OK, I admit that I am an audiobook snob, especially when trapped in the car for long hours on a family road trip. The kids are welcome to read whatever they want, but if I’m going to listen to it too, then we need to step up the game. We’re talking great story, fabulous narrator, and people begging for “just one more chapter.”
Best Audiobooks for a Family Road Trip
Below are audiobooks that our *entire* family has enjoyed on road trips. I would place these safely in the 6-11 crowd. Older or younger than that, and you can decide. If you need help deciding, commonsensemedia.org has detailed age recommendations about most titles. I don’t always agree with them, but, hey, it’s a start.
How to Listen to Audiobooks
Our favorite way (and I think the easiest) is to use Bluetooth to connect your phone or tablet to your car’s sound system. This eliminates the hassle of managing multiple bulky sets of CDs. Plus, newer cars rarely have a CD player.
Planes, Trains, and Hotel Rooms
Yes, audiobooks are unbeatable for long car trips! Even short ones! But with a good set of headphones (and a splitter for multiple kids), they are just as good for trains, planes, buses, and boats. Use a mini Bluetooth speaker and they work great in hotel rooms.
Where to Find Audiobooks
Most libraries have a large selection of audiobooks on CD. As mentioned previously, I think CD audiobooks are a pain to manage on a family road trip. Instead, download digital audiobooks to your phone or tablet. Digital audiobooks have the extra advantage that you can add more titles as your road trip progresses. All you need is an internet connection. You never know when a series will grab you and you *must* have the next title!
Overdrive / Libby Library Lending Service
Overdrive and its app Libby is a FREE digital lending service available at libraries across the globe. All you need is a library card at an affiliated library and you can borrow audiobooks. Loans last three weeks and waitlists can be long for popular titles.
This is our favorite audiobook service! If your local or school library offers Overdrive/Libby, get onboard. We rarely listen to audiobooks twice, so getting them for FREE is a big win!
Scribd is a digital content subscription service. Each month you can download an unlimited number of audiobooks, ebooks, newspapers, magazines, and even sheet music. The title catalog is comprehensive.
After the 30-day FREE trial, Scribd is $8.99/month. The downside of Scribd is that you don’t get to keep the content if you cancel your subscription. For people that like to listen to the same audiobook multiple times, this would be a problem.
Audible Subscription Service
Audible is an audiobook subscription service from Amazon.com. The books are yours to keep forever (yes, even if you cancel your subscription) and you can return or exchange audiobooks you aren’t happy with. The title catalog is amazing!
The downside of Audible is the high price. After the 30-day FREE trial, Audible is $14.95/month for one credit (one book).
What About Free Audiobook Sites?
Yes, there are free audiobook sites. I refer you back to my audiobook snob admission. I just cannot stomach a poorly read audiobook and no one ever enjoys the book as much. If you decide to go the free route, make sure to test that the downloaded audiobooks play offline before you leave home.
Our Audiobook Recommendations for Family Road Trips
The following audiobooks are not listed in any particular order. Some audiobooks have several different versions available. I have linked to the specific version that we enjoy. We rarely (never?) listen to abridged versions and love a dynamic narrator.
Check back often! Our recommendations are always growing. We update this list after every big road trip. Check back for new recommendations!
And now, without further ado, our recommendations for the best audiobooks for family road trips…
The Magic Misfits | Neil Patrick Harris | Narrated by Neil Patrick Harris
Runaway child magician Carter finds himself in a small town where he crosses paths with B.B. Basso and his crooked carnies. Luckily, he also meets a group of new friends. Together they are destined to become The Magic Misfits, but can they save the town from the villainous B.B. Bosso?
Bonus! Neil Patrick Harris teaches you how to do cool magic tricks!
The first three books in the series have released.
Length: 4 hours and 13 minutes
Wonder | R.J. Palacio | Narrated by Kate Rudd, Nick Podehl, and Diana Steele
Even better than the movie! Every human should read Wonder, the story of August, a fifth-grader who just wants to be like everyone else.
Length: 8 hours and 6 mins
How to Train Your Dragon | Cressida Cowell | Narrated by David Tennant
Told in his own words, the [mis]adventures of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and friends will have you laughing…and groaning…out load. With 12 fabulous books in the series, you can extend your road trip!
Length: 3 hours and 30 minutes
The Hobbit | J.R.R. Tolkein | Narrated by Rob Inglis
Poor Bilbo. Dragged from his cozy hobbit-hole by the wizard Gandalf, he must endure dangerous adventures with a band of dwarves. Rob Inglis’ reading of this Tolkein classic is accessible, even for younger children. A great warm-up for the Lord of the Ring series when they get older.
