When I was on road trips as a kid (2 parents and 5 kids), we somehow managed to have fun — between squabbles, of course — without the entertainment of handheld devices. We played word games, studied maps, figured out how many miles to the next stop, sang, tried to name all the states in alphabetical order — yeah, we were a “happening” group of folks.
When my husband and I did car trips with our kids, we had several other favorite ways to pass the time. Sam and Katie each had a kids’ road atlas that had state birds, state flowers, etc. and they would anticipate upcoming towns and places of interest. We played “I Spy” (ad infinitum), noted passing license plates trying to list as many states as possible, played word games, and often listened to a recorded book together. When I saw the first minivans that were equipped with screens that allowed kids to zone out on movies to “make the time pass” (and relieve parents from engaging in conversation), I was saddened. Trips, in my opinion, should not be a time to unplug from reality and do something you can do at home.
Now kids and parents alike usually have the option of engaging in individual screen time. It’s highly engaging, a big temptation, and legal. Unless you happen to be driving! There are many websites that recommend “best road trip apps,” (click here) a few of which have some edifying value, but a friend of mine recently gave some good advice to a parent setting out on a trip with kids. Here are a few apps he suggested downloading:
- Google Maps (also suggested by “best road trip app” articles)
- Altimeter (“Are we going uphill or down?” — perhaps less interesting in Kansas!)
- Weather (What’s the weather in the next town / at our destination?), which usually includes sunrise and set, moon rise, phases of moon, etc.
- Sky Guide, if the night skies on stops allow good views of the stars. Hold it to the sky and it identifies everything you can see (or not see): stars, planets, constellations in real time. It lets you know the location of the space station and when it will pass overhead and offers interesting astrological information for the month and or day.
- Compass — it’s always good to confirm that going toward the right on a map IS east.
Ken Furtado, who writes some of our blogs, did an informal survey of parents in his neighborhood and got these additional suggestions.
- For the younger kids (4+) you can’t beat the Toca apps. My 7-year-old still loves Mystery House and the Labs apps and Builders. Look into their bundles for better pricing.
- We play the ‘Google It’ game while traveling. If there’s a sign for something interesting, someone Googles it and reads about it to everyone in the car.
Any suggestions from readers?
All this technology aside, an essential (and often forgotten) part of traveling by car is looking up to see the landscape, actually BEing wherever you are, opening up to the novelty of each place you see and sharing your observations.