Robyn Roberts: Traveling With Kids – Are We There Yet?

My BFF Robyn is a MOPS mom and has a blog Coolest Mommy’s Coolest Thoughts with all kinds of tips on child raising and money saving techniques. She shared this timely topic with us today:


It’s summer and this means many of you will be traveling with small children. Through the years, we’ve found a few tips and tricks to help us travel. Please note, we DO have a video player in the van, but we DO NOT use it constantly when driving.

My husband & I believe that children need to learn to entertain themselves some and they need to learn to handle boredom because all of life will not entertain you. So using the “TV is a privilege, not a guarantee” attitude, here’s a few tips.

Do the words “Family Vacation” strike terror into your heart? With the holidays approaching and many people traveling, I wanted to give you some simple ideas to help make traveling with children easier.

For car travel, get some inexpensive toys/games from garage sales or dollar stores that you use only during travel. If you put them away for non-travel times, these toys will become an exciting thing for your children.

Don’t forget the snacks. My kids know that Pringles and Twizzlers are always packed for our car trips. Not healthy, but a family memory and something to pass the time. Besides, how else can they learn about using Twizzlers as a straw in your 7Up? Yum, yum.

The best travel tip I’ve ever received is to stop a little early for lunch at a fast food with a playplace. Let the kids run around and play while you eat. The rule is, “When you want to stop and eat, we leave.” When the kids are done playing, the adults have eaten a quiet meal. One adult takes kids to the bathroom, one orders kid meals to go for them and we load up. The kids eat and play with their new toy for about a half hour. Then they are full and tired and will remain quiet or sleep for a while. We will never again try to force them to eat in the restaurant when they could be burning off all kinds of energy.

No playplace available? Grab food and find a park (or rest stop) and force them to run. Make the kids run races and do exercise competitions (jumping jacks, best high jump) while you eat. Then feed them when you get back on the road.

Some other fun things are window clings for them to put on the windows (carseats, backs of seats, etc.) and silly games like find the alphabet in signs you pass or sing silly songs. Get books on tape/CD from the library to entertain. We often check out the book as well so our reader can read along with the tape.

A few other random travel tips:

One of our former MOPS moms told us to get a jellyroll pan for each child. It looks like a cookie sheet but has the sides all around it. Since it’s metal, magnets stick to it. For boys who love cars or trains, you can attach contact paper that you ‘create’ into roads or tracks. Then they can drive their cars/trains on it and they won’t roll off because of the raised edges.

Take it a step farther and pick up those inexpensive sticker books with scenes that you attach the stickers onto. (Usually found at airports, Cracker Barrel restaurants, etc. for about $1-1.50 per book.) If you attach the stickers to any magnet—might I recommend the freebies you get all over town—and cut out around the sticker, you can have a baggie of each sticker/magnet book. The kids can place the scene on their tray and put the magnetic stickers on the page. Pick up and put away when done.

These trays are also great for coloring (even at home when not traveling). Colors don’t roll off and if you have an enthusiastic scribbler, the color will only be on the tray.

It’s not always possible to do, but if you can plan extra time into your travel, take a little break to stop along the way at those various green sign sightseeing places. While a Pony Express Station might not be the most fascinating thing you’ll ever see, it’s fun to talk about history while you’re standing in the place. Stopping helps break up the driving a little and does create a memory that lasts a lifetime. A thirty-minute stop can make the next several hours of driving go much smoother.

For driving to the same place all the time (such as Grandma’s house), create a special map for your child. For example, when we go to our Grandma’s house, our map (hand-drawn by me) has: our house, windmills, the water tower that looks like a balloon, Exotic Animal Farm, a certain funny city name (because the kids like the name of the town and say it over and over in a sing-song voice), ice cream cone (we stop for a treat), buffalo (we pass some buffalo signs), toll booth (we take the toll road on the way), a windmill we pass, Grandma’s house. If you prefer to go high-tech, you can take photos when you go and create a pictorial map for the next trip.

I encourage you to move away from using only DVD’s to entertain kids in cars. We have a movie player in our van, but our kids are well aware of the rules. We will watch one video and then the machine goes off and screen goes up for a minimum of one hour. My kids have been forced to learn goofy songs, play silly license plate games and they have learned that sometimes you have to be bored and happy at the same time. They have learned to read in a moving car. They have invented all kinds of their own games and ways to entertain themselves.

Turning off all screens, including gaming devices and cell phones, has also taught us to communicate with our children on a deeper level. When you’re trapped for 9+ hours together in a vehicle, you can turn that into some amazing teaching time and sharing time without the kids realizing it. We work Bible stories into the day or share scriptures with the kids. It’s especially meaningful when we pass incredible scenery and teach them about all the beauty in God’s creation. We know where the Llama farm is and where every windmill can be found on our route.

Thank you, Robyn!

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12 thoughts on “Robyn Roberts: Traveling With Kids – Are We There Yet?”

