Travel with kids

Favorite toys and games for travel with kids

Now that we are three kids in, I can see the pattern clearly. When we have a baby, we become total homebodies who think a dinner out is a big excursion. The baby phase is exhausting enough without throwing in curveballs like travel. But then sometime after that baby turns about 18 months old, the wanderlust kicks in big time and we go through a burst of crazy amounts of travel. That will be us this summer, as we take four trips in three months. We are trying to squeeze in as much travel as possible before we have to start paying for that fifth plane ticket when our baby turns two in October.

This time around, we have lots of years of travel with kids under our belts, as our oldest will be turning nine this summer. She was our original travel guinea pig. This summer we will be spending approximately 31 hours on airplanes, 35 hours on trains and of course time in cars with our kids. In three months we will be visiting six countries and four U.S. states.

Sitting still for extended periods of time is challenging for small children (massive understatement). Hence, my recent obsession to amass a collection of activities for my kids.

I have been researching and organizing activity books, games, toys and yes even some apps for my kids. I like to keep things as low-tech as possible, but we do also let them watch kid movies on long-haul flights.

Here are some of the things we are most excited about. I organized things in age ranges, but right now my kids (who helped pick out a lot of these items) are ages eight-and-a-half, four-and-a-half and 20 months.

Ages 1-3

Water Wow – We have loved these for years. If I could only pack one thing for a toddler on an airplane it would be this.

Zipper pouch – My toddler is currently obsessed with zippers so I got her a glitter one and filled it with … Crayola Twistables – I swear the act of twisting them is more interesting than coloring at this age – and Post-it flags – I’m sure our area of the airplane will be covered in these by the end of our 10-hour flights, but whatever keeps the toddler busy and happy.

Sturdy board books – I picked a few board books that have lots of things to notice in the illustrations, and will hopefully hold the toddler’s attention for more than a minute. For our long-haul flights coming up I am packing First 100 Words, Peek a Boo! and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks from A to Z.

Band-Aids – This probably seems like a weird one but have you ever let a toddler have free reign on a box of Band-Aids? There is something about the challenge of getting the wrapper open, and then peeling off the stickers, not to mention putting the Band-Aid on something! These hold some kind of major enchantment for toddlers.

Doll – Our toddler is pretty in love with her doll right now, plus it will provide some security for her to take the same doll to bed in the many locations we will be visiting this summer. Also – true fact – dolls love to have Band-Aids put on them.

Felt Board – I think this homemade felt play set is ridiculously cute and we’ll be making one if we can find the time before our trip.

Koosh ball – Something to fiddle around with and hopefully not throw on the passenger in front of us.

I’m also packing her a small spiral bound notebook and stickers.

And there are times when nothing will entertain or calm down a toddler when they are d.o.n.e. with a situation, and for that moment, I will be packing some sugar-free lollipops.

Ages 3-6

My middle child will be turning five during our first big trip of the summer, and it’s amazing to think the he used to be the toddler I was worried about keeping happy on long flights! He is a pretty chill dude these days, and he helped me pick some of these items at our local toy store.

100 Things for Little Children to Do on a Trip – this is something I found and am super excited about. It’s a box with 50 wipe-clean cards, with a different activity on each side. The activities are short and sweet but sure to keep a preschool-age child busy for a while. Some activities include “spot the difference,” matching games, one of these things is not like the other, finish the drawing, dot to dot and more.

Wipe-Clean Castle Activities – anything wipe-clean is so fun for this age group. Just the act of wiping the page is so engrossing. We picked the castle theme since we’ll be visiting some castles on our travels this summer.

Professor Puzzle Robot – I love this robot puzzle that can be played with as a toy robot but also can be folded into a cube. I think this one will get played with a lot.

Taro Gomi’s Playful Puzzles for Little Hands – We actually brought this book to Europe for our oldest child on our first trip to Europe with kids, and our middle child is almost the age she was then. Time flies. I love this book because the puzzles are engaging but it’s a non-consumable book, so you can use it over and over again.

