On a long flight, you want plenty of things to keep the kids occupied – especially during those eternal day flights! But who wants to lug a ton of toys with them? You want to be economical about what you bring – getting the most bang for your buck. In other words, small, lightweight items to entertain them for as long as possible! Here are a number of toys that we’ve brought with us and how they worked out for us (I get no compensation for mentioning any of them!).
Just remember as you choose your toys and activities to keep your own little ones in mind! Froggy and Hippo are very different, and what works for one does not necessarily work for the other! As they get older, I get them more involved in choosing the activities they want to bring. I was shocked, for example, when neither of them wanted any stickers for our last trip (ages 7 & 4)!
The following activities are generally for kids ages 5 and under. If your kids are getting older, check out the page on Travel Activities for Big Kids!
- Buckle Toy – (age 1 and up). We got this plush pillow toy with 6 different buckles for Hippo when we were driving to New England when he was one-and-a-half. He LOVED it. The only problem was that he could not UNbuckle it. Luckily, Froggy was willing to help: Hippo would just pass it to him to unbuckle and he was good to go again! At age 4, Hippo still gets really excited when I pull this toy out for one of our trips! It comes in a few different colors, but we have “Buddy” the green one. It’s a bit pricey ($20), but it’s been worth every penny for us!
- A bag of Duplo Lego’s – (18 months and up). Grab a variety of Duplos and put them in a bag. Nothing like stacking and unstacking them! If you want to make them a bit more educational, print out some counting and pattern cards (like these from Mom Inspired Life) and slip them in the bag with the Duplos.
- LEGO pattern cards – (3 and up). Get them here from Fun at Home with Kids. Collect the necessary LEGO pieces, print out (and laminate) the cards, and put it all into a busy bag.
- Colorforms by University Games – (age 2). They only stick to the board they come with, not to anything on the plane! – I got one of The Very Hungry Caterpillar 🙂 They only lasted a few weeks, but for under 8 bucks, it was totally worth it. UPDATE: I got these again for our Florida trip (still age 2), and they didn’t work nearly as well 😦 They just didn’t stick to the board, so they were falling all over the place. I don’t know what the difference was. Froggy still loved it, but I wish they had worked better.
- Dover Little Activity Books – (ages 2 and up, depending on the book). These very small activity books are perfect for travel. Stick them in your travel bag or your purse while you’re on-the-go. You can get a sticker activity similar to Colorforms. Or you can get Hidden Picture books, Maze books, Coloring books, or Activity books. When Froggy was 5, he was obsessed with mazes. We had a horrible flight to Florida, but he worked through a couple of these books and was entertained the whole time! They only cost about $1.50 – $2, so they are quite a bargain! Just be sure you know that they are only about 4×6 inches. You can get them on Amazon, too.
- I Spy or Peek-a-Boo Bag – (age 2+). I found my Peek-a-Boo bag on Amazon for about $9. You can also get them on Etsy. It’s a little closed bag with a see-through window filled mostly with small white beads along with various objects to find – Lots of ideas for games. UPDATE: This is a great idea, but it was too hard for Froggy to maneuver and find the objects. It worked for a few minutes when I helped him, but I’d hoped he could entertain himself with it. UPDATE #2: At 2 1/2 years old, Froggy couldn’t maneuver the bag. But just a month or so later, he got the hang of it. At this age, he still needs help sometimes, but he’s quite interested in it.
- Flashcards by Mudpuppy – (see photo above; about $13; age 2 and up). We have the opposites cards, but they don’t seem to be available anymore. They have very cute pictures and are held together by a handy ring, so less chance of losing them. No, I don’t intend to quiz the boys with them, but Froggy loves to look at cards, stack them, put them in & take them out (if these came with a box), and I thought they might be fun to describe in German. Froggy has always enjoyed looking at flashcards (about age 2 – 6), but Hippo never really has (now age 4).
- Large Lacing Beads by Alex Toys – (about $16; age 2 to 7). These chunky wooden lacing beads have been occupying Hippo for years (about age 2 to 4). We have the set of farm animals.
- Dry Erase Coloring Mat – (2 and up). This little folder has two plastic inserts and different coloring pages to put in them. Use the dry erase crayons that come with the set (and slip into a pouch on the back) to color the image behind the plastic. Then use the cloth to erase it all away and color a new image! Hippo at age 4 still likes this!
- Magnetic Drawing Board, travel size – (2 and up). Hippo loves these drawing boards. For small hands, just remember to get one that has a nice thick drawing pen! I’ve heard good things about AquaDoodle, too, but we never used one. I really like the Fisher Price Doodle Pro Travel (pictured in the middle), but they don’t make it anymore 😦 It’s a nice size: 9×11. There is a new version called the Doodle Pro Trip for about $10. It doesn’t look like the writing surface is as big, but I haven’t seen it in person.
- Small, chunky toys are great for little hands. I like the Playmobil 1.2.3 sets (18 months & up), such as this simple Fun in the Sun set. Again, I pop them in a busy bag, and we’re good to go!
- Check your supply of cars and trains, too. For our 3- or 4YO, I sometimes grab a new Hot Wheels cars.
- Small Jigsaw Puzzle – (3 and up). We have a set of Melissa and Doug dinosaur puzzles. There are 4 of them, and they come in one box. So I made a color copy of one of the finished puzzles, printed it on cardstock, and cut it down to size. I slipped the picture along with the puzzle pieces into a busy bag, so I could just bring one or two puzzles on our trip.
