If you’ve gone anywhere on Okinawa, then you know that it can take awhile to get there. Sometimes even just making the drive from Kadena to Foster can be a half hour adventure, depending on whether you time those lights well or if you’ve decided to make the trip during the Friday afternoon rush hour.

Oki traffic

But what about those times that you want to venture farther than central Okinawa? How do you keep kids of all ages from threatening mutiny by the time you’ve reached Yomitan Village?

Sure, sedation with Benedryl is always an option, but what about the kids who have the opposite reaction, and become wired rather than drowsy? (Don’t laugh – my sister was one of those kids. My parents learned the hard way!)

Here are some of the tips that I use when roadtripping with my two little ones. I’ve picked the brains of friends with older children for ideas for them, too. Just so they don’t feel left out.

  • Know when the rush hours occur. Try to time your trip either before or after those times that might leave you stuck in stop-and-go traffic.

  • Feed your kids before you leave the house, and bring lots of snacks and water for the car. Packing a small cooler with ice and bottles of water will keep you from having to stop at the drink machines you can find all over the island and dropping 110 Yen every hour. Slice up fresh fruit and veggies before you leave to pass out to kids confined to their seats in the back. Either bring prepackaged individual snacks, or prepare some yourself by using the small snack-sized zip baggies that you can buy at the Commissary.

    Alternately, make a game of stopping at the various Lawson Stations or Family Marts to see what snacks they have available; some stores sell items you can’t find in other places. Avoid too many salty foods, which will induce thirst and which will lead to drinking more water. And drinking more water leads to…

  • Frequent potty breaks. Remember, if you’re giving your kids food and drinks, what goes in must eventually come out. With kids, that happens more frequently than we’d prefer, but when they have to go, they really have to go. So tell your normally impatient significant other that potty breaks are part of the itinerary, and stop when you see an available restroom.  Even if they look like this:

 April 4-42
  • Distractions, distractions, distractions. Some kids need to be occupied constantly, so don’t forget to bring their favorite form of (portable) distraction. Can they read in the car without getting sick? Bring a book – or two – in a small backpack. What about their iPads? Charge the battery the night before, and bring them along. This is where portable DVD players come in handy, too. For those of you who have purchased one to replace the on-board entertainment system that’s in your minivan in storage back in the states, now’s the perfect time to pull it out, along with several of their favorite movies. For little ones, don’t forget to pack their favorite toy or blanket – and an extra pacifier or sippy cup – in the diaper bag. Sometimes picking up a new toy at the 100 Yen store is enough to hold their attention for a couple hours, too.

  • For those of you who prefer a more family-oriented car ride (and who have children who respond well to such things), here are some other options. How about a pad of paper and a pen to play hangman? Play a game of twenty questions, letting each person have a turn. Or play a hiragana version of the license plate game: see who can identify the character on each license plate first.  Maybe see how many different kinds of animal crossing signs you can spot.  And of course, “I Spy” is always a car ride favorite.

  • Don’t forget to share the radio. You don’t have to listen to that grating kids’ music or the AFN radio repeats for the entire trip, but your kids might be more willing to settle down and listen to your selections if they get to listen to some of theirs, too.

  • Let your kids play navigator. Give them a road map (in English) and let them call the shots. If you wind up lost, just remind them (and the driver) that Okinawa is an island; as long as you’re not driving on the ocean floor, you’ll find your way home… eventually.

  • Frequent breaks in general. Although you might have a lot of stops on your itinerary, don’t forget that kids’ agendas can often be much simpler. They might not need a whole lot of stuff to keep them busy… sometimes, just a rock garden with a cliff to throw pebbles off of is enough to hold their attention for awhile.
13 May 2009
  • Bring an extra set of clothes and shoes for everyone, and keep a beach bag in the car with bathing suits and towels… just in case. You never know when the opportunity will strike to stop off at that beach you’ve just discovered, and riding home in warm, dry clothes vs. cold, wet ones can make all the difference in a kid’s mood – and noise level.


Most importantly, be realistic. Kids can only take so much before they can’t take any more. Build an extra hour or so into your plans, and if you need to head home early, just tell yourself that as long as it may seem to take to get anywhere, it’s still just a small island. There will be plenty of opportunities to visit all those places again next weekend.

At the least, you can hope that your ride home looks something like this:

Okinawahai field trip_8051

Do you have any tips for roadtripping with kids here on island? What do you do to keep them busy when they’re stuck in the car?


  1. We have our daughter pick out one doll or stuffed toy to take in the car and to our final destination. She spends most of the time explaining where we are to the toy, it keeps her entertained and allows her to share her experience with her someone special.

  2. When our kids were little we had to always keep in mind that the day was for *them* and not us. Our trips were always much more pleasant when we were cued in to their needs/wants/desires. We’d pay a hundred dollars for three very high-quality kid happy hours at Disneyland instead of dragging them through the entire day screaming and crying. Same with all the big parks (Sea World, SD Zoo, Aquariums, etc) Just because we as adults know there is a days worth of good stuff to see and do, little ones don’t understand the concept of “you’re gonna like this (or I paid for this!) so quit crying!” I’d apply that to Oki if I had little ones, too. Shoot for total quality time even if it means cutting plans short, or changing the agenda. Kids are only little for a very short time, enjoy them! 🙂