Surviving Travel with Kids of All Ages – The Genius of Play

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Pack a few (or all) of these items to keep your kids playing and entertained when going on a trip:

  • stickers
  • blank journal or notebook
  • activity pad & colored pencils
  • dry erase book & dry erase markers
  • new box of crayons & coloring books
  • card game
  • fidgets or small toys
  • small doll or stuffed animal
  • travel games
  • deck of cards
  • storybooks
  • snacks

When I was a child, I remember taking road trips in the family van, and my great aunt had a brilliant idea. She would wrap inexpensive gifts for my brother and me to unwrap along the way. This idea has changed and grown over time, and now it has evolved with my children. We don’t take any trips, long or short without this recipe for surviving travel. My family has had their share of vacation disasters, but by putting some thought and planning in advance, these suggestions will alleviate some of the dreaded hours in the car delaying the “Are we there yet?” from echoing endlessly from the backseat.

An Element of Surprise

I am proud to say I had blind bags before they were even a thing. The gifts are wrapped in tissue paper/newspaper, so it involves unwrapping which creates an element of surprise. I even number the gifts so I can vary the type of gift, whether it be a craft activity, small toy, fidget, snack, etc. Sometimes my kids have more fun trying to guess what the gift is than they actually do with the gift. The kids normally have a pretty good wave of excitement and anticipation of the trip during the first hour. Therefore, the intervals of the gifts can change from trip to trip, but normally gift number one happens at the one-hour mark when patience is starting to fade. The first gift usually involves stickers. Everyone loves stickers, and it can keep kids of all ages busy for a while. Depending on ages, we range from making a sticker book (random stickers in a notebook), to making mosaics, or sticker by number. You can sort stickers, count stickers, use smelly stickers, etc. so the options are endless!

Choosing the Gifts

Gifts don’t have to be expensive, but they do have to have a purpose. For example, my kids require more snacks on trip than they eat throughout a typical week, but everyone knows full bellies equal happy kids, so it’s a travel requirement! One of the gifts is always a favorite snack. My kids have food allergies, so packing safe snacks is crucial. Normally at the two-hour mark, a snack is the revealed gift. I normally try for something filling, but minimal on mess. It ranges from an applesauce pouch to some form of chip or cracker.

Lean on your Child’s Interest

A blank notebook or journal is a great third gift. It works for any age, plus it is adaptable for every child. My daughter likes to make lists of what she wants to do on vacation or color a picture, while my son likes to map the entire trip and write fun road signs, license plate numbers, and how many miles we travel in between each rest stop. This becomes a great souvenir from the trip to look back after you are home from the trip. It can also be used as a journal to keep track of events and locations traveled. Embrace the differences between children, and then choose something unique for them.

Play a Game

It’s okay to wrap up something you already own! That’s right, regift a gift to your child, or find a similar version and do something new. Whether it is Go Fish, Travel BINGO, the License Plate Game, or Uno. Find something small and compact, and depending on your space while traveling, play it on the road or on the plane! You can also play games like I Spy, Would You Rather, and Cloud Spies. It’s also a good rainy-day activity to have in case one of your vacation plans are canceled or postponed due to weather. Don’t remind me of the time we were restricted to not leave our hotel room for 36 hours while on lockdown at Disney during a hurricane! Everyone will be thankful to have a game or two to play.

Change it Up for the Return Trip

The anticipation and excitement of the trip is over, everyone is sad to leave and not always ready to go home. It’s your turn to bring the fun! A second surprise bag is needed. This was my biggest lesson learned as a parent. It must have different surprise gifts. I hide the second bag in my suitcase, so it isn’t tempting for the kids to open before the return trip home. The kids are burnt out, and either not ready to leave or can’t wait to get home and the return trip seems at least triple the length of actual time. Space the gifts out 1-2 hours depending on the length of the trip and the age of the kids. Maybe they lost all the crayons from their bag, and everyone could use at least one snack. Again, I go with a recipe for success with a snack or two, a craft, a new story/book, activity pad, small toy, or something to fidget with during the last home stretch.


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