Growing up in the age of eight-track players looping endless hours of Johnny Cash and the Carpenters in a wood-paneled station wagon, there was nothing to do but stare out the window, talk to each other, play a game, or read a book.  Although I was skeptical of this approach with our family (weren’t portable DVD players a sign of progress?), I must admit that I’ve grown to appreciate our “pre-historic” car trips.

When it comes to car electronics, we could almost be categorized as luddites.  Our kids do not have handheld video games and we don’t own a portable DVD player.  So we’re pretty much left to our own devices for entertainment.

Here are five tips for surviving and enjoying your next family car trip.

  • Pack a fun bag.  We always have a shopping bag full of activities in the back seat.  We include an Etch-A-Sketch, paper, colored pencils (do not pack crayons on your summer trips, they will melt), playing cards, and a joke book for when we get tired of the four-year-old’s repetition of the two knock-knock jokes in his humor arsenal.
  • Get books on CD from the public library.  They have hundreds of them and many of them are read by award-winning actors or by the authors themselves.  We must have heard “James and the Giant Peach” read by Jeremy Irons at least a dozen times.  We also love anything by Louis Sachar and Roald Dahl.
  • Puzzle Books. Usborne Books has a fantastic series of books that are great for traveling, including Puzzle Pyramid, Puzzle Castle, Puzzle Pirates, and Puzzle Race.  These are adventures stories with clues, mazes, and puzzles on every page.  They’re guaranteed to keep the kids busy for hours.  They’re also great for older children to do with younger siblings.
  • Play car games. Classic car games are always a hit.  License plates have become harder and harder to decipher so that’s a definite time killer.  We also love geography, where the first player names a place anywhere in the world (e.g., New York) and the next player has to name a place that starts with the last letter of that word (e.g., Kansas), and so on.  The grocery game is the same idea with food (e.g., candy, yam, mustard, etc.)  And don’t forget I Spy and Twenty Questions.
  • Have a meeting. In our house, it sometimes seems like we’re rarely together long enough to have a conversation.  There’s no better time than a long car ride to discuss next year’s vacation plans, fears about a new school, friend issues, or even family history.

I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture of our family car rides.  We still get our share of whiny “Are we there yets?” and “Stop looking at mes,” from the back seat.  But these car rides let us spend uninterrupted time together, something that seems all too rare these days.