Preschool Color and Activity Book – This book has lots of fun little activities and challenges and, most importantly, lots of stickers.

My middle child will also have a couple Dover Little Activity Books, a new blank notebook and a set of new markers.

Ages 7-9

Wikki Stix – I actually bought a set of these for both of my older kids. Wikki Stix are awesome and tactile and 3D and excellent to bust out when everybody’s tired of activity books.

Sticker Picture Atlas of the World – This is gorgeous! I love the illustrations and the tidbits of information offered about different parts of the world. Perfect for travel. Also, lots of stickers!

Scratch Art Hidden Picture Pad – The classic scratch and reveal. It’s not very artistic but it sure can be soothing.

Waterworld Magnetic Travel Game – I’m not sure I even understand how this game works, but my eight-year-old saw it at our local toy store and said she would love it. I like that this has challenges for different skill levels and that the whole thing is magnetic.

Sticker Dolly Dressing Design Studio – My eight-year-old is so excited about this one! It comes in a box, so this will be moved into a Ziploc bag for travel. It includes stencils, stickers, rub-down transfers and a design book for creating different outfits. I have a feeling this will keep her busy for hours.

Mad Libs – Classic. We chose a travel-themed one.

Magnetic Hangman – I’m excited for this one because we can secretly be practicing the word families and spelling concepts we learned this year. Homeschool mom nerd alert.

Times Tables Activity Book – My kiddo LOVES math and has really enjoyed the couple of pages she’s already done out of this book. Again, this will review concepts we learned this past year.

My oldest child will also have a couple Dover Little Activity Books, a new blank notebook and a set of new markers.

This summer we will take our third trip to Europe with kids and our first cruise with kids (well, our first cruise ever). I love traveling with our kids and the memories we are able to make as a family. But I’d be lying if I said long flights and cramped quarters with small children didn’t make me nervous. I’m hoping my well-stocked Mary Poppins bag of tricks will help with those dicey moments.

I’d love to hear what travel activities and toys your kids have loved!

2 Replies to “Favorite toys and games for travel with kids”

  1. Hello Annie!
    I loved following you on Instagram, I recently got off all social media. I am also a homeschool mama with kidddos almost the same age as yours, this year will be our second year so I loved taking notes of what other families brought to their table! I was also in love with your last big trip aw how beautiful the places were. We live in the outskirts of Portland and love it here!!
    I just recently found out my husband is deploying next year. He also might be going somewhere we’re we can visit and when he is deployed we can fly free…. anyways I have been toying with the idea of traveling to Germany, Switzerland or wherever for however long I figured I would plan throughout the year with the kids. I am reaching out to you because it looks a little overwhelming. Where did you all stay air B&bs hotels, when did you start planning, what advice do you have places to see or visit?? Did you rent a car or just train an taxis? When you fly free with military it’s a gamble so I have to be flexible with lodging the first day or so, but if we can get on it sounds totally worth it. Ok any helpful info might have would be appreciated . Hope your Enjoying the last bit of summer:)

    1. Hi Michelle! Thanks for your note! What an exciting opportunity for your family! We have generally done Airbnb’s in Europe, with the occasional hotel stay if we are only in a city for one or two nights. We have had great experiences with Airbnb. Definitely read the reviews – they are super helpful! And with kids I highly recommend scrutinizing the laundry details. In Europe it may say that there is a washing machine, which probably means there is NOT a dryer, which is super hard when you’re doing lots of laundry. So keep an eye out for that. It is really easy to visit/live in Europe without a car. The public transportation system is amazing and so well-integrated. That being said, it also depends on the kind of travel you want to do. If you are planning on city hopping and going long distances then the train is best. If you want to be able to bop around the countryside/villages, then a car might work better. If you have a kid under four or so I definitely recommend bringing a solid stroller because you will walk so much more over there and it can wear out little legs. On our last trip with a 20-month old and a 4-yr-old I really could have used a double stroller. I’m excited for you! Switzerland and Germany are so incredibly kid-friendly. You will have a blast.

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