Cross Country with Clipboards and Cookie Sheets

Before our cross Canada trip last year, I did a bit of prep. I wanted to do a “lot,” but I had to settle for a “bit.” Story of my life. Anyways, here are the things that worked best for in the car.

  1. Hit Amazon. . . . I filled up my cart with a whole bunch of fun car activities, joke books, audiobooks, and novels.
  2. Then order it from the library. I was able to find similar options from our local library. If you don’t know this- your library is your best friend. Your best friend who’s there in thick or thin, and who is available online for you. No one will save you more money.
  3. Have A List. When things are starting to turn a corner, have a ready list of ways to bump up the attitudes. A joke book was our go-to. I read the following joke 8,362 times. We still talk about it.

Teacher: Nathan, define “gladiator.”

Nathan: My Aunt was pounced on by a lion, but I’m glad-he-ate-her.

I will never think of Chicago without thinking of a lion eating up aunties.

Anyways. We also had a super silly cd (soooo bad, the kids would groan and whine, but they groaned and whined together which is way better than fighting.) I had a bunch of pipe cleaners that we would try and make jewelry out of. The more neat, weird, out of the ordinary things the better. Be prepared for moments of grumpiness- and have ideas to combat it. Not necessarily entertaining for an hour; but able to get attitudes to change so that they will be receptive to new fun things. Travel bingo was a big hit.


4.  Killin’ time. Books are obvious. I tried to read aloud a novel, but our car is too long and I lost my voice. That may or may not work for you. Audiobooks, or Adventures in Odyssey are way easier. We love AIO, but had to wait until the baby was sleeping as he did not feel the same and would whine very loud, making us miss important plot developments. They read a lot of story books on their own.


Each child had their own backpack for loveys and entertainment, and that was it. We simply didn’t have any more room than that. Whatever they could fit in there, they could bring, and we would repack it at the day’s end to prevent everything from taking over the car (until the last three days, when chaos reigned.)


I printed off piles of activity pages (word searches, Sudoku, printing practice, math sheets, etc) with characters or themes they are interested in (Lego, Star Wars, princess, etc.) BUT- here’s the thing: I only gave them one page on a clipboard at a time. If I would have given them all right away, I know they would have glanced through, chose one or two to complete, and tossed it to the side. This way gave them a huge sense of accomplishment- and driving through the prairies, any accomplishment is welcome. I would “let” them do one when they asked, on their own clipboard, but they had to finish it and pass it up to the front to get to the next one. I would make a big fuss over the effort or results, and Daddy would act surprised over the improvements from the year before. We conquered a huge pile of math topics with our grade 2 son, who would vehemently tell you how much he hates workbooks. He did the most work, happily, on the trip. Didn’t see that one coming!


Two cookie sheets ended up being used more than any other tool that I brought. They can use them for a lap desk; to write, make lego or do small craft projects. The edges kept the crayons close by with little trouble. They were also metal, which made them perfect for magnet dolls and other magnetic activities I had purchased from the dollar store. We used them in the hotel to prepare dinner in our suite. We didn’t have any extra space, so all the cute Pinterest-y ideas just weren’t worth my time. This worked well for many different ways, and it fit the bill (which was $1.25 each.)


5. Clean often. Even every stop, if you can, get rid of garbage and put things back to rights. It helps with the claustrophobia, and you can find what you’re looking for. On the way back, we were in a much bigger hurry (14 hours of straight driving each day) and we didn’t do this. My handsome hubby said that you could do an archaeological dig in the back seats; you could tell what day or meal it was by how deep the nugget was buried. I don’t even want to think about it. To me, the element of mess/clutter is directly related to my level of stress.

6. Magazines. We collected magazines- nature, science, geography and children’s- for months before we left. I put about five in their backpacks each day. As they were finished, we left them at rest stops or hotels for other kids to enjoy. If they got spilled on or wrecked, they were easily recycled. I liked them because some had little games to do inside, some were educational, and I feel like it was easier for the boys to read in short bursts than to read whole novels. They also were gone as fast as they were used, so they didn’t accumulate or need to be kept track of.

7. Learn. We studied the cities, laws, and places we were going. Especially with driving through the two countries- there was a lot of comparing and researching going on. We imagined living in the different areas. What would it be like in the big cities, where pizza is brought to YOUR DOOR? What about in beautiful Muskoka where it must be vacation every day? How the heck do people tolerate the prairies? Great discussions.

8. Limit screens. We just don’t like them. In the afternoons, they were allowed to watch one movie. I think we let the older boys play handheld games for small bursts, but even they had more fun with other stuff. We were together; not all lost in separate worlds.

9.  Mandatory quiet time. In the afternoon during the movie, and in the morning for a bit, we would have a rest time. No speaking. They could occupy themselves with their activities and books, but we tried to be very quiet. I needed this time to relax, and take a little break. Turning around to answer questions/pass out activities/deal with issues was very exhausting.

10. SURPRISES! This was my favourite part, and probably the kids too. Before we left, I packed morning and afternoon gifts for each day. The morning was usually a little snack, and the afternoon had a cool treat and an activity/toy they could use. This wasn’t tied to behavior or anything, but a super fun gift to make it even more special. Our kids are so good when we’re out shopping and stuff, and I never buy them treats. So now I bought them all. And regret nothing.


11. Pace yourself. If I could do anything differently, I would add a day on to our journey home. 12-14 hours of driving was simply too much each. We looove staying in hotels, but we didn’t get to enjoy it. We arrived too late and left too early. We didn’t get to stop when we wanted for tourist-y things. It adds an expense, and more time, but that’s what I would do.

This is the second installment of Travelling with Kids. The first, filled with the basics, is available here. Next week we’ll talk about some ways to save money.

What are some of your favourite memories of travelling as a family? What are your most fun go-tos for road trips?




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