Ah, summer travel… Second maybe only to the Christmas/Chanukah season, this is probably the most popular time for travel. Vacations are always worth it--it’s great family bonding and relaxation time for parents, and little ones always have a blast when experiencing new things. But, let’s be honest: the traveling to and from our incredible family vacations is not always so restful. Or even pleasant. Whether flying or driving, the challenges often the same--keeping our little ones content and occupied.
I don't know if you've done any summer traveling yet, or if it's coming up on your calendar, but we recently did some traveling ourselves, so this topic is fresh on my mind. So, today I’m giving you my best suggestions for entertaining your toddlers and kids while traveling.
Now, of course, there’s always a lot of debate among moms about whether or when to introduce technology like smartphones, tablets and apps to kids to keep them busy. This really comes down to your own personal preference, or possibly down to just survival (hey, we all have those moments!)
I honestly don't do a lot of apps with my kids because so far I've managed to set limits on them taking my phone (knock on wood). But, no judgment here. Because I’ve definitely had those we-just-need-to-get-through-this moments before. And I do know a mom that uses an old iPad that’s too outdated for her grownup needs, so she has repurposed it purely for kids games and she only lets her little ones play with it when traveling. That works out well for them. And if something works for you, then that’s great--that’s exactly what you need.
I can say, however, that there are a few kids apps that I love:
Endless Reader helps your kids spell words and then add them to sentences. Engaging and educational. Win-win.
Any PBS app is great, especially Daniel Tiger Parents.
There’s also one called Toca Tea Party that my aforementioned iPad mom loves because it keeps her daughter busy for quite a while and it encourages her to play with others too, rather than just staring at a screen by herself the whole time.
Also in a pinch will let them watch a short video on YouTube. YouTube has a newer app called YouTube Kids, that automatically filters out all the stuff that isn’t age appropriate for your child.
If you’re trying to stay away from screens, I’ve got some other suggestions too:
- Books on tape, CD or audiobooks apps like Audible. We love these. We checked out a cool book for a trip to Monterey once and my son couldn't wait to get back in the car to keep listening to it.
- Stash a roll of painter’s tape in your purse or diaper bag. One mom recommended this to me because younger kids enjoy sticking it on everything and it comes off easily. This really saved us during a plane ride once with my daughter when she was just about 1 year old.
- Finger puppets make great travel toys. Or, one dad told me that when his fussy preschooler wouldn’t sit still during a wedding, he pulled out a pen and drew silly smiley faces on the pads of her little fingers to use as finger puppets and it kept her busy for the whole ceremony. Brilliant!
- Books and travel-ready activities are a no-brainer. I usually try to get them a new book or one of those dry erase books to draw on if we are going on a longer trip 3 plus hours. Melissa and Doug also make some cool travel activities games for kids. Target’s dollar bins often have cheap little travel games, books or activity packs too. I found a magnetic bingo game in the Target dollar bins once that my kids played with for quite a while.
- Try a travel toy box. I’ve heard it suggested by other parents to do toy rotations at home, and I don’t see why you couldn’t apply this concept to your car too. The idea is that you box up certain toys--ones that your kids haven’t played with for a while or things you’re considering purging--and store them for a few months. Then, when your kids get bored with the toys they have out and available, you can swap them out for the ones you’ve stored away. To young kids, forgotten about toys are as good as brand new when you reintroduce them. So, why not try keeping a small box or bag of little toys (preferably ones that don’t have a thousand tiny parts to them) that they only get to play with when travelling?
- And, of course, there are the classic ideas like playing “Bee Bee Bumble Bee” or having music singalongs in your car.
And finally, what many of us find to be the biggest nuisance to traveling with kids is ACTUALLY your #1 best travel hack: Take frequent breaks.
Wisdom from a more experienced mom told me they always plan to stop every two hours, whether the kids are going crazy or not. It can just be 10-15 minutes and sometimes less, but the trip seems to go so much smoother without unrealistic plans to just push through to get somewhere as fast as possible. If you’re traveling by plane, longer layovers might prove beneficial for you to give your kids time to move around freely for a while.
When making roadtrip stops, I realize you can’t always be choosy, but if you can find a picnic area, a fast food joint with a playground attached, or even one of those massive trucker stops that has space for your kids to move around or check out new scenery for a bit (even if it’s just the random gas station gift shop fare), then you’ve hit the pit-stop jackpot.
One mom suggested to me: “I like to try to stop somewhere where there’s an IKEA or Walmart or even a Home Depot...Some place big enough that my daughter can wander around and burn off some energy for a while (she’s really into trying out ALL the furniture for some reason, so this keeps her plenty busy). And if we’re at IKEA, we can grab lunch or snacks there too. Then when it’s time to get back in the car, she’s happy and ready for a nap. And then the remainder of the drive is more peaceful for everyone.”
And when traveling to and from a vacation, isn't a little peace for everyone all we're really after?
Now, it’s your turn! I’d love to hear what tricks have worked for you and your family. Share your hacks and tips in the comments!
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