Inside: Here are the best travel solutions, supplies, and tricks I've used on-the-go with kids. This content contains affiliate links.
Cover your eyes with your hands. Open. Giggles. Smiles all around.
It's no wonder why everyone has played peek-a-boo with their infant while being stuck waiting somewhere in line. It's easy and effective.
But that all shifts when your child turns into a toddler.
And then grows into a preschooler.
And sprouts into a school-age kid.
Then the solution for soothing your child who's tired of waiting in airport security or needs something to play at Grandpa's house looks different.
Then your child needs more stimulation and distraction.
Not to mention all the logistical stuff changes. Your child isn't just running on milk..you've got to think on snack-packs, potty training supplies, and how you're going to avert the hangry moments while being on-the-go with your kids.
What can you do?
We all know a tablet or phone is an effective tool of distraction.
But I am here to share some other travel solutions I use in my parenting tool belt.
To reveal what I've found works (as the products you'll see photographed here are all things that we own and I've bought over time).
This jam-packed list of 25 travel solutions also includes logistical problem-solvers and ideas that sometimes get forgotten..
These simple travel solutions are what I've found to be the most helpful when I'm on-the-go with my two kids. Like what's the 5-year-old version of peek-a-boo...
Something else I've learned being a mama to two kids, constantly on the go..
You can try to block out the toddler behavior that may arise when you're..
waiting for food at the restaurant,
getting from point A to point B,
filling time on open-ended travel days
With a device so they can tune out. And so you can tune out.
Or sometimes, you can help your child tune in to what's around you.
And what's around you is probably a whole lot of possibilities (with a little help from you) that can distract your child.
You can use these small moments to build connection with your child.
That's when you tend to see less of that challenging behavior (the whining, the complaints of being bored, the can't-wait-a-moment freakouts).
It starts with building a rhythm when you're on-the-go together that doesn't default to tuning out to a screen but rather, tuning in to each other.
Here's what I've found to be most useful in being on-the-go with kids...
1. Let your child pack their own bag of toys.
For the car, for the beach, for the trip to Grandma's. And then they're in charge of their bag.
I love this packing solution for so many reasons..
It gives my kids a job on mornings where we're headed out somewhere (like a big road trip). It's an easy way to kill some time so I'm freed up to do what I need to do.
I choose their bag and give them some toy categories to look for...like 2 stuffies, 4 animal figures,1 sticker book, etc.
Giving them a list of things to find to pack makes it more like a scavenger hunt. And they love being in charge of choosing what they will bring! Sometimes my kids will spend 10 minutes chatting with each other about which stuffies are coming on the trip. These are big decisions! (Meanwhile, I can be doing the dishes in peace.)
If they complain of not having the toys they want to play with when we get to the destination, they chose what they brought. So over time, my kids have learned to be better packers. It's a great lesson to learn.
Over time, the bag has gotten bigger as my kids have grown. When roadtripping with toddlers, I like a pint-size backpack (since they'll fill up whatever size bag they have, and then it will be too heavy for them to carry!). Now that they're bigger, they pack a bigger backpack.
For the beach, my kids often use a lightweight, machine-washable bag for carrying sandy buckets and shovels.
2. Invite your child to play a game that requires nothing.
Works anywhere, anytime, with any number of people.
Our favorites include I Spy and our own made-up version of What Are You (a guessing game where typically one person is an animal and everyone else asks clues to guess what animal you are.)
Because we've been doing these games since they were little, it feels like a familiar ritual. Often my son will ask to play *Animal Game* so he can stump us on some obscure dinosaur that he's thinking of.
Other games perfect for when you're on-the-go:
Duck duck goose (awesome at a rest stop to get out the wiggles)
Would You Rather?
3. Pack card games that get your kids chatting.
While I do love the simple games that require nothing but yourselves, I'll always pack a couple of card games when we're headed out somewhere. Why? Card games are..
small, lightweight, and can keep us occupied for a long time.
Our favorite card games that build on connection:
Create a Story Cards (we actually use these for travel and for everyday dinners at home to help with mealtime conversation)
A tiny version of a Memory Match game that's easy-peezy to bring anywhere
Since every kind of feeling is bound to pop up during a trip, a new go-to game is the awesome Animal Chat card game all about emotions
4. Block out time on the trip to slow walk at their speed.
Sometimes the easiest way to ward off the whines and find some peace when you're traveling with young kids is to let them lead.
Meaning skip the scheduled sightseeing excursion and walk at toddler speed.
That could look like getting to your destination at whatever time you get there...along the way letting your kiddo chase butterflies, follow sidewalk cracks and ant hills, and pause to watch a bulldozer in action.
Because sometimes the action and learning isn't found at the museum.
The beauty of this age is they're naturally curious learners.
5. Give kids a way to capture what they're seeing.
We're lucky enough to carry a camera with us wherever we go (our phones). And our kids see us modeling all the picture-taking and Instagramming that we do. Let them play photographer for the trip!
It will be awesome to look back at your trip from their perspective.
And yes, you might be getting photos of toys on beach towels, but your child will