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How to Keep Kids Happy on a Long Journey

With many of us heading off on vacations this month, we have a special secret to share with you. When planning for a two-day drive across Europe in an over-packed car with four children (aged 5-12) we devised a simple yet sanity-saving way to keep the kids happy on the long journey. And because we know how difficult travelling with kids can be, we thought we’d share it with you here.

Introducing: ‘The Bag Of Fun‘! (And you need to say this as if you are introducing a celebrity on Strictly Come Dancing or America’s Got Talent)

kids happy

What is the Bag Of Fun (BOF)?

It’s a bag (or pillowcase – more on this later) full of activities to keep young hands and minds busy while you travel. Every hour of your journey (or whenever things get restless) you simply reach into the BOF and pull out something to do. While it takes a fair bit of planning and organising, it will save you hours of moaning and ‘Are we nearly there yet?’s. Adapt the activities according to the number of kids accompanying you, and also to the scenery you are passing and method of transport you take.

We used a large tote bag, which we could then use as a beach bag and carry-all once we arrived. But a sturdy pillow case would work well too, and you can then use this to store dirty laundry in, or fill with soft clothes and use as an extra cushion. If you want to keep your kids away from screens, and to engage with the world they are passing through, here are some of the activities we filled our BOF with for our epic road trip.


1. Edible necklaces

For each child you have, fill a tupperware pot with cereal and snacks that have a hole in the middle (Cheerios, Wheetos, Hoola Hoops and Alphabites are all perfect, but you can also use grapes and mini marshmallows that you have poked through with a skewer beforehand). Include a robust piece of string in the pot and set your kids to threading their own snack necklace. This takes a fair few minutes of silent concentration, and then they can eat it once they are done.

2. Monster pipe cleaners

A simple packet of multi-coloured pipe cleaners makes a brilliant distraction. Simply set a task, like ‘Make the scariest monster you can imagine’ and give each child a handful of pipe cleaners. They can give them names and tell each other what their monster’s best skill is, and what they like to eat. Googly eyes are fun additions.

3. Fimo / plasticine sculpture

Give each child a picture of a landmark you will be passing or visiting on your trip, then ask them to make it out of Fimo, Plasticine or Playdo. If you have room, a small baking tray or clipboard for each child will give them a good surface for this kind of activity, as well as drawing.

4. Spot the…

Prepare some ‘Spot the…’ sheets, with things you might see on the motorway or from the train (free printables here). You can make this into a Spotters’ Bingo, giving each child a different sheet and awarding a prize to the one who can spot their objects first. Be prepared for some cheating.

If you stop for a rest somewhere scenic, play Eye-Spy with your children and encourage them to really notice what’s around them. You can also translate some of the words into the local language.


5. Painting

‘Whaaaat?’ I hear you cry. But wait, if you have a small surface (like a tray or clipboard) and are not on a very windy road, these brilliant stackable paint palettes can while away time in a car. Use one palette for each child, and stack back away when you’ve finished. We prepared four pieces of paper with a frame drawn on, as if framing a master work of art. Use clothes pegs to fasten the paper down (these can then be used to hang up wet towels etc once you are on holiday). We also took journals for each child to record the trip, and they painted a cover for these.

Set everyone something to paint, or just have them look out of the window and paint an impression of what they can see. We took along a small pot to fill with water for each child, and then tipped this away when we stopped for a toilet break. This can get messy so may be best avoided if you have a very tidy car. We don’t.


6. Fill The Basket

This game is just as good played with objects on a table, but for a journey adapt it thus. Fill a small, foldable basket with a few objects that you have to hand, then pass it round so each person can have a look. Everyone, except one person, then closes their eyes. The person with their eyes open removes one of the objects and hides it from view. The basket then goes back round and everyone has to work out what has been removed. You can make this harder by using small, unremarkable items.


Happy travelling everyone! And if you have any handy hints for road trips with kids, do drop us a comment and share your wisdom.

For ideas on simple packing for a vacation, go here.

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