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My husband & I are from Iowa. We were both born there, mainly raised there, and had it not been for my husband’s military career, I don’t know that we would’ve ever left. Either way, we did leave & his job has resulted in many travels for us.
Due to our lifestyle & living so far from our families, I’ve become a bit of a professional on traveling with children. We made our first 18 hour road trip with kids before Beckett even turned a month old, took our first multi-stop flight with Blake when he was 4 months old… and over & over again ever since.
Whether you’re traveling by car, plane, train…boat?, most of these apply. The longer you’re traveling, the more you up the seriousness and variety of your survival kit… or, um… your “activity bag. The number one thing for me is just to keep their minds active which will distance them from asking “Are we there yet?” every 3 minutes. If you can make a 10 hour road trip with anything less than 20 “Are we there yet?” questions, you’re doing good – I promise.
These activities/toys/ideas will vary per child’s age/attention span/ability to nap in the car, so your milage may vary, but here are some of our travel life savers.
My boys love to color and be creative, so I’ve definitely tried to find the best, mess-free options for travel so they can entertain themselves!
LCD Writing Tablet
This tablet is the thing in the middle of the photo above – it is so fun and great for kids who like to draw and ask for a new paper to color all over every 5 minutes. No mess since it is a screen, the stylus is attached to it so we don’t lose it, and you can clear the screen with the touch of the trash button! You can also lock it if your kiddo accidentally hits the trash button when they aren’t finished with their masterpiece! The lock button is on the back so it can’t be deleted!
The Color Wonder stuff is what I let the boys do at home too, and with this travel case coloring set, they can easily contain all of the things in one spot and it is completely mess free coloring too!
We have the loose page foldalope sets at home, but for the car I was excited to find the Color Wonder spiral bound activity pads just so I don’t have a ton of loose pages flying throughout the car!
These reusable stickers and fold out play scenes are perfect – especially if your kids are like mine and cling to any character toy/activity. My kids are what I like to call “character motivated”, so they may hate that flavor of go-gurt, but if Spongebob’s face is on it, give them 20 and they’ll eat them all in seconds. They may not want to do a workbook of matching colors, but if a Paw Patrol character is on the page, it is suddenly FUN and not torture. So any activity can be turned into one that doesn’t feel like a forced “mom is making me play this so I stop asking when we’ll get there…” just with the appearance of a favorite character. I got these Daniel Tiger & Paw Patrol options for our upcoming trip – the boys will be excited by these!
These activity books have been a long time favorite of mine since Beckett was little! All you do is fill the little brush/pen it comes with water and they can color the pages. When the pages dry, the color disappears & they can do it again & again. Both of my boys love these & they’re very inexpensive and were made for travel!
I know, some of you are going to cringe reading this, but if you’re limiting screen time significantly in every day life, making this exception is ok and won’t get your kids hooked on screens for life. If you’re like me and allow a little too much screen time as it is… you know the drill. I honestly don’t even limit this during travel. My kids will get burnt out with whatever they’re doing on the iPad and will want something else from my arsenal of fun.
We do two forms of screen time when we’re in the car. We have this iPad for games and then we have DVD players for movies. The only thing I’ve ever wanted in all of the cars I’ve owned since having kids is to have built in DVD players, but that has yet to happen… so we have these portable dvd players that plug into the car and play! The screens can connect so that the boys can watch the same movie or each have a spot to play their own movie. Blake is typically still rear-facing (yes, he’ll be 3 in December!) and I love these for rear-facing toddlers! Even if I had built in DVD players, I’d still need something for my rear-facing toddler, so these have been great even though when he’s older & faces forward… I’m gonna need those built ins…
For the iPad, I don’t usually like to trust a toddler in the car with an iPad so highly recommend this iPad case!! It is SO lightweight, the handle is great for them to hold onto it, and I can confirm that it has withheld about 78 toddler tantrum meltdowns where the iPad was flung like a paper airplane at walls, windows, and more. It is so great & inexpensive at that!
OH – and if you are going to participate in screen time with volume… I highly suggest you look into some headphones. We have these & unlike all of the other headphones we’ve ever purchased our kids, these have withstood the test of time! (The removable aux cord is helpful because when they’re not in use, take that out & store it away so it doesn’t get torn apart & broken like what happens with normal headphones! 😉
If my kids are eating, they’re happy. A trait they inherited from their mama, no doubt. Travel + snacks go hand in hand. If you don’t have a massive snack bag in your car or 12 snacks packed into your carry on, are we even friends?
I recommend going for the least messy options (goldfish, cereal, etc.) and I always opt for single serve bags/containers to prevent major messes or spills!
We use these kid friendly reusable stainless steel water bottles so their drinks stay cold all day!
Plan your snack bag in advance at the grocery store to save money vs getting snacks every time you stop at a gas station! I like to have variety so I have something for whatever they’re wanting, and…when they’re chewing their food, they’re not asking “Are we there yet?” Win, win.
At the end of the day, traveling is similar to being home all day with your kid. You need to feed them, keep them entertained, and hope for the best.
You’ve got this.
What are your must-haves for travel with kids?