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Audio books are a great way to break up the time on an airplane or road trip. They enable your child to "read" independently, or just listen to a story.
This scrabble-like game packs up small, and though the official game is designed for two or more players, there's no reason your child can't make their own crossword puzzles with it too.
A deck of cards is a great toy for a wide range of ages. You can teach your child to count and play simple games, and they'll love watching you shuffle (and trying to do it themselves).
It's nice to have a small crayon box in your purse. You can bring along a coloring book, or get paper on the road. We like the crayon sets that restaurants give away for free… all packaged up in a nice little box & easy to slip in the diaper bag.
This sealed capsule holds hidden treasure. Spin, twist and shake it to reveal zoo animals and even a hidden penny amongst the beads. Though this game is recommended for ages 8 and up, if you ignore the game-play rules, even a young toddler will enjoy it on a long car ride (the weight and size make it a road trip toy rather than an airplane toy).
Young kids love to watch grownups do finger rhymes, and preschoolers and school age kids enjoy trying to do them themselves. Learn a few new rhymes before you leave on your trip, and you'll have literally hours of entertainment during your vacation. We especially like this finger rhymes book, it has a great mix of old favorites and rhymes you probably haven't seen before.
Gertie Balls are popular because they are soft, bouncy, and easy to inflate. They can be left soft enough for a young child to grip, or be inflated firm to bounce well. A Gertie ball packs flat in your luggage, and we've had a wonderful time kicking ours around in squares and courtyards all over the world.
package a popular game in a neat little tin box, perfect for travel. There's a huge variety of choices for ages as young as three. I picked up a Mini Memory Game and a Crazy Cats Card Game (this one is rated for older kids, but I think we can simplify the game play to work for my 2 1/2 year old.) I also love the Caterpillar Game
Klutz makes a complete line of activity books that have everything you need to complete a craft or activity. Some (like the pipe cleaner activity book pictured) work well on a plane, while others would be a great way to keep kids busy in a hotel room.
You probably remember Mad Libs, the game where you fill in the blanks to create silly stories, from your own childhood. Not only are Mad Libs still around (and a great activity for a plane ride or road trip) but they also make a Junior version for ages 4 and up!
This mini microscope is small enough to fit in a four year old's front pocket. Carry it around to inspect leaves, fabric, and anything else you might find as you explore your destination
These inexpensive mini paint by numbers kits include small pots of paint and a paint brush - everything your child needs to get started. Assuming your child isn't too messy, these work great on an airplane. You can clean the tray table with a wet-nap when you are done.
An MP3 player (or music stored on a laptop) loaded with familiar music can help soothe a child to sleep. Our kids suprised us by being able to sit still enough to keep earbuds in at age 1. Any MP3 player you have will work well, but we've noticed that our IPod shuffle is easy enough for a toddler to manipulate.
Pipe cleaners are fascinating to twist into different shapes and attach together. If you also have Cheerios, your young toddler will be engrossed with trying to slip them onto the pipe cleaner to make bracelets, necklaces, and birdfeeders. Best of all, they take up almost no space in your carryon.
Play-Doh is a little to messy for a car ride, and it's not allowed in your carry-on baggage, but it is a great toy once you arrive at your destination. We especially like the mini containers because they don't take much room and enable us to bring several different colors. Once the dough is gone, the containers are fun to play with too (stack them, practice removing the lids, put beans in them, etc)
Playmobil makes lots of different activity sets geared to kids with different interests, some beginning as low as $3. The figures are interchangeable, making it easy to combine different sets or use them with larger vehicles and buildings at home. These are great for open-ended imaginary play.
These small dolls and their accessories will fit neatly inside a ziplock bag or small tupperware box. The variety of clothing and accessories make the play last and last. No one accessory is so valuable that it cannot be lost, and you can add additional accessories or sets on each trip if you like.
I used to lug around full-sized pads of watercolor paper for my kids to use when we travel, until I discovered these postcard sized packs. They're easy to carry, waste less paper, and the kids love the idea of painting that will be sent home to a grandparent. Writing the letter on the other side is also great writing practice!
Reusable Sticker Books are engaging and you won't be worried about peeling stickers off the airplane seats and window. Our favorite is this Airport Sticker Book, but there are a wide range of subjects, and the company also makes great coloring books, maze books and other small activity books. At under $3, you won't be too upset if it gets left behind.
We're not big DVD watchers in my family, so I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when I was offered a review copy of the Shae by Air DVD Toolkit. I sat down to watch it with my 3 year old son, and he loved it. I was impressed too. The DVD does a great job of showing kids, step-by-step, what they will experience at the airport and onboard the plane. It has some good tips for parents too.
If you have a toddler who has never flown before, this is a great way for both the child and the parents to get comfortable with the process before leaving home. Sit down and watch the video with your child and then play act what will happen (either by packing bags and walking through the steps yourself or with dolls). Reading a few airport related books helps too, and you'll be able to bring them with you on the plane.
Note that this is not a high-budget production, you are supporting a small business when you purchase this product.
My kids and I both love these beautiful DVDs. Each one is told entirely in the voices of the two sisters, and you follow their journey as they explore a new land. Instead of cartoons or jingles, the kids focus on showing the details my kids always seem to be interested in when they travel. For example, what are the rituals around slippers in Japan, and where do you sleep? These DVDs would be a great way to introduce kids to local culture if you are planning to visit Japan, the British Isles or Bali, but they are also great for armchair travel.
After setting up the game board according to the instructions, your child will steer their ice cream truck through a jumble of blocking cars, trucks and buses. There are 40 challenging puzzles, each progressively more difficult than the previous one.
This solo game is among my five year old son's favorites. It scales well to different ages, and while he can complete the easiest puzzles, the more challenging puzzles are fun for me. Once he's tired of working through the challenging brain teasers, the cars come off of the board and drive around the airplane train table or hotel room. Everything packs up into a compact bag.
We own and like this travel chess set. It's super tiny, and a magnetic closure keeps it from coming open in transit. Note that the small pieces might be difficult for a 4 or 5 year old to work with
This series of books (there are topics ranging from dinosaurs to castles and palaces) are part adventure story, part activity book. Kids help a character complete various puzzles and pick up treasures along the way. They're engaging and beautifully illustrated, but best of all, a thin book will keep a child entertained for a long time.
One idea that has been really working well for us this year is to take periodic "art breaks" where the kids sit and sketch what they see around them. The idea gives the kids a chance to rest their legs and express themselves at the same time. We parent can talk about what we've seen, or lose ourselves in a book for a few minutes. This kit has a water fillable paint brush (just squeeze it to release more water), and the paint pans are refillable. Paired with a postcard sized pad of watercolor paper, this kit is perfect for on the go art.
Wikki Stix are bendable pieces of wax coated string. That might not sound very exciting, but the compact stix can be shaped into letter, people, animals and other figures. They stick together to form more complex shapes, and they're endless fun for toddlers and older kids. Best of all, they don't take up much space and they're inexpensive enough to replace at the end of your trip. There are several different kit options, or if you are creative you can buy the stix alone and use your imagination to shape them.