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Are you planning a fun road trip with your family but feeling a little nervous about the long car ride with little children? Are you looking to minimize tablet screen time? Well, don’t worry! After having done several long trips with my young children (both alone and with my husband), I have some great options that will help keep your little ones occupied.
TLDR: You’re a mom and very busy, so if you do not have time to read this article, go and order the LCD sketch screens and a bunch of water coloring books from Amazon right now. If you need to add another item to get the same-day delivery, throw a busy board in your cart.
Different activities such as sensory toys, reusable stickers, and dry-erase boards are the best travel toys. I also love magnetic puzzles, busy books, and any small, manageable, mess-free activity. Sometimes, even a roll of blue painter’s tape and a pack of sticky notes can go a long way. I’ve put together an easy list of ideas to help you and your family on your next trip that won’t break the bank!
Music! Who doesn’t like to listen to their jam while traveling? You can stream your child’s favorite songs for free through Pandora, Spotify, or other streaming apps. You can also pay to download a few popular Disney songs directly to your phone. Songs like “Head Shoulders Knees and Toes” and “Freeze” are fun to do in the car. Education songs are another great option. Music is always a great mood booster for those long road trips. And don’t forget to have some nice calming lullaby music on deck; you will be surprised how quickly your tired little one falls asleep.
Water Coloring Books
There are a few different types of water-based coloring books. Some come with a wet felt marker, while others have a little water pen that you will need to fill up. We prefer the felt marker as our kids tend to squeeze the water pens, popping the top off and creating a little mess (and a potential meltdown). Walmart and Target are great places to find these books. We love the Melissa & Doug Water Wow! books. They’re fun, educational, and a great way to keep those little hands busy.
Dry Erase Boards
My kids are still doodling in their travel dry-erase boards at home, and they are a huge hit! Our favorite is the Crayola Washable Dry Erase pack. It has straps that keep the markers in place and a cloth for erasing. Replacement markers are affordable and easy to find in any store or on Amazon. And the great thing about dry-erase markers is that it is easy to clean up those little hands with a simple diaper wipe.
As long as your kiddo won’t try to eat them, reusable stickers are a fun way for young toddlers to work on their hand-eye coordination and storytelling skills. They are good pincher finger exercises and improve bilateral hand coordination. Reusable stickers do not have the regular sticker residue and are an excellent option for sticking on car windows, dry-erase boards, or a travel lap tray.
Don’t feel guilty if your children have a little extra screen time. It can buy you another hour of occupied peace. Headphones are a great addition; they help keep them focused on their movie or show, and you can listen to your favorite podcast. We like to download our favorite movies through Amazon Prime, but you may already have plenty of other subscription services. Some great apps like Nick Junior or PBS Kids offer free content. The Kindle Fire is an excellent tablet for children. It’s affordable, lightweight, has a SIM card for downloads, and there are some fun child-proof cases to choose from.
Sometimes, just a simple roll of basic blue painter’s tape can go a long way. Your little kids can decorate their car seats or windows. Painter tape is great for a long flight and while staying in a hotel room. Amazon has some great options if you want to add some bright colors. They are environmentally friendly, odorless, waterproof, and easy to tear. Playing with painter’s tape is a fun activity that encourages creativity by making shapes and designs in various colors and sizes.
Post-it Notes are a fun activity while traveling. They come in several bright colors and are safe and easy to clean. My kids love making little storybooks or creating fun, colorful designs on their windows. They come in different shapes and sizes and are great for those little fingers.
Model Clay is another great option for older kids to indulge in creativity and work on their fine motor skills. Kits are affordable, less messy than playdough, and won’t dry out. I would recommend purchasing a travel lap tray (see below) that will keep most of the clay in one place and create a nice flat surface for them to make.
There are several different lap tray options for young children and toddlers. Some can hold various-sized tablets, art supplies, and snacks; some even come with a cup holder. They are great at keeping kids calm by preventing the typical meltdown when they drop their favorite toy or spill their snacks all over the floor. They work great on plane and car rides, even on your couch. They are also lightweight and easy to clean.
