I love road trips. I love gallivanting off to another part of the country, watching the landscape gradually yet actively change around me. I used to pick up and go at the drop of a hat. Flying into Chicago? Sure, that’s close enough. I’ll be there. Want to go see a show at the beach? Absolutely. You’ll be in Yellowstone? Me, too.
Then something happened. I had kids. It’s no longer as easy to just hop in the car and go. Trips are planned events, which is fine for this stage in my life. I’m grown and have responsibilities outside of myself.
But we do take planned trips, and when we’re on them, I have to keep the children occupied. For hours. Sometimes two hours. Sometimes fourteen hours. It’s a task that oscillates between fun and maddening.
A little over a year ago, I discovered a secret weapon for road trip distractions. That secret weapon is Target’s dollar section.
It greets you easily enough as you walk in the door. If you don’t have children, you may easily pass up the hodge podge of children’s toys thrown loosely into basket-racks.
But if you’re a parent, especially one that needs distractions, you know that this section is made of gold. Here are some of the things I’ve picked up over the years. You’ll notice that many of these items are branded, making them more of a steal:
- Cat in the Hat bags that we now use as our kids’ travel bags
- Coloring books from Princess Sofia to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
- Lisa Frank and Avengers stickers
- Wooden puzzles (No joke! Though these were $3/pop instead of $1.)
- White boards with markers included
- Glow sticks
- Fisher Price board books
- Frozen flashcards (math, geometry, and colors)
- Race cars
- Educational wipe and learn books that can be used repeatedly
It’s an amazing thing, and there’s been more items that I’m simply forgetting. Here’s how we handle our distraction bags. We don’t load them all up full of goodies for the road trip out. We put two or three items in there. Then we reload them each day of our trip, withholding them until we need them. We may need them at a restaurant. We may need them when my husband and I go out on a date night, and the kids stay with a sitter.
Then, of course, we’ll need them on the way back. Instead of giving everything to them all at once, we put a few items in each day, maximizing wonder and preoccupation. For the amount of stuff we get, it’s the most value-packed option we’ve been able to find.
Remember that before you go on any road trip, you want to make sure you and your family are safe. Be sure to get a safety check to make sure your car seats are installed properly, and take your car in for a checkup at your mechanic. Investing a little bit of time and money now can save you a lot of havoc down the road.