20 Ways to have fun driving across the USA with kids

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9:27am

Everyone’s read the wonderful blog posts out there on how to travel cross country and see the top 10 sights across this amazing landscape. This is NOT one of those posts. This is our story of how to cross the country in four days, with three generations of stubborn people, in a packed minivan. Hint: entertainment is key.

We are moving to Mexico. Well, we are moving to Mexico for the fall semester. So we packed up the minivan with four months and two seasons worth of clothes, toys, and, for some reason, Christmas decorations for said three generations. And we are on our way.

The Plan is simple: fill up the gas tank, drive, stop to pee and fill up the gas tank again, drive some more, pee again, stop and fill up the gas tank again, drive… you get the picture. We have made hotel reservations across the way to force ourselves to drive to those points each day.

10:12am

It turns out The Plan is actually just My Plan. The three other people involved seem to be on their own plan… none of which seem to involve leaving on time, packing the one bag each I suggested, or not driving the mommy crazy before we even leave the house.

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In my twenties I did this cross country drive thing five times and loved it. So, to be honest, I’m giggly with joy and anticipation. My parents and daughter, not so much. But at the end of our metaphorical rainbow lies my childhood town, a semester of language immersion for my daughter, and home.

19 years and a lifetime of experiences after leaving home and going off to college I am coming home. Can you ever really come home again? I am about to find out.

10:49am

It’s amazing the type of preparation that goes into moving for a few months. I’m really just going home. I know the house, the rooms, the local stores… and yet it has taken us weeks to prep. Once, when I was 19, I moved out of an apartment in under two hours. I had a box and a suitcase. It all fit in the taxi cab I took to get out of dodge. Those days are clearly gone. But as we place everything that’s ready by the front door I realize: if this is all we need to survive the next four months then what is all the other stuff in my house? Why do we have anything else? I suspect these are the simplest questions that will come out of this experience.

11:17am

Day 1 is on! Let’s call this “a day in a minivan for over thirteen hours with the people I love the most”. Yes, that sounds nice. It has no ringing of the screaming match that ensued around 10am when we were supposed to be. It contains no clues as to the U-turn we had to take when we realized we had forgotten yet another thing back at the house. And it certainly sounds better than “I can’t believe I asked you to pack one bag each and you have three bags and four miscellaneous totes”. My parents clearly did not teach me the “one carry-on per person” philosophy I so dearly treasure.

11:19am– stopped for gas, down the street, so technically still haven’t left yet.

3:56pm– stopped to pee, again. This is our sixth stop in four hours.

12:36am– finally made it to Nashville, Tennessee. Must. Lay. Flat.

So you might be wondering what there is to do in a packed minivan for over thirteen hours (and over the course of four days of thirteen hours each). Here’s our list, otherwise known as:

“The Top 20 things to do to entertain your family on a long car ride”:

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1. Stickers. Lots and lots of random stickers. You can make a story out of stickers, you can create a scene out of stickers, you can stick stickers on each other! Stickers, when used in the silliest form possible, are great entertainment.

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2. Classwork. In our day it went something like this: Mackenzie: “I’m bored”. Me: “Let’s play a game, let’s color, let’s sticker each other”. Mackenzie: “noooo… i’m bored”. Me: “ok, let’s do classwork”. I came prepared with worksheets, reading books, wipe-clean multiplication workbooks, and plenty of miscellaneous classroom supplies.

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3. Dollar Store games. The selection at the dollar store is constantly changing but the week before our trip I found some spy games. The “Invisible pen decoder kit” and “Color code secret messages” kit came in handy when we needed a change in pace. They also coincided with the CSI themed unit we had just completed in our homeschool co-op.

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4. Maps. As we drove across the country I had Mackenzie color and label sections, name places, and identify locations. It would only take a few minutes, but it made for some fun learning.

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5. Daily Journal. This can clearly include anything you want to highlight but we particularly enjoyed keeping track of our best moment each day.

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6. The License Plate game. When I first decided to include this in our binder I really thought it would be a fun, fast activity. It turns out that it evolved into a cult project for us! Not only did Mackenzie love watching out for different state license plates but we ended up talking about the different designs and why they are so, which led to discussions about each state and how they are all different in some way, and, in the long run, a newfound interest for U.S.A. geography. At every parking lot she now looks at the license plates and, when we find someone from out of state, we talk about how far they’ve come and why. This was a total winner for us both!

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7. Tic Tac Toe

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8. Hangman. Geography hangman, sight word hangman, vocabulary hangman, Spanish hangman. Need I say more.

9. Connect the dots.

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10. Road Trip Collection game. This can obviously be configured to fit any child’s interest but what we enjoyed the most was collecting a rock in each state. Mackenzie wrote the states name and the date we collected each rock. We are now the proud owners of lots of interesting rocks. They sit on the kitchen counter- that’s apparently the appropriate place for a rock collection. She has even said that she can’t wait to head back out on the road to collect more.

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11. Road Trip Scavenger Hunt game.

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12. Car Color game. Classic and fun, I love how this one allows for some math work (addition, tallies, predictions) without anyone even noticing.

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13. Road Trip Bingo

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14. The Alphabet game. I remember playing this as a child on family road trips and love playing it with my own little family now. Turns out Andy is an alphabet game purist while I’m more of a lenient player.

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15. Road Trip Fun Notes.

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16. Human Bingo. This works best for families who just like to make stuff up. Basically, the way we do it, we write in random facts about our family and then try to find who those facts match up with.

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17. Coloring pages.

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18. DVD’s. The moment I became a mom I yearned for a minivan. A few years ago my dream came true and the ability to watch DVD’s while driving long distances is just one of the many reasons why I love my minivan.

19. Music downloads/ car karaoke. As a child, my father would drive when we went on long car trips. As the driver he also got to choose the music. It was always Mexican country music. Always. It was NOT my favorite part of road trips. But, as it turns out, if you listen to it for 10 hours a day on long family car trips you end up loving it too! As adults, Andy and I have proven this totally and unscientifically true by making our own child listen to our favorite music too. She now rocks to his gibberish (he can get his kid to like it but it still sounds like a lot of loud noise to me) and Johnny Cash.

20. iPhone. Email a friend, text grandma, play a game, take a million pictures of the road outside your window…

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When all is said and done, on a four day, fast paced cross country road trip, technology can be a blessing.

These 20 sanity saving travel hacks were faithfully used as we passed through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Washington D.C., Virginia and Tennessee. As you can see from the pictures, they are homemade and simple. You can, of course, go all fancy and type them up as well. But in one evening, late at night while my kiddo slept, I wrote them all out and guaranteed some awesome entertainment for the road.

Only three more days of fun and excitement, license plate spotting and rock collecting, and we will be at the busiest border crossing in the world: Tijuana, Mexico.

Update: As expected, our big binder of fun was continuously used during our cross country trip. We also managed to entertain ourselves and each other with Shopkins, American Girl dolls, and good old fashioned looking out the window. The scenery is amazing and we all found ourselves wishing we had more time and could stop. That said, we got to Tijuana on a Friday night and Mackenzie started school the following Tuesday morning. Three days to settle in, buy uniforms and school supplies, go to the school office and officially register, oh, and maybe stop at the supermarket and buy some actual food! What could go wrong?

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