Road trips are a great way to get outside and see the world together as a family. One drawback, though, is that they usually entail long stretches of sitting fairly motionless in the car. Many of us struggle with the question of how to get kids enough exercise on a road trip.
Kids naturally seek out exercise; they gravitate toward activities such as running, chasing, climbing, tumbling, playing sports, and riding bikes. It’s important not to allow long car trips to prevent children from satisfying their need for physical activity. Check out these 12 essential tips to help your kids get the exercise they need on your next family road trip.
1. Stop at Playgrounds and Parks Along the Way
Except for the smallest of towns, most cities have at least one playground or park. On long drives, instead of eating lunch in the car or inside a restaurant, try searching online to see if there is a park nearby.
Eating together in a park can be a great way for the entire family to stretch, breathe some fresh air, and enjoy a bit of nature. After lunch, parents can relax and talk, or take a short walk around the park, while kids get a chance to run and play.
Kids who’ve been cooped up in a car for hours will usually try to make up for lost time as soon as they get outside. They’ll run, climb, and play enthusiastically, knowing that more time in the car awaits. Even a brief amount of time spent at a park can get their heart rates up and reenergize kids for the rest of the day’s traveling.
2. Bring Along the Kids’ Bikes or Scooters
Riding a bike is one of the joys of childhood. It can be an especially fun activity for kids on a road trip, where they’ll get to experience the fun of riding along new trails while taking in unfamiliar sights.
Bike riding is also, as we all know, an excellent form of exercise. It strengthens muscles, gets the heart rate up, and improves balance and coordination. If you don’t have the space or desire to tote along bikes, scooters make a great substitute.
Like bicycles, scooters provide an enticing combination of exercise and fun. They are also conveniently compact and can generally be packed in the trunk without issue.
Packing bicycles isn’t the easiest task, but it can definitely be done. Depending on the size of the bikes, they can be put on a hitch or roof rack. Alternatively, smaller bikes can be packed in the trunk. When packing kids’ bikes in the trunk, it’s usually helpful to remove the handlebars or front tire in order to make them fit without taking up too much space.
3. Play Frisbee or Catch Together
Kids aren’t the only ones who can fall victim to lack of exercise on a road trip. As parents, remembering to take care of our own fitness is important as well. A simple frisbee or ball is one of the easiest things to pack, and it can provide a great source of exercise for the entire family.
This is another activity that can take place while visiting parks during your road trip. After lunch, try a 15-minute game of frisbee before heading back to the car. Once it’s time to buckle back in, you’ll all likely feel better and more energized.
4. Do Car Seat Exercises
On a long road trip, some days you’ll likely be driving as many as seven or eight hours. Even if the day’s itinerary doesn’t allow for many stops along the way, you can still help your kids get some exercise in.
Obviously aerobic exercise isn’t something kids can get while riding in the car. Strength and flexibility exercises are much easier to accomplish while cruising down the highway, though. There are online tutorials and ideas, if you’re interested, but really this is something you can pretty much make up as you go.
Older kids might be less enthusiastic, but toddlers all the way through elementary school-age children tend to like car seat exercises. Try suggesting adapted yoga poses and simple stretches.
Younger kids with smaller arms often have enough space to do extended arm circles, bicep curls, and a variety of stretches. Even something as simple as ankle circles can help get blood flowing and allow some of the benefits of stretching.
5. Take Walks to Explore New Cities and Towns
One of the most exhilarating aspects of a road trip is seeing new, unfamiliar places. The landscapes, shops, streets, and downtowns of unknown towns are a joy to explore.
While driving around town can be enjoyable, walking is often the better choice. This is especially true when traveling with kids who’ve been sitting in the car for hours. Try exploring the downtown or other interesting areas on foot.
In order to make the walk a better source of exercise, take the lead by walking at a swift pace. Kids will usually increase their speed and keep up nicely. Even if you choose a more leisurely pace sometimes, you’ll still get the benefits of being up and moving.
On days when less driving is required, it can be fun to take a brief morning walk before setting out for the next drive.
6. Go Hiking as a Family
If your trip includes any national parks or stops in the mountains, there will likely be plenty of opportunities for hiking. Hikes need not be steep, long, or difficult. Choose easy, established trails the whole family can enjoy.
Before setting out, make sure you have the necessary supplies and know exactly where your trail starts and ends. When hiking with the family in an unfamiliar location, choosing shorter hikes that take around an hour is often preferable. The Wilderness Society has some great tips for hiking together as a family.
If you decide to incorporate camping on your road trip, in addition to hiking, kids can get exercise running around and exploring, climbing, and even helping to pitch the tent.
7. Make Use of Hotel or Motel Swimming Pools
If your road trip includes stays at hotels or motels, check and see if there’s a swimming pool available on the premises. Especially in the summer months, swimming can provide an excellent way for kids to cool down and get in some exercise.
8. Ask Kids to Help Out
Road trips often involve a lot of packing and unpacking each evening. Let kids help out. Even toddlers can usually carry something lightweight like a small tote with some of their toys or a grocery bag with some snacks.
Older kids can help carry smaller suitcases and bags. Of course, this doesn’t provide a true workout, but remember that every little bit counts. In addition to the physical benefits, they’ll establish the useful habits and skills that result from the responsibility of helping out the family.
9. Create a Jumping Jacks Routine
Each time you get out of the car during the day, make it a game for kids to do a set number of jumping jacks. This provides a great burst of exercise while requiring very little time.
10. Let Kids Help Wash and Vacuum the Car
On a long road trip, your car is sure to get dirty. With kids in tow, the interior is also likely to end up with crumbs and spills littering the seats and floorboards.
Self-service car washes may be a bit mundane for adults, but they can be great fun for kids. Let the kids help spray and wipe down the car. Then let them assist with vacuuming the interior. Not only will they enjoy the experience, they’ll also get in a bit of much needed exercise.
11. Find Opportunities to Get in Incidental Exercise
We all know this piece of advice, but it can be easy to forget sometimes. A great way to help kids get enough physical activity on road trips is simply to incorporate opportunities for incidental exercise whenever possible.
In hotels and motels, take the stairs instead of the elevator. The same goes for trips to shopping malls or museums with multiple stories. When visiting various attractions, parks, or even grocery stores, choose a parking spot far enough away that you’ll have to walk a bit to reach your destination. All of these small healthy choices add up.
12. Help Kids Keep Up Their Energy with Healthy Snacks
Road trips and lots of salty or sweet snacks often go hand in hand. Unfortunately, overeating these unhealthy treats can mean low energy levels. In order to make sure kids have adequate nutrition in order to stay energetic and ready to play, try to provide healthier snacks whenever possible.
Fresh and dried fruits, vegetables, nuts, and cheeses are all good alternatives to chips, cookies, and such. If you grocery shop during your trip, it will be easier to keep fresh foods in stock for kids to eat daily.
These are some of the ways our family tries to get exercise for the kids on long road trips. If you have any other suggestions or ideas, I would love to hear them!