Don’t let travel monotony spoil the mood of your road trip. Use these 30 resourceful ideas to keep everybody snacked, entertained and in high spirits during the long car ride
BY NABANITA DUTT
Are you a seasoned road-tripper? If you are, then you don’t need us to provide you with ordinary road trip essentials – like a road-trip planner, a road-trip checklist and other necessary travel tips before you hit the road. What we will do instead, is help you plan your entertainment. Staying amused and happily occupied for several days in a car can quickly become a nightmare you cannot wake out of, unless you have considered this often-ignored road-trip essential.
The article you are reading right now, will cover every sort of fun that can be had in a moving car, using our 5 senses of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell. Even with kids in the backseat.
Having a good entertainment plan is really important, if the family is to still love each other afterwards, and want to go on another road trip next year. So here goes:
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIAL # 1: SNACKS
When you’re traveling long distance on the road, snacking isn’t an act of `eating’. It’s entertainment.
Empty holes will keep popping open in your mind – not in your stomach – after the first 10-mile marker, and they’ll ask for sweets, salty treats and crunchy munchies. It’s an inevitable thing with the whole road-trip experience.
If you’re counting calories, that’s another story. But if you plan to make snacking a part of your road-trip entertainment, we’re going to set you up with a smart list that won’t have you running into a convenience store every time you stop to get gas.
One word of caution though: don’t carry foodstuff in containers that you want to bring back home. When they are empty, they are an awful nuisance to carry around.
Pack things in plastics baggies and foil, so you can throw as you go (in trashcans, obviously).
5 TRAVEL-FRIENDLY FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Some fruits travel well, and some don’t. Bananas, for instance, are not a good idea. They will stink up the car as they bruise in the heat and go tushy-squishy. (The latter happens when somebody sits down suddenly on over-ripe bananas by accident. It is not pretty.)
On the other hand, the list of fruits below are perfect for road trips for all sorts of good reasons.
♦ ♦ ♦ Clementines/Mandarin Oranges: Sweet, small and easy to peel, they energize you with a burst of citrus freshness, and can become quite addictive on a road trip. Added bonus: every time you peel one of them, the whole car starts smelling great too.
♦ ♦ ♦ Blueberries/Strawberries: Small fruits that you can eat whole with no pits to mess up the car. Buy berries in plastic containers that you can throw away once the fruits are gone. Wash them in advance at home, and remember to take the hulls off strawberries too.
♦ ♦ ♦ Sugar Snap Peas: They’re a veggie, yes, but treat them like fruit on a road trip and you’ll find a whole new appreciation for the pods’ refreshing crunch and sweetness that you hadn’t noticed before.
♦ ♦ ♦ Miniature Sweet Peppers: Again, a bag of veggies that can beat fruits any day with its sharp aroma, juicy innards and sweet taste. It’s weird how certain foods feel different when eaten on the road. Little red, yellow and orange peppers are some of them. Try it.
♦ ♦ ♦ Cherry Tomatoes/Baby Carrots/Cut Celery: Wash and dry them at home, and then munch on a few whenever the mood strikes.
5 TRAVEL-READY FINGER FOODS
♦ ♦ ♦ Boiled Eggs: Hard to believe? Then you have never tried eating boiled eggs on a road trip before! If you enjoy eggs at breakfast, take some with you, along with sachets of salt and pepper. And tell us afterwards how they tasted when eaten out of context on some lonely stretch of country road at high noon.
♦ ♦ ♦ Dried Fruits And Nuts: Fill a bag with your own, custom trail mix. Include only the nuts that your family enjoys, so there will be no leftover bits and pieces that nobody wants. Gnaw at the nuts instead of eating by the handful. 14 almonds or 20 pistachios pack 100 calories. Remember that.
♦ ♦ ♦ Sunflower/Pumpkin Seeds: If you nibble on dried seeds, they last a long time. Your brain thinks you’re eating and the hunger episode is quickly satisfied and everybody is happy. For an hour or so. J
♦ ♦ ♦ Cheese: Low-fat cheese in single-serving packs is extremely travel-friendly and generally hits the spot when you’re craving something more substantial than Lays chips. String cheese snacks, and cubes of medium-hard cheese like Colby or cheddar are perfect finger foods for road trips.
