Kids aren’t really designed to sit still for long periods, but travel is just one of those knotty times when you need to try to make it happen. From digital devices to old-fashioned family fun, here are 25 ideas to help keep them amused en route.
1. An iPad/tablet loaded up with games or movies may feel like a bit of blunt instrument, but it does work wonders for some quiet time. It needn’t be antisocial, either: many apps you can download for kids encourage family participation. If sharing, headphone splitters are a good way to avert “it’s my turn” type arguments.
2. Get them involved in maps and navigation. Blogger muminthemadhouse suggests this as a great way to get kids interested in the journey, teaching them map skills along the way. She writes, “My boys love maps and helping with directions. You can pick up travel atlases for next to nothing and I give them a highlighter and let them help with the navigation.”
3. Play “would you rather”. Not just the staple of pub nights and hen dos, “Would you rather” with kid friendly questions like, “Would you rather be a giant hamster or a tiny rhino?” is generally good for a giggle.
4. Bring Joke books. Kids can take turns reading the jokes aloud and giving everyone a laugh.
5. Play “Neverending Story”. Someone starts the story, and everyone else in turn adds a sentence. New, immersive worlds centring around the family often have good mileage, though, depending on your clan, this may have a danger of rapidly deteriorating into tales of toilets, farts and bums. In which case…
6. … put on some Harry Potter audiobooks.
7. Give them their own camera. Either a cheap disposable or a specialist kid-friendly digital one, and let them document the journey. It can often be surprising what they capture.
8. Bring snacks. Lots of lovely snacks.
9. "Guess Who". Get them imagining the story behind the cars that pass by - their names, jobs, where they’re going etc. The sillier the better. Works well for trains and planes too, but can be awkward when you make eye contact with “Roger the secretly-a-lizard-guy going to Slough to get his toenails glitter painted” at the toilet queue.
10. Make a travel pack of activities and present it as a gift at the start of the journey, along with a few sweets. Colouring books, stickers, puzzles and small toys like lego make great additions.
11. Drive at night. Bring a blanket or a duvet, dress them in their pyjamas and enjoy hours of uninterrupted peace and quiet. Camille of Sixsisterstuff also suggests bringing along some glow sticks, necklaces or bracelets to act as their own personal night lights.
12. The AA suggests having some fun with pub signs. Split the car into two teams who each keep an eye out for pubs on their side of the road. Score points for the number of arms and legs in the pub name. For instance, the Slug and Lettuce scores a resounding 0, the Stag scores 4 while the Coach and Horses clocks in with a respectable
13. Devise a Scavenger Hunt. Put together a list of items to spot or collect along the way (or you can source one online). This could be as simple as spotting road signs or landmarks, to trickier tasks like getting other road users to crack out a smile.
14. Buy or make your own craft kits for things like jewellery or finger puppets…
15. A travel lap desk keeps small toys and crayons contained in the car, and provides a good surface for colouring and eating.
16. "I'm so Hungry I Could Eat..." If you didn’t adhere to tip number 8 and it’s a while till the next stop, try distracting your kids from their hunger pangs with this. Say "I’m so hungry I could eat..." something that starts with the letter "A" and then move through the alphabet. Add a memory element by trying to repeat all previous letters.
17. Bring a deck of cards. Games like Go Fish, Old Maid or War can all while away a good half hour (or more, if you’re lucky).
18. The Preacher’s Cat is another alphabet based game, with the bonus of helping to develop vocabulary. The first player says “The Preacher’s Cat…” then describes the cat with words starting with A, as in “The Preacher’s Cat is an Awesome Cat named Amy.” Then on to B, C and so on. If your little one crops up with “The Preacher’s Cat is an abject Cat named Ahab”, you know you’ve got a budding Melville on your hands.
19. Remember Dots and Boxes? (It’s this).
20. Play Heads, Bodies and Tails. On the top third of a piece of paper draw a head and neck, then fold the paper down so only the neck is visible. Pass it on to the next person, who draws a body. Fold and pass to the next who draws legs and feet. Unfold for the big reveal.
21. Play Car bingo, for a variation on the scavenger hunt with shouty participation.
22. "The Alphabet Race" Work as a family to complete the whole alphabet using letters on license plates and road signs. Q is a tricky one.
23. “I’m thinking of a time when…” If you’re all bored of “Twenty Questions”, try this variation tailored to real events within the family. The same rules apply (all you can ask is yes or no questions), this format makes for a nice way to reminisce.
24. Sixsisterstuff suggests wrapping a few inexpensive toys and letting them open one every few hours. Turns a long journey into a mini-Christmas!
25. Or more straightforwardly, you could always just pay them to be good. Every hour they behave hand over 50p, which they then get to spend in the motorway services/airport/train station.
And if all that doesn't get a smile out of them, make them get out and hitch.