Family Fun to Go
How to Beat the Dreaded Cries of “Are We There Yet?” on the Road in an RV.
How many of us remember those family road trips we took as children? When I was ten years old, our family of seven packed into the family car and headed to Walt Disney World. Our vehicle of choice was the kind of station wagon with the back seat that faced backward; I fought to get one of those coveted rear-facing seats.
We drove straight through from New Jersey to Orlando, Florida, and it felt like kid torture at its finest (or worst). As I look back on that trip many years later, what I remember most is the fun we had on that long family road trip: the games we played, the music we listened to, and the wonderful time we all spent together.
But it’s easy to look back at family vacations through the rose-colored tinge of fond nostalgia. In reality, entertaining kids on the road can be challenging. What dad or mom doesn’t dread hearing those words from behind them, “Are we there yet?” Depending on what you travel in, a motorhome or towing a trailer, some options may work better than others.
Here are some great tips and tools to get your kids to forget that long road trip and enjoy the journey, not just the destination.
Listen to a Good Family Audiobook or Kid-focused Podcast
Listening to audiobooks while on a road trip is an awesome way to pass the time. We always update our audiobook accounts with something new to listen to before we hit the road. We try to include a mix of current-event books, fiction, historical, and even science- or tech-related. On a recent trip, we finished a fascinating book by Neil deGrasse Tyson, “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.”
We all enjoyed learning about the universe because we had just wrapped up our study of the solar system and beyond in homeschool science. In fact, taking advantage of the travel time by listening to audiobooks for homeschooling can turn a road trip into a road-schooling trip, which is the pinnacle of multitasking. The next audiobook in our queue is “The Kidnapped Prince.”
We also love catching up on our list of favorite RV-focused podcasts while traveling. Our boys really enjoy podcasts such as “Wow in the World,” “Story Pirates,” and “Smash Boom Best.” They will listen to them for hours. Don’t forget to set up a few podcasts for the adults to enjoy when the kids are busy doing something else. Balance keeps everyone happy as you head down the road.
Play the License Plate/State Game
Who hasn’t played the license plate game on a road trip? If you’re one of the few who haven’t, here’s a quick overview: Whenever you spot an out-of-state license plate, take note of the state in which it’s registered, and try to spot them before other family members to earn points. It’s simple, but oh-so-satisfying.
A great twist is once someone spots an out-of-state license plate, whoever can name the most facts about that state wins the extra points. We also give extra points for knowing the state capital and what that state is known for, such as national parks or monuments there, etc.
Listen to Music Together
I don’t know about your family, but when I was growing up, my parents always controlled music that was playing in the car . . . period! Whether you keep up with current music or not, this is your opportunity to teach your kids about the music that you love. I’m a huge R&B fan, and my parents often played great R&B groups from the 60s and 70s. I have a fantastic appreciation for the music of that era, whether it be The Spinners, The Temptations, Luther Vandross, The Commodores, and many more great artists.
Today, when I hear those songs, so many great memories come back to me. We want to do the same with our kids. Sharing the music that you grew up listening to can be a treasure for your kids. We find ourselves teaching our kids who those artists are by playing their songs and sharing some of our memories. It’s amazing how many strong memories flow back when you hear a song.
On a recent road trip, KJ, our eleven-year-old, was sitting in the co-pilot’s seat when he heard Karma Chameleon from Culture Club. He smiled big and said, “Dad, remember when I first heard this song? We were driving through Kansas City and I asked you to play it over and over and over again. I think we repeated that song twenty times in a row!” That one song will forever bring back the time he spent with his dad driving through Kansas City. Music is a very powerful memory marker.
Talk about Your Destination
This is one of our kids’ favorite things to do while we travel. They love to hear about where we’re going and what we’re going to see and do. I’ll let them pull up our travel route created using rvtripwizard.com. This usually prompts them to ask questions. Our kids love science museums, so they will always ask if there is a science museum we can visit.
You can talk about sights you plan to see and whether or not you are going hiking, biking, or something like that. Since we enjoy eating locally, sharing what that state or region is best known for is a must. The more information we share, the more deeply invested the kids become. We will often ask the kids what they would like to do and try to incorporate any other good ideas into our trip.
Teach Them about the Rules of the Road
Our boys will fight over who gets to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. With that spot comes responsibility. We teach them what all of the highway signs mean and they always cheer when we enter a new state. They are learning about the mile-marker signs, brown historical signs, and even grade-percentage signs. Reading these signs keeps their minds on the road and makes them feel like they are helping to navigate during the trip.
We also teach them about using the side mirrors to scan the road around the RV and how to utilize them when changing lanes. There is so much driving knowledge you can pass to you kids while traveling down the highways.
Driving a motorhome with the huge panoramic windshield is like watching everything in HD on a big-screen TV. Our kids rarely get bored when they are staring out the front windshield. Just make sure you check that your kids are legally the right age or size to sit in the front seat.
Encourage the Kids to Play Games
Our boys can sit on the couch in our RV, which has three seat belts, and play plenty of games. We have lap trays that they use for homeschooling and also use to play games. The options are limitless; kids can build Lego sets or play card games like Go Fish or UNO. They have even played travel versions of classic board games like Monopoly and Clue.
My wife and I have growing boys with what we call “bottomless stomachs.” No matter when they ate their last meal, thirty minutes later they claim to be hungry. Don’t you wish you had their metabolism? Seems as though they are constantly eating. Make sure you have plenty of healthy snacks on hand and try to avoid foods that are loaded with sugar (like cupcakes, candy, and even some yogurts).
Have Them Read a Book or Do Arts and Crafts
A road trip is a great time for the kids to either catch up on their reading or just dive into some fun reading. If you have kids who enjoy the arts, you can encourage them to draw or color while traveling. There are coloring books for kids of all ages (adults, too).
Let Them Play on Their Tablets or Phones
We all are well aware of how our kids can stare at those screens for hours. While there is a time and place for that, our goal is to try some or all the other options before we give in and grant some screen time. We also tell our kids the more we do together on our list, the easier it is to grant them screen time. Or, we will make them earn their screen time. It could be as simple as answering a few trivia questions or asking them facts about the upcoming destination. A funny thing always seems to happen when we put up that roadblock to the tablets. The boys actually seem to enjoy the extra interaction with us.
The thing we have learned more than anything is that our children truly want our attention. Screens are wonderful, entertaining, and helpful, but nothing replaces that time your children get to share with their parents, their heroes, their first and best teachers.
Keep in mind that all of these tips may need to be adjusted based on the age of your kids. Our boys currently sit in that tween range, between eight and eleven years old. They often try to be more grown up, but they are not old enough (nor bold enough) to challenge what mom and dad tell them to do.
If you’ve let the kids determine the road trip, then use this list to take that control back. If you haven’t, these tips should make your next road trip a happy memory for everyone. Remember, you are the director of your family road trip, and always remember to enjoy the journey as well as the destination.