We decided against bringing a DVD player. Our portable DVD player broke a few years ago. We had been borrowing one from Grammy, but she only had one screen and with three seats in the van, we needed two or someone was going to be left out. Rather than buy one or borrow from a friend, we bravely went without...and we were just fine.
Personally, I find books mostly useless in a long drive. They simply don't entertain little ones for very long. (First Son is old enough to read chapter books, which would work better, but he tends to get a little queasy when reading in the van like that.) Even so, the older three each picked two and I brought one "new" one for each of them. They also picked two stuffed animals or dolls for the road and to sleep with at Gram and Papa's house. Also, we let them have their Kinderglo lights once it was dark. As long as they didn't hold them up above their heads, Kansas Dad didn't have any problems driving.
I saved an old shoe box for each of the older three kids. In it, I stashed new pencils, erasers, and a new box of crayons. Before we drove back home, I added a few sheets of stickers which they could use to decorate the box. They were able to store little books (like the Dover Activity books), tissues and other goodies in there as well. Second Daughter broke all of her crayons nearly right away. I had bought the triangular crayons so they wouldn't roll away from her so much, but I think the twistable ones would have been a better choice. (I took along a small rimmed cookie sheet for Second Daughter. She could hold it on her lap and use it for coloring or other fun things. Mostly she rolled her toy cars on it, which was a little annoying, but Kansas Dad said it was better than screaming. If you use a cookie sheet yourself, I recommend using an old one or buying one at Goodwill or something. My youngest sister accidentally stepped on mine and bent it.)
I made big folders of pre-printed pages for each of the three older kids. I used inexpensive three hole punch folders (without pockets), but wish I had brought extras when First Son got sick over First Daughter's within the first two hours. Plus, they got stepped on and generally looked pretty rough before we were done. In them, I stashed all sorts of pages I printed free online.
- coloring pages (VeggieTales, etc.)
- Dover sample pages
- Dot-to-dots (I searched online for these since First Son and First Daughter particularly enjoy them.)
- Lines and dots game - My daughter is just now beginning to understand this game, so it'll be even more fun for them next time to play with each other. This game is a great one to keep handy for those times when you're waiting for food at restaurants, too.
- Though no one was ready for it this year, next year I'm going to make some pages for Hangman with all the letters written out and room for spaces for the word or phrase to guess.
- Dover Little Activity Books
- Sleeping Beauty Coloring Book (Dover Coloring Book) and Exploring the American Museum of Natural History: A Children's Guide with Pictures to Color - My kids are not very excited about most coloring books, but the Dover ones are nice because they are actual stories or informational books. (Second Daughter got stickers instead of these nice coloring books.)
- Holy Heroes coloring books and activities from Advent Adventure
- Jim Weiss storytelling CDs
- All of the Cat Chat CDs - First Son received one for his baptism anniversary and they all received one for Epiphany to enjoy on the way home.
- Altar Gang Advent CD - The Altar Gang CDs are a nice change from the Cat.Chat ones.
- One Hundred Sheep - The more I hear this CD, the more I like it.
- The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew - Kansas Dad and I didn't like this book at all, but the kids enjoyed it.
- These Happy Golden Years CD (Little House) - This is one of my favorite Little House books. The kids liked it, too; they didn't seem to mind at all that Laura was growing up.
- Henry and Beezus - The Beverly Cleary books are funny and short, so they'd be a good choice for drives of three or four hours.
- Sippy cups - The allure of a sippy cup extends far beyond what you might expect. My seven year old still things they're fun. They minimize spills and it's easy to refill them and pass them back and forth. We mostly drank water, but once when everyone was tired, Kansas Dad bought some chocolate milk to share.
- Smores bags - M&Ms, marshmallows and graham crackers
- Cereal - Cheerios of various kinds mixed with whatever we had. This is a good way to use up any that might go stale while you're away from home.
- Cheezits, Oreos and any other "stuff we never buy" that went on sale in the weeks before we left. My kids were amazed at some of the things I pulled out of the box.
- Chocolate covered pretzels - The kids and I made these together and they were really excited when I pulled them out. Using wipes to clean up afterward was seriously part of the fun for them.
- Hard-boiled eggs - These travel very well in a cooler if you peel them ahead of time.
- Pumpkin muffins - Oh, how delicious!
Bubbles - When your toddler and the driver have reached their limits, pull out some bubbles. If you trust your older children, let them blow some, too. These absolutely saved us in the last hour of the last day of driving.
For reaching the far back seat - We picked up a grabber from Ace Hardware which has come in quite handy around the house as well. It was definitely worth it. Something like this. I also kept a little plastic container I could use to transport things I couldn't directly grab. On the way home, First Son took over the grabber duties, which worked very well. He loved it and I had one less thing to manage while turning in my seat.
We'll be loading back in the van this summer for a little family vacation, though we won't be traveling quite so far this time. Let me know if you have any suggestions. Second Son will be about a year old for this trip and I anticipate a bit more trouble from him.