Ideas for Traveling with Kids

CRAFT Summer Camp
My first idea for traveling by airplane with children involves a kindly mother or mother-in-law, whom your children adore, and who would like nothing more than to come stay at your house with your kids for 3 weeks while you and your hubby fly off to Tahiti.
Sadly, we tried this one time, when our youngest was just 2 years old — my husband and I spent 10 fabulous kid-free days (the first we’d had in almost 10 years) in Amsterdam. But back in the U.S., my mom and little Arlo got in a fight one night and both have been holding something of a grudge for 5 years, so it was a big price for all of us to pay for our bit of freedom.
So now we’re off to Europe with the kids in tow. There will be two 11-hour airplane flights, two 4-hour-long train rides, one overnight train ride (also 11 hours!), and a couple of day trips involving shorter train rides, ferries, cars, and boats. It sounds a bit rough, especially with a teenager and a young 7-year-old, but we’re actually getting excited about the trip. Besides seeing the sights, we’re all coming up with activities to wile away our time in transit (besides the stash of electronic devices). Here are some of our favorites:

  • Playing cards! You can play games while waiting in the airport, on the plane, on the train, in a park. Older kids can play solitaire or work on magic tricks when they’re bored. You can use them to teach wee tots their numbers and a few shapes. “See, this is a 6 of hearts. 1,2,3,4,5,6 hearts on this card! And this is what the number 6 looks like.”
  • Washable markers and a notepad. We use markers a lot on the plane, and I can’t wait to try out Brookelynn’s fabulous Puffer Fish Barf Bag project! (Note to self: Bring small scissors.)
  • Books of all kinds. We bring sports trivia books for our teenage boy, beginning reading and simple word search books for our 7-year-old, and trashy fiction books for me.
  • Magazines. After you read them, you can cut them up or rip them apart to make collages or funny pictures. You can also make paper airplanes and fancy paper doll clothes out of them in a pinch.
  • Forgotten toys. I always raid the toy chest in search of small toys that we’ve forgotten all about. They’re like a new gift and a dear old friend wrapped into one! Army men and other figurines are great for adventure and make believe play, plus they can be used as game pieces or betting chips.
  • Homemade games. I found a box of old Maker Faire badges in the recycling bin in the office and decided to keep a pair of each type for a DIY memory game. We tried it out here at home and it was a hit! And our new reader is now learning impressive words like “Volunteer” and “Exhibitor.”
  • Your imagination. At some point during the trip, your bag of tricks will be used up or no longer hold the interest of your offspring. When this happens, it helps to arm yourself with an imaginative mind. Look around, maybe something will catch your eye that can be put into use in a new, better game. Or dig down deep and come up with a funny tale — “Did I ever tell you about the time I dropped an entire bag of groceries? I bet you can’t even guess what all I broke, or how funny I looked with mustard all over my skirt.” Embellish at will!
  • A sense of humor. On one plane trip, my then 5-year-old spilled a bag of chips all over the waiting room, then knocked over bottle of water, and finally set his sandwich down on the chair, at which point it slowly slid off the seat and onto the floor, unwrapping itself and dribbling out all the innards in the process. Wanting to cry, or maybe yell, I instead shook my head and began to laugh. And so did my older son. And so did my youngest. A few moments later, a woman came over and told me I was the most patient, wonderful mother she’d ever seen. Amazed, I again shook my head in protest and laughed even more. What else was there to do?

What tricks for traveling with kids do you readers have? Tell us about them in the Comments. Happy Summer!

24 thoughts on “Ideas for Traveling with Kids

  1. Ansie says:

    Give them each their own digital camera and a journal. Encourage them to keep their own record of your travels. You will be amazed at what they find interesting and how their experience differs from yours. Afterwards you will wonder if you ever were on the same trip!

  2. J R Hagan says:

    I personally don’t do much flying but we do drive a lot and one of the games my kids find the most fun is a game that we played when I was a kid and I call the License Plate Game.
    There are no rules to it and there is no score just some praise when they come up with a good one. It is a real simple just make a phrase of the letters in order of any license plate that you see. Try not to reuse words and try to make sense. The more unique the phrase and the more since it makes the better.
    I started playing the game because it was something to do while on the road however I believe that there are some learning aspects to it. There is quite a bit of exposure to a wide variety words, you have to be know what letter a word starts with to use it, they get an idea of how a word is used, overall there just seems to be a lot of different skills need to play and you play at the level you are until you move up. Kind of a self paced learning.

