Tech-Free Road Trips


Are we there yet?


Two weeks ago, I embarked on my first road trip of the summer. I drove two hours from NJ to PA to meet some of my college friends and their children at Hershey Park. I thought that I packed enough activities and snacks for my kids, but after about an hour and a half, my two were yelling, hitting, throwing books and crying. Then…. I did it…. I screamed. You know one of those screams that declared I meant business. Me, the one with the website on how to teach kids empathy.


I thought I was going to lose my mind. 


If I wasn’t in the car dodging the morning traffic on 78, I might have squatted down to their eye level and responded with a compassionate validation of their feelings. Something like, “I can tell that you are very excited about going to Hershey Park, and disappointed that we are not there yet. It is hard to wait sometimes. What do you think you can do to keep yourself busy for the next half hour until we get there?”


But I didn’t. I was driving ALONE at 6:45 a.m. with two young children. 


Fortunately, after my reprimand, their behavior became bearable enough for me to finish the journey. When we arrived, I was still rattled for a while, and upset with myself for my lack of self-control. Because, as you know, modeling is so important and what I did, shouldn’t be modeled.


While you could say that I survived this trip, I knew there must be a better way.


Therefore, knowing that my family is taking a number of additional road trips this summer, I began brainstorming, seeking advice, and researching techniques to endure future family adventures.


At first, I solicited suggestions, but interestingly, most of the ideas shared involved technology.


Why I Lean Towards Tech-free Entertainment Options for my Kiddos


I am kind of a little unconventional when it comes to technology. My kids, ages 2 and 5, do not have personal tablets. This is for several reasons. One is that, a few years back, I had a first-grade student who Googled the words “naked ladies,” when he was unsupervised on the internet, and that was all it took to steal his innocence. Since then, I have been a bit paranoid about only letting my children view things on the internet when I am supervising them.


A second reason I restrict independent use of electronics is because I know interactive games and YouTube videos change the nervous systems of young children, making it hard for them to relax. My boys already have enough energy, so the last thing I need is to add some extra edge to them (especially while sitting in a confined area like a car). Knowing that my siblings and I endured many road trips throughout our childhood without technology, it made me think…my kids can too.


So, from here, I started Googling more ideas, and asking my mom. Then I tested them out.


Here are some of the ideas that stood out:




I have never put much thought into what time of day we leave for a trip. We typically leave when the car is packed and everyone has gone to the bathroom. But in preparation for our second trip of the summer, I learned this new trick from Screen Free Parenting.


“Try leaving right before lunch, and have one parent run the kids ragged all morning, wait an hour to feed them lunch, and then hope for them to nap afterward.”


When we journeyed home from the shore this week, we had the kids on the beach for an hour running and collecting shells. We left for home at about 10:30 a.m. The kids were quiet for about 45 minutes, then we fed them lunch. It was like magic.


Unfortunately, you can’t always leave for a trip mid-day. So, what do you do when you need to leave first thing in the morning? 




New coloring books and crayons, and lap desks keep my kids busy for about 20 minutes. Have them color pages for the family or people you may see on your journey.




Check out a bunch of high interest books from the library right before your trip. On our recent trip to the beach, my mom—a retired kindergarten teacher—gave me a bunch of books from her personal library, which she instructed me to keep hidden until the trip. New material always hold their interest better.




My kids still love kiddo music like Raffi. While I can’t stand that the songs get stuck in my head, I know it keeps them happy.




Pack some treats that take a while to eat, like dry cereal or small crackers or pretzels. Even though they make a mess, they occupy little mouths for a longer period than say a cookie.


Tell Stories


My kids love when we create original stories with them as the main characters. They usually involve them driving a battery powered car off on an adventure. My husband and I also tell stories from our own childhoods. It always amazes me how interested they are in learning more about us.




When they really start to get antsy, I begin with some games. We play games like, “I am thinking of an animal that…” or “a truck that…” I describe the sound and they guess. I also have been known to hum and have them guess the song.




You know how hypnotizing Legos can be for kids, right? I let my 5-year-old bring a Ziploc full of them on our trip to the shore and he was silent for quite a while. Some ended up on the floor. Next time, I plan to give him a tray with a lip so there will be less mess.


My tool belt is stocked with some new strategies to occupy my kids for our next adventure as a family.


The key is that a little preparation and planning go a long way when it comes to road trips with young children. 


While I know traveling with young children is never going to be easy, at least having a plan in place reduces the likelihood of meltdowns (for the kids and me, LOL). For tech-free road trips, it’s all about getting a little creative!



Christine Sullivan is a school counselor, blogger, teachers-pay-teachers author and a Juice Plus+ sales representative. Her mission is to nurture young hearts and grow a kinder world by providing resources to support parents and educators. She is also passionate about the connection between diet and mental health. Follow her on her website on Instagram (teachkidsempathy) and on Facebook. Christine lives in New Jersey with her two young boys, her husband and her dog Bingo.