♦ ♦ ♦ Fresh-baked Bread: It has to be a loaf, preferably warm (pick one up from a bakery on the way). Tear hunks off the loaf, like Terence Hill and Bud Spencer in a spaghetti Western. Feels and tastes awesome!
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIAL # 2: DRINKS
Are you planning to take an ice-box on your road trip? If you’re not certain, then consider the huge amount of space saved by not taking one.
So how will you manage? With block ice made in bottles. Freeze plastic water bottles and DIY your own block ice that will not leak. Block ice lasts much longer than ice cubes, and you can place your drinks in sturdy plastic bags using the frozen bottles as coolers.
Added bonus: when the ice finally melts, you have perfectly good water to drink.
Don’t bother carrying too many bottles of obvious stuff like Gatorade etc. that can be bought anywhere on the road.
If you want to really personalize your efforts with the drinks, make some fun virgin cocktails instead that will taste great and are a better alternative to soda. Fill empty bottles with the homemade beverages and enjoy everyone’s surprise as you serve them up! (Keep the aerated ingredient, like soda water, separate and pour on only at the time of serving.)
(Okay, the service will probably be in disposable glasses, but who cares. This is a road trip. If anybody wants silver trays and baccarat, let them stay at home with a camping tent pitched in the living room.)
5 TRIPPY DRINK RECIPES
♦ ♦ ♦ Virgin Pimm’s Cup: Do as the British do, and drink Pimm’s in summer. It is actually possible to make a virgin version of this gin cocktail, and folks on the other side of the Pond swear by its awesomeness during summer. Here’s a recipe that’s well worth the effort.
♦ ♦ ♦ Virgin Mojito: Take the rum out of this Cuban highball, and what you have left are 2 fabulous ingredients to fight the tiredness of a long drive: fresh mint and lime juice. Try this recipe for non-alcoholic mojito here.
♦ ♦ ♦ Virgin Bellini: Keep prosecco out of the drink that made Harry’s Bar a household name, and let the peachy pinkness of the rest of the recipe get you partying like a Venetian on your road trip. Bellini is delicious even without a drop of alcohol, as you will find out when you pick up the easy instructions from here.
♦ ♦ ♦ Watermelon Agua Fresca: If you’ve been to Mexico in summer, you may have seen locals on the roadside, drinking watermelon agua fresca by the gallons. It’s light, bright and a terrific thirst-quencher. Check out the recipe here.
♦ ♦ ♦ Magic Color Drinks: This is for kids. Surprise them with magic color drinks when they ask for water or soda. Prepare some clear, plastic disposable glasses you are going to take with 2-3 drops of food coloring at the bottom. Let them dry out. When the children are thirsty, pour water or clear soda in the glass (you can hide the food color at the bottom of the glass by holding your fingers over the area). Watch their faces light up with amazement as the color magically changes from clear to blue, pink, green etc.
These sort of random, unexpected moments linger on in the minds of children, giving them something special to remember from their road trip afterwards.
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIAL # 3: GAMES
A fun way to start a community activity that all can participate in is of course, road-trip games. We’re talking about board-less, piece-less games that can be played inside a moving car.
There are the classics, which sound silly but turn out to be quite entertaining when played. Also, playing road-trip games breaks the monotony of the next 100 miles or so.
5 ROAD-TRIP GAMES FOR ADULTS AND KIDS
♦ ♦ ♦ Singing Bee: How well do you know your music? Prove it by playing Spelling Bee. This road trip game starts with someone singing the first few lines of a song.
The second person has to then sing another song with begins with the last letter in the last word of the lines that was sung before. For example, if the previous song ended with the words: “I’ll get him hot, show him what I got”, you begin yours with the letter `t’. Set a time limit for each participant to think. If they cannot think of something or sing wrong lyrics, they’re out.
