The Best Travel Activities for Kids
This past winter out family of 4 – which includes a 4 year old and a 5 year old – travelled for 4.5 months, from Canada to Florida (and around Florida), to Mexico, and then to England (and around England) and back to Canada. Our trip included 4 flights, 3 rental cars, 2 shuttles, a taxi or two, a borrowed Prius and hours and hours and hours of travel time. I’m not kidding when say we really exhausted our search of the best travel activities for kids!
(It wasn’t really a planned family vacation – more like a pandemic-induced necessity, but I won’t get into all that.)
Our kids were excited to travel and for the most part they were really great to travel with – but let’s face it – travel can be tough on kids (and adults!). Long hours in the car or on a plane (or delayed at an airport) can get boring for them (and more than trying for you).
Having some fun activities along for the kids (to help pass the time) can make all the difference!
Each of our kids had their own small backpack “travel kit” filled with travel activities (and essentials like a change of underwear, snacks, water bottle and nap necessities – a favorite stuffy etc.)
We made sure that their backpacks were always easily accessible to them – however we were traveling – and that they had enough fun stuff in them to keep the kids going on an 8+ hour long flight or a 5 hour drive, or a long evening in a hotel room while it rained.
I’ve put together this list of travel activities for kids – based on our own personal experiences, and tested by my own kids on our “epic adventure”.
Hopefully it will help you prepare for your next family vacation, or even just you next really long car ride!
Our Absolute Favorite Travel Activities for Kids
These were the things we reached for over and over, and the activities we would pack again for our children on any trip – long or short!
(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)
Road trip snacks top my list because I don’t care what kind of amazing travel activities for kids you bring along, if you don’t bring snacks, you’re going to suffer.
Never underestimate the power of some junk food to pass the time and buy you a little peace.
Here’s a great collection of road trip snack ideas!
Leap Pad (Or HOMER Learning App On Tablet)
Even though I realize a lot of parents aren’t looking for screen time activities, I have to say that this was hands down one of the best things we purchased for our trip.
When we started talking about the idea of longer-term travel with such young kids, we decided leap pads were a good idea. They are essentially educational tablets with video games for kids.
We never let our kids “play” on our phones, and the (sad?) reality is that when we were travelling we often wanted our phones ourselves – either to use the GPS or watch a movie or just catch up on email.
There’s SO many great educational games for the leap pads. Since we travelled over Christmas and one kid’s birthday, and we didn’t want to do a lot of gifts that we would have to pack around, buying new games for the leap pad was such a great option for exciting gifts that didn’t add to our load.
We were careful not to pull out the leap pads all the time, but we definitely were glad to have them as a reward for good behavior or as a life-saver during a flight delay that dragged on… and on… and on.
(On our way to the airport we stopped at Walmart and grabbed the kids a set of headphones that plug into the leap pad. This was a last minute addition to their backpacks that we were SO glad we made when we just needed some quiet time, and perfect for our older kid to play when the younger one needed a sleep!)
If you already have an iPad or tablet, you don’t have to invest in a leap pad. You can get a 30 day free trial of the HOMER learning app, which has THOUSANDS of games and stories on it, and use that for your trip! Read our full review of the homer learning app here.
Movies on an iPad or tablet
This is the last screen based activity, I promise!
BUT, just like the leap pad, we were SO GLAD to have an iPad loaded with movies. (We downloaded 10 or so from Disney+ before we left home, and changed them out for 10 different ones half way through the trip when we had watched the first batch a few times each.)
If you’re going to be on a long road trip with a tired kid, movies will REVOLUTIONIZE your life! Planes these days often come with in-flight entertainment, but I’ve been in too many seats where the sound didn’t work (or whatever) to chance that happening!
If you don’t have an iPad, you can always take a portable DVD player, but the iPad was useful to us in other ways and we were so glad we had it.
Again, we never let long drives be dedicated to screen time, and generally only turned on a movie as a last resort. We did NOT put any games on the iPad, because they had their leap pads and that seemed like more than enough screen stuff lol.
Our kids got these as a Christmas gift from a favorite baby sitter, and we packed them for our trip. They had SO much fun taking pictures of each other on the plane, an making videos, and showing each other (and us) the pictures and videos.
The quality of the pictures isn’t great – you wouldn’t want to print the pictures or anything – but they were FANTASTIC for entertaining the kids on our travels!
Activity books are awesome for children of all ages – you can get more advanced ones for older kids (think Sudoku, cross word puzzles etc) or very basic books for little kids.
If you’re traveling by car, you will want to take a travel tray of some sort so they have something flat to work on. (If you don’t want to purchase a travel tray or lap desk, you can just bring a cookie sheet.)
If you’re worried about the kids coloring on the airplane tray table etc, you can get colorwonder markers which only mark on the specific paper that they are designed to mark on. The only drawback to these is that they ONLY work on the coloring pages that come with the markers, so you can’t use regular paper in a pinch.
If you haven’t seen this stuff, check it out! These are fun black sheets that you “scratch” with a stick (or a coin or anything really) that reveal colors hiding behind the black coating on the page, and you can make some really fantastic designs with them.
They have the benefit of not requiring a package of crayons, which is nice. You just need the one stick.
A Boogie Board
I had never heard of this thing before, but my mom got our daughter one for Christmas, and it was an instant hit. It’s a reusable drawing pad and activity kit that comes with a semi-transparent, colorful drawing board and 18 templates for sketching, practicing letters or playing games.
It was also one of the first travel activities that I stuck into my daughter’s backpack when I was packing for our long-haul flights, because it’s something she reaches for herself all the time.
