The question of what to pack in a carry-on bag or the backseat of the minivan during a road trip is a serious one. I deeply believe an iPad or Kindle is an important tool for getting kids through interminable hours on planes, trains and buses. If I need a glass of wine to get through the night in the airport, I’m not going to deny my kid his 1.5 hours of Disney bliss.
That said, you’re also going to need more than a single screen in your bag o’ tricks, and that’s where our favorite toys for travel come in.
There are lots of non-screen travel-friendly options. I favor toys that are unlikely to require extensive cleanup or piss off the flight attendant, and that will work for multiple age groups. If you hide these toys away when you aren’t traveling, they will be extra fun when you bust them out in the car or on the plane.
Here are the toys and activities we always take along (with the little monsters, of course) on our travels:
This tape easily sticks to lots of things and just as easily comes off. I don’t let my kids play with my tape at home, so this is extra fun. It’s best for toddlers, but my older kids can find something to do with it, too.
Balls aren’t great on planes (yes, they’ll throw them at the person in front of them), but they’re a necessity for my toddlers in airports, as they are perfect to toddle or crawl after. My older boys throw them to each other (or at each other) at a rest stop while on road trips, too.
For toddlers, these easy-to-handle cars are great to drive all over the airport. For older kids, one or two Matchbox cars take little space and keep an imaginative kid busy.
Just a few of them in this little case can keep some kids happy for a long time.
By Melissa and Doug, this is one of our favorites. All ages love these little activity pads where water makes the colors magically appear. Plus, it’s a very tiny bit of water in the water pens, so if a kid spills it accidentally on purpose, clean up isn’t bad at all.
These magnetic blocks are versatile, good for all ages and last forever.
This is a genius invention. The markers are invisible (so if your kid writes on the seat, nobody will know) until applied to the paper, then the color shows up.
Play dough doesn’t work for us on the go because I find my kids tend to grind it into seats. Playfoam is a great alternative that allows kids to make squishy creations and work their fingers without being quite as messy.
These are moldable, no mess, and fun for everyone.
The little mini ones are great for carry-on bags, while the larger ones work well in the car.
An oldie but goodie, for when an older kid turns his nose up at the doodle board.
These shape puzzles work for multiple ages and will last for a long time in your travel bag.