What to Know Before a Family Road Trip Tips for keeping the kids entertained, feeling good and staying safe this summer

A car goes fast. The car is red. It is on a road in the forest. The sun shines brightly.
Photo via GettyImages

Summer is upon us, which means, for many American families, it’s time to hit the road. In fact, a 2021 CarInsurance.com survey of U.S. drivers found that 79% of participants reported having been on a family road trip within the past five years.

The U.S. Travel Association’s ongoing Travel Recovery Insights Dashboard reports that eight in 10 Americans plan to travel by personal vehicle this summer compared to 46% who plan to fly. Traveling by automobile historically offers several advantages when compared to other modes of transportation, including reduced costs, greater flexibility in timing and routes, more privacy and additional luggage capacity.

But most of all, family road trips are a unique bonding activity. Driving together for extended time periods—whether it’s a one-hour ride to grandma’s house or a 10-hour journey across state lines—makes it fun and necessary to keep everyone entertained. After all, there’s only so many times a parent wants to hear “are we there yet?” Car games are perfect for keeping the peace.

CAR GAMES

Sight Games

Alphabet
Take turns looking for things that start with subsequent letters of the alphabet, for example “I see an Art museum.” “I see a Bookstore.” “I see a Cow.” Older children can take the game a step further and create phrases with a proper name, place and a noun all beginning with their assigned letter.

Car Bingo
Print, purchase or make your own laminated bingo boards filled with different road signs. During the drive, when players see a road sign on their bingo board, they mark off the square with a dry erase marker. The first player to connect a line vertically, horizontally or diagonally across the board wins and should shout “bingo!” with glee. For families looking to save a little time, you can find rated highly cards from the Regal Games Original Assorted Auto and Interstate Travel Bingo Set at Amazon.com

“I Spy”
It may be the most well-known car game but for good reason. “I Spy” requires nothing but a keen eye and a window full of sights. Take turns describing something inside or outside of the car with the phrase “I spy something (insert adjective here)” and see who can figure out the object. The first to guess correctly gets to go next.

Talking Games

20 Questions
This one is perfect for all ages. The first player should think of an animal, mineral or vegetable and inform the rest of the family which category he or she has picked. Other players should take turns asking yes or no questions to try and guess the item. If the item remains at large after 20 questions have been asked, the first player wins the round.

Writing Games

Give Me a …
This game is easily personalized to each individual family and older children. Photocopy a page of a beloved book and mark out random verbs, adjectives, nouns and adverbs. Have children fill in these blanks with corresponding parts of speech that they come up with and encourage them to read the finished story aloud. This game’s most famous iteration is Mad Libs, whose website offers a dazzling array of physical books, apps and printables available for purchase or download.

A family waves from their car.
Photo via GettyImages

Car-Safety Rules

While you’re enjoying each other’s company during your road trip, be sure you’re being safe with the following advice from AAA.

• Secure any loose items. Objects like umbrellas, laptops, books and other items can become monumental safety hazards if they fly around inside a vehicle in the event of a sudden stop or crash. A 10-pound laptop bag can exert 300 pounds of force amid a 30-mph collision.

• Use the appropriate safety restraint. AAA separates safety restraint systems into four stages, depending on a child’s age, height and weight, including rear-facing child safety seats, forward-facing child safety seats, booster seats, and lap and shoulder belts. For help identifying the correct one for your child, visit exchange.aaa.com.

• Install child safety seats correctly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that three-quarters of all child safety seats in use are not properly installed.

• Avoid nonregulated products like mirrors, window covers, harness covers or extra padding that are not recommended by your child safety seat manufacturer. They may become hazards in a crash.

Car-Sickness Tips

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, motion sickness occurs when the movement a person sees is different from what the inner ear senses, a sensation which can cause dizziness, nausea and vomiting when in a car. It is more common in children 2 to 12 years old. Some medicines used to treat motion sickness are not recommended for children. Be sure to talk with your child’s doctor about potential medicines and correct dosages.

Seattle Children’s Hospital recommends allowing children with motion sickness to lie down and rest, giving children sips of clear fluids, encouraging children to look out the front window, keeping a window cracked for fresh air and having children predisposed to motion sickness eat light meals before trips.

Audio Book Recommendations

Long road trips can be daunting, but audio books can make time fly by.

For Younger Children
“Charlotte’s Web”
written and narrated by E. B. White and George Plimpton

 

“Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”
written and narrated by Mo Willems

 

“Last Stop on Market Street”
Matt De La Pena
written by Matt De La Pena; narrated by Lizan Mitchell

 

“The Gruffalo”
written by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler; illustrated by Imelda Staunton

 

“The Magic School Bus Series”
written by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen

 

“Tomatoes for Neela”
written and narrated by Padma Lakshmi

 

For Older Children
“Esperanza Rising”
written by Pam Muñoz Ryan; narrated by Trini Alvarado

 

“New Kid”
written by Jerry Craft; narrated by Jesus Del Orden, Nile Bullock, Robin Miles, Guy Lockard, Peyton Lusk, Rebecca Soler, Dan Bittner, Phoebe Strole and Marc Thompson

 

“The Lightning Thief”
written by Rick Riordan; narrated by Jesse Bernstein

 

“The Mighty Miss Malone”
written by Christopher Paul Curtis; narrated by Bahni Turpin

 

“The Tale of Despereaux”
written by Kate DiCamillo; narrated by Graeme Malcolm

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