We lost the “pen” that goes with it on our trip, but the good news is that you can draw on it with anything! (Even a real pen with the ink retracted!)
We purchased sticker books from Costco, and while they were brilliant, they were also really really heavy. I would definitely get dollar store sticker books in the future, and smaller ones.
You can get reusable sticker books, but honestly with stickers being so cheap at the dollar store, I prefer to let them use up a book and recycle that one – and grab a new one to replace it – otherwise my kids get bored of the stickers. If they get a new sticker book before a long trip, it’s like a whole new activity.
Magnetic Travel Games
Games are a huge hit with my kids but small game pieces are almost guaranteed to get lost in a hotel room or roll away from you during turbulence on a long haul flight. Magnetic games are a life saver for young kids that just can’t NOT knock a game off a tray table!
My kids have magnetic chess, and a magnetic fishing game. (The game board is actually a metal box, and the pieces stick to it. They are compact for travel – and the whole family can play!)
If you’re traveling by car and not limited to what you can fit in a small backpack on plane, you can make your own magnetic games with a cookie sheet – there’s so much you could create, like tic tac toe for example, and for younger children you can get magnetic dress up dolls or scenes to play with.
Card games pack small and are perfect for a rainy night in a hotel room or an airport waiting area. We love Uno, go fish, and a regular old deck of cards (my 5 year old even learned Solitaire and played it while we were traveling!)
Memory is a favorite for our family, regardless of if we are at home or traveling, and we actually brought our full sized memory game tiles a long on our trip! (We took them out of the box and put them in a zip lock bag.)
We played memory a LOT while we were on our trip!
You can get travel versions of this game that don’t require spreading out 50 tiles, and this is the kind I would bring a long next time! It’s perfect for two people to play in a car or on a plane.
You know, like Where’s Waldo!
Our very favorite seek and find book is Look for Lady Bug in Ocean City . We’ve tried other look and find books, but they all pale in comparison to this one. There’s just something SO quirky and enjoyable about the art work and the story… and both my 4 and 5 year old can find the things they are seeking without it being TOO hard or TOO easy. It’s just perfect lol.
While I was writing this, I discovered there is a second of these books, called Look For Lady Bug In Plant City. (You can bet I ordered it right away.)
Your older kids can read to themselves, but remember that you can read to your younger kids while traveling! If you’re not up for reading yourself, audio books are a great way to pass time and entertain kids on a trip. This is another place where you’ll want headphones, especially if your travel includes air planes.
Printable Road Trip Games + Activities
Playing family games are among the very best road trip activities on a long drive!
These are games are really geared towards being played on a car trip (so not for airplanes) – with the exception of mad libs, you could totally play that one on an airplane.
Road Trip Bingo
This is a fun scavenger hunt type game, and you fill the bingo squares in by watching out the window (think stop signs, horses, license plates with the letter Z in them etc).
You can print a free road trip bingo game out here.
The License Plate Game
In this game, you watch license plates to try and find a plate from every state on your road trip. You can print a free license plate game scorecard here.
These are probably best for older children, but kids as young as 4 + 5 can enjoy mad libs too if you’re willing to be involved! (And honestly, doing things together is what makes a family road trip memorable!)
You can print all kinds of mad libs for kids here.
Printable Travel Journal
Big kids (the ones who can write) will love to fill out this fun travel journal.
This would also be a super fun tradition for family trips – start doing it with your young kids (fill it out for them, ask them the questions and record their answers), and keep them all in a scrapbook. Add to it over the years as you go on more family adventures!
The Best Small Travel Toys for Kids
One thing I noticed about my kids is that they did NOT want to “do activities” all the time – especially on our long trip, sometimes they just wanted to PLAY.
These are the best toys we took a long – things that packed up nicely, didn’t take much space, and still allowed them to use their imaginations and get right into a real “pretend play” game.
We surprised each of kids with some new toys in their backpack full of kid’s travel activities, as well as old favorites!
The compact-ness of a Polly Pocket makes it a wildly awesome travel activity for kids! You basically have a whole doll house right on your lap, and it’s a toy that can easily be played with in a car seat.
This may not be appropriate for really little kids, and I might not pull out Lego during air travel (unless it’s the kind that comes with a base to build on), but older kids (like my 5 year old) LOVE it – especially to pass the time at a hotel!
The best way to pack Lego is to put it in a small Tupperware or plastic bag to keep it together.
We purchased a specific set with specific pieces and a book of things you could make with it, and THAT is not something I would do again. It was frustrating to lose small pieces here and there and not be able to complete the “task” you were trying to do.
These are possibly my personal favorite of the small toys we took as travel activities for the kids.
If you’re not familiar with Calico Critters, they’re like doll house figurines – but they are tiny fuzzy animals. (Lil Woodzees are similar and sometimes a little cheaper!)
There’s something wonderfully gender neutral about them in a way that Polly Pockets or dolls just are not, and my son will get right into Calico Critters with my daughter.
We packed a whole “house hold” of the tiny things into an old make-up bag (a toilet + bath tub, a kitchen set complete with toast + a toaster + plates, a couple beds etc).
Honestly, I guess because my mind works like an adult mind, I would never imagine that fidget toys can actually entertain a child for a decent amount of time… but they absolutely can!
Kids of all ages – not just younger kids, but older kids too – will play with fidget toys, just turning them around in their hands, or squishing them, or stretching them – for HOURS!
It’s easy to stuff some small fidget toys into their bag – the don’t cost much and they don’t take up much room.
What are your favorite travel activities for kids?
Is there anything else that you think should be on this list? Road trip season is always right around the corner, and I’m always looking for more fun games or perfect small toys to throw in the backpack for the next one!