How to Keep Kids Busy While Traveling
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Providing your family with the gift of travel is invaluable. It opens young eyes and hearts, broadens horizons, and helps children learn through experience. Travel also allows for family bonding time which can create memories that will last a lifetime.
Still, no matter how amazing the trip itinerary and despite the best efforts of everyone in the family, there will be times when your children get bored. Or need down time. Or aren’t interested in something that fascinates another family member. Fortunately, with a little bit of extra planning and a few handy resources, you can accommodate these occasions without letting the kinds of moments that all kids have supercede the highlights of the trip.
More: Top Toys for Traveling Toddlers
Here are three tried and true ways to keep kids busy and entertained while traveling:
Travel journals are the best for entertaining young kids, and they serve a couple of purposes. First, they can help build excitement and give kids a reason to start learning about their upcoming destination. Children can begin to fill them out in preparation for a big trip by creating lists about things like what they will pack and activities they hope to do. They can also log their travel itinerary info, and start a section on special facts that they learn about your vacation location. As a family you can research details in advance of the trip like what the flag looks like, what languages are spoken there, and what the temperature is like. Younger children can draw pictures to represent responses if they are not comfortable writing, or you can find related printable pictures that little ones can color.
Get a free printable travel journal here.
Also, travel journals become a treasured souvenir when a little bit of time is set aside each day for writing and illustrating. Children can describe the best and the worst of each day of the trip giving them a safe space to work through feelings about big, new experiences. They can also keep a daily rating system with whatever kind of scale works for them ; one to five stars, smiley faces, or hearts can do the trick. Journals can be worked on during plane flights, car rides, or while lounging by the pool. Keeping the journal with you, along with fun writing and art utensils is key to making the most of down time or moments when distraction is needed.
Depending on how elaborate you would like to make this, you and your child can create the framework for a travel journal together before the trip. This can be as simple as filling in a new, blank notebook with headings, topics, rating systems and empty lists. You can also purchase a ready-made children’s travel journal and gift your child with it in anticipation of the trip.
Get it here.
Traversing a distance within the airport, meandering walks and hikes, and long museum days are just a few of the myriad of travel situations that can be enhanced by a good scavenger hunt. This is another activity that you can work on in advance with your child to build excitement as you create scavenger hunts for the family to complete in a variety of circumstances that may arise during your trip. This also helps to build excitement and prepare young ones for the kinds of experiences you may soon be having as a family. Allowing them to process these things in advance and to predict what may happen can bring much needed comfort as well.
Making copies of scavenger hunts in advance so every family member has one is very helpful, but you can also ask your child to reproduce them on her own as another activity to help her pass time after the trip begins. You can make some scavenger hunts on your own too for specific experiences where you know your little one will need a bit of extra motivation. If your child is especially motivated by prizes, you could have small rewards like stickers or postcards at the ready for scavenger hunts where great effort was shown.
Travel Activity Resources
Different moods call for different activities so having a variety of resources on hand while traveling is important. When kids need to keep their hands and minds busy, activity books and puzzles can be helpful. (Hint: Don’t forget a clipboard for leaning on and a sealable bag of pencils and art supplies!) If children are in need of an activity that takes concentration and time, mandala coloring books are an easy answer while also helping children - and adults! - to reduce anxiety and de-stress. (This is is one of our favorites.)
Get your free kids' travel activity book here.
Audiobooks and guided meditation podcast episodes for kids can be downloaded in advance of the trip and help little ones unwind, fall asleep, or stay entertained on long rides. Be sure to have a selection that will fit the range of your little one’s moods by choosing funny stories for the silly times, gentle stories for the sleepy times, and stories of adventure for when you need to keep your child engaged.
You can never anticipate all of the things that may happen when you travel, and that is part of the beauty of stepping outside of your comfort zone as a family to take a trip, but a bit of fun preparation can be a saving grace for both parents and kids. Build excitement, calm anxieties, and pass the boredom together with these simple steps. And be warned: You may wind up enjoying these small moments and simple activities as much as the kids!
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Charise Rohm Nulsen is a writer, social media influencer, activist, and perpetual volunteer.