Travel Games and Toys for Kids
Good travel games and toys are an essential part of traveling with kids. Travel is one of my passions in life and sharing travel adventures with my children makes the whole experience even better. But let's face it - bored kids and long road trips/flights can be a near fatal combination, in as much as the whole (normally loving, caring) family can end up wanting to kill each other.
There are a few solutions. Installing a sound proof glass division in your car comes to mind. So does the idea of separate planes (actually you may just get away with this. I suggest "work committments" that necessitate you joining your spouse and kids "just a couple of days later").
A more practical solution (and one that won't jeopardise your popularity with your spouse quite so much) is to always travel with a well-stocked goodie bag of travel toys and games. Yes, you will also need snacks and drinks, and a few good books. Also blankies and pacifiers if traveling with a toddler and some kind of cloaking device to make you invisible to the cute members of the opposite sex if travelling with a self-conscious "I can't believe I still have to vacation with my parents" teen.
In addition, I would suggest some or all of the following travel games and toys:
Taking paper and drawing implements (markers and crayons) can be a good idea, but I've found that an even better solution is the trusty etch-a-sketch. I actually bought two of these (in the travel size) so each kid could have their own. Draw, erase and draw again - over and over and over (you know what kids are like!).
Since I've re-discovered the etch-a sketch I've mercifully spent less time trying to clean the "it said washable on the box" marker pen off my car seats, and much less time grappling under plane seats for dropped crayons (and invariably only coming across the feet of the already slightly irritable child-free guy seated in front of me).
Of course, an etch-a-sketch also enables you to play other travel games, such as Hangman, Tic-Tac-Toe and even a version of Pictionary.
An excellent no mess activity that appeals to kids of all ages. If the sticker book is brand new, never seen before, and closely tied to their favorite interest/TV character/pop star you can't go wrong.
A good tip to make sticker activities easier for younger kids is to remove the backing from around the stickers, making it easier for them to "get it started". This will give them more of a sense of independence and allow you to relax with an in-flight magazine and a cocktail (Ha ha - just joking, but removing the backing does make sticker work slightly easier for tiny fingers).
Even older kids enjoy messing around with stickers if they are 'cool' enough. (What is cool to a modern-day tween/teen can range from the latest pop sensation to gothic death symbols - just go with it. It will have changed by next week anyway.)
Travel Activity Books.
There are some great activity books specially designed to be used on a journey. Some have things to spot and check off in the book, or cool games to play.
I like the very quirky Klutz books, full of useless, but often startling, trivia and lots of brainteasers to keep the kids thinking insead of whining (unless you have those annoying multi-tasking kids that can do both at once!).
One of my favorite travel games, this electronic version of the well-known "Twenty Questions" game is just great for long journeys with kids. So why not just play "Twenty Questions", I hear you ask. Good point. It's just that my kids find something absolutly magical in this little palm size piece of technology that can somehow guess (most of the time) exactly what they're thinking.
When they try to play the game just between the two of them it seems to lead to accusations of stupidity, and remarks like "But you said it had claws..." "Oh did I? I must have been thinking of something else at the beginning." Aagh!!!
Educational travel games that can keep kids occupied are great, but there's a bewildering array of them out there so do your homework and find one that appeals to your kid.
Radica, who make 20Q make a good spelling game (Click-Six), or try the Leapfrog Turbo Twist that encourages kids to spell words at their grade level,- you can even download your child's personal spelling list onto this toy so they can practice whatever words they're working on at school (great for lessening your guilt if you've pulled them out of school to take advantage of off-peak vacation deals).
Any board game with magnetic pieces can work well as a travel game and keep the kids occupied for quite a while. Just be aware that the peices (obviously) only stick to the board when they are actually on it. Once the kids take the pieces of the board because, for example, they have captured a chess piece or maybe just finished with the game... Well let's just say your back to groping the ankles of the stranger in front of you. If they lose the pieces in your car you've got a useless game and, at a later date, a malfunctioning vaccum cleaner (yes, that is the voice of experience you hear).
50 things to do on a journey
When a child-free relative bought my kids this set of activity cards a couple of years ago I really wasn't convinced of their value. One eight hour flight later, I thought they were the best invention since babysitters. They've been taken on various plane, train and car trips since and even get pulled out for entertainment when we're at home.
Each double-sided card has a boredom-busting suggestion and instructions to carry it out. They range from memory games to word games to making paper monsters (using a tearing technique, not scissors which you would of course have been relieved of at airport security had you been silly enough to try and get them on the plane).
They keep both kids happy for hours on end. Many of these games are well-known (even rock, paper, scissors is in there) and don't actually require any props but there is something about the child-friendly brightly-colored illustrated cards that make the kids want to play the games much more than if I suggested them!
Hand held video games consoles and tablets
Love them or hate them, you know they can keep kids from tots to teens quiet and occupied for hours on end. My son is a Play Station Portable kind of guy but I hear the NIntendo DS tends to have more educational value (really). It comes with a touch sceen 'pen' and two Nintendo DS consoles can interact with each other allowing your kids to play games with each other, providing of course you don't mind buying them one each.
Tip: Look for the games themselves at yard sales. Kids get bored with them quickly once they've gone through all the 'levels' and sell them at ridiculously reduced prices. I felt for the grandmother who watched her 11 year old grandson sell my 8 year old son a Harry Potter PSP game for $5 (when she'd bought it for him a few months earlier for $60) but that's kids for you. Trading video games with friends can be a good idea too.
If your kid has their own iPad, Kindle Fire or other tablet (or you're willing to lend them yours) you're probably set for a fairly quiet, calm journey, unless looking down at the screen brings on the dreaded motion sickness!
Portable DVD players
We held out on this one for ages, then gave in when we found some really neat little ones on offer and bought two (one for each kid - yes, I know it sounds a bit unnecessary but they have different tastes in movies). Ours are saved for long road trips. They're the kind that strap onto the head rest of the seat in front of the kids, run off the engine (prepare for shrieks when you stop for gas, or buy ones that switch to battery power), and have head phones so my husband and I can actually have a conversation (often the first in a long time).
Laptop style DVD players,or a laptop that plays DVDs, also work well for traveling.
These toys are my own personal lifesavers on long journeys with my much-loved, but easily bored family. If you have any that work for you, please share via the comments. You might just be saving another parent's sanity.
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