Simple & Frugal Road Trip Fun

This is part 2 in response to Amy’s request for suggestions as she embarks upon a 16-day traveling adventure with her family brought to you by Passionate Homemaking’s monthly contributor, Michele Augur.

A road trip is a great opportunity for new experiences and family bonding. But it can also be a potential for sibling bickering and boredom. Here are some suggestions for a more pleasant trip, with a frugal price tag.

  • For small children, a “surprise bag” of items you pull out gradually throughout the trip is especially effective for preventing boredom. I stock up through the year for travel activities at thrift stores and bookstore sales, typically purchasing books and craft items for around 10 or 25 cents apiece.
  • Schedule plenty of times to¬†“get the wiggles out” and picnic stops for everyone’s sanity. Run races and play games at rest stops or find a park/playground to explore!
  • Encourage creativity and teamwork by passing around a project of “drawing prompts” such as from Ed Emberley or Taro Gomi. Take along some “non-messy” art supplies (don’t forget the pencil sharpener!) and clipboards for holding your papers.
  • Keep everyone looking out the windows, with games like The Alphabet Game, the Cow Game, or Travel Scavenger Hunt (you can glue magazine pictures on index cards ahead of time for non-readers, instead of writing a list of things to find). “Interactive” games such as Sweet or Sour can be especially hilarious, as passengers attempt to get other passersby to smile!
  • Memory games, such as “My Father Owns a Grocery Store” or “Grandma Went to Market” are great group activities. Travel versions of board games, such as Scrabble are also fun. (Check thrift stores and garage sales for these. Or you can often find them during Christmas board game sales. Stock up and stash them away until travel season!)
  • Pack some special homeschooling subjects, such as focusing on a foreign language (which can be used in your destination), such as French or Spanish. Nature studies in new environments can also be fun; pack your nature journals to sketch new flora & fauna.
  • Stop by a thrift store or used bookstore to pick up a bag of 10 cent paperbacks. You can often find some entertaining classic literature to enjoy on the trip. Mysteries (such as the classic Sherlock Holmes books by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) are fun to read aloud and try to solve together.
  • If you are taking electronics along, books on tape/CD are perfect for road trips. (Take turns who gets to choose the story.) Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s productions, such as the Narnia series are entertaining for both parents and children.
  • If you have a video camera, assign the “task” of documenting the trip. (Many cell phones now contain this feature.) You will enjoy your teens’ creativity as they conduct interviews, narrate, and ham it up for the camera! You can also give them a hilarious “scavenger hunt” project list to find and record along the way (such as two siblings standing on their head in a hotel elevator!).
  • Worship together. Pack along some favorite worship CDs (check your teens’ collection, or pack “Wee Sing” for the little ones) to enjoy in the car. Don’t forget “campfire sing-a-longs” if you’ll be camping!
  • Pray together. Keep a routine of family prayer and devotions to stay connected, just as you would at home. This can easily be done after you grab some breakfast and pile into the car, before you drive off. Dinner time can be an opportunity to share about the day’s experiences and address any negative attitudes that might be cropping up in weary travelers. A road trip is a great time to work on Bible memory verses, too!
  • For larger families, institute a “buddy system” or “helper of the day,” to help address sibling issues and keep the trip going a bit more smoothly. (This is a good way to incorporate helping each other, prevent losing someone, and designate who gets the “popular seat by the window” for the day.)

I hope you have a joyful trip! Let us know how it goes, Amy!

What are your favorite travel activities? Please share!

Photo Credits: superhua, jimmiehomeschoolmom

About Michele

Michele and her husband Calvin live a simple & sustainable life in rural Washington with their two- going on three- (busy!) little ones at Hampton Creek Inn. She takes joy in the daily ministry of delving into creativity, traditional homemaking & hospitality, homeschooling in everyday moments, and smooching her husband in the woods. Michele loves encouraging women and equipping them for frugal, natural living through her blog, Frugal Granola.

15 Responses to Simple & Frugal Road Trip Fun

  1. Ken Griffey Jr Shoes 2011 August 5, 2011 at 1:13 am #

    This info is very useful for my university work I’m doing. thanks again

  2. Stephanie N December 10, 2010 at 9:18 am #

    Focus on the Family’s Adventures in Odyssey used to be the most awesome road trip tapes . . it’s a whole series of bible based stories (some about history some about bible stuff some just plain goofy with great morals) about a cooky inventor/ ice cream shop owner and the town that he serves . . . You might check that out if you are planning a long road trip . . another family favorite of ours was christopher churchmouse . . :o )

  3. Home Schooling Programs December 7, 2010 at 8:13 pm #

    Home Schooling Programs can vastly increase your childs growth in the classroom

  4. Martianne July 17, 2010 at 5:09 pm #

    I;m all for books on CD and lots of activities in ziploc bags, plus homemade magnet stories and a few cookie sheets. There are pictures and descriptions of of a bunch of our car activity bags at

    Hope they inspire others.

