Canadian Expat Mom

How to Survive a Family Road Trip…WITHOUT iPads!!!


I want to start by saying that we didn’t set out to make this an electronic-free trip. The iPads were fully charged in a bag at my feet at all times, we just didn’t advertise that to our kids. And magically, we ended up driving 2500 kms without having to take them out.

Here’s how…

The Scene

We were on a twelve-day road trip through Namibia on an African Safari with a three-year-old and five-year-old in the back seat. Short driving days were two hours in the car and the longest day was seven hours. Most days in between we drove for about four hours, with the exception of a few non-driving days.

Our plan was to put off handing over the devices for as long as possible because we wanted the kids to actually see the country we were travelling through. It also helped that our kids aren’t really used to road trips, so iPads weren’t something that was expected. Put them on an airplane however, and they will be demanding a hand-held device long before the safety demonstration has even started. It’s all what they’re used to.

So that’s my disclaimer. I’m not claiming to be a Supermom or Queen of the Road Trip, but I’m here to share a few of my tricks and tips in hopes that it might help someone else along the way. Maybe you’ll end up as surprised by your kids as we were.

Start Small

I tried not to let my kids know that I had an arsenal of in-vehicle entertainment hiding up my sleeve because I didn’t want their expectations to be set too high. I started with the simplest things first and worked my way up from there.

The Window

Normally, this is the least effective form of entertainment for young children, but it worked for us on this particular trip because we were on an African Safari. We literally told our kids to just ‘look out the window’ and that actually worked for a decent amount of time considering all the new and exotic wild life that was just outside our car.

Put Them in Charge

Nothing makes you feel like a boss more than carrying a clipboard; even if you’re five-years-old. Each of our kids got a clip board and some blank paper to draw pictures, trace their hands, sketch the scenery, scribble etc. It worked.

Stick It

This doesn’t buy you a ton of time, but I have yet to meet a kid that doesn’t love stickers. Head to the dollar store before you leave and stock up on your child’s favourite stick-able character. It’ll be the best $2 you’ve ever spent.

Snack Time

Of course there are some snacks that will keep your kids quieter for longer; like a giant sugar-laced sucker. But that might be regrettable later between the sugar crash and the sticky hands. I like to bring things that take little fingers a while to eat; like boxes of raisins, whole apples and a snack sized ziplock bags full of Cheerios.

Frequent Stops

Even if it’s short stops here and there, we stopped pretty regularly and let the kids get out and run—literally. If the landscape and safety permit, let them burn off some energy on the side of the road.

White Board

My girls love playing school; mostly because one gets to tell the other one what to do. Fun sized white boards are small to pack and are a nice change from regular colouring books and drawing on paper.


I’ve found kids stamps at the dollar store before and put each pack into a ziplock bag. But for this trip these marker-type stamps came from Ikea. They’re also handy on vacation to bring to restaurants.


I always encourage my kids to ‘relax’ (aka- nap), if the drive is making them feel a bit sleepy. It usually doesn’t take much convincing because during vacation dinner at restaurants and the excitement of being in a hotel means they always go to sleep a few hours later than their regular routine.

Okay, fine…iPad

For us this is the last choice once when we’ve used up all of the “old fashion” options simply because once we bring out the tablets, there’s no going back. We will end up with zombies(although quiet ones) who will want the iPad all-the-time after that.

Luckily on this trip, we managed without them…until we got back on the plane.

Tips that make you look like a road trip pro

*Pack baby wipes in the car, even if your kids aren’t in diapers anymore. They will be more handy than you can imagine.
*Bring some of zip locks to portion out bigger bags of snacks that you buy at the gas station(nuts and raisins were popular in our car). It helps prevent the bag from spilling when getting passed between car seats.
*Throw a couple snack clips in your purse for those open bags of snacks floating around the car


I hope some of these suggestions helped to remind of life before hand held devices. We managed without them in the 80’s and our kids just did it in 2017. But at the end of the day, remember it’s your holiday too, and you have nothing to prove to anyone. So if the above tricks don’t work for you and it’s a choice between your sanity and technology… choose sanity.

Happy travels!

4 thoughts on “How to Survive a Family Road Trip…WITHOUT iPads!!!

  1. Patsy Stadnyk

    You could have followed a Giraffe or some other exotic animal, we would never PSAT a motor cycle on our road trips, it kept everyone amused in the 80’s!?

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