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8 Ways to Entertain your Kids on Long Car Journeys without Screens

Every year as we pack up the car to go on holiday I try and create a special bag to go in the back of the car filled with activities and entertainment for the kids for our long journey ahead.

It’s become such a tradition that the kids now actually look forward to the journey!

It needn’t be expensive, I generally head to discount booksellers such as The Works in order to pick up some bargains.

If you like the convenience of online but want to support your local book shops wherever you can Hive Books are great – delivering to local bookshops who then get a cut of the deal too.

We try, wherever possible, to reduce our kids’ ‘screen-time’. Not only is it a quick route to pukesville it can cost a small fortune to get a device for each child and (assuming that’s out of budget) sharing always leads to arguments of “he/she had a longer go than me!” etc.

— Looking for some ideas to save money once you get to wherever you’re going?
Read our 9 Ways to Save Money on Family Days Out

Happy to give the kids some ‘screen time’?
Check out our tips to keep your kids safe online

How to entertain your kids when TRAVELLING – without screens

A quick note before we start: beneath each tip we link to places to check the latest prices on an item. This is because prices can change often and a lot so, for the penny-pinching-parent it’s always wise to shop around.

We don’t always list all our recommended retailers as sometimes they just don’t sell what we recommend. Other times they’re a lot more expensive – so even with a big price shift, won’t be the cheapest.

1. Audio books

These have been a lifesaver on long journeys! If you find the right one it can keep the kids entranced in a story for hours, keeping the journey stress-free for you.

The Best of Paddington on CD
Just William: Volume 1
Ladybird Favourite Fairy Tales
Ladybird Classics: The Complete Audio Collection
The Best of Paddington on CD
Just William: Volume 1
Ladybird Favourite Fairy Tales
Ladybird Classics: The Complete Audio Collection
£12.59
£10.19
£5.93
£19.24
The Best of Paddington on CD
The Best of Paddington on CD
£12.59
Just William: Volume 1
Just William: Volume 1
£10.19
Ladybird Favourite Fairy Tales
Ladybird Favourite Fairy Tales
£5.93
Ladybird Classics: The Complete Audio Collection
Ladybird Classics: The Complete Audio Collection
£19.24

For the younger kids we really enjoyed Paddington and then as they got older we moved onto the Just William stories read by Martin Jarvis. Jarvis is absolutely amazing at doing all the different character voices and has the whole family in stitches every time we listen to the William stories, my kids all now pipe up with amusing William-style quips too which keeps me amused.

This year we embarked on the Stephen Fry audiobook of Harry Potter.

Despite spending hours and hours in the car over the course of the holidays we only got through the first two books, but we were all totally absorbed in the story and it made the journey so painless!

  • Check prices for Paddington audiobooks on: Amazon | The Hive
  • Check prices for Just William audiobooks: Amazon | The Hive
  • Check prices for Harry Potter audiobooks on: Amazon

2. Sticker books

Sticker books are good in the car as they don’t create mess but do let the kids get arty.

Usborne do an amazing range of sticker books but the kids absolute favourites are the dress up ones, from superheroes, costumes from around the world, World War I to Villains and Outlaws.

Big Dinosaur Sticker Book: 1 (Sticker Books)
Sticker Dolly Dressing Around the World (Sticker Dolly Dressing): 1
Sports Sticker Book (Usborne Sticker Books)
Football Sticker Book (Usborne Activities) (Sticker Books)
Little Sticker Dolly Dressing Unicorns
Big Dinosaur Sticker Book: 1 (Sticker Books)
Sticker Dolly Dressing Around the World (Sticker Dolly Dressing): 1
Sports Sticker Book (Usborne Sticker Books)
Football Sticker Book (Usborne Activities) (Sticker Books)
Little Sticker Dolly Dressing Unicorns
£5.94
£1.67
£30.88
£5.94
£5.35
Big Dinosaur Sticker Book: 1 (Sticker Books)
Big Dinosaur Sticker Book: 1 (Sticker Books)
£5.94
Sticker Dolly Dressing Around the World (Sticker Dolly Dressing): 1
Sticker Dolly Dressing Around the World (Sticker Dolly Dressing): 1
£1.67
Sports Sticker Book (Usborne Sticker Books)
Sports Sticker Book (Usborne Sticker Books)
£30.88
Football Sticker Book (Usborne Activities) (Sticker Books)
Football Sticker Book (Usborne Activities) (Sticker Books)
£5.94
Little Sticker Dolly Dressing Unicorns
Little Sticker Dolly Dressing Unicorns
£5.35
A photo (by Ben Stern, Unsplash) of a person's legs hanging out of a car window - used to illustrate the bored children feel on long car journeys!
“Are you kids arguing back there?” “No Mum… we’re fine!”

3. Car bingo

This is a great game to play in the car and so simple (you could even make your own version but we have this fun version).