♦ ♦ ♦ 20 Questions: The person in the hot seat thinks of a personality everybody knows. Could be a family friend, a neighbor, a TV/movie star etc. The other players then ask 20 questions to get clues about who this person is.
The answers can only be in `yes’ or `no’. On the basis of 20 questions asked – and answered in yes or no — everybody makes a guess about who this person is. The first correct answer wins.
♦ ♦ ♦ What’s The Next Town?: If you’re in the passenger seat and not driving, you can create a great sense of anticipation for kids and grown-ups alike by reading aloud all the attractions you can see when you pass through a particular town that’s a few miles ahead on the road.
Choose a place that’s about 50+ miles out and get everybody interested in this little gem you have found called, say, “Newport Heights”. Do a quick “attractions” check on your smart phone and describe one or two neat things to see there.
Color your descriptions with made-up stories if you like to stoke the children’s imagination. They will be all primed up by the time you actually pass “Newport Heights”. Take a minute’s detour and drive down the main street or wherever the “attractions” are.
The kids will absolutely enjoy a sense of adventure and new discovery with this road trip game and the miles will whiz by without anybody noticing.
♦ ♦ ♦ Team Storytelling: The structure of this game is simple. Somebody begins the story with one line. Example: “Once upon a time, there was a Chihuahua who had a low self-esteem problem.” Or if there are kids, “Once upon a time there was a princess who was going to have a birthday party.”
Then, the next person supplies the next line. And so on. As the plot develops, it’s amusing to see the train of thoughts that carry the story up and down a zig-zag path, while everybody tries to stay on the same page and give the tale a semblance of coherence.
♦ ♦ ♦ Fortunately-Unfortunately: This game doesn’t just pass the time; it teaches children to think positively, and mentally flip a bad situation to a more hopeful one.
The rules, as in most road-trip games, are pretty straightforward. An adult takes the initiative and makes the first “unfortunate” statement. For example, “I wish I didn’t have to wear glasses and look nerdy all the time.” Now the next person puts a positive spin on that statement, saying, for example, “But I can paint so well, only because I can see better with my glasses, and when I grow up, I’ll get lenses or something and never have to wear glasses again.”
Or, somebody says, “The elephants have gone mad and are attacking us!” And another person says, “Since I can’t outrun them, I will just stand here and try to grow a trunk.” The possibilities of bad and good scenarios that can be played out are endless.
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIAL # 4: AUDIO BOOKS
Audio books are a road-trip must-have these days – and you will also agree, once you’ve spend some happy hours listening to a gripping storyline as the scenery passes quietly outside the window.
Audio books fill gaps in conversation. They keep the kids in the backseat occupied when the tedium of travel starts getting to them. And most importantly, they keep the driver alert, and not likely to fall asleep behind the wheels.
Audio books are a multisensory experience, and they can be selected for certain times of day – for example, a suspense, paranormal tale while you’re driving down lonely roads in the half-light hours of dusk…when the temperature outside cools to a chill and the tall silhouettes of trees go dark with mystery and you feel you’re all alone on the road…or are you?
5 POPULAR AUDIO BOOKS FOR ADULTS
♦ ♦ ♦ Bossypants by Tina Fey: The audio book, read and written by Tina Fey, is such a road trip favorite, you might want to give Fey’s quicksilver wit and absurdly appropriate wisdoms on life and relationships a whirl with this one.
♦ ♦ ♦ I Can See You by Karen Rose: A spine-chilling, crime thriller that centers around multiple murders dressed up as suicides. The plot, with its terrifying twists and turns, will keep you guessing, and at the edge of your car seat until the very end. No chance of falling asleep behind the wheels with this one!
♦ ♦ ♦ One Shot At Forever by Chris Ballard: “A small town, an unlikely coach, and a magical baseball season” – the tagline on this audio book says it all. Based on real events in 1971, when a rural Illinois high school baseball team beats all odds to become the smallest school in state history to make the state final.
♦ ♦ ♦ I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai: A mind-broadening memoir of a Pakistani girl, whose life journey gives you a first-hand feel of an alien culture that no news channel can really ever understand or capture.
