8 Clever Ways to Keep Your Kids Occupied During Family Road Trips

Noel Hendrickson/iStock via Getty Images
Noel Hendrickson/iStock via Getty Images

Tablets and smartphones have definitely revolutionized family road trips, but the age of “Are we there yet?” won’t truly end until someone invents teleportation. In the meantime, here are some creative ways to keep your kids occupied, organized, and entertained while you head over the river and through the woods this holiday season.

1. Create a clothespin countdown.

To reduce the number of logistical questions (including “Are we there yet?,” “Where are we?,” “When’s lunch?,” and “How much longer?”), run a string around the interior perimeter of your car and use clothespins to hang note cards that detail your itinerary. You can include state lines you expect to cross around certain times, activities you’ve planned for the car ride, and stops you’ll make along the way.

2. Buy some backseat organizers.

backseat organizer

Instead of climbing all over the car in search of a certain stuffed animal or snack, keep everything in sight and reachable with these handy, pocket-filled organizers that strap to the seat backs. There’s even a special pocket for a tablet, so your kids don’t have to hold them while they watch.

Buy it on Amazon for $10. 

3. buy some travel trays.

carseat travel tray
Beloved Belongings/Amazon

These travel trays have special pockets for tablets and other items, but they also function as portable desks, so your kids don’t have to balance their books and snacks on their laps.

Buy it on Amazon for $20

4. Plan a game of road trip bingo.

road trip bingo
Regal Games/Amazon

If you really want to give your kids the quintessential road trip experience, bingo is the way to go. You can create your own game, tailored to what you think you’ll see along your particular route, or you can purchase a classic set with spaces like “barn,” “bridge,” and “airplane.”

Buy it on Amazon for $9.

5. Download kid-friendly audiobooks.

Tablets can be tiny, heaven-sent televisions, but sharing devices, headphones, and chargers between multiple people isn’t always as easy as you want it to be. Pressing play on a story that the whole family will enjoy is a perfect way to engage everyone at once—and if the kids help choose what to download beforehand, they’ll be more likely to get excited about listening. Tim Curry’s recording of Peter Pan is nothing short of enchanting, or you could try a more modern classic, like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, read by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Buy Peter Pan on Amazon for $18 and Aristotle and Dante on Amazon for $17. 

6. Listen to some podcasts.

Podcasts are another way to entertain the entire car, and the short episodes—ideal for those with limited attention spans—help break up a seemingly endless journey into segments. Check out this list of best kid-friendly podcasts for some ideas.

7. Invest in an erasable drawing board.

boogie board writing tablet
Boogie Board/Amazon

To keep yourself from finding long-lost crayons in your car crevices for years to come, treat each kid to a Boogie Board, an LCD writing tablet that erases with the touch of a button. They’re available in blue, pink, and black from Amazon.

Buy it on Amazon for $40. 

8. Print out “treasure” maps.

Plotting your route on actual printed maps will give kids a sense of progress (and a sneaky geography lesson). You can also identify landmarks along the path and, if you want to make it an actual treasure map, you can treat them to a surprise once you reach your destination—whether it’s an early gift from Santa or a slice of grandma’s chocolate cake.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

25 Gift Cards That Give You—and Your Recipient—the Best Bang for Your Buck

flyparade/iStock via Getty Images
flyparade/iStock via Getty Images

Though gift cards can definitely solve your annual conundrum over what to buy those hard-to-please people on your list, deciding on a gift card is the easy part—deciding which gift card to give them, however, is where the challenge comes in.

To help you narrow it down, WalletHub devised a multi-factor ranking system for gift cards of all types, from home improvement outlets like Lowe’s to subscription services like Netflix. Researchers analyzed popularity (based on search volume), average buyer’s discount across major gift card exchange sites, average resale value, retailer ratings on popular review sites, and shipping fees, and then assigned an overall score to each of America’s 100 largest retailers.

According to the study, your best option this year is a Target gift card, with an average buyer’s discount of 5.76 percent, a resale value of $77.12, and a retailer rating of 3.09 out of 5.

But before you stock up on Target gift cards for your many friends and family members, you might want to peruse the rest of WalletHub’s data. IKEA, for example, which tied for third place with Home Depot and eBay, boasts an average buyer’s discount of 10.85 percent.

The top performers from the food industry were Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Chipotle, which all tied for fourth place (among several other companies, Netflix and iTunes included) with 50 points apiece.