Each child has a card on with things to look out for, for example: A purple car, a yellow flower, a black front door, a 30mph sign, a cow, a blue bus etc.

They then look out of the window and cross off each thing they see until they have everything on their sheet and can shout out ‘Bingo!’.

Travel Games Pad (Tear-off Pads)
Pencil & Paper Games (Tear-Off Pads): 1
Travel Activity Pad (Tear-off Pads) (Activity Pads)
Travel Time Game Pad (Game Pads)
Travel Games Pad (Tear-off Pads)
Pencil & Paper Games (Tear-Off Pads): 1
Travel Activity Pad (Tear-off Pads) (Activity Pads)
Travel Time Game Pad (Game Pads)
£5.94
£5.24
£5.94
£4.99
Travel Games Pad (Tear-off Pads)
Travel Games Pad (Tear-off Pads)
£5.94
Pencil & Paper Games (Tear-Off Pads): 1
Pencil & Paper Games (Tear-Off Pads): 1
£5.24
Travel Activity Pad (Tear-off Pads) (Activity Pads)
Travel Activity Pad (Tear-off Pads) (Activity Pads)
£5.94
Travel Time Game Pad (Game Pads)
Travel Time Game Pad (Game Pads)
£4.99

The Travel Games Pad is a great book to start with:

4. Pencil games

When I first found this book full of pencil games I wasn’t sure if it’d be worth it but when I looked through it I realised it had quite a few games I’d never heard of so I thought I’d give it a go.

I was really glad I did as the children have played with it endlessly (so much so that half the pages are falling out).

The premise is simple: there is the simple explanation of how to play the game followed by about a dozen printed sheets on which to play it. It has old favourites such as hangman, battleships, noughts and crosses plus lots of games I’d never heard of like honeycomb and treasure map.

Once the kids have played the games a few times they can recreate them themselves on plain paper once the book has run out.

5. Have a sing along!

Whack the radio on full blast or put on your favourite CD and get everyone to join in with singing along.

This really raises the spirits and cheers up flagging kids after hours of driving – just try and remember to close the windows first!

6. Play i-Spy

A photo (by Paul Herman, Unsplash) of trees and mountains viewed through a car window - used to illustrate cheap family travel games
“…something beginning with… T!”

It’s an oldie but a goodie! We often add an extra twist to make it harder (as otherwise we tend to get stuck on the same things over and over) by saying you have to go through the alphabet.

This way it becomes more cooperative, so we say “Everyone look for something beginning with A!” and once someone spots something we move onto B and so on.

7. Geek out

Our kids really love the DK series of books on Lego mini-figures.

They have the encyclopaedia of Ninjago characters, Star Wars characters and DC superheroes (and villains!).

LEGO DC Super Heroes Character Encyclopedia: Includes Exclusive Pirate Batman Minifigure (DK Lego)
LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary New Edition: With exclusive Finn minifigure
LEGO NINJAGO Visual Dictionary New Edition: With Exclusive Teen Wu Minifigure
LEGO Absolutely Everything You Need to Know
LEGO DC Super Heroes Character Encyclopedia: Includes Exclusive Pirate Batman Minifigure (DK Lego)
LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary New Edition: With exclusive Finn minifigure
LEGO NINJAGO Visual Dictionary New Edition: With Exclusive Teen Wu Minifigure
LEGO Absolutely Everything You Need to Know
£10.00
£13.71
£12.59
£10.00
LEGO DC Super Heroes Character Encyclopedia: Includes Exclusive Pirate Batman Minifigure (DK Lego)
LEGO DC Super Heroes Character Encyclopedia: Includes Exclusive Pirate Batman Minifigure (DK Lego)
£10.00
LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary New Edition: With exclusive Finn minifigure
LEGO Star Wars Visual Dictionary New Edition: With exclusive Finn minifigure
£13.71
LEGO NINJAGO Visual Dictionary New Edition: With Exclusive Teen Wu Minifigure
LEGO NINJAGO Visual Dictionary New Edition: With Exclusive Teen Wu Minifigure
£12.59
LEGO Absolutely Everything You Need to Know
LEGO Absolutely Everything You Need to Know
£10.00

The one in the middle seat then holds the book and they pore through it each picking their favourite character on the page. Keeps them entertained for ages with long debates about the merits or otherwise of each character!

Pro tip: some of these Lego books come with a free mini-figure (a little Lego person/toy). This is fine if you have one child but can lead to arguments and tears if you have more children than mini-figures. Worth bearing in mind.

If you’re after supplementary mini-figures FireStar Toys do some great ones starting at just a few pounds per figure.

8. One word stories

Get your kids to make up a story using one word at a time.

Each child gives just one word of the story before it moves on to the next child, slowly building up a (usually crazy) tale.

Pro tip: ban any ‘rude’ words as it seems irresistible otherwise to make the story mainly about bums and poo!


Last update on 2021-09-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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