  1. I love the jelly roll pan tips!! When I was growing up… back in the dark ages… I was the youngest/smallest and sat in the middle of the back seat… could not see anything as it was well before car seats, boosters, etc.. hey it was so long ago, that spot didnt’ have a seatbelt.. my sisters were ‘supposed’ to ‘grab me’..

  2. Robyn, how I WISH I had had these tips when my kids were younger! We did a lot of the things like listen to music in the car, and play the license plate game, and I SPY, etc. but I love the jelly roll pan idea–my son would have loved that with is Legos–no way to keep those little pieces all in one place in the car! You are a very inventive person, and I like these ideas of yours! Thanks for sharing–maybe one of these days I’ll have a grandchild to use them on. Thanks for joining us here today at Wildflower Junction!
    Cheryl P.

  3. Robyn, I have 4 kids, all close in age (we had four car seats in our van at one time!) and I sooooo remember those days of long trips and restless children. Wish I had had some of these tips back then!

  4. Wonderful post, Robyn. I’m graduated from the mommy stage to grandmommy and having a blast. I love that his little “bootster” seat (he’s graduated from the baby seat) has its own lights and cup holder.I definitely need this Travel Activity Book! We spend a lot of time with him; he’s five.

    Oh we have a baby grandson, too. Time to polish up that baby seat once again.

  5. Unfortunately for me my granddaughter lives all the way across country for me. But I hope to have many an opportunity to travel and plan and do all these things with my granddaughter — and hopefully more to come. 🙂 Great post!

  6. Our oldest child is 38, so we did the travel thing long before technology was a factor. My husband was in the Air Force and there didn’t seem to be any short trips to visit family or go on vacation. When our two oldest were little (the girls are 15 months apart) I kept a bag of puppets in the front seat and we had many miles of puppet shows. Gave me a stiff neck and kept them happy. My husband built travel “desks” for them. They were at the perfect level to eat or draw and he cut a hole to fit their cups. There is something similar now made of plastic, but I’ve never uses it. As the girls got older, they each had their own tote bag. One had her My Little Ponies and the other her Strawberry Shortcake dolls. We had a covered container we set between them that held books, markers (no crayons in the car. They melt.), games and joint toys. We made a point of having them pay attention to what was outside. We traveled through New England, the Southwest, and the Northwest. It would be a shame to miss the scenery.

    We usually stopped at a park for play time, especially if we saw a playground. Everyone does better with a break. We too looked for fast food places with play areas. Carrot sticks, apples, pretzels, and yes, Twizzlers were the usual snacks.

    We had to adjust things when out son was born. By that time our girls were 9 and 10. When he was a baby and toddler, the girls kept him occupied. Trips with two teenage girls and a hyperactive 4 or 5 year old sitting between them in the back seat were not fun. I can remember one trip where we got 20 minutes from home and my husband just parked it and went for a walk. We broke down and bought a conversion van with a TV and video player. At that time a big deal. The girls had the captains chairs and Mr. Hyperactive had the whole back bench seat to himself. Everyone still had their totes and the tub with books, games, etc. Everyone got to pick which movies they wanted to bring. Our first trip out, when it was time to play a movie, they fought over whose would be first. We saved the movies mostly for night time traveling which was always difficult because they couldn’t see anything or read.

    We have taken our grandson with us, but he is plugged in to his DS or I-pod. He doesn’t know just how much he is missing. We don’t have a video player in our vehicle, but he has a portable DVD player and often brings it with him.

    Anyway it seems we have been on the same wave length if 40 years apart. The trick is to keep them involved, let them get the wiggles our, and make it fun. Thanks for an interesting post.

  7. Thanks, everyone for the comments. It’s so hard to keep kids off of screens these days. I consider myself a people-learner. I ask questions and try to take the best ideas from everyone to use for us.

    And Cate–I’m from the era where my parents had a car bed for me. It hung off the back of the front bench seat so Mom could let me sleep and get to me when I woke up. We fondly now refer to this as the baby projectile system. 🙂

  8. Winnie – God bless you for attempting to travel with 4 kids in carseats. Mine are spread out. So that makes some things easier and other things more difficult.

    All you Grandmas–just know how much we moms appreciate you and what you do, too. I am looking forward to my great reward (being a Grandma) someday. My husband calls it the great reward for allowing your children to live long enough to reproduce. 🙂

  9. My eldest is 48 and we traveled with few problems. This was before car seats and seatbelts in the back seat so when we got in the car, Daddy would say, ‘Sit down and be quiet” and our kids would go to sleep. Our travel times were always very quiet.

    Traveling with grandkids are a different story as they are used to the videos and their music playing. I am going to adapt some of these ideas for them the next time I travel with them.

  10. It is amazing that we survived to adulthood without all of the’protections’ of today…. bike helmets, nothing but dirt under playground equipment, etc..

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