Ah, the family road trip. A time-honored tradition plunged into infamy by Chevy Chase movies of days gone by, is making its return. Pandemic-emptied airports have brought the road trip back in style. But road tripping with kids can be difficult, especially if you’re not so keen on eight straight hours of screen time.

My family hopped on I-25 over Labor Day weekend, somewhat dreading the nine-hour drive to Yellowstone National Park. Out of survival instinct, I packed the backseat with amusements to last for days, assisted by a significant amount of internet research. As we hit the highway, low and behold, iPads went down, giggles went up, and the joy really was in the journey.

Here are my mom survival tips for the back-in-vogue Road Trip:

1. The “Fun Binder”

I created a “fun binder” for each of my children by mining mom blogs and Pinterest for a seemingly endless stash of Car Bingo, Word Searches, Code Breaker games and coloring sheets. Most of these are free (sometimes with an email address), and their “low-tech” appeal is surprisingly intriguing. Pack the colored pencils and get to it.

2. Old Fashioned Car Games

It’s funny how many games I’d forgotten from long road trips with my siblings. Traveling to Wyoming, we got extra mileage (and laughter) out of a game called “Fortunately, Unfortunately.” It works like this. One person starts a story with one sentence, for example, “I went to the barn to saddle my horse.” The next person adds on, starting with the word, “Unfortunately.” Such as ”Unfortunately, when I got there, he was missing!” the next player starts a sentence with “Fortunately,” like, “Fortunately, there was a pig I could ride instead.” And you alternate fortunatelys and unfortunatelys until the story comes to a (usually very silly) end.

Other fun family car games include counting off different state license plates, the alphabet game and “I’m going on a picnic.”

3. Tiny Town People Count

There is no shortage of tiny towns on the road from here to Wyoming. When we entered a small town, we’d immediately split the car into two teams (driver’s side vs. passenger’s side), ready to compete. The idea is to count every person you see outside on your side of the street. The team that counts the most people on their side wins. Is it silly? Yes. Does the competition get pretty intense in our car? Also yes.

4. Friendship bracelets

In my pre-teen years, I remember making friendship bracelets in every color of the rainbow. Happily, this creative activity is well-suited for the road. Simply buy a package of embroidery thread in assorted colors, and you’re on your way. Bracelets can be tied at the end to the headrest or pinned to the seat. If you’ve forgotten the ancient art, the internet has plenty of videos.

5. Origami

So I am no Jedi-master when it comes to origami. But I have noticed that fortune-tellers are still a popular craft with elementary school kids. Looking at the drawing paper I’d packed, a flash of note-folding memories came over me – you know, the ones you used in 7th grade to communicate, pre-text-message? I also remembered how to make a simple jumping frog. This activity is low-mess and requires only paper, and possibly an internet guide like this one. https://origami.me/diagrams/

Having the car prepped for fun helps pack more family bonding into any trip. For us, it also seemed to cut down on backseat, boredom-fueled squabbles. It’s true that we started out dreading the long drive, but by the end, memories were made, stories were shared, and my family was pretty keen on the old-fashioned road trip.

Happy travels.

family road trip

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