  3. Molly says:

    I’ve found that my kids are endlessly entertained by little wind up toys and also love it when we draw things on a magnadoodle for them. They saw, “Draw a dog” and you draw a dog and they squeal with delight.
    I also read somewhere awhile back that scotch tape will keep kids occupied for hours. Never tried it, but it cracks me up.

  4. Vone says:

    Thanks Molly – I’m looking for ideas to keep my 15 month old happy while we drive to Florida. Magnadoodle and wind up toys would be great. Last time I went I made shaker toys from plastic easter egg so we had fun sing alongs – plus I printed a bunch of new songs to sing with the kids. I also made magnetic board from an old cookie sheet and contact paper.

  5. Rachel Hobson says:

    These are all great ideas!
    One thing that is usually successful when we travel or are at restaurants with the kids is a simple paintbrush. You can find paint with water books at Target (I’ve found some for under a dollar, even!) and toss in some paint brushes and you’re good to go. Water is generally easy to come by, so it works out great. Also – just painting with water is fun for the kids! Oddly, my daughter used to love to paint with water all over the table and then clean it up with a napkin. Kept her occupied for ages.
    Modeling clay can be great, too, and not as crumbly as Play Doh.
    Lacing cards can be great, too!
    Small dry erase boards can be found in the school supply section or in teacher supply stores. Grab a lone sock and a dry erase marker or two, and that can keep the kids occupied for ages. It could be fun to research some games like tic-tac-toe/hangman, etc. that the kids can learn to play before they go.

  6. valerie says:

    We traveled across the US twice with a little one.
    Keeping a child occupied saves everyone a miserable trip.
    My three tips:
    1. We wrapped up a small present for each day of travel. From a hand puppet, to a CD, to a disappearing ink pad, or silly putty~ this worked VERY well. (check out your local dollar store)
    2. Have plenty of snacks on hand. The more and varied the better.
    3. Download books.
    Have FUN!

  7. Shawn Connally says:

    These are all great ideas, and they’ve reminded me of other things I’ve done in the past. A friend made us a felt board and we used to use it on long road trips to have alien and astronaut adventures. And a kindergarten teacher assigned a journal to my oldest son — the last time we were in Paris, in fact — and it was a blast to put together. We’re definitely taking lots of snacks (mostly healthy with a couple of unhealthy favorites for desperate times!), and my youngest just got a kid’s digital camera for his birthday, so that’s been packed as well. Thanks everyone, and happy traveling!

  8. Laura S. says:

    When traveling with DD when she was tiny (1 and 1/2), I read that you needed something fresh for every 15 minutes of flight. So I was on the hunt for 8 things for our 2 hour flight. Snacks count, btw. Although she played with everything I brought, the small stickers were by far the best part. (I had packed them with plain gift bags for her to decorate, then we could put our holiday gifts in them.) No interest in the bags, but she carefully covered my face, neck, and shirt in the stickers, giggling the entire time that she was putting stickers on mommy. We got some weird looks on the plane, but I just kept saying, “Hey, at least she’s not crying!”

  9. Ali says:

    My 3 year old is great with traveling on airplanes and is generally mesmerized by the anything playing on the screen during a long flight. On the other hand, my 16 month old does not do so well with travel. I take an old sock and put in several different scraps of material, preferably in different colors, patterns and textures. You can use all fabric or throw in some foil, wax paper, sand paper, etc. Little kids can be entertained by pulling things out and putting them back in.

  10. eoleary says:

    When our kids were smaller, we used to make lacing cards using cereal boxes, kleenex boxes, etc. that we’d punch holes in with a hole punch. Then we’d use show laces to make patterns on them. They liked to help make them before the trip and it wasn’t such a big deal if we left one on a plane.

  11. Shawn Connally says:

    I like the lace idea, even for older kids (maybe studying geometry?). And reusing cereal boxes and whatnot is right up all of our alleys. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Carey says:

    We do a lot of car travel with three kids and use tons of the ideas given above, the ONE thing I never see anywhere that has worked great for me when the kids are bored with everything else is a small bottle of bubbles!!!!!! One or two bursts of bubbles from the front seat calms all three down and makes them smile ages 3, 9, & 13!!!!! Works like a charm!

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