Our job travel blogging often requires long plane flights and sometimes our travel day stretches close to 24 hours. It normally involves 2 flights, a stopover at an airport and a taxi ride or two. So we have had to find creative ways to keep our toddler busy.
Many parents feel apprehensive before a long trip. You might be wondering, If I’m traveling with others, will my child be a pleasant travel companion? What will I do if my toddler is required to sit still or be quiet? If you have a baby you can read our article on tips for flying with an infant.
Activity packs are the perfect way to keep your toddler occupied and they don’t have to be expensive. There are lots of busy boxes, activity packs and travel kits you can buy online but your little one is likely to enjoy a DIY pack just as much.
So how do I create an activity pack from scratch?
There is generally no one thing that keeps a toddler occupied, as their attention spans are short, so it’s best to come prepared with a range of activities. A bored toddler does not make a good traveller, so look for anything that will help them be content and happy.
We like to pack things that our toddler hasn’t seen before, and we try to keep the activity pack a secret until we really need it. Also look for things that toddlers can do on their own so you get a little break. And of course, if it’s a mess free activity, it’s even better!
A zippable binder is a good way to store the activities, as they often have pockets for storing things neatly. Try to get one with a handle for easy holding and that has multiple pockets.
What are the best travel activities for 1–3 year olds?
- Small plastic animals or toys
- Sticker books (sometimes it’s best to get the bubble stickers that they can easily peel off by themselves, as tiny fingers sometimes struggle to get the flat stickers up)
- Magnetic tile games and puzzles (these are great as the small pieces don’t get lost easily due to them sticking to the tin they come in)
- Magnetic fishing game
- Felt activity sets
- Sunnies (if it’s your child’s first pair these can provide endless entertainment)
- Sock puppets
- Lacing shapes activity
- Plastic container full of pom poms (toddlers love putting things in and out of containers)
- Plastic bottle and paddle pop sticks
- Foam beads and pipe cleaners (pull them on and off)
- Band aids and paper- let your little one cover a piece of paper (and their seat if necessary) in Band-Aids
- Painter’s tape
- Post it notes
- Books with flaps
- Home-made binoculars (your toddler will love taking in the sights through these)
What about colouring books and pencils and markers? Most of the busy boxes you can buy online include them but they’re easy to lose when travelling and aren’t mess free. Our 2 year old also needs assistance taking the lids off markers and loses interest in drawing quite quickly.
Snacks in an activity pack
Activity packs don’t generally include snacks but we like to include them in ours. We pack lots of snacks ranging from healthy to sugary sweet depending on the level of distraction needed. When deciding on snacks it’s best to pack things that are packaged and can last without being refrigerated. Also try to get things in small packets so that there is less wastage and no need to repackage after it’s opened.
- Muesli bars
- Apricot bites
- Protein balls (the chocolate ones are delicious and your toddler won’t know they are healthy)
- Veggie chips
- Rice crackers (these come in a range of flavours, our toddler loves the cheesy ones)
- Small chocolate bar
- Lollipop (these last ages and are perfect to pull out when your toddler is tired and cranky)
We have tried taking cereal in a container but it’s easy for a toddler to tip and make a mess. We like to pack things that are big enough for small hands to hold and that comes in one piece so it’s easy to pick up if it gets dropped. Muffins or any type of cake are crumbly so they don’t make the best travel snacks either.
Should I pack an iPad for my toddler?
Although screen time needs to be monitored at home, an iPad or tablet may be a welcome distraction if your little one is finding the trip difficult. You’ll also be thankful for having pre-downloaded shows and games before travel rather than relying on wifi when travelling. We try to start with educational games and shows, and then progressively move to more entertaining shows as our toddler gets less settled. For example, our daughter loves the app Reading Eggs (a popular reading program in Australia) which now has a 2–4 year old version. We often begin with this app and then move on to Mickey Mouse cartoons, etc.
Is it ok for my toddler to be bored?
Being bored is not necessarily a bad thing. It can inspire creativity and help children develop problem solving skills. However when it comes to travel, you usually have other passengers to think about. It’s not that children can’t be expected to do any independent play when travelling. Toddlers will need some help getting started though. They can often manage some play on their own if someone has taken the time to set them up first with a fun scenario. For example, you can use small animals from their activity pack to set up a farm and give them band aids to stick on the ‘injured’ animals. Setting up an interesting scenario will help them use their imaginations and make the activity last longer.
Travelling well with young children is all about keeping them comfortable and content. You can include their favourite stuffed animal or comforter in the activity pack. A bottle of milk or a dummy, a muslin blanket or a pillow, whatever it is that helps them relax, bring it with you. Children thrive on routines, so in addition to having fun activities, it will also help if you can keep their routine consistent and have similar nap and mealtimes.
Whether you’re needing to keep your toddler quiet and busy for travel, or even for a wedding, a graduation, hotel quarantine, or just so you can have a quiet dinner out, creating an activity pack full of irresistible items will help.
I’m an educator and writer living abroad. I love languages, experiencing different cultures and going on adventures with my family.