Road trips can be some of the most rewarding vacations for families. They are generally less rushed than plane trips, there is more room for open-ended exploration, and there is a certain sense of adventure that's hard to come by in everyday life.
But as memorable as they are for kids, they can also be a pain for parents. Countless bathroom stops, whines of boredom, and cries of "are we there yet?" can make any parent question why they decided on a road trip.
At the end of the day, you have to survive your time in the car and there's no judgement here if that means a little screen time. But I know some of my favorite childhood vacation memories are of time in the car when I had my parents' attention. Children can still have that today, that time when they're engaged not just entertained, it just takes a little planning and experimenting to find what works for you!
Here are 12 Montessori-inspired, screen-free items to help your children and you have a positive experience on your next road trip:
Audiobooks provide the same easy entertainment as tv, but without the screens. Child-safe headphones are great so you can listen to that perfect road trip playlist while your child hears their favorite story.
For young kids, audiobooks are often more successful if they are already familiar with the story, so you may want to read the story a couple of times before your trip.
Lacing cards help young children develop fine motor and pre-sewing skills and are super contained, which is perfect for the car! From dinosaurs to Eric Carle characters, there are tons of options to match your child's interests.
Stickers are some of the easiest art supplies to bring on the road and almost all kids love them! You can keep it simple with some travel stickers and a notepad, or try a reusable sticker book . These small ones are great for the car, especially for younger kids, if the big sticker books are overwhelming.
WikkiStix rainbow pak
Wiki Stix are another easy, no-mess creative activity that's perfect for the car. Kids can build all sorts of things but, unlike Play-Doh, you won't wind up with remnants of their creativity covering your car floor.
For a slightly older child, introduce them to another road trip classic, Polaroids. This updated digital version is a bit of an investment, but is also something that can be enjoyed at home, not just on the road.
Melissa & Doug water wow painting book
While not as creative as open-ended drawing and painting, these mess-free books are perfect for road trips or restaurants. The chunky-sized water pen is easy for kids to hold and stores neatly right in the front cover, so it minimizes messes.
Kenley Kids travel tray
A lap desk might be a wise purchase if you are taking a particularly long trip or plan to do multiple road trips over the years. It makes it so much easier for kids to comfortably use art supplies and simple games without dropping everything.
National Geographic kids ultimate U.S. road trip atlas
With books, you have to know your child. Books can be a wonderful road trip activity, or they can leave everyone feeling car sick!
If your child can't handle looking at books in the car, an atlas is a perfect pre-trip or hotel room inspiration to get your kid excited about the journey.
Wee Society travel diary + journal
You can use a simple notebook and give your child prompts for ideas to draw or write about, or use a predesigned kids travel journal that comes with adventure badges to earn, stickers, places to keep photos and other treasures and postcards to send. Either way, your child will get great practice in recording what they see and will likely treasure the memories once they get home.
Imagination Generation road trip travelling bingo game
Bingo is often played in Montessori settings for young children because it helps them practice visual discrimination while also working on relational skills and learning how to play a game. Road trip bingo is the perfect way to bring this on the road!
Kid O Play glow-in-the-dark jumbo magnatab
This Magnatab is highly entertaining for little kids, engages them creatively, and lets them practice fine motor skills. This one also glows in the dark, which is perfect for a winter road trip when it gets dark early.
This kind of activity is not only entertaining, but is great for problem solving and pre-math skills. The tangram is made of environmentally friendly material, which has no peculiar smell, soft texture and won't hurt children's hands, ensuring children's safety, and the bottom is magnetic, solid and durable.
We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy.