car Games and Ideas for Babies

For games for preschoolers and older children - Click here.

Don't forget to check out the Freebies!

Laurel Smith is a former schoolteacher and mother of three who has logged thousands of road trip miles both as a kid and a mom.  Visit her website for more than 101 travel games and activities for kids at

This article is copyright © and may not be republished in whole or in part on other websites at any time,  or print media without permission. If you would like an article to use on your website, please see the articles that are available for reprint here.


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Road Trip Mom recommends:

Back Seat Travel Games Tin

For kids of all ages. A travel tins with various activities. Comes with magnetic pieces & activity cards. Hours of Fun!

Available at Amazon

Back Seat Survival Kit
From Klutz. A full-color book of car  activities, plus a game pad, and a vinyl pouch full of everything you need  Hours of Fun!

Available at Amazon

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