Travel Games with Toddlers and Kids – Keep Them Entertained


toddler-blocksI placed the saltine between my toddler’s toes. Then I maneuvered his foot toward his mouth so he could take a bite of the cracker, proving that parents get very creative when trying to entertain a little one on a long trip.

He thought the cracker-in-the-toes routine was hilarious. He also thought it was funny to gesture for one activity after another, periodically throwing items to the floor: apparently it was hilarious to watch me fetch them.

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But you gotta feel sorry for any guy with a tiny developing brain that isn’t entertained with deep internal thoughts; a brain that requires human interaction from parents who don’t always comply because sometimes they’d rather be staring out the window lost in their own deep internal thoughts. I did my best to keep my frustration in check, squelching the inclination to retort, “fine. You dropped it, and I’m not picking it up!”

As the kids got older, we devised other means to keep them satisfied. For airplane or car trips here are our favorites, very inexpensive! You can see them on or

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Bandaids — Buy a box for each child. If under 4, it will take him FOREVER to open the outer wrap, then remove the two plastics that cover the sticky part, then stick it on the car seat or his clothes. The wrappings are easy to pick up, and the sticky parts come off any surface easily. As soon as my son stuck one somewhere, I’d hand him another to open with chubby fingers and intense focus.

Moist towelettes — No, not for cleaning. Buy the kind that budget restaurants hand out. They are individually wrapped, and it takes a long time for a youngster to tear open the little package (sometimes I’d assist with a starter rip), pull out the wipe, and have fun ‘cleaning’ the car seat or tray table. When one dropped to the floor, I’d hand him another package to open. Also easy to clean up – don’t let junior put them in his mouth, though.

Play-Doh — This stuff is great for airplane trips and hotel rooms. It doesn’t roll off the seat tray or hotel table or stain clothing and comes in tiny containers.

Magnetic Drawing Board — We keep 3 travel size versions, one for each kid, in a ‘travel bag’ that we store with luggage. Over a decade, our kids spent lots of time making drawings over and over.

Bingo Boards — Our kids like the kind with the plastic windows you move when something is spotted. We modify the images required: you get to move the phone booth window when you spot a car with a cell phone. If you’re on a plane, use images from a magazine to ‘spot’ items. We keep these in the travel bag that comes with us on trips. Some kinds are paper pads that get marked with a pen or pencil.

Reusable Cling-style Scene Pads — From about age 3 to age 8, our kids loved one of these with town or country scenes and check marks. When a picture on the board is spotted, they pulled a vinyl check mark off a sheet of check marks and placed it over the image. The boards were easy to hold and included lots of scenarios – city, country, vehicles, animals. And there are so many options on the sheet, you don’t need to worry if one gets dropped. There are many varieties of cling-style reusable sticker boards:

Our kids really only needed entertaining until they were 7 or 8 and began using a Nintendo DS or iPod. But I still lament that I am not a more creative, active mom. If I were not so tired from the moving-about parts of any trip, if I could have a frame of mind to want to engage my kids at every opportunity, if I weren’t grumpy occasionally and wanting to bury my nose in a book during a long flight, I’d create a list of games to whip out at the first indication of kid-boredom, say, in a museum line, or waiting for other family members to finish dinner at a restaurant or use the bathroom in our hotel room. But it’s never too late! They are still traveling with us! Thinking of ways to entertain a toddler was crucial to avoid bouts of screaming misery, but thinking of ways to foster conversation and creative thinking to entertain older kids is something to strive for, too.

I’ve seen articles that describe kids utilizing iphone games, but that would never work for us: one, we’d never buy our kids an iphone (our 14 year old saved money and bought his own refurbished phone and pays for his own pay-as-you-go plan with birthday and babysitting money), two, 3 kids could never agree who gets to hold and play with dad’s data phone without arguing, and three, I’d ideally have us playing a game together when on vacation. Happily, one iphone game app merely describes games that a family then can play together — the iphone is used just to look up and learn about a game: family car games. Click the ‘praise’ button to read glowing product reviews. The app has sorting options by age or subject.

If you are a good planner, see this familyeducation website before you go somewhere. It has nearly ninety games under subjects such as ‘search games’, ‘waiting games’, or ‘word games’, though it does not include a feature to sort by child’s age. My grade school kids would love the game called Restaurant Reviewer: I can see my kids having fun evaluating a cafe’s seats, menu selection, and restroom cleanliness. Another is Line Races, where you ask your child to predict which checkout line might move faster and evaluate the results by observing a person in line.


Very cool game and togetherness ideas — why didn’t I try to think of these? The list should get tucked in my travel papers next to restaurants to try and museums to visit.

Sandy Nielsen

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