Even if you’ve already decided which gift cards you’re going with this holiday season, it’s still worth looking at WalletHub’s data before you buy them to make sure you’re getting a discount comparable to (or better than) the average. And, if there’s a particularly choosy recipient on your list who’ll likely try to resell their gift card, perhaps pick one with an especially high resale value, like Costco’s $84.60 or Walmart’s $84.09.

Check out the rankings below, including overall score, and find out the full details from WalletHub’s study here.

  1. Target // Score: 70
  1. Walmart // Score: 60
  1. Sephora // Score: 60
  1. eBay // Score: 55
  1. Home Depot // Score: 55
  1. IKEA // Score: 55
  1. iTunes // Score: 50
  1. Starbucks // Score: 50
  1. Costco // Score: 50
  1. Chick-fil-A // Score: 50
  1. Netflix // Score: 50
  1. McDonald’s // Score: 50
  1. Fandango // Score: 50
  1. Chipotle // Score: 50
  1. REI // Score: 50
  1. Old Navy // Score: 50
  1. H&M // Score: 50
  1. Disney // Score: 45
  1. Google Play // Score: 45
  1. Best Buy // Score: 45
  1. Macy's // Score: 45
  1. Lowe's // Score: 45
  1. Subway // Score: 45
  1. Amazon // Score: 40
  1. Gamestop // Score: 40

The 20 Most Expensive ZIP Codes in America

The San Mateo Bridge runs along San Francisco's Bay Area, home to many of America's most expensive ZIP codes.
The San Mateo Bridge runs along San Francisco's Bay Area, home to many of America's most expensive ZIP codes.
Andrei Stanescu/iStock via Getty Images

You don’t need to be a real estate agent to know that New York and California are two notoriously expensive places to live. However, those inconceivably high property values aren’t just contained to mansions in Beverly Hills or office buildings in Midtown Manhattan.

Each year, PropertyShark crunches the numbers on real estate prices across the country to discover which ZIP codes are truly the most expensive—and this year, multiple ZIP codes across California and New York once again reigned supreme. Instead of analyzing asking prices, PropertyShark looked at each area’s median sale prices, which more accurately reflect how much people are actually willing to pay for each property based on supply and demand.

At the top of the list for the third straight year is Atherton’s 94027 in California’s Bay Area, home to Silicon Valley venture capitalists, sports figures like Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry, and more. The median sale price for real estate there is $7,050,000, and the luxury housing in the region definitely isn’t owned by the Currys’ neighbors alone—nearby ZIP codes that also cracked the top 20 include Palo Alto’s 94301 and 94306, Los Altos's 94022 and 94024, and several others.

top 10 most expensive zip codes

South of the Bay Area, Los Angeles and Orange County ZIP codes make impressive appearances on the list, too. Los Angeles’s Santa Monica (90402) and Beverly Hills (90210, of course) took the third and fourth spots, respectively, with median sale prices just over $4 million, and Orange County’s Newport Beach and Corona Del Mar also made the top 20.

Overall, California took a staggering 16 of the top 20 spots, and New York was the second-place state with four spots. Surprisingly, the most expensive New York ZIP code isn’t in the heart of the Big Apple—it’s farther east, in a Long Island village called Sagaponack, which is, unsurprisingly, in the Hamptons.

The top 20 (which is actually the top 22, because of two ties) also includes a Boston ZIP code and one in Medina, Washington, which borders Lake Washington.

Scroll on to find out just how expensive each ZIP code is, and read more about PropertyShark’s study here.

  1. Atherton, California (94027) // $7,050,000
  2. Sagaponack, New York (11962) // $4,300,000
  3. Santa Monica, California (90402) // $4,154,000
  4. Beverly Hills, California (90210) // $4,080,000
  5. New York, New York (10007) // $3,900,000
  6. Boston, Massachusetts (02199) // $3,669,000
  7. Palo Alto, California (94301) // $3,522,000
  8. New York, New York (10013) // $3,515,000
  9. Los Altos, California (94022) // $3,450,000
  10. Ross, California (94957) // $3,350,000
  11. Portola Valley, California (94028) // $3,300,000
  12. Medina, Washington (98039) // $3,200,000
  13. Los Altos, California (94024) // $3,150,000
  14. Newport Beach, California (92661) // $3,140,000
  15. Newport Beach, California (92662) // $2,900,000
  16. Corona Del Mar, California (92625) and Stinson Beach, California (94970) // $2,800,000
  17. Palo Alto, California (94306) // $2,751,000
  18. New York, New York (10282) // $2,660,000
  19. Los Gatos, California (95030) and Burlingame, California (94010) // $2,630,000
  20. Santa Barbara , California (93108) // $2,620,000

[h/t PropertyShark]