Length: 11 hours and 5 minutes
The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy | Jeanne Birdsall | Narrated by Susan Denaker
Ah, the heartwarming Penderwicks. A story that feels like an old classic, but is actually modern. Join the Penderwick sisters on their summer holiday at Arundel where they meet Jeffrey Tifton, a very interesting boy. Admittedly, I took a little time to warm to Susan Denaker’s reading of this novel, but the rest of my family didn’t have that problem.
The whole series is as wonderful as the first book. Feel free to keep on listening!
Length: 6 hours and 43 minutes
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | C.S. Lewis | Narrated by Michael York
If you want to be a purest, start the series with “The Magician’s Nephew” before listening to “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.” Although published later, C.S. Lewis intended the Magician’s Nephew as the prequel.
Each of the Narnia audiobooks is excellent, with a different British actor narrating each book.
Length: 4 hours and 21 minutes
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone | J.K. Rowling | Narrated by Jim Dale or Stephen Fry
Does this book need any introduction? In case you have somehow missed out, this book is about a boy named Harry Potter who discovers he is a wizard. Adventure ensues.
Jim Dale and Stephen Fry both do an incredible job voicing all the characters in the book. Your regional settings will likely determine which version you can buy. As to which you prefer, that’s up to you!
We have also listened to book 2, “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” The soul-sucking Dementors in book 3, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, are still too scary for us. For those with older or less sensitive children, you may be able to listen to the whole series.
Length: 8 hours and 33 minutes
Because of Winn Dixie | Kate DiCamillo | Narrated by Cherry Jones
What would you do if your 10-year old went to the grocery store and came home with a dog? For lonely Opal Buloni, that set a series of life-changing events in motion.
Length: 2 hours and 29 minutes
The Sheep-Pig | Dick King-Smith | Narrated by Stephen Thorne
An orphaned piglet must prove his worth to avoid the main course at Christmas dinner. Will learning to be a sheep-pig save him? Who doesn’t love a pig that wants to be a sheepdog?
Length: 1 hour and 51 minutes
The Hundred and One Dalmatians | Dodie Smith | Narrated by Martin Jarvis
The Dearly’s Dalmatian puppies have been kidnapped! The humans are clueless, but London’s dogs are on the case! Will they save the puppies before Cruella de Vil turns them into fur coats?
Length: 4 hours and 33 minutes
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon | Grace Lin | Narrated by Janet Song
Can Minli find the Old Man on the Moon and change her family’s fortune? Grace Lin’s adaptations of Chinese folk stories bring them to a new audience in vivid, engaging writing.
Once you finish Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, listen to Starry River of the Sky and When the Sea Turned to Silver also by Grace Lin but narrated by Kim Mai Guest. Although not a series, there are some subtle references across the titles. We recommend listening to them in the order listed, but it’s not necessary.
Length: 4 hours and 56 minutes
Redwall | Brian Jacques
Matthias, a young mouse, and the animals of Redwall Abbey versus Cluny the Scourge. Who will prevail? This is full-cast production, which gives it the dramatic feel of an old-time radio play.
Length: 10 hours and 41 minutes
Mary Poppins | P.L. Travers | Narrated by Sophie Thompson
Before Disney made a movie, P.L. Travers wrote books about the world’s most famous nanny. We enjoyed reading this and doing a movie night comparison to the Disney version. Can you spot the differences?
Length: 3 hours and 50 minutes
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children: Warm and Joyful Animal Tales | James Herriot | Narrated by Jim Dale
These timeless animal stories are most appealing to younger children and those in a mellow mood. The standalone short stories are convenient for shorter drives.
Length: 1 hour and 31 minutes
The Girl Who Drank the Moon | Kelly Barnhill | Narrated by Christina Moore
A mysterious witch claims one child each year from the citizens of the Protectorate. Will the sacrifice of one little girl change the course of history? The juicy language and captivating story will suck you in until the last sentence.
Length: 9 hours and 31 minutes
Heart of a Samurai | Margi Preus | Narrated by James Yaegashi
A 2011 Newberry Honor book, Heart of a Samurai is based on the true story of Manjiro Nakahama. When his Japanese fishing boat is lost at sea in 1841, life looks doomed for Manjiro. When he’s rescued by an American whaling boat, he yearns to go home, but Japan is closed to all Western countries. We follow Manjiro’s life as he first heads to New England and then beyond. Will he have the heart of a samurai?
Length: 6 hours and 9 minutes
What Audiobooks Do You Recommend?
Please! Leave a comment if you have any favorite audiobooks from your family’s road trips. We are always looking for new titles to try.