Kipling once wrote, “He travels the fastest who travels alone.” Traveling with kids can be a laborious process, since kids are even less patient with sitting in one place for hours than adults (let’s face it, you don’t enjoy it either). There are many tips and tricks for happy travel, so we’re just going to focus on our realm of expertise: toys!
A good travel toy should have a few basic characteristics:
- It’s self-contained – if there are multiple pieces, they stay together easily, lessening the chances that an important piece will fall under a seat and disappear forever;
- It will keep kids busy for more than a few minutes;
- It either engages the rest of the passengers on board, or doesn’t bother them.
Here are a few of our favorites, divvied up by category:
If you have a small baby in the car, toys that they can get to but can’t drop are a must. Small dangling toys that can clip to the car seat or near the car seat, like these toys from Skip Hop, International Playthings, and Manhattan Toy are great. Switch out dangling toys at rest stops to keep your baby from getting bored and frustrated. Car seat activity arches also provide a variety of toys to keep baby happy.
If you have someone in the back seat who can be the designated baby entertainer, then you have more options: they can read interactive baby books, wield finger puppets, and retrieve baby’s Sophie the Giraffe when baby drops it.
Making art is super-absorbing for many kids, so art toys can buy you some serious quiet time in the car. However, you want to minimize the possible mess and the number of pieces that might get lost, which rules out a lot of art activities your child enjoys at home. For toddlers and preschoolers, self-contained reusable art toys will provide plenty of entertainment. For instance, the Kid O A to Z Magnatab makes letters by letting kids use a magnet to pull up a series of tiny silver beads with a happy click. If you don’t mind going digital, the Boogie Board LCD Writing Tablet is an awesome way to keep kids entertained absolutely anywhere – you don’t even need a special stylus, so kids can use their fingers to draw! Kids all the way up through their teens will love the Boogie Board, and you can use it for your own family travel games, too, like keeping a tally of state license plates.
If you’re going to go with art toys with multiple pieces, toys that use magnets or stickers will help to keep everything contained. Magnetic dress-up sets let kids engage in dress-up play with pieces that will naturally stay together, and they have a handy carrying case with slots for everything. Janod, of France, makes a series of Magnetibooks that let kids experiment with letters, dress up characters, and create scenes with magnets; everything fits in a neat little travel box and they’re endlessly entertaining!
Melissa & Doug make plenty of self-contained sticker books that include both the stickers and scenes or faces to stick ‘em on. Crazy Faces will guarantee some giggles, and you can get other family members involved too – how about passing it around and letting each person add one feature to a face, and seeing what you all come up with?
Also, there are brand new Melissa & Doug sticker sets with reusable stickers – since each sticker can be used multiple times, this isn’t a sticker book that can be used once and then forgotten, and instead, it encourages extended imaginative play.
Self-Contained Toys & Games
For older kids, the Perplexus toys are an endlessly entertaining challenge – after all, it takes quite a bit of practice to beat the maze, and once kids have done it once, they’re not going to stop and rest on their laurels. How about time trials, to see how fast they can get through? (Don’t have kids compete for the fastest time unless you know they can do it without getting cranky, though.)
Pretend-play is also possible in the car as long as you keep pieces minimal. The Playmobil Take Along Modern Doll House doubles as a travel case with a handle!.
For the Whole Family
Some of the best memories we all have from family trips are of the entire family being engaged. Anything that gets everyone laughing and playing together is a great way to pass the time and do some family bonding, too.
The magnetic travel Bingo and Hangman games by Lauri are great for keeping kids occupied in the back seat: just have a parent in the front be the Bingo caller, and you’re golden. For a game that changes every time, and encourages kids to take in the sights along the way, Spot It! On the Road is an awesome variation on one of our very favorite games – and of course, while the other Spot It! games aren’t that conducive to playing in the car, they do come in great travel tins that are easy to take anywhere.
For some very weird fun that will get everyone giggling, Ooga Booga from Blue Orange is a supremely silly memory challenge that gets everyone chanting like cavemen. The only disadvantage is that the driver will be very sulky to be left out of the fun! (Also, you will get some weird looks when the kids continue caveman-chanting when you get to a rest stop, but who cares?)
Finally, don’t forget: while you may be resistant to just giving the kid an iPad or putting on a DVD to keep them quiet, these technologies can be lifesavers when you and the kids badly need to zone out. iPads and other devices are an extremely compact form of varied entertainment for little ones, and there will be moments throughout the trip where everyone needs some downtime. Audiobooks are also great for times on a trip when everyone just feels like sitting back and chilling out.
Not sure which one of our awesome travel toys is the perfect fit for your roving brood? Our in-store and online customer service staff know our stock inside-out and can make some great suggestions, so ask us or leave a comment below!