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Traveling with kids is one of the most important gifts you can give them. By taking your children with you on a trip, you communicate that they’re important and that you value their company. Moreover, travel is beneficial for their developing brains. Traveling with your kids triggers a neurochemical reaction that reduces stress and allows them to refuel emotionally*. It offers an ‘enriched’ environment because everything is new and different, which results in enhanced sensory, cognitive, and motor stimulation**.
But just because it’s important, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Having a well thought out game plan for road trips, flights, and train trips goes a long way to keeping your kids occupied and happy. Plus, time spent traveling is a great environment for learning rather than just "zoning out."
Since your child can't fly the plane himself (nope, no way), we’ve found the next best thing to entertain him: the top five types of travel products that you need for your next trip. We’ve specifically selected practical and inexpensive items that will keep your child entertained for longer periods of time and promote creative thinking for a variety of age ranges.
Our list has something for everyone. It’s a collection of the best travel toys, activities, games, and crafts to keep your kids busy while stimulating their creativity. Whether you’re heading out on a road trip, taking a long-haul flight, or preparing for a train trip, you’ll find some great options for preschoolers, grade school children, and tweens.
When you consider which travel products to pack, you want to consider the following:
Expert tip: It’s a good idea to keep travel toys packed away in a box at home so that when it’s time to take a trip, the products will seem ‘new’ and will have fresh appeal. It also helps to have a couple of new items for each journey that a child can unwrap when you need a distraction, buy some time, or avoid a meltdown.
There are five types of products to consider when planning your next vacation with the kids. The items we’ve listed are designed to encourage creativity and learning, as well as keeping your children occupied for long trips.
Coloring books and crayons were popular with previous generations, and not much has changed. According to Dr. Richard House***, a psychologist specializing in childhood development, coloring books work well to engage children’s creativity. We love these reusable coloring books (afflinks). If your child will have access to a tray table (such as in a train or on a plane), choose a pack of crayons where the crayons won't roll off. Crayola’s triangular crayons are ideal for this. And if you want to keep your kids and their things a little more contained (and perhaps cleaner), this activity tray is fantastic.
We also really like these magnetic drawing boards for a super easy option.
There is a wide range of craft activities to choose from, and the best options will vary depending on the child’s age and interests. It’s important to stick to a budget with crafts as the costs can quickly add up. Some inexpensive suggestions include stickers and lacing boards for younger kids and bead kits for grade schoolers.
For preschoolers, sticker books are a no-mess option for long travel days. Plus, they're great for developing fine motor skills. We've played with these reusable stickers for hours on end. These are fun when we're feeling wild.
Lacing boards like this one are a compact activity that works well for young kids in enclosed spaces. They’re good for developing fine-motor control and are an excellent addition to your travel bag, as they’re small and light-weight. Although they appear to be for younger kids, ours have asked for them repeatedly on trips over the years. There must be something cathartic about them, at least in our kids' minds.
Although bead kits contain small pieces and pieces that can get lost, our kids have spent hours on end stringing paper clips together. If you get colorful ones like these, they can come up with all sorts of designs and creative DIY crafts. Amazing, huh? Plus, if you happen to lose one, it's just a paper clip, so nothing irreplaceable.
Depending on the age of your child, there are a number of games that work well for long travel days. Games encourage creativity as they require problem-solving and decision making. For little kids, we like ones where parts can't get lost, such as this magnetic maze.
Remember the card games you used to play growing up? They haven’t lost their appeal and kids as young as 4 or 5 can participate. Teach your kids to play Old Maid, Crazy Eights and Go Fish, and they’ll be hooked. And all you need to do is remember to pack a deck of cards.
For older kids, travel versions of popular games such as checkers, hangman, and tic-tac-toe can keep them entertained for hours (especially if you are willing to play with them). Chess in particular significantly improves critical and creative thinking skills****.
Books are a must-have for any vacation with kids and can inspire curiosity and an understanding of the world around them. Consider where you’re traveling to, do some research and select a couple of books they'll enjoy. Books about the places you're going can be fun, too.
If your children grade-school age or older but not enthusiastic readers, they might enjoy creating their own stories or keeping journals of their holiday.
Puzzles are great for creativity. They build cognitive skills, encourage problem-solving, fine motor development and hand-eye coordination. Generally, they are not a good option for travel, but magnetic options designed specifically for travel will keep your kids (and you!) entertained for hours. Our children spend hours on this magnetic travel-themed puzzle, this construction puzzle, and of course, this unicorn puzzle.
Whether you’re planning the holiday of a lifetime or a local weekend away with your kids, it helps to be prepared. You'll find the rest of our travel recommendations for safety and entertainment here on this page.
Wise people have said that it's not about the destination; it's about the journey. We'd like your journey to be fun!
We’d love to hear from you. Let us know if there are any great travel products that you’d recommend for traveling with kids!
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