As I mentioned in my previous post, part of my planning strategy for a trip to Australia with the kids is to bring items that are age appropriate and will keep them as busy as possible during the marathon flight and multiple layovers.
I should caveat by mentioning that, although I have pretty good idea of what my kids are interested in, it’s very difficult to predict which toy or activity that will be the most successful. On one trip, it was a set of Wiggles figurines that kept Thomas most entertained. On another, it was a Blues Clues notepad. The key is to take a variety of items, some well-tested and some new, and hope at least a couple of them provide enough entertainment to keep your child interested for a good portion of the journey.
Here are some of my favourite travel activities and products that I’m hoping will go a long way to keeping my 6 year old and 4 year old occupied.
1. The best kid’s backpack
The boys are finally both old enough to carry their own stuff which means they will each need a strong, reliable backpack. Thomas has used this LL Bean backpack as his school bag for three years and it shows no sign of wear, which is pretty amazing when you consider how much it’s been thrown around. Samuel is conveniently getting a new backpack just like this one, but in blue, for his birthday in May.
The junior size is perfect for kids of this age but be careful not to pack it with too many heavy books. I made the mistake of putting too much in Thomas’ backpack when I took him to Australia as a two-year-old and he was practically falling over backward.
2. Simple fun – Pad of plain paper and crayons/pencils
While activity books may be good for short-term entertainment (we’ll probably pick up one at the airport during a layover as a surprise), nothing beats plain paper and crayons or pencils for a couple of kids who love to draw. They have tons on coloring/activity books at home but always gravitate toward the plain white paper. For this trip, I plan to buy them each a plain paper notebook that they can use as a visual journal for the journey. I’ll encourage them to draw pictures of the things they see around them between the predictable ninja and superhero drawings.
3. The very best kids activity book
Kids activity books can be very hit or miss. My kids will usually color one or two pages, or finish a dot-to-dot, and then discard it to do something else. I remember when we bought a magic pen book for Thomas during one trip and he went through and filled in all of the answers within 10 minutes and then never looked at it again.
The one activity book I would highly recommend is Draw it Again from Klutz. It’s a dry-erase book with photos of objects like candy corn and brocolli that are used as a starting point to draw a picture. It comes with examples that kids can copy or they can create their own masterpieces. We purchased this book from the Moma store at the San Francisco international airport during our flight from hell a couple of years ago and it proved to be the best $15 we spent on that trip. Thomas literally spent hours drawing and then re-drawing pictures in this book (and we had hours to kill). I’ve bought an extra set of markers for our upcoming trip in the hope that the book has the same appeal the second time around.
4. Apps for the iPhone and iPad.
Modern technology has been so good for traveling parents. Before our trip I’ll spend some time loading up the iPhone and iPad with movies and games that the kids will enjoy – some they may even learn from. Here are a few of my (and my boys’) favourite kids apps:
- Monkey Preschool Lunchbox and Monkey Math. Great for both Samuel and Thomas although Thomas will grow out of these apps in the next couple of years. Only downside to these apps is that the sound can be a little obnoxious, so you may want to invest in some headphones.
- PBS Kids (Free) – Video clips and semi-educational games from the shows that my kids already love.
- Draw Something (Free) – Free drawing game that you play with friends. Thomas is really into this game right now and the bonus is that he’ll be able to play with Kei even while we’re thousands of miles away. Only downside is that some of the words can be a little tricky for a six year old but they can choose the words that work best for them.
- Where’s Waldo (99c on sale in March) – in the tradition of the classic search and find books.
- Ninjago (Free) – another free app (with purchase options within, of course) that supports my kids’ latest obsession with a fun spinjistu game and a few video clips from the show. I find myself needing to put a time limit on this one.
I never travel without at least a few new books in tow. I stock up on softcover (i.e. light) books in a variety of subjects. This year our portable library will include Ninjago (of course!) – readers and comic books. Probably a couple of Mercer Meyer titles because they appeal to all ages and some Charlie and Lola which is an old favorite. I’ll also spend some time in Powells searching for books that I’m not going to regret having to read over and over again. Finally, I’ll see what I can find in the way of e-books for the iPad for those times when I can barely keep my eyes open and I need an electronic device to do the reading. We already have The Lorax downloaded, but I plan to do a little research and find a few more before we leave.
6. Action figures
Without a doubt, action figures are the very best thing to bring on a trip for my kids. While the type of action figures has changed somewhat as the kids have become older, the hours of imaginative play time they provide has not. They’re small enough to carry but not small enough to get lost easily, although I know that putting limits on the number that we bring will be a challenge. Do we sacrifice Robin to bring Batman? Good guys or bad guys? Jedis or Droids? I sense a battle ahead.
7. Travel games
I haven’t really tried taking travel games in the past as the kids were a little too young, but I think I’ll try to pack a couple this time around. I’m considering a few I found online such as this memory game from Melissa and Doug and this one with a Dr. Seuss theme and multiple games. I also plan to hit the dollar store to look for some cheaper options.
Do you know of any other travel entertainment options I’m missing? I would love to have a couple of new tried-and-true items to hide and bring out at just the right moment. That right moment, of course, is when we’re all overtired, everything else has been declared “boring” and I find my patience wearing thin. On an international flight, there is no amount of preparation that can avoid the moment when it feels like you’ve run out of options. I’d love to have a little something unexpected to help get us through that moment.