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No matter if you are traveling on a plane, train (hey, it happens), or automobile, if you are traveling with children, you need some tricks up your sleeve to make the ride smoother for everyone involved.
Here’s how old I am: Seat belts were encouraged but not necessarily required when I was a kid. And even after they became a law, it was absolutely customary for kiddos to, shall we say, “move about the cabin” on car rides. So, I have memories of sitting in the floorboard playing dolls in the seats or pushing toy cars all over the place or getting in mom’s lap when I was tired.
These are not the type of tricks I’m talking about, lol.
Cue travel toys — for big and little kids alike. Take it from a mom with a decade of parenting under her belt (seatbelt, that is): A travel toy strategy can save your sanity.
And let’s be clear here. I am using the term “toy” loosely. I’m talking about entertainment ideas for various ages. Big kids and grown ups like surprises, entertainment, and treats, too, especially to make the travel hours pass by.
Let’s just get this out of the way: Tech is an easy and readily available way to pass the time. And guess what? I am not against tech use on trips. In fact, I usually encourage it.
Because tech time is normally part of our day any way, it can then lose its luster on trips. So, how can you make tech time more special on travel days?
- Restrict tech use before the trip. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.
- Download new games, books, shows, and/or movies on tablets or phones to watch on the trip. We are fans of the Amazon Fire tablet. Pro tip: If traveling by car, consider getting a wi-fi hotspot.
- Try a new streaming service or app. Many have two-week or longer free trials.
- Think accessories: Surprise with new headphones or case or stickers to decorate device, etc.
- Bust out the old stuff. We let our daughter use a portable DVD player we took on our honeymoon waaaay back in 2007. I even packed DVDs in a CD case. She was crazy about it the whole flight. Pull out those old iPods, digital cameras, or, heaven help us, a Walkman, and let the kids experience the glory days.
It wasn’t until our family endured, I mean enjoyed, an eight-hour flight that my toy travel toys game got strong. Technology is great and all, but anyone — the most tech-crazed kid and all — will get weary of screens after eight hours (and that doesn’t include time in the airport).
Toy Travel Strategy
The strategy is simple: Variety is the spice of life AND the sanity of traveling. How old your kids are and their personalities will determine the type of variety needed and how quickly you’ll have to cycle through your options. Only you, mama, know that.
I don’t necessarily follow this plan strictly. I read the room and determine what’s best when, but I do have these tricks in my bag, ready to pull out a moment’s notice.
I start off with tech because the kids are most interested in that . . . usually because I have put them on a bit of a tech diet before a trip.
The other entertainment options include: books, activity books, art, pretending toys, and tactile toys. The key common denominator? None of the toys make noise.
Another key point? Let your kids choose two to three options from these categories that you already have at home. That way you will know they are interested in those items. Pro tip: Never, and I mean NEVER, pack a “favorite” anything — not a stuffed animal, cup, outfit. Favorites have a way of getting lost on trips.
My girls always put these chosen toys or art in their backpacks. The other things I curate just for my own bag of tricks I bring with me, and then pull out activities at opportune times.
Books & Art
Duh. You can brings books on trips, even if your kiddo cannot yet read. An inexpensive travel surprise can be a new book. Or again, absence makes the heart grow fonder. Pull books your kids haven’t read in a while.
In addition to the joys of reading, consider the following. Remember you probably have a lot of this around your house. You don’t have to buy everything new; use what you have:
- Activity books. You can find activity books for ALL ages, including grabbing one for yourself. You can get puzzle books, educational books, mystery books, Mad Libs, and on and on.
- Sticker books. My kids especially love Paint by Sticker and Make a Face books.
- Coloring books and crayons. Pro tip: If your final destination has warm weather, forego crayons and opt for markers or colored pencils.
- Origami books. (Shhh, even I like these. Don’t tell the kids I’m not sharing.)
- Plain paper and other art supplies like Kwik Stix or sticker packs or stamps.
- Molding clay or Model Magic. Be sure to bring resealable bags to store after the first use.
Use travel toys that have been stored or neglected and re-introduce them on trips. Or buy a new toy your kiddo has been wanting.
Pretending toys are things like action figures, dolls, animals, etc. I like to use totally hard-surfaced toys like wood toys, plastic, or metal. Because I know these toys will also be played with during the actual vacation and not just during travel, I avoid lots of small pieces but do consider what could also be used for bath time play. For us, it’s Barbies. Great for travel play and great for the tub.
Get those motor skills working while the motor is running!
- Pipe cleaners or Wiki Stix.
- Building blocks of some variety: magnet tiles, Plus Plus Blocks, or small Lego sets, for example. We dig the Lego Cubes for travel — blocks and storage in one.
- Kanoodle and other travel games.
- Travel tangrams.
- Sewing cards.
- Sensory balls, marble mesh, spinners. Google “fidgets and sensory toys” and you will find heaps of options for all ages.