- Invisible Ink activity pads – (3 and up). Even if your little one isn’t old enough to read the instructions and do the activities as they were meant to be done, invisible ink can be a thrilling activity for little ones! We had one that was just mazes for Froggy when he was in his maze craze (about age 5). And Hippo just had a great time with one on a road trip (age 4).
- Water Wow by Melissa and Doug – (3 and up). I haven’t tried these yet myself, but others have recommended them. Similar to invisible ink, but uses a refillable water pen. And bonus: it’s reusable! Just let the page dry, and it returns to a simple line drawing. I think Hippo (age 4) will love this. Definitely trying it on our next trip!
- And don’t forget Color Wonder coloring books and markers! (3 and up) (Have you noticed that I am somewhat obsessed with keeping our surroundings clean?!)
- Coloring books or a blank pad of paper and crayons or colored pencils.
- A box of large washable crayons are always a safe bet, even if it’s just for scribbling! These 6×9 drawing pads are a nice travel size. I like to put the crayons in a box or a pencil case, since the cardboard box tends to fall apart. It’s also easier for little fingers to get them in and out. Large colored pencils (such as these or these, depending on the age) are also a great option, as they don’t tend to leave as much of a mark if they miss the page!
- Mad Libs – (3 and up). You can get this Road Trip version for under $3! Okay, a 3-year-old can’t really do Mad Libs, but if you ask the right questions, he can participate, too! We started doing these when Froggy was 6 and Hippo was 3. Froggy, who goes to a Montessori school, already knew about grammar terms, so it was easy to ask him for nouns, verbs, etc. For Hippo, we would ask more leading questions like, “Name one of your toys” or “Tell us something you do – run? jump? dance?” There is also a Junior version (like this sports-themed one) that uses symbols and gives a list of word ideas.
- Lego’s for older children – (4 and up). I found this AMAZING idea for a LEGO travel storage case on Simple Play Ideas. You take a storage box (she used one from Ikea, but mine didn’t work, so I grabbed one I had bought at the craft store) and glue a LEGO board to the top with super glue. Genius!! Lego’s go inside (whatever you have from your collection), and your child can build on top. I made a smaller one for Hippo, too. (Just be sure the board has a flat-bottomed surface. I tried using a knock-off brand that wasn’t flat on the bottom, and it would not stick. So I cut up one of our green base boards, and it worked like a charm. It was worth cutting one up to make these travel boxes!) Froggy’s big box has sections inside, to keep the pieces separate. Hippo’s smaller box is just one compartment. If your child prefers to follow instructions instead of free-building with the blocks, throw in some challenge cards, like these from Life of a Homeschool Mom
- Brain Quest Flip Decks – (reading-age). As soon as your child can read, this flip deck of questions and answers can be a fun and educational item to pack in his or her carry-on or in the car. The questions are on one side of the card, and the answers are on the back. There are different levels for different ages. (If you click the link here, it takes you to school-aged levels. You can find them for younger children, too – just do a quick search!) They are held together securely to swivel. They make them for younger children, too, but someone would have to do the activities with the child. They also make workbooks.
I have long been rather obsessed with the idea of Busy Bags for our travels. Each bag contains its own activity. It makes it easy to keep things separate and also within easy reach! I have a whole Pinterest board dedicated to Busy Bags. Thanks to all the Mommy Blogs, there seems to be an infinite number of ideas for busy bags for children of varying ages!
I bought a case of pencil cases to put our activities in. It seemed a bit pricey ($27 for 24 pouches), but the quality was SO much better than the ones I bought at the dollar store, which were not much cheaper in the end!
We have a slim, awkward closet where I keep all these busy bags and travel toys. I try to keep them out of sight, so that they seem “new” for a trip, even when the boys have done them on trips before!
Activities to Do on the Plane – No Props Necessary!
- Fingerplays and Handgames like Rock, Paper, Scissors or Patty-Cake or Itsy-Bitsy Spider.
- Play I-Spy with the in-flight magazine or things on the plane.
- Retell some favorite stories. Froggy (age 2-3) loves doing this now and fills in the blank when we leave off a word at the end. He even corrects us when we mess it up (intentionally or accidentally). I’ve been surprised by how many of his books I have memorized!
- Break out your phone or the digital camera, and let your child take some pictures. Or take pictures of him/her and then show him/her the results. You might want to turn off the flash, though. And remember to limit screen time. (For more on why, see this post about our disastrous 8-hour, no-limits flight!)
- During landing, Froggy (age 2) did NOT want to sit on my lap again. Once I had him look out the window and started describing everything we could see – and asking him for some things, too – he calmed right down.
- Kids activities to do while traveling over at Stella123. Some great ideas, such as airport yoga!
- How to Keep Your Toddler Busy on an Airplane: This post was written by a mom who has traveled with her toddler to and from Europe.
- Some families get new small toys and activities for the trip and wrap them up. Use lots of paper and tape to make opening the gift an activity in and of itself! Hand them out every hour or so.
- Check out Target’s red dot section for inexpensive toys and such to add to your goodie bag. Nothing like NEW, even if it’s small and simple! The Dollar Store works, too.
For more ideas from around the Web, check out some of my other Pinterest boards:
- Travel by Car: most of these are about travel in the US, but there are plenty of generic travel tips for traveling by car!
- Travel with Kids: these pins are more about traveling by plane and being in Europe.
- Travel Packing Tips
- Busy Bags – My Pinterest Board
This page is always a work in progress. More to come!
Are your little ones growing up before your eyes? Check out my new page on activities for big kids!