Busy Boxes for Car Travel

Occupy Kids on the RoadClear square boxes with locking lids packed with toys for car ride

  • What: Toys for car travel
  • When: 12 months until they can entertain themselves
  • Why: Novel items for long rides
  • Where: On road trips

Once we hit six or seven hours on car trips and my kids have actually gotten tired and wild (never a good combination, but much less pleasant when confined to a car with them), I hand over their busy boxes.

Busy box clear container with nesting removable squares next to toys for car ride

My five year old’s most recent busy box and its contents.

I pack a goody bag, which we call busy boxes, for any trip of four hours one way or more. I also include their kindles, but because I know once I start pulling out the good stuff, they can’t live without it, I hesitate to use these items. Normally we don’t touch them on the drive to our destination, and we use them about three or more hours into our return trip.

Clear plastic square container with removable colored nesting containers and toys for car ride

My seven year old’s busy box for long car rides.

My bag of tricks in the car includes some extra stuff than when traveling by air for two reasons. I have more cargo space to hold items, and I’m not limited by weight or what I can carry. (I only have to lug it from the door to the car.) I find reaching my kids from the front of the car much less pleasant than when I sit next to them on airplanes, so I want entertainment that lasts longer.

Clear square plastic container with blue and gray nested removable containers inside

My boxes came with four removable containers but I typically only use two at a time.

For car trips, I give them each their own box, and the rules relax since I can’t reach them as easily. In other words, I don’t care if they dump the entire thing in the first minute, as long as they don’t complain about it. I pack a box tailored to each kid’s interests and abilities. My youngest child gets all toys. The oldest gets more games and writing activities.

I scored clear plastic boxes with lids, which allow them to see the contents without having to dump it out. Each box came with four different color square containers that nest inside, but I typically only use two so that I have room to pack larger stuff, too. I throw all three busy boxes into a bag, so the kids can’t see them, and I toss in a couple of workbooks and sticker pads for good measure. The Melissa and Doug reusable sticker pads work well in the car, because I don’t care where they stick them. I don’t use them on airplanes because they take up so much room in a bag, and I find it difficult to pull them out and put them back once we’re on board a plane. But for car trips they rock.

I also have a set of Calico critters with a train in a Ziploc bag stuck under the front passenger seat. In a real crunch (Ever been stuck on the highway after a logging truck overturned? How about when a tractor trailer flipped over across all the lanes and you just passed the last exit?), I whip those out, too. Now that my kids know they exist, they beg for them periodically. I stick to my car use only rule, though. The emergency toys live in my car. Meanwhile, our busy boxes get packed specifically for each trip, and the items inside usually change between uses.

Clear square container packed with small toys for long car ride

My youngest child’s busy box for car trips

 

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