If you ever plan to take your kid anywhere, be it by plane, train, or automobile, these road trip apps for smartphones and tablets may be the only thing standing between your sanity and an endless barrage of “Are we there yet?” Each selection has been vetted by the good folks at Common Sense Media or the developer geniuses at Tinybop; the exception (Keezy) is endorsed by Reggie Watts, who has a special brand of genius all his own.
Their due diligence means you can employ these apps and games for road trips like an elite kid distraction task force until you get to your hotel, campsite, or mom’s house. Forget for a few hours whatever your home screen-time policy is — the open road is like international waters and normal rules don’t apply.
Best Road Trip Apps for Kids Ages 1-3
Duckie Deck Collection
An exploration app with six distinct activities: fruit picking, animal feeding, puzzle building, room cleaning, a magic hat, and a dark room. The activities encourage discovery, expanded vocabularies, and teaching responsibility through role-playing. “See kids? Sweeping is awesome!”
If the style of the app looks familiar, that’s because the artist behind this interactive picture book is Christoph Neiman, best known for his illustrations in The New Yorker and The New York Times. The app itself is pure visual discovery but may have the unintended consequence of turning your kid into a latte-drinking aesthete.
Sago Mini Friends
Mini Friends makes playdates virtual, as your kid selects a character and then cruises around the neighborhood ringing the doorbells of other characters so they can play and eat pizza. It encourages cooperation and sharing, as well as pizza eating.
Best Road Trip Apps for Kids Ages 3-5
Marina And The Light
An interactive story in the distinct visual style of kids’ app developer Dada, Marina And The Light has a score but the actual storytelling is left up to your kid. It develops imagination and creativity but does require that you listen to Junior explain why, exactly, Marina is getting on a boat.
You Are What You Eat Jr.
The entire alphabet is represented by fruits and vegetables that morph into hand-drawn illustrations in this app designed to teach letters and vocabulary while also encouraging your kid to draw their own versions of each foodstuff. It will make travel tidy and mealtime messy.
It allows your kid to play God by creating landscapes, populating them with various animals, and then sitting back to watch how everything interacts together. The app rewards curiosity while the pace and music are described by Common Sense Media as “hypnotic,” so maybe make sure you can’t hear it if you’re driving.
Sago Mini Road Trip
This simple, rules-free exploration app lets kids set Jinga the cat on a trip and then guide him along the way. It’s basically an adorable little metaphor for your holiday weekend, only in this case the kid gets to drive (and you’re a cat).
Drawing Pad has been named iPad App Of The Week in 12 countries, so it’s as cosmopolitan as you’re grooming your kid to be. The app is the equivalent of a fully stocked finger-paint-and-magic-marker set, only without the risk of your kid going Jackson Pollock on the car’s leather interior.
Best Road Trip Apps for Kids Ages 5-7
This Is My Car — Mechanics For Kids
An app that takes kids into the inner workings of their family automobile, This Is My Car teaches them about different parts, how they’re all connected, and even car safety. Spend a bit of time on it before hitting the road and they just might learn to appreciate everything that goes into getting them to Wally World.$2.99 (iOS)
One part keyboard and one part sampling machine, Keezy lets your kid build songs using pre-loaded soundboards (from musicians like Reggie Watts and Tegan and Sara). Or they can record their own sounds and use those instead. The only bummer for your kid is that you might get addicted to it before they ever get a chance to play.
World-building taken to the next level, Hoopa City is like a toddler version of The Sims. Kids are given tools two at a time; as their toolboxes grow they can combine those tools to create unexpected things (bricks + love = a school). The app never resets, so they can just keep building stuff and forgetting about it, like adorable little Donald Trumps.$2.99 (iOS) (Kindle)
The app title refers to the anthropomorphic balls that kids select to begin the game. Their character then rolls through levels, encountering obstacles that are overcome by creatively applying basic physics concepts (e.g. fall off something, bounce, and land on another thing). There’s no scoring, so kids don’t get competitive – just smart.$3.99 (iOS) $2.99 (Android) (Kindle)
Barefoot World Atlas
The disappearance of the beloved World Book Encyclopedias of your youth is less tragic when you remember that hauling one of those things into the car for your kid would have been a terrible idea. Barefoot World Atlas is no World Book, but it’s still loaded with lessons about animals, indigenous people, and other cool stuff from around the world, and it only weighs whatever 1.5 gigs weigh.
Best Road Trip Apps for Kids Ages 7+
Pokemon Go may not have the same cult following it amassed when it was first launched, but the AR Pokemon collecting and battling game still has a large core player base that makes the in-game world an ever-changing landscape with new creatures to find and territories to claim. The game does prevent you from playing while driving (people have worked around that feature), but this is sure to keep your kids busy at any pit stop or destination along the way.
1 Second Everyday: Video Diary
Let your kid unleash their inner filmmaker as they create a video diary of your road trip. As the name implies, this app will let them create a video montage of your journey by recording one second of footage per day, which could either make for a touching highlight reel or a bunch of closeups of the back of your head while you drive.
Sprayscape is the perfect time waster. Google’s deliberately-sloppy panoramic photography app lets you take a 360-degree, virtual-reality-like-snapshot of your surroundings, one blurry piece at a time. The result is a fun, jumbled mess that your kids can use to create surreal works of art while stuck in traffic or exploring a new area.
A subscription-based app that starts at $10 a month (and is okay to start as early as age six), Reading Rainbow isn’t cheap but it does provide pretty much endless reading material. If your kid doesn’t get carsick, that means hours of blissful silence as they crank through e-books. If your kid does get carsick, that means hours of LeVar Burton reading those e-books, which may be blissful depending on your tolerance of LeVar Burton.
Rory’s Story Cubes
An app version of the award-winning storytelling game with digital interactivity the IRL version just can’t match — like the ability to pinch and twist the images on the game’s signature picture dice. There are no rules, which means there is no winner, which means you just might make it wherever you’re going without a meltdown.
Stack The States
Pro tip: Your kid is already bored of pointing out license plates. Stack The States actually teaches them something about the places they’re driving through — things like shapes, relative sizes, capitals, flags, and landmarks. It can even make the dullest states in the Union seem interesting, which is more than can be said for your license plate game.
You won’t want to deploy this one until you’re absolutely sure of where you’re going, but once you’re on autopilot there is no better way to mesmerize a kid who likes maps than with the least kid-like app of them all. They might even figure out the features you never bothered to play with, like the check-in function that lets them track friends and family en route to the same destination. And, of course, there’s always the ETA function, which is the ultimate rebuttal to “Are we there yet?”
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