HITTING the road for a family holiday can be stressful enough, so the last thing you need is a car full of unhappy passengers. Keeping the children entertained is priority number one; if they’re happy, everything else tends to be a lot easier.
Here are a number of in-car entertainment ideas for children on long journeys to help the miles fly by.
Sections (click to jump)
I Spy (ages 4+)
The all-time classic game involves spotting something inside or outside the car and announcing, “I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with,” followed by the first letter of the item. So if your word is “road”, you spy something beginning with “R”. The first person to guess correctly then gets to pick an object, and so on. Generally, I Spy starts off with great enthusiasm but peters out after a time, so you could introduce a time limit and points system for extra jeopardy.
Obviously, since this game involves being able to spell, it’s not ideal for pre-schoolers. However, they may enter into the spirit of things – my three-year-old plays a variation in which she simply states objects she can see (“I spy with my little eye, something beginning with… bird!”).
Yellow car (ages 3+)
Sunday Times Travel Editor Steve Bleach recommends a very simple game in which you have to spot – you guessed it – yellow cars. Award one point for each person and count points at the end of the trip, or at a suitable waypoint.
Steve’s own family takes this a step further by punching the arm of the person next to them when they spot a yellow car, but obviously, this is for bigger kids only and should be played gently. And for safety reasons, don’t involve the driver.
One other tip: spotting yellow cars works as they aren’t that common; play ‘White car’ and you’ll struggle to keep up (and will have very sore arms if you play to Bleach rules).
What am I? (ages 2+)
Fans of 1980s and 1990s TV game show Going for Gold will know this one. Simply describe something one part at a time, and the first person to guess it wins. For example, say “What am I? I have a bushy tail… whiskers… I eat nuts… etc.” The first person to guess correctly then gets to ask the question. And yes, it was a squirrel.
Young children won’t be so adept at this game but it can still be fun. Driving editor Nick Rufford says his son would describe creatures with rainbow tails, big teeth, long hair and other fantastic features. The game became listing animals until eventually his toddler relented and said, “Yes”.
Last letter (ages 4+)
This involves saying a word that starts with the last letter of the word that came before. Kick things off with something simple, then go around the car taking it in turns. The fun is in coming up with words that end in tricky letters, like “x”.
Of course, you aren’t allowed to repeat words, so if someone says “xylophone” and later in the game someone says “lynx”, the next word cannot be “xylophone”. Younger children will, especially, will struggle at this point but there are other options: xenon, xiphoid and Xerox, for example.
I went to a restaurant… (ages 4+)
This is all about memory. The first person says, “I went to a restaurant and on the menu they had,” followed by the name of a dish. Then go around the car, with each person saying the same line and listing all the dishes that had come before. Eventually, someone will forget one of the dishes, after which you start again. A points system could be used here.
Do you have any other suggestions? Tweet us @ST_Driving
In-car video entertainment
Sometimes, only video will do. Particularly when you’re stuck in a tailback, have spent the last hour playing I-Spy and snacks/patience are running low. Time for Peppa Pig or Frozen to come to the rescue, and there are a number of options for playing video to rear seat passengers.
Headrest DVD players
These DVD players mount to the back of the driver /passenger headrests. DVDs are slowly dying out but that means they’re inexpensive, and the players aren’t budget-breaking, either.
The downsides are that usually they need power from a 12V cigarette lighter socket (unless they have a rechargeable battery like this one) and dual screens have a connecting cable, so wires can get a bit messy, and you’ll have to remove them when parked somewhere so as not to attract thieves, which can be a pain. Read our review of in-car headrest DVD players and view DVD players for sale at Halfords.
We found these headrest DVD players on Amazon:
Portable DVD players
These can be mounted to headrests but can also be used when you leave the car. This means the kids have something to watch on trains or planes, but compared to tablets and smartphones, they’re quite bulky, you have to carry around a selection of DVDs and the image quality isn’t superb.
We found these portable DVD players on Amazon:
If you have a tablet PC, such as an iPad or Amazon Fire, you can simply buy a headrest mount to which it can be attached. The beauty of this is that the tablet’s battery usually lasts for hours even without a power cable, the quality is great, it can easily be connected to the car’s stereo via Bluetooth (should you want to be subjected to the Peppa’s antics, too) and it’s easy to remove the tablet when you leave the car.
Even better, you have a choice of video from multiple apps such as BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Amazon Video, as well as your own digital video files, without needing to carry around extra discs. Just remember, if using a streaming service there may be restrictions on what you can watch and for how long you’re allowed to watch downloads once you leave the UK.
We found these tablet PCs on Amazon:
All the benefits of the tablet but in a smaller package. Of course, that means a smaller screen, and if you have forgotten your in-car charging cable, you’ll soon run out of battery, which could be a problem if you need to call the emergency or roadside recovery services.
We found these sim-free smartphones on Amazon:
Don’t forget headphones
Unless you want to listen to hours of non-stop Paw Patrol, headphones are a good bet. But choose ones appropriate for children, for example:
And phone/tablet headrest mounts
You’ll need something to hold your phone or tablet. See these examples at Halfords or try these, on Amazon:
In-car audio entertainment
Besides FM radio and CDs, there are other options for in-car music. If you don’t have DAB (digital radio) in your car, you can buy aftermarket options in the form of either full, replacement stereos or an adapter, such as this Pure Highway (read our review here).
But if you have a smartphone and are able to connect it to your stereo either by USB or Bluetooth, you could stream radio from an app like TuneIn.
Audiobooks and podcasts
An audiobook could be a great way to entertain the children for a good while. A Winnie the Pooh or Harry Potter story, for example, could be hours of fun that will arguably get the synapses firing more than video, as the stories come alive in their minds.
A free and often brilliant option is downloading podcasts. You may need an app such as Podcast Addict or Acast, within which you run a search for the show you want, but you can also download some directly from your favourite websites, such as the CBeebies Radio podcast.
Toys and activities
A selection of favourite toys is essential for the kids, but you could also get a bit creative.
Washable felt pens
Allow your child to do some drawing on the move. You don’t want your car’s interior covered in permanent marker pen, so these are a good option.
A no-mess way for kids to colour in, this uses a water-filled felt pen filled to reveal colourful pictures.
Another way to avoid marking the car interior: fuzzy felt.
Bring out the blocks.
Make it easier for your little ones with a laptop tray table like this, or one that folds out from a seat organiser, like this one.
Other must-haves for road trips
- Sippy cups
- Portable potty
- First aid kit
- USB cables/chargers
- 12V adapter
- Dash cam (will record accidents – read our reviews here)
- Sun shades (also good for reducing strobing effect from motorway lights at night – read our reviews here or find others at Halfords)
- Child seats (it’s now law that backless booster seats are only approved for children taller than 125cm or weighing more than 22kg, which is around six years old – read more and see reviews here)
Any other essentials needed? Let us know @ST_Driving