Make the road trips to grandma’s and other relatives' houses fun, entertaining, and educational with these expert-approved apps and podcasts. From toddlers to teens, these are a super fun way to pass the time and bond as a family as you travel this holiday season.
FOR YOUNG KIDS
But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids
Kids are always asking seemingly simple questions that have surprisingly complex answers, such as “Why is the sky blue?” and “Who invented words?” This cute biweekly radio show/podcast takes on answering them. Each episode features several kid-submitted questions, usually on a single theme, and with the help of experts, it gives clear, interesting answers.
These short audio stories are in perfect bite-sized bits to get you from one rest stop to the next. With fiction and nonfiction, there’s something for everyone, including a magical adventure story, a mystery-based series, and a fact-based nonfiction series, among others. The first episode in each series is free, but you’ll have to pay for the rest.
This classic guessing game is still one of the best co-play apps around. The person who’s “it” holds the phone or tablet at forehead level with the mystery word facing out, and the other player gives hints. After each correct answer, the player tilts the device to get the next answer on the screen. Kids can easily play while seated, but it’s better for the car versus the plane or bus because it can get rambunctious.
FOR BIG KIDS
The Past & the Curious
Reminiscent of the TV show “Drunk History” (minus the alcohol), this amusing podcast features people telling interesting, little-known stories from history with an emphasis on fun and humor. Although it’s not specifically a music podcast, each episode contains an often-silly song that’s sure to get stuck in your head. There’s even a quiz segment, so kids will learn something, too.
The Alien Adventures of Finn Caspian
This serialized podcast tells the story of an 8-year-old boy living on an interplanetary space station who explores the galaxy and solves mysteries with his friends. With no violence or edgy content and with two seasons totaling over 13 hours of content, this sci-fi adventure is perfect for long car rides.
In the tradition of “The NeverEnding Story,” this original fable centers on a magical book that takes its readers to a world where they find the strength to overcome any obstacle. The writing itself is beautiful, and the stories are immersive. Themes can be serious (bullying, homelessness) but are handled with sensitivity and remain appropriate for kids. These powerful, modern stories are sure to entertain and provoke meaningful family conversations.
FOR TWEENS AND TEENS
Inspired by old-timey radio shows — complete with over-the-top sound effects — this exciting serial podcast follows a plucky journalist who goes on adventures looking for her big scoop. Tweens will love Eleanor’s wit and daring and might even pick up some great messages along the way. There’s even a “Road Trip Edition” episode with the entire first season in a single audio file.
The Unexplainable Disappearance of Mars Patel
This Peabody Award-winning scripted mystery series has been called a “Stranger Things” for tweens. With a voice cast of actual middle schoolers, a gripping, suspenseful plot, and interactive tie-ins, this story about an 11-year-old searching for his missing friends will keep tweens hooked to the speakers for hours — more than five, to be exact.
This creepy puzzle-based app has an involved story and lots of mystery. As kids solve complicated and beautiful puzzles, they move along in the story — and to the next puzzle. Once you pay and download, you no longer need to be connected to play. If your kid loves it and wants more, you can invest in parts two and three of the series as well.
Welcome to Night Vale
Structured like a community radio show for the fictional desert town of Night Vale, the mysterious is ordinary and vice versa in this delightfully eerie series. Both the clever concept and the smooth voice of narrator Cecil Baldwin have helped the show develop a cult-like following. It’s a bit creepy and dark for kids, but older listeners will find it perfect for a nighttime drive along a deserted highway.
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out other recommendations at www.commonsense.org.