When you’re a child, road trips are a nightmare. There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the back of a hot car for hours on end, as you’re dragged across the country to see a long-forgotten auntie or visit an uninspiring “place of interest”.
The experience is similarly horrible for parents. While you might be considerably more excited about your end destination than your little darling in the back seat, your child’s incessant moaning, questioning, and need for bathroom breaks is sure to drive even the most patient guardian to the edge of despair.
Thankfully, smartphones are revolutionizing the experience. Here’s our MakeUseOf-certified list of seven apps that are sure to keep kids entertained while on a long car journey.
Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars (Ages 5-11) [No Longer Available]
Get in the road trip spirit and help your kids get excited about driving with the Dr. Panda’s Toy Cars app.
The player is able to explore four huge city-worlds, each of which have unique features and hidden items. There are twenty different vehicles to choose from — including child favorites like police cars, fire engines, motorbikes, and boats.
The idea behind the app is that kids are free to use their imagination to create their own story lines. For example, they can interact with lots of the scenery to create the world they want and play without time limits or rules.
YouTube Kids (Up to Age 11)
As intelligent and discerning adults, we all know what a fantastic resource YouTube is. It can help you learn a new skill, research about something you’re interested in, or provide you with endless TV shows and movies. Of course, we wouldn’t dream of using it for anything nefarious or disreputable.
Nonetheless, there is plenty of content on there that children really shouldn’t be watching. Thanks to the official Google app “YouTube Kids”, that’s no longer an issue.
It’s perfect for kids on two levels — firstly, the app’s navigation has been simplified with big buttons, easy searching, and instant full-screen mode. Secondly, all the videos have been run through Google’s complex algorithms and have been approved as being kid-friendly.
Best of all, you’ll always be in control; you can access the app’s settings via a password-protected login and tweak them until they’re exactly right for your child.
Give your kid this app, and you’ll never hear “are we nearly there yet” again! Just be sure you’ve got enough mobile data for them to stream without charging you overages!
Road Trip – Car vs Cars (Age 8+)
No list of road trip apps would be complete without some games, and what better than a game that’s actually called “Road Trip”?
The premise behind the game is to drive a car as dangerously as possible along a highway, racking up points for airtime, combo moves, and close shaves with other cars. You can unlock new cars, tracks, and other goodies as you progress.
The listing on the Google Play store does warn that the game is processor-intensive thanks to its high-end graphics and soundtrack, so make sure you’ve got your in-car phone charger with you.
Plates Free Family Travel Game (Age 3+)
We all know kids love to feel like they’re in control, and this app gives them that feeling while still providing entertainment to all the other occupants of the car.
The game is simple enough; you need to see how many different vehicle license plates you and your family can spot while you’re on your trip. It includes all 50 US states, all 10 Canadian provinces, and all 33 Mexican states, as well as government plates, all overseas territories, and various other special ones.
You can either play as a team or individually, and if you splash out for the paid version, you can save your game and make it an ongoing project.
Toca Nature ($0.99 USD, Up to Age 10)
Games don’t just have to be mind-numbing timewasters – they can also be educational.
Toca Nature tries to take children out into the wild and teach them something useful, letting them shape their natural surroundings the way they want and then watching it grow.
For example, it’s possible to grow a forest and learn about the effects of the environment on its development, climb a mountain to enjoy the view, or learn about which animals eat what food and at which time of day.
Mechanic Max (Ages 5-10)
Sometimes road trips go wrong and you break down. Mechanic Max teaches your kids about such pitfalls, while also providing plenty of fun along the way.
The app is packed with representations of what you’d expect to see on a typical trip to a garage. For example, you can wash your car, weld sheet metal and fix scratches, lacerations, and dents, tune-up your car with new tires, bumpers, and headlights, and repaint your car in a different color.
The app comes complete with four workshops that each have different tools available, and it includes a way to save your creations and share them with family and friends.
LEGO Juniors Create & Cruise (Age 4-7)
We looked at the excellent LEGO Duplo Trains in our rundown of apps to keep toddlers and young children entertained last year.
The Create & Cruise app is aimed at slightly older children, and it’s arguably a bit more appropriate for a road trip.
The concept is that children can use the app to create their own vehicles and characters. It’s perfect for letting their imaginations run wild if they’re bored of sitting in the back of a plain-old car; if your child is inclined to design a helicopter with wings that’s being flown by a dog, this app is ideal.
The more your kids play the game, the more items and worlds they will unlock, thus making it great for passing hours without realizing.
What’s Your Favorite Road Trip App?
That’s the end of our list. Hopefully if you download all of these, you’ll arrive at your destination without having torn out your hair.
Have you used these apps? What did you think? Perhaps you have some of your own recommendations to add to the list? We’d love to hear from you. You can let us know your thoughts and feedback in the comments below.
Image Credits: boy playing smartphone via Shutterstock