Want some more window fun after the stickers and tape? Window crayons are perfect for car rides. They are non-toxic, dry fast, do not smudge easily, and are affordable. They are a fantastic creative activity and also help little ones with their attention span by focusing on a single task. Window crayons are some of our favorite travel toys and an easy way to have fun.
This is our number one favorite that continues to get a lot of use from our kids. It’s perfect for your little artist. The best part is there’s no mess, and it’s easy to use. They are also very affordable, and you can get a two-pack for less than $10 on Amazon. They are great for a plane ride as they are lightweight and won’t weigh down your children’s little backpacks. They are an excellent idea for any long journey and a good choice for both young and big kids.
We always like to pack our kids’ favorite books. Whether they are quiet books or picture books, it’s a good idea to bring different sets of books to help keep those little ones entertained just a little bit longer. Our kids love browsing through the pages and telling their stories. Depending on the age of your children, busy books are an excellent option for older toddlers and preschoolers. And any activity book is a good idea, even those sticker books.
Some of the best toys for long trips are puzzles. Not only are they fun, they are great for brain development. They also help kids work on their patience and social skills. There are so many different types of travel puzzles. Some are magnetic, which helps minimize losing pieces. Melissa and Doug have some fun ones for three-year-olds and up. They have a carrying handle and fold out. Other magnetic puzzles are simple shapes and come with hundreds of challenges, like making a square or a cow. Those puzzles will keep those little ones busy. There are a few Rubik’s Cube puzzle options for your older kids as well. We like the Rubik’s Edge, which is 3x3x1 and suitable for beginners. These are great for the older kids and even adults.
Another fun magnetic toy is picture scenes. So many different brands do a great job of encouraging imaginative play. Melissa and Doug have a great product that offers a variety of scenes. They’re great for working on problem-solving skills and fine motor skills. They are the perfect size and a great thing to entertain any age group.
A must-have for a long car trip is snacks. Snacks can be messy, but they don’t have to be. Williams Sonoma has a great spill-resistant product with five compartments for snacks. The center button allows your child to move to the next snack, which helps reduce messes! They come in two sizes and three different colors. They’re fun for kids and the best thing for minimizing those snack messes.
There are so many different types of pop-it toys out there. There are simple, small ones that you can attach to a backpack, as well as large electronic options. They are great for enhancing concentration and can also be soothing and help with stress. I prefer the larger ones with numbers or letters on each circle, making it a fun educational activity.
Who doesn’t like something new? What kid doesn’t love getting a new toy? New toys are always a fun surprise, and you don’t have to spend much. Visit your local dollar store or Target’s $3 to $5 section and grab a few new toys to surprise the kids when they’re starting to get bored. Stash a few away for the journey home. A new toy is great for all ages, especially older siblings.
Buckle toys are another great fine motor skill option. There are super simple Velcro ones for little toddlers and more advanced ones for older children. My favorites are buckle-themed characters that help children develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
Fidget spinners are fun and affordable for all ages, including adults. They can help increase concentration on tasks, which is excellent for brain development. They are travel-sized and an easy way to keep younger kids occupied. They come in different designs, and you can find these at any department or grocery store.
Need another toy or gadget to keep your younger children occupied? Toss in some little suction cup toys. They come in all kinds of shapes and fun, bright colors. These toys also help your little ones work on their fine motor skills. They’re great for babies, and they can explore each toy’s texture, sounds, and shapes. They are safe and make a perfect travel toy for all ages.
Magnetic blocks are great for supporting a child’s development, including fine motor skills, problem-solving, and storytelling. Kids can get creative and build out little cities. Tegu has a variety of fun on-the-go options, including a little felt pouch for easy storage. Even the basic blocks with a shape sorter lid can be so much fun for your little ones.