♦ ♦ ♦ The End Of The Affair by Graham Greene: The intimate voice of British actor Colin Firth transports you to a dark, rain-drenched, post-War London, where hope is in short supply, but life still demands living. Colin Firth does a splendid job of interpreting the principle characters and conveying the passions and emotions that drive them down the path of their unique destinies.
5 POPULAR AUDIO BOOKS FOR KIDS
The thing about kids is they love re-runs. If you are a parent, then you must know that, after watching Frozen on a loop for days on end.
Selecting audio books of stories and movies they are already familiar with may engage them quicker than a brand new tale on the road. If you think that is the case, find audio books accordingly, and guarantee several hours of peace in the car in this way.
♦ ♦ ♦ Froggy Goes To Camp by Jonathan London: Froggy the frog’s adventures continue in this audio book. This time, his dad is taking him to summer camp, where he will see new things, play new games, make new friends and get up to mischief!
♦ ♦ ♦ The Boxcar Children Collection by Gertrude Chandler Warner: Follow the lives of 4 orphans who make a home in the woods near a small town, in an abandoned red boxcar. Adventures abound in their lives, but the 4 children stick together and all is always well in the end.
♦ ♦ ♦ The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale: The stories of Barbie and Cinderella come together in a small mountain village where young Miri lives. The prince of the land is going to choose his princess from this village, and so an academy is set up to train all the local girls to become suitable royal brides. But is Miri good enough to qualify?
♦ ♦ ♦ Mrs Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald: Mrs Piggle-Wiggle lives in an upside down house and she always smells of cookies. She has had an exciting life, having once been married to a pirate. Now, she uses her gift to cure children who suffers from bad habits, but she does it so well that everybody loves Mrs Piggle-Wigggle.
♦ ♦ ♦ Matilda by Roald Dahl: Matilda is a sweet little girl who is horribly misunderstood by everybody. At home her parents think she is a nuisance, always getting into trouble. At school, her teacher is especially unkind to her. But Matilda has a secret gift that nobody knows about…
ROAD TRIP ESSENTIAL # 5: TRAVEL ETIQUETTE
It’s important to set down some rules for the road before the whole family commits to spending many long hours together, cooped inside a car. We’re making a sample list for you that you can customize to suit your own unique situation.
♦ ♦ ♦ Stop means “Stop”: If any traveler wants a rest stop, the driver finds the nearest one, and not be optimistic about what may lie 5 miles ahead. Sitting in a car with a full bladder is no fun, and it makes others feel uncomfortable too.
♦ ♦ ♦ Decide who will `sit bitch’: Don’t use this slang phrase in front of the kids, but plan ahead of time who will sit in the unpopular middle position in the back. Usually, the honor goes to the person with the shortest legs. If that is the case, make up for the inconvenience with some promised prize afterwards.
♦ ♦ ♦ The navigator and driver will not get into heated arguments: It is the navigator’s job to give directions at least 15 seconds ahead of time. By the same token, if the driver does not understand those directions clearly, he/she will device a better mode of communication, maybe with hand movements. Whatever the case, both parties will at least try to keep patience with the other, as the road trip is supposed to be fun.
♦ ♦ ♦ Everybody won’t fall asleep at the same time: Other than the fact that it makes the driver feel like a beast of burden, there is always the danger of him/her drifting off to sleep too, causing an accident. At least, the passenger in front should stay alert at all times. If you want to sleep, go in the back and let someone else sit in front for a while.
♦ ♦ ♦ The driver deserves special treatment: To keep the driver from grumbling all the way, make it a point to give him/her special considerations during the road trip. That means neck massage,
hand massage, being hand-fed, one chip at a time, whatever it takes.
♦ ♦ ♦ Split the music playlist evenly: Does your family squabble over music? If so, then ask everybody to supply their top 10 favorite tracks. Build a playlist taking one song from each person’s list at a time. That way, nobody can complain about someone else hogging the music.
So what are your own tried-and-tested road-trip tips? Tell us how you keep your family entertained, so we can copy you!