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Road Trip Tips: How to Keep It (Almost) Screen-Free

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Call me a kill-joy, but I can’t stand the idea of my kids completely zoning out for hours on end during an entire road trip.  Shouldn’t they be forced to endure a little boredom and learn to entertain themselves just like we did?

Electronics do have their place; I’m not suggesting that our family avoids screens completely, we just try to keep their usage in check. I do appreciate the silence and serenity that ensues once our children are given screen time.  However, everything in moderation. Here are some tips for limiting our dependence on screens during long car trips:

Delaying the Inevitable

Set a time-limit by establishing a standard at the beginning of the trip, i.e. “No screens until we reach the state line!” If the kids know that there will be no screens until a certain time, they’ll find other things to do. Then leave it up to them to remember it.

Oftentimes our kids will be so absorbed in what they’re doing that they’ll forget all about the time limit — at least for a little while. For most road trips, my husband institutes a rule that there will be no screens used before the first gas stop, so our kids don’t even ask anymore.

Changing Activities Breaks up the Trip

Switching activities every hour or so not only keeps the boredom away but it keeps energy levels up (important for the driver!) and forces our bodies to change positions. It also can give our reading eyes a much-needed albeit brief break. Changing radio stations or CDs also helps battle fatigue. In addition to music and screens, we usually bring books, dolls and a craft project like sewing or knitting.

Other activities that may appeal to both boys and girls are travel-sized versions of games like Yatzee and Connect Four, word search and crossword puzzle books, and plastic lacing or duct tape crafts.

“But Mom, what do I do NOW?” — Mom’s Suggested Screen Alternatives

Audio Books

This is an easy and potentially FREE activity in which the whole family can participate. On our last road trip, we borrowed a nine-CD audio book from the library that kept the whole family captivated for both ends of the trip.

To determine if a book is appropriate for your children’s ages, www.commonsensemedia.org is a great site at which both parents and kids give reviews. Think of the book discussions that can emerge from sharing a book together!

Music

Create a CD that’s a compilation of “family” songs to which everyone likes to sing along. I have a friend who creates a new CD for every road trip.  In addition, each of my girls has her own iPod Shuffle, and we make sure they are fully charged before each trip. I love to look behind me and see them watching the countryside pass by while they jam to their music.  Serenity for everyone!

Old-fashioned games

I feel it’s our parental duty to show our kids how things used to be – in the pre-DVD and Nintendo age.  Show them how fun a rousing game of license plate alphabet or I Spy can be. (At least they’ll appreciate their electronics that much more!) One game my kids like is travel bingo, which I keep in the car and can be played solo or as a group game, and is available at Cost Plus World Market.

Home-bound Projects

A long car ride is a perfect time to write postcards and thank you notes to Grandma, who plied us with gifts during our visit. We write out our cards during our return trip, and they’re ready to send when we get home.

Something Delightfully New

I mentioned this in a previous article, “Flying with Infants or Toddlers” but I still do it for any long trip:  I surprise my kids with a new activity book, novel, magazine or comic book. Sticker books are great for younger kids, and Mad Libs make fun group activities for kids in elementary school. For something a little different, we also like Hidden Picture Books.

Whether it’s DVDs or electronic games, screen time helps make a long road trip more fun and peaceful for everyone. If you feel it’s important to limit your child’s dependence on screens for entertainment, as I do, I hope you find some of my suggestions useful. Happy Travels!

There are so many options out there to entertain our kids without screens, please share some of your ideas in the comments.

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Erin is a native Floridian who has resided in Atlanta since 1995. Her husband Mike and she have two funny, smart, active girls and two cats.

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