Entertainment on the Road: Unplugged

by Margie Binder, contributing writer

Entertainment on the Road: Unplugged

The thrill of a Walt Disney World vacation usually begins and ends passing under one of the welcome arches leading into the resort area. Some of us also find great joy in the weeks and months of pre-trip planning, which can extend the trip well beyond actual days in the parks. With a little imagination, a sense of humor, and a strong dose of patience, great memories can also be made on the journey, particularly if you are road-tripping.

In 2013, it’s not realistic to leave all electronic devices behind, but, like much western food and drink, the gizmos and gadgets should be enjoyed in moderation, and never take the place of interacting with family and environment. Here are my top 10 entertainment items for road trips which, with one exception, require no batteries or chargers other than what comes on most vehicles:

  1. Maps. Following along on a good old-fashioned paper map will not only help develop geographic literacy, but help children gain a sense of direction and an understanding of the big picture. Maps can also be used for scavenger hunts, understanding scale, and estimating time and distance. Bring along different versions or types depending on the ages of your children and the distance covered on your trip.
  2. Clipboard. Each passenger should have this all-purpose item, which is great for pencil puzzles, keeping track of license plates, writing in a journal, keeping a snack steady, or using the clip to hold a small craft.
  3. Audio Books and Music CDs. Even for unplugged families without smartphones, iPods, or docks in their cars, most vehicles have built-in CD players. Each family member should choose several music CDs and an audio book prior to the trip; your local library is a great resource to experiment with different genres. During the trip, take turns selecting a CD, also including a rotation for quiet time or for individual electronic time. For longer discs, e.g., most audio books, set a reasonable time limit or number of chapters before rotating to the next person. Taking turns as a family helps children develop a sense of fairness when they see parents also abiding by the rules. On a long family road trip in the summer of 2012, my husband and I used our picks to listen to a James Herriot audio book, All Creatures Great and Small. After initial complaints from two of three kids, everyone picked the audio book by the third round and, between Minnesota and the Grand Canyon and back we listened and laughed to 2 ½ of Herriot’s beloved books. Of course, the audio selection on a road trip to Walt Disney World could easily include Disney storybooks and music CDs to rev up the anticipation.
  4. Rest Stop Recreation. Road trips shouldn’t be all about getting there, and the journey will be more enjoyable if every rest area is not treated like a Daytona pit stop. Packing one or more of these items will provide a little exercise for stiff limbs and pent up energy: soccer ball, Frisbee, Hacky-Sack or footbag, sidewalk chalk, resistance band, bouncy ball. Put someone in charge at each rest area to create a quick obstacle course or circuit using these items and what is available at the stop, such as a bench, trees, or playground equipment, being careful, of course, not to interfere with other travelers. Also, stay well clear of the road and other vehicles. Kids loved to be timed; adults not so much, but I promise the memories of these mini-competitions will be cherished.
  5. Games and Discussion Activities. Bring a handful of small games and activities, including chat packs, Apples to Apples, playing cards, Scattergories, Taboo, and travel versions of classics like Connect Four, chess, checkers, and backgammon. Many of these games can be played electronically, but patience, negotiation, and cooperation will be in higher demand when navigating the non-electronic versions. Better to learn and practice these traits in a safe family environment than in their first job after high school.
  6. Individual Entertainment Bag. No matter the age, each traveler should pack a backpack-size entertainment bag with whatever they enjoy and can carry, e.g., books, Disney guides, pencil puzzles, small crafts, paper, and a small stash of writing and coloring supplies. Prior to the trip, print out Disney-related coloring activities and pencil puzzles to bring along. And although outside the scope of this article, snacks and individual electronic devices should also fit inside each bag.
  7. Office Kit. In order not to overload the individual bags, bring a pencil box or small plastic case with extra lead pencils, pens, colored pencils, scissors, sticky notes (variety of sizes), tape, and anything else that can be shared. Sticky notes, in particular, have been popular on our road trips and can serve as bookmarks, map markers, and places to create mystery clues and secret notes for siblings.
  8. Pillow. Essential for napping, but doubles as a lap desk or play area between two passengers. Each traveler should bring his or her own, of course, and preferably a full-size version. If space is at a premium, there are travel-size pillows available online and at discount retailers.
  9. One or Two Surprises. Particularly with young children and long trips, a new book, game, or toy at the halfway mark, or as a reward for good behavior, can really brighten the mood of any weary traveler. Surprise your spouse with a new music CD from a favorite artist or order a few Disney-themed items well before your trip to hand out along the way. For an inexpensive surprise, create small photo books with family pictures, including pets, and pictures of past Disney or other family trips, and sneak one into each individual entertainment bag.
  10. Small Flashlight. The only item on the list requiring batteries, each person should carry his or her own small flashlight. Overhead or side lights in vehicles can be distracting to the driver or to others trying to sleep, but a small flashlight or booklight should allow individual reading and playing, or searching for items after dark, without disturbing anyone else.

I don’t deny the vast array of electronic options available to pass time on road trips; much of it pretty cool and space-saving. But I lament the loss of family time and relationship building better accomplished through face-to-face interaction and shared experiences, with more noises from laughter and story-telling than from pings, rings, and other electronic things. A Walt Disney World vacation is a wonderful time to reconnect as a family, and the road to get there can be part of the fun. Play games, share, read, listen, observe, and even be bored together. In the end you will have created another chapter in your family’s story, and what better way to do that than on a road trip to Walt Disney World?

Author’s Note: In case you need more motivation to wean from electronics for even a short time, National Day of Unplugging is on March 1. Whether on a road trip to Walt Disney World or a parental taxi to the latest ball game or concert, try it unplugged!