Family vacations can build memories that last a lifetime. But getting there? That can sometimes create situations everyone would rather forget. Road trips and flights with little ones can be hard. Throw in challenges like traffic or long TSA lines and everyone is on edge. Every parent is anxious to minimize the stress of the in-transit portion of their trip. How can you keep Baby busy to minimize crying and the risk of disturbing other passengers?
After numerous flights and dozens of road trips with my kids, I’ve tried out many different ways to keep little ones entertained during our travels. With the youngest of travelers, tech doesn’t work that well. Babies and toddlers don’t have the attention span to watch a screen for very long. Plus, many parents rightfully want to minimize or even eliminate screen time with kids under age 2.
What’s a parent to do? The key is to turn to some old-fashioned technology-free fun to pass the time. Here are 10 ideas that have been lifesavers for my family.
For the very youngest of travel companions, something as simple as a mirror toy may be entertainment enough. After all, what baby doesn’t enjoy looking at his or her own reflection? Look for a baby-safe handheld version for plane flights or perhaps even one you can mount over Baby’s car seat for long road trips.
2. No-Mess Coloring Pads
Coloring is a ton of fun for toddlers, but the mess it can make is not a good idea on planes and in cars. The solution is no-mess coloring toys. A number of arts and craft companies now make coloring books and tablets that come with markers or pens that only work when used on the toy’s pages. The ink is invisible if your creative toddler tries to turn Van Gogh on the airplane tray table.
3. Magnetic Doodler
Another way for creative kids to color without mess is to bring along a magnetic doodler tablet. Young kids can draw again and again and erase their designs with a simple swipe. Plus, this classic toy comes in travel sizes for ultimate portability.
4. Busy Books
Older babies and toddlers who are practicing fine motor skills and working on object manipulation are often very entertained by a busy book. These soft-sided cloth books contain several pages of activities, usually with pockets, buttons, and laces that can be moved and manipulated. You can find patterns to make busy books yourself if you are crafty or simply buy a ready-made version.
Rattles work well at home for keeping Baby’s antsy hands busy, so why not bring one on the road too? The compact size makes them a great travel toy. Some parents might rightfully worry that their tot may disturb fellow passengers on a plane with a toy that makes noise. Certainly test any rattle out first, but in my experience, I’ve found that most baby rattles will not make enough noise to be heard over the hum of airplane engines.
6. Board Books
Before there were tablets and smartphones, parents read to their kids a way to pass the time on a plane. Keep that tradition alive! Pack a few of your baby’s favorite board books in your carry on bag and let the learning begin. Especially good to increase engagement and extend your little one’s attention span are lift-the-flap style books that allow babies to interact with what is being read.
7. Stroller Toys
Multi-function activity toys with a clip on them to attach to a stroller are smart choices for all kinds of travel. Attach them to Baby’s car seat on a long drive or to the handle on your diaper bag as you pack for a plane flight. Often these toys have multiple features like a mirror, noise-making crinkle fabric, a squeaker, and more.
8. Finger Puppets
A set of classic finger puppets can be a creative choice for entertaining a little one on a plane. Act out his or her favorite fairy tale or let your child practice putting the puppets on and taking them off.
9. Everyday Office Supplies
With all the speciality child toys on the market, it may seem surprising that everyday office supplies often provide hours of enjoyment. My son’s favorite travel toy when he was a young toddler: sticky notes and flags that were sitting in our desk drawer at home. The sticky flags were easy for him to put on airplane windows to create designs and even easier for mom and dad to remove (unlike conventional stickers). Obviously be careful with some of these with younger travelers as they aren’t baby-safe. But when your toddler is sitting on your lap on a plane, it’s easy to supervise to ensure proper use.
When all else fails, food as entertainment is never a bad idea on long trips. After all, sometimes your little one is fussy because they need a snack. The stress of flying or road tripping may make them awake for longer periods of time so they get hungrier. Small bite-size objects like O’s cereal, cheese cubes, or chopped fruit take longer to eat, so pack whatever will buy you more time. Just remember to pack a spill-proof snack cup to contain messes.