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6 Tips for Keeping Kids Active on Long Road Trips

Multi-ethnic family getting out of the car next to a field laughing and smiling

When it’s time to hit the road for family vacations, the idea of spending endless hours in the car can feel intimidating. Don’t get discouraged. There are things that you can do to get kids to burn off some extra energy on road trips.

Here are some of my tips and tricks:

1. Stop at provincial parks for lunch

I can say with certainty that we have many incredibly well-taken-care-of provincial parks sprinkled across Canada. Some provincial parks have camping capabilities while others are day-use only. Generally, these parks are much less busy than our national parks.

An added bonus with provincial parks is that they often have bathrooms available to empty wee little bladders before getting back in the car.

2. Pack an outdoor recreation bag—and keep it handy

Having an accessible duffel bag with some outdoor toys is a great way to keep kids moving on driving breaks. Our rec bag is one of the last things to go into the car. We pack baseball gloves, balls, skipping ropes, buckets, toy cars and trucks, and shovels in there. On most stops, this bag comes out with us.

3. Have a proper bike rack

Bikes can also come in handy on the road, but only if they’re easy to load and unload.

Our rack takes minutes to load and unload and so if there’s a safe place for the kids to ride, the bikes are fair game. The best bike racks will swing away, loaded or unloaded, from your vehicle’s hatch, trunk, or back door to allow for easy access to your bike helmets or your rec bag.

4. Play “Find the Monkey”

This is a game that we’ve been playing for years while camping. We use it on stops where the kids need a little extra exercise. We have a sock monkey mascot (any stuffy would work) that travels with us. The game is simple. First, set inbound parameters. Then you hide the monkey while the kids close their eyes without peeking. Our rules are that the monkey always has to have a little bit showing so that you can see him from a distance. Whoever finds the monkey hides it next! So much fun!

5. Save your recycling for creative time

When we’re on a camping road trip, I save our recycling, such as egg cartons, containers, plastics, and collapsed cereal boxes. If we’re at a campsite pull out the recycling. Keep duct tape, scissors, and string with the recycled goods. Then challenge the kids to create.

On our trip last summer, I challenged the kids to build the best boat they could. They put some serious work hours on them at the campsite, but finishing touches continued on the road over several stops.

They used critical-thinking skills, imagination, and creativity, applying fine motor skills to make readjustments before floating their creations again. This STEM activity set the stage for water-safety chats as well as recycling and re-using discussions.

Their homemade boats were the most played-with toys on our cross-Canada trip.

6. Let the kids help set up camp

On our 64 days on the road, the kids were involved in setting up camp. My oldest would help with the tent because I couldn’t put it up by myself. Even the youngest carried her sleeping bag and mattress to the tent and set up her own sleeping zone.

I often keep several kettles handy and send the kids for water runs on arrival. They spend endless hours running to and from the tap and strengthening their bodies from carrying small water loads.

On the mornings before we hit the road again, the kids stuff their own sleeping bags, tidy their things, and help with the takedown and reloading of the van. There are many strides taken from the tent to the van carrying loads. Trust me, they don’t always want to do this, but this routine was set early, and they have gained a sense of responsibility, a feeling of helping out, as well as confidence in their own camping skills.

Although this keeps them active before setting out again, I will readily admit that anytime we’re camping, the kids don’t need much encouragement to keep moving—they just do.

Van holds a degree in biology and physiotherapy. She’s an avid outdoorsperson who documents her adventures with her kids and is a firm believer in health and wellness by way of fresh air. She is always hunting for family-friendly adventures!

Find Van online at or, and follow her on Facebook and Instagram (@rollingwithvanand @getkidsout).

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