Benefits of Going on a Device-Free Road Trip with Kids

Drawing of five kids around a picture of a tablet and a cell phone with a no-symbol over it demonstrating device-free

Going on a device-free road trip with kids may seem intimidating to some parents at first, but it can actually be a very rewarding experience for the entire family. The absence of devices such as smartphones, televisions, tablets, and video games means that kids have more time to slow down and experience all that a road trip has to offer. 

Just to note before we begin, when I say a device-free road trip, I’m talking about no devices for kids. Using a cell phone for GPS navigation or for parents to look up hotels, restaurants, sights, and such is still often both helpful and necessary. This post focuses on the reasons why keeping kids device-free on a road trip can be beneficial.

Kids Get the Opportunity to Sightsee While Riding in the Car

Free from the distractions of mobile devices, kids will naturally gravitate toward watching the passing scenery. Even when driving in the more deserted and monotonous parts of the country, there is a lot to see and take in. We spend most of our lives in familiar settings, and getting a chance to see other types of landscape and terrain can broaden our perspective of the world. 

This is particularly important for children who may have never before witnessed areas very different from where they’ve come from. Kids from big cities are often entranced by seeing houses in “the middle of nowhere”, and conversely those who are growing up in more rural settings are often quite excited to see the rush of people, cars, and skyscrapers when driving through big cities. 

When kids spend more time viewing the scenery on a road trip, they are more likely to remember where they’ve been and what many of the places were like. Some of these memories can last a lifetime and enhance their knowledge of the world and the diversity it has to offer.

It Helps Teach Appreciation for Nature

When given the opportunity, kids have an amazing ability to appreciate the beauty and magnificence of the natural world around us. In my own experience, I’ve found that pointing out a few beautiful scenes such as mountains, waterfalls, and rivers is helpful in sparking my kids’ interest. Afterwards, they begin to point out pretty scenery they’ve noticed themselves. 

Noticing all of the beauty that nature has to offer can also help kids to understand practical reasons behind taking care of the environment. Actually seeing litter or trash along the side of a river, for example, will often prompt kids to remember what they’ve been taught about not littering. Now they will have a point of reference for actually seeing the detrimental effects of such behavior. 

It Allows Time for Reflection

Butterfly on the beach perched on a glass reflective ball on the sand with the ocean in the background

Spending hours in the car can allow time to think and contemplate. Many adults can even remember, if only briefly, some of the things they thought about while riding in the car on long trips as a child. 

For older kids and youth, this can be a great time for reflection and thinking about the future. Sometimes young people’s lives get so busy with daily schedules and activities that this kind of free time for contemplation is in short supply.

Boredom Is a Normal Part of Life

Regardless of age, most of us feel bored at some point during a long road trip. Consider resisting the temptation to find a distraction for kids who complain of boredom, though. 

Learning to cope with boredom without whining and needing constant stimulation is an important part of growing up. Sometimes it can be helpful to tell kids that it’s okay to be bored. When we constantly look for “cures” to children’s boredom, we make it seem like something that is innately dangerous or destructive. Acknowledging that everyone feels bored sometimes, on the other hand, can help facilitate patience and acceptance.

Of course, it’s important to talk and have device-free activities and games planned for kids during long road trips, but some periods of boredom will still occur and knowing that this is normal and expected can be helpful. 

If you like, check out AAA’s Road Trip Games That Don’t Involve Screens. They provide some fun options that you can try out. 

There is More Time to Talk and Strengthen Family Bonds

Road trips provide a unique opportunity for families to talk and spend quality time together. With everyone in close proximity, and the options for other forms of entertainment limited, kids will naturally want to talk, both to parents and siblings. 

This can be a great time to discuss a variety of topics, to talk about future plans and goals, and to just catch up with one another. While riding in the car, many kids love to talk about school, friends, and other interests.

It can also be a great time for parents to talk about their own experiences traveling or going on road trips when they were children. Sharing memories of both some of the positives and the negatives of such trips can enhance empathy and bonding between parents and kids. For instance, letting kids know that you were also sometimes antsy and bored during road trips when you were a child can help them to understand that you can relate to their experience. 

It Provides an Opportunity for Kids to Practice Conflict Resolution

If you have multiple children, of course there are likely to be some conflicts and arguments between siblings, especially on longer drives during road trips. Learning to work through these, and sometimes figuring out how to ignore minor disturbances, is another important part of growing up that a device-free road trip will help to facilitate. 

Though listening to such bickering between kids in the backseat can sometimes be exasperating for parents, giving them the opportunity to learn to peacefully resolve conflicts themselves is sometimes essential. This will often lead them to complain less and instead find ways to overcome their differences themselves. 

If you’re looking for ideas on how to help kids learn to resolve conflicts on their own, this article from PBS provides a few helpful suggestions

Creativity and Imagination Has a Chance to Flourish

Without the distractions of devices, time spent riding in the car can allow a child’s imagination the opportunity to flourish. Sometimes kids will make up stories or imagine the lives of the people who live in random houses that can be seen off the interstate. 

Other times, they will invent their own games and play together with siblings. Occasionally, these new games will catch on and become a source of entertainment for kids even after the road trip is complete. 

It can sometimes be easy to underestimate the abilities of our kids. If we leave them without distractions though, their levels of creativity and inventiveness can often be surprising.

The Educational Aspects of Road Tripping are Enhanced

It’s not an exaggeration to call a road trip a classroom on wheels. Educational opportunities abound and, without devices, kids will have the chance to take full advantage of everything the trip has to offer.

A globe sitting on top of a heavy open book

Geography, science, weather, government, and history are just a few of the topics that will naturally come up on a road trip. Many children also love observing plants and animals, especially ones that are different from those normally seen back home.

When driving through Southern Arizona, for instance, my young daughters loved spotting each saguaro cactus that could be viewed from the highway. Months later, back home, they continued their game of looking for cacti in people’s yards. 

We even checked out a children’s book about the saguaro cactus from the local library, and they loved learning about it and its uniqueness to that particular region. I doubt they would have enjoyed such a book nearly so much without the experiential knowledge provided by that trip.

It Helps to Prevent Mindless Snacking and Overeating

Anyone who has ever eaten while surfing the internet or watching television knows how easy it can be to mindlessly overeat. Kids also often fall prey to the pitfalls of distracted eating.

Having a snack, and even lunch, in the car is often a great way to both pass the time and arrive at your destination more quickly because it eliminates the need to stop as frequently. Without the distraction of devices, kids will naturally be more mindful of their food which reduces the likelihood that they will overeat, especially when consuming typical snack foods such as crackers or chips.

When you tell others that you are planning a device-free road trip with your kids, you may encounter some naysayers. Of course, any road trip (even without kids) will have its challenges. Resisting the temptation to respond to some of those challenges by using devices as a way to babysit kids on the road trip will absolutely pay off in the long run, though. 

In the end, a device-free road trip offers a multitude of benefits which cannot be achieved when kids are distracted by the entertainment that devices provide. 

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