Are you planning on loading up the family truck and hitting the open road this summer? If you’re taking a vacation with the entire gang, you’ll want to avoid cries of “Are we there yet?” and “I want to go home!”

Keeping Kids Active on Vacation

How can you keep your little ones entertained on your trip? You don’t need a ton of money or pricey toys to delight them and get them engaged and active. With a little creativity, you can increase family fun for everyone and create a memorable experience for your youngest family members.

1. Give Them a Hot ScoopKids writing

Extra, extra, read all about it! Your family is going on vacation, and that’s a significant news event. Why not assign the challenging chore of covering this historic happening to the cub reporters in your family?

All you’ll need is a notebook for each little one. If your children have a cellphone that they can take photos with, all the better. If you want to make this a learning experience, you can teach them the parts of a story before you depart. Then, if you have multiple children, have them compete for a “Pulitzer Prize” — perhaps a candy bar or a small toy.

This project provides a fun way to share your adventure with the family and friends you left behind. When you return from your trip, you can give them the full scoop when they ask how things went.

Kid’s Summer Journal and Fun Guide

2. Turn Them Into Traffic Cops

Playing Punch-Bug while you drive to your destination can lead to arguments, tears, and bruised arms. That’s no way to start your holiday! Instead, cut three circles from colored paper — you’ll need red, gold and green. Then, as you drive, have them pretend to be traffic lights. They can hold up the color representing the action you should take when approaching an intersection or an obstruction in the road.

It’s never too early to start reinforcing road safety rules in your little ones. Young minds are curious — especially about all things adult, like driving. Have your kiddos identify other drivers who are exercising poor judgment behind the wheel by participating in behaviors like weaving in and out of traffic. Prompt them to explain why such actions endanger those drivers and others.

3. Score a Family-Friendly Hotel

Sonnenalp hotel in Vail, Colorado

Sonnenalp Hotel in Vail, Colorado

Some establishments welcome families more warmly than others. How can you discover how family-friendly a hotel is before you book? Call ahead and inquire about amenities. An enclosed play area on the grounds is a plus, as are babysitting services for when you and your partner want to escape for a quiet, kid-free dinner.

It’s wise to phone ahead to delight your little ones, too. Many houses of lodging suffered in the wake of the pandemic and will go the extra mile to win guest loyalty. They may throw in treats like small toys or activity books with the rollaway bed or crib.

4. Book Adventures at Your Destination

go karting at Cobra Adventure Park in Panama City Beach

Go-karting at Cobra Adventure Park in Panama City Beach

If you plan to visit a theme park, you don’t have to do much to entertain your kids. However, maybe you think that July is too soon to board a crowded roller coaster. Your kids won’t enjoy lounging on the beach as much as you do — so cater to their yen for adventure.

Have you ever gone swimming with the dolphins? It’s an activity that will delight those of all ages — plus, your kids can practice their swimming skills. Hiking is free, although you may have to pay entrance fees to access the most frequently-used trails. If you book walking tours, make sure they aren’t too long for little legs and contain points of interest for youth as well as adults.

5. Get Inventive

luggage for kidsWhen you go on vacation, you don’t have much extra space to pack — plus, you want to leave extra for souvenirs. That’s why you need to get a bit creative with objects that travel light or that you can find in your room. One thing to pack? A roll of painter’s tape.

Why painter’s tape? It won’t mar surfaces like rugs or walls, but you can use it to awaken imaginations. Line up a pair of strips on the floor to make a balance beam. Tape two squares on the carpet to make a target, then stick a washcloth in a sock to create a makeshift bean bang. Voilá! You can now play cornhole in your hotel room.

6. Hide a Puzzle

Small puzzles also require little space in a suitcase, and complicated ones make ideal use of your hotel room table. However, you can make even simple ones more challenging by adding an element of hide-and-go-seek. Hide various puzzle pieces around your hotel room — behind the microwave or tucked into the neatly folded towels. This variation can turn a 15-minute quiet time break into an hour-long activity.

7. I Spy, Active-Style

You probably played countless games of “I Spy” in the car, but you can add an active component once you get to your destination. If you’re at the hotel pool or outdoor play area, have your kids run or skip to the object they think you mean when you say, “I spy something red.”

You can test their physical coordination with this activity as well. You can have one round where your children have to walk backwards to their guesses, and another where they scuttle like crabs.

8 Disney Games and Activities for Kids on a Disney Road Trip

8. Marbles and Jacks, Oh, My

Likewise, marbles and jacks take a tiny amount of room. If you drive to your destination, they may fit in your glove box. However, they make a fabulous diversion activity for kids. You can have them follow the traditional rules by collecting their jacks before the dropped ball bounces.

9. Bring Your Flashlights!

Are you avoiding hotels and tourist destinations in favor of hitting the forest for camping this summer? If so, you are a wise parent — there’s a growing consensus that you are less likely to contract the virus outdoors than in an enclosed space. You do need to maintain appropriate social distancing with strangers, but it’s less risky to hit the trail than the grocery store.

If you plan to go camping, bring extra flashlights for more reasons than the obvious one of illumination. You can play a game of flashlight tag once the fireflies come out to join you. Plus, when each of your little ones is armed with a beam, you can keep track of where they go if they wander off into the trees. They’re also less likely to trip over exposed roots when they can see the path.

10. Play Name That Tune

Do you remember that old game show “Name That Tune?” The premise involved naming a hit song in as few notes as possible. You can enjoy intergenerational play that might give your little ones an advantage, making this variation of trivia fairer to those who haven’t spent many years on the planet yet.

How do you play? You can do so charades-style, where the first person to blurt out the right response to the notes someone sings or strums wins that round, or you can assign teams and keep score of how many each group answered correctly. This game works very well if you brought along a guitar to strum around the campfire, but you can also whistle or hum.

11. Make a Monkees-Like Walk

Back in the 1960s, a popular band called The Monkees had a television show featuring their antics. One of their silly moves involved linking arms and walking with each person stepping one of their feet over those of the person adjacent to them. Why not try to create a similar strut that’s unique to your family?

Why is this activity a winning one for family vacations? One of the most frustrating challenges you face as a parent is keeping the littles together at a theme park or other venue where delightful distractions abound. If your kiddos focus on keeping step with the other “dancers” in their troop, they’re less likely to dart off through a sea of legs when they spy a cotton candy vendor or costumed character.

12. Pack Cards and Coloring Books

Europe Train

Playing cards while taking a train through Italy.

Finally, cards and coloring books take up little room in your luggage, but they provide soothing, quiet entertainment for the entire family as you wind down for the evening. You can invent all kinds of card games — there are hundreds of poker variations alone. Most are more fun with a higher number of participants, making them ideal ways to get everyone engaged.

Coloring soothes the soul like few other things. Some hotel chains keep these on hand for their guests, but you can often pick them up at dollar stores if yours doesn’t have them. A box of crayons costs less than $5, and you can enjoy the fun, too — many adults use the activity as part of their mindfulness practice.


Keep Your Kids Busy on Vacation for More Family Fun for All

To make the most of your family’s summer vacation, you need to keep your little ones engaged and entertained. Use the activities above to ensure that everyone, young and old, has a blast on your next adventure.

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