VW campervan

8 tips for screen-free journeys with toddlers

Someone recently asked me how we manage to do such long screen-free journeys with toddlers. Since buying a campervan we have increased the number of long journeys we do, with many lasting three to six hours.

We made the decision early on not to use screens when we travel and we have never found it to be too much of a problem.

However, as always, this is absolutely no judgement on anyone else’s parenting style. As I’ve always said, every child is different and every parent is different and I strongly believe everyone should do what is right for their family. But if you are looking for some tips for screen-free journeys with toddlers, then read on.

1. Do nothing

This may seem like a strange tip, but my first piece of advice is do nothing.
I think as parents we sometimes feel that it is our responsibility to keep our children entertained at all times. But actually children need time to sit and think and – dare I say it – be bored.

Something I used to notice a lot when I was travelling through South America is how many families would get on a long distance bus (and I’m talking about journeys of 10-20 hours) with little or no entertainment for their children and they would be perfectly content. 

Whenever we begin a journey we don’t give our little adventurers any toys or games to start with. This encourages them to look out of the window and leads to lots of great conversations.

When they were very little these moments wouldn’t always last that long, but now it can sometimes be an hour or more of looking outside before my vehicle-obsessed three-year-old will ask for something to play with.

2. Take some novelty toys or books

In order to keep interest levels high on journeys, we have some toys which we only take on trips and are not played with at home. This means that when they do come out there’s always the excitement of a ‘new’ toy. Often I’ll save a few extra toys from Christmas or birthdays for this or look for bargains on Facebook Marketplace. These JoJo Maman Pocket Dinosaurs are currently one of our campervan favourites. They’re great as both children enjoy playing with them and as there’s quite a few in the set it keeps them entertained for ages and means we can travel with fewer toys.

For ease I keep all of the toys and books we’re taking for a journey in a bag at my feet and pass them back when needed.

However, if your child is slightly older, there are some great trays which can be fitted over carseats and allow them to be pretty self-sufficient during a journey. I particularly like the look of this new KeepEmQuiet Travel Activity Tray.

3. Take fuss-free activities

Colouring books and felt-tip pens/crayons are great distractions. However, if you have little ones they can also end up being a hassle if the pen/crayon ends up on things other than the paper. So we love using things like Water Magic books and magnetic books when we’re on the move. They’re low mess and keep little ones entertained for ages. They can also be used time and again when you travel, so you’re not having to continually purchase new items.

Easy books to use for screen-free journeys with toddlers

4. Stickers are your best friend

I think I speak for most parents when I say stickers are the perfect way to keep little ones busy. Our little adventurer cannot get enough of them. We particularly like the Usborne range as the stickers are reusable so new scenes can be created time and again. This Dolly Dressing Around The World one looks so cute and I know my little adventurer would love this Travel Sticker Book.

Stickers are a great option for screen-free journeys with toddlers

5. Play audiobooks

Audiobooks are a great option for longer journeys and are also perfect if your little one suffers from travel sickness and can’t do too many activities.

You can play them through your car speakers, or opt for a Yoto Player or Toniebox if you want them to be able to have control of the stories they listen to. 

We also enjoy listening to CBeebies Radio on BBC Sounds, which has lots of different short stories and shows. Our favourite is Andy’s Sound Adventures where the presenter goes to different countries to record the sounds of animals. I think we all probably know the episodes off by heart now!

6. When the going gets tough, it’s time to start singing!

Obviously I’d be lying if I said all of our roadtrips were perfect. Taking screen-free journeys with toddlers is not always easy. There are times when both of our little adventurers get tired and grumpy. They just want to be at our destination and the question: “Are we nearly there yet?” becomes more frequent.

It’s then that we bring out the big guns. The family sing-along is our last resort, as we know that once we start we are pretty much singing until we reach our final stop!

There are definitely ways to make it more fun though. Create a family playlist which has a selection of favourite songs for each member of the family. That way it keeps everyone happy and ensures a good mix of songs along the way. It’s also a nice way to begin to introduce your little ones to some of your favourite bands.

We also adapt lots of nursery rhymes to make them more fun to sing. For example, we sing a song to the tune of 10 Green Bottles, but with the names of all of our little adventurer’s friends from nursery standing on the wall.(We also change the lyrics to allow them to jump off, rather than fall!) This keeps the song more interesting for her and also means we’re not singing the same version 50 times in a row.  

7. Make naptime work for you

Our three-year-old doesn’t nap anymore, but the baby still has two naps a day. We always leave home just before his first one begins, which ensures we can get a good hour or so start before he wakes up. Then it’s not too long to kill before lunchtime and he’ll have his second nap after our next break.

If possible try and stop at service stations or places that have some outdoor space so that your little ones can have a good run around and get rid of some excess energy before you get back on the road.

8. Stop before it’s too late

Our motto is “stop before you need to”. It’s so much better to plan a rest break for lunch or to stretch your legs before the children realise they need one. As we’ve learnt to our peril, there is nothing worse than being stuck on a motorway with no services with a toddler who’s decided they’ve had enough. 

I hope you find some of these tips for screen-free journeys with toddlers useful. If you have any more I’d love to hear them!

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A toddler in a carseat