If you’ve flown recently or have even looked at the prices of flights, you know the total cost is a punch to the gut. Struggling with the reality of the cost to fly our family of six from the Twin Ports to Florida and back, determined to visit extended family, we decided we would make a road trip of it. We have a mini-van, we like road trips, we’ve done long road trips before, and honestly- how bad could it be? We were completely adamant that we weren’t bringing electronics on this trip. No laptops, tablets, DVD players, etc., we were going to have a screen-free vacation.
As friends and family heard of our plan, the number one question we got was, “Are you nuts? That sounds like a nightmare!” The kids (ages 10 months, 2, 9, and 11) were going to have to entertain themselves without screens. My husband and I had our phone (which had our reservations and addresses in it) and our GPS, but that was it.
On paper, it looked like a breeze. We had our route picked, and I had a general idea of what to pack. The night before we left, my husband and I really thought about caving and foregoing the screen-free idea. We had thoughts of just bringing devices as a backup but in the end, we forgot all of it on the dining room table anyway.
I can’t tell you I have any earth-shattering easy screen-free hacks, but I will tell you that we made the 2.5-day trip, there and back, screen-free! Here are some tips and ideas that worked as great boredom busters:
- Interstate Bingo: I purchased official boards online only to realize I could have printed them off the internet easily. If I wanted to get fancy I could have laminated them and brought dry erase markers so they could be used more than once, but instead… I bought official boards. (Which we still have so it wasn’t a total waste.)
- The License Plate Game: I typed up a list of every state and made it pretty with checkboxes and the kids had to check off every time they saw a new state license plate. This is more fun if you’re going to a place like Florida where many people travel to but also high tourist areas like national parks, amusement parks, etc. I offered a $5 prize to the kid who found every plate first, and I was absolutely sure we’d never see Alaska or Hawaii but I had to pay out $10 because both older kids found Hawaii in the lot next to us, so that backfired on me.
- We brought markers and coloring books. (Avoid crayons because there will always be one that doesn’t get put away and it will melt. Markers are your friend.) I also took it a step further and got those Color Wonder ones so they wouldn’t stain my seats in the event one dropped. Another great idea is puzzle books! I found some Super Spy ones with a huge variety of puzzles and the older kids liked those. My younger two are too little for those so I opted for small coloring books with dot-to-dot activities for them.
- Books! Screen-free books. I brought so many physical books and my best tip is to bring those really flat paperback ones. They are often in the spin racks at Barnes & Noble or Walmart, almost every book out of a Scholastic flyer comes in this format. You can fit SO MANY of these into a small bag or gallon size zip bag.
- Legos®! I know you’re envisioning Legos® spread across your living room floor but these are such a good boredom buster. I bought each kid a plastic pencil box (the kind that closes all the way) and filled them up with Legos®. I still keep these in my car because it never fails, I end up waiting forever somewhere and I can whip a small box out and kids are entertained.
- Fidget toys are amazing and there are so many different kinds out there. I bought a small basket from the dollar store that fits between two seats and I put all kinds of squishy balls, Tangles, small jars of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty (there is heat changing kind that was the big hit), pretty much any kind of toy you can manipulate in your hands. If it didn’t fit into the container, it didn’t come. Again, even while on our trip I could grab a handful of these to put in my purse in case someone was getting crabby while waiting for our table at a restaurant or standing in a very long entrance line.
- Snacks, lots of snacks. I used to buy the pre-packaged things because it was easy but now I’m all about being budget-friendly so I buy snack bags and boxes of crackers, trail mix, mini cookies, etc., and have the kids fill them, and that’s what we bring.
Now that kids are getting older I’ve added some National Geographic travel books- they have so many really great ones and the kids can learn about where we’re going, what we’ll see along the way and things they’d like to see on a future trip. I also have to suggest a book (or two) about roadside attractions. We recently picked one up and we stopped at a few that were on our way and they were…interesting stops. The kids have a lot of fun trying to find the most obscure places for us to visit.
What we have learned is that kids don’t need to constantly be entertained. They actually will ride along nicely and really appreciate what is outside their window if you give them the chance without screens. We had a great time chatting with each other, reading, napping, and discussing the events of our trip. It worked so well that every family trip since, we’ve been screen-free.