  5. Emily June 14, 2010 at 1:22 pm #

    These are super ideas. I am preparing for a 16 hour rode trip with our son in a few weeks. I will be putting these, especially the fun games, to the test!

  6. Jennie June 10, 2010 at 4:40 pm #

    I have a friend whose mom always put lots of books, crayons, cars, etc. in a metal 9×13 pan with a lid. The pan can be flipped over and used as a hard surface for drawing, as a track for the cars, etc. and all of the stuff can be easily kept tidy in the pan because of the lid. And the pan stores easily under the seat.

  7. Wendi June 9, 2010 at 9:09 pm #

    When we drove from MI to AZ I packed a surprise bag for each child for each day, and in order to get there new one the next morning they had to turn in their bag from the previous day. I used canvas bags that I had lying around the house so that they were sturdy and did not take up much room. For a month or so before we moved I had been throwing items in a box for these bags and then stuffed them just before we left. Included in them were a variety of items: coloring books, crayons or colored pencils, stickers, sticker books, temporary tattoos, balloons for stretch breaks as well as frisbees, books to read and activity books to work on, little trinkets, special treats to eat (i.e, a sucker or other treat), magnetic games and other travel games.

    Another great rest break idea is Geocaching. You can plan out your trip ahead of time on their website and find lots of opportunities to look for treasures along the way and it can be a free activity, a great family experience and great stretch break. We are hooked.

  8. Allyson June 9, 2010 at 8:53 am #

    We’re getting ready for an 11 hour trip with a 3 year old, a 21 month old, and a 4 month old. Then an 8 hour trip with our three plus our 6 year old and 3 year old nephews. I’m making I spy cards for the kids by taking photos os groups (piles, stacks, rows) of different objects, printing hte pictures and placing them in dollar store photo albums. To make easy arrangements I looked for things at home that are already in groups, here are some examples (for the items that were already in a bin I just took a photo from straight above)

    ~bin on puzzles
    ~bin of Tonka trucks
    ~bin of Fisher Price Little People
    ~felt fruits and veggies
    ~pile of shoes
    ~silverware drawer
    ~desk “junk” drawer
    ~bin of board books

    I plan on posting the finished books on our blog so I’ll leave the link when they’re finished.

    • Allyson June 9, 2010 at 8:56 am #

      Oh, also a pile of cookie cutters and alphabet magnets on the fridge.

  9. training leaders June 9, 2010 at 7:24 am #

    i can relate to these tips. :)

  10. Sherry June 9, 2010 at 5:55 am #

    What great tips for traveling! :D I’ve found games online to print out and then put them under sheet protectors and they used china markers to play them like tic-tac-toe, battleship, etc. :D

  11. Shannon Hazleton June 9, 2010 at 5:05 am #

    These are really, really good tips! We take a good, long road trip once a year, and with 3 little ones in the back seat, I’m happy to have some new ideas!

  12. Jennifer June 9, 2010 at 3:56 am #

    When I was little we used to drive from Missouri to Maryland every Christmas to visit my grandparents (a 12 hour drive), and my mom did something similar to your surprise bag with a little twist. She would wrap 12 little gifts for each of us (books, art supplies, oddessey tapes, etc.) and every hour we were allowed to open a new gift. It really helped to break up the trip for me and my siblings.

    Also, “I spy” is a great game to play with small children and helps them learn colors. The kids I babysit for ALWAYS want to play that game in the car.

  13. Tracie June 9, 2010 at 3:30 am #

    Thank you for the fun game ideas in this post! Founds some new ideas here that I can use. My husband had a work confrence in FL a couple years ago and we went with him (company paid hotel next to Downtown Disney! We were not going to miss it!) It was a nine hour drive from NC to FL with a three year old and an almost one year old. I went to the dollar store and stocked up on cheap toys and coloring books. Each hour I gave them something new to look at and it really helped. We also had plenty of snacks on hand, such as raisens and dry cereal. Now that they are older (and do not nap) it can seem a little more of a daunting task to keep them entertained and not whinning on a trip. Thanks again for the ideas!