Activities for Travel–What’s in Our Travel Bag of Tricks?

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Activities for Travel--What we keep in our travel bag of tricks. This contains referral links. For a complete list of items we consider to be travel essentials, check out our travel gear page!

*This post has been updated to include even MORE fun ideas! You can find the latest version HERE!*

The thought of flying with an unpredictable, easily frustrated, strong-willed toddler  is enough to make some parents swear off vacations for the next ten to fifteen years. I understand. However, in our experience, the flights are never as bad as they could be. Our girl’s seven commercial trips have included twenty (!)  individual flights, and the majority of those flights have been (relatively) positive!

And those few where our child was a crying, screaming mess? I swallowed my pride and reminded myself that, in all likelihood, I’ll never see the other passengers again! It’s rough but manageable. Here’s how we survive.

Activities for Travel–Our Travel Bag of Tricks

On the Plane: In our daughter’s closet, I keep a large diaper bag packed with goodies to take with us when we travel. I update it before every trip and only bring it out only for long car rides or plane trips. This way, everything in there is special, fun, and “new.” Here’s what’s currently in our travel bag:

$1 Magna Doodle from a discount store–this is my current favorite travel toy.  On a recent trip to Indy, we passed it back to A, and she played with it quietly for 45 minutes. 45 minutes! That’s an eternity in toddler time! We actually had a real, adult conversation while our child busied herself in the backseat!

Pictures from magazines of things our dear daughter can identify–as Nate and I read through our magazines, we tear out pictures of animals, cars, trucks, clouds, flowers, airplanes, babies, bicycles, and fruit. These clippings go in an envelope and are later thrown in the travel bag. Because they’re just clippings from magazines, she can pull, tear, fold, and destroy these things as much as she wants. My favorite part? Since we already have the magazines, this “toy” is basically free!

Crayola Color Wonder markers and paperthese markers color only on the special Color Wonder Paper, which means no stray marks on clothes, tray tables, or skin. Genius!

Stickerssometimes they actually make it on paper or her clothes. Other times, they just go straight from the sticker sheet to a crumpled ball in her hand or on the floor. Either way, this cheap form of fun buys us time. What I’ve found is that toddlers don’t care if the stickers are holographic or have Disney characters on them; those little circles used to price items at garage sales work just fine! However, to enhance our sticker collection, I recently grabbed a pack of stickers that you can color and decorate from one of the dollar stores. Twice the fun!

Sticker books–I bought a few of these sticker pages from Amazon using their 4-for-3 book promotion (buy four books and get the lowest-priced item free). They’re super small, cheap, and reusable!

Painter’s tape–we’ve tried this on a few trips, and once it was confiscated when we went through security. I have no clue if tape is officially banned on airplanes (or, if so, why!?); however, when we have it, A enjoys playing with it. Tape is fun to smush and crinkle and stick to Daddy’s nose.

Activity sheets in plastic sheet protectors and dry erase markers–more reusable fun! This one is new. Our daughter is just now to the age (20-months at the time of our trip) where worksheets can be interesting. The pages I have now are big shapes that she can drive over (i.e. trace) with her toy car or plane, and a few alphabet activities. On this last trip, A marked on a few shapes and scribbled. I pointed out letters, and she named all of the colors. When she was done drawing, I gave her an old sock and she wiped off (most) of the marks herself. This proved to be just as fun for her as the scribbling.

Mr. Potato Head–so what if his lips end up in his ears and his ears end up in his eyes?

Foam blocks–we found ours in the dollar bins at Target. They’re good for stacking, sorting, hiding, and naming shapes and colors.

Finger puppets (we have this exact set from Ikea)–Daddy is a master puppeteer.

Paint samples–I know they cost companies money, so we try not to be greedy. However, when we’ve had the need to purchase paint, I’ve picked up a few extra paint samples and added them to our travel bag. These are good for sorting, color identification, and matching activities.

Puzzles-cheap, cardboard puzzles from Walmart. I keep them in a big manila envelope so the pieces don’t get lost in my bag.

Snacks–for both the toddler and her parents. All it took was one snack-free flight for us to realize that hungry parents do not make for happy flights! Books–our favorite this trip was Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Airport. Our girl is fascinated by planes, trains, helicopters, and cars. She kept asking for the “(air)port book” so she could point out vehicles (and colors) she recognized.

Even though I always overpack, I felt like I didn’t bring enough books this time! I guess I didn’t realize how much we read. We read for entertainment and before every nap and bedtime. Our five favorite books had worn out their welcome by the time this trip was over. Along with the airport book, we bring along a toy plane. At the airport, on the runway, and in our hotel in Phoenix, our little girl was fascinated by the big planes. She would mimic their take offs and landings with her toy plane while saying, “Big plane! Woosh, woosh!”

Backpack for her to carry that has a detachable child “leash.”  This is the exact one we purchased from Amazon. I know harnesses are controversial. But when our unsteady toddler went on a cruise with my family in December, you can bet this mama was not at all embarrassed to have an adult holding each of her hands AND have her clipped to a leash when we were walking around the deck! Since then, we’ve taken off the leash and just used the backpack. Our daughter loves wearing her bag. Sometimes, she’ll ask to wear her bag around the house just for fun.

Although she doesn’t play with the iPad at home, we download fun baby apps for trips just in case. Traveling requires flexibility; this is one of the exceptions we’re willing to make for a fuss-free flight.

Ear plugs–go ahead, laugh! But you never know when YOUR kid will be the screaming child no one wants to sit by on the plane. We keep ear plugs around in case we need to offer them to the not-so-lucky passengers who sit near us. If nothing else, they lighten the mood. “Sorry about the noise. Here, have some ear plugs.” With this bag full of goodies, the comfort of being able to sleep in her car seat rather than our arms during nap time, and Daddy’s willingness to walk up and down the aisle when our baby girl needed to burn off some energy, we made it through seven hours of flying without any meltdowns or tears! Sounds like a successful trip to me!

Next up: How to deal with travel-related sleep disruptions! And don’t forget to check out how we make it through the airport with a toddler!

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6 thoughts on “Activities for Travel–What’s in Our Travel Bag of Tricks?

  1. Great tips! Thanks for sharing all those helpful toy ideas. We have a 6-hour flight coming up, and need all the ideas we can get–Bergen will be 15 months then.

  2. Kate, I would LOVE to hear how your 6-hour flight goes! Please let me know! We took Abilene to Guatemala at 13 months and on a cruise to Mexico at 15 months. Naps were tricky then (she was switching from two naps to one), but otherwise manageable! Good luck! :)

  3. Pingback: 16 Technology-Free Activities to Keep Traveling Kids Busy - MarocMama

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