A popular Montessori favorite is busy boards. They are an awesome travel toy and the perfect way to keep your little ones occupied for a long time. Various brands make great travel boards. Busy boards are some of the best toddler toys for brain development and improving basic motor skills. They are also great for older children. The nature scene boards can be a repetitive, relaxing activity.
Another fun and mess-free toy is a squish or water tablet. These are great sensory toys for little ones. They have a delightful squishy texture. Some have mazes and hidden characters. These are great for self-expression and creativity. Fisher Price has a great underwater-themed tablet that is colorful and soft.
I know what you’re thinking. More screen time? Video games? Well, there are several different types of simple educational handheld electronic games. There are the classic ones like Yahtzee or the more complex ones like an old-school Game Boy. The preloaded handheld games are great for the older kids. For your little ones, there are little pop-it games that make fun sounds and light up. VTech has several fun electronic learning toys.
You’ve got to love fun toys that also exercise children’s cognitive abilities. There are several different magnetic tracing toys out there. We also love an excellent magnetic drawing board. They are safe and non-toxic for kids’ use. There are alphabet and scenic boards, and just the basic Etch-A-Sketch is excellent. And like most of the toys listed, magnetic tracing boards are another great road trip toy that is mess-free and easy to use. Are you seeing a theme here?
Travel-size card games are great for older kids and adults. They are fun and also promote social interaction and strategic thinking. Some all-time favorites are Uno, Skip-Bo, and Monopoly. Yes, there is a Monopoly card game! Flash cards are also a great option, and you can help your children further their learning of numbers and letters. You can find several large and small flash card kits online or at Target or Walmart.
There are several affordable toddler-friendly digital cameras available for purchase online. They are durable, and some even come with a waterproof case. They come in various colors, and some even have some fun games downloaded. They’re great for teaching little ones a new skill set and it’s fun seeing the world through their eyes.
I know what you are thinking: Legos and Duplos? What a mess! Not if you have that handy lap tray mentioned earlier. Duplos and legos are fun and colorful and can help with fine motor skills. If you’re worried about all of the small pieces, save them for your hotel room or vacation home. They’re a great activity for those rainy days or a fun relaxing thing to do before bed. There are so many fun character options; you will find something for every kid.
Back to the basics, a simple pad of paper, a coloring book, and crayons are great for older kids. Various travel kits have everything needed for your little artist. As a kid, we were always drawing or coloring during our family road trips. Make a fun game and have your kids sketch something they see outside of their window like farm animals, a bridge, or a street sign. It’s also a great opportunity for a family member to help the little ones work on those ABCs and 123s.
Journaling is a great exercise for all ages. It helps increase happiness, and emotional intelligence and is a creative outlet. It’s also a fun way to practice reading and writing. Kids can write down what they did each day, and clip some pictures out of brochures and fliers. It’s fun to glue a leaf or press a flower in between pages. After the trip, they can print some of their favorite pictures from their digital camera or your phone and add those to the journal as well. The options are endless.
Traveling with little children can be both stressful and enjoyable. Whether it’s a plane, train, or car ride, you’ll want to plan. Even with all of the great travel toys I mentioned above, kids will be kids. Being organized, patient, and taking breaks are great ways to minimize travel stress. I also highly recommend stocking up on snacks and drinks. Using a pull-up for that long plane ride is okay if you’re still potty-training. Especially if there is turbulence and that ‘no seatbelt’ sign comes on.
I like bringing along a small training porta-potty for long road trips in case we are in the middle of nowhere, and someone needs to go ASAP. Don’t forget wipes for those sticky snack fingers and a trash bag to contain all of the wrappers and messes. Finally, you can never go wrong with their favorite stuffy; they provide comfort and a little sense of security. And maybe you’ll get lucky, and the kids will get super comfortable and take a long nap.
With a little extra planning and flexibility, you can minimize travel challenges and appreciate the new memories you are making. Traveling with your kids is a fun way for them to learn about new places, cultures, and foods. So have a fantastic trip and enjoy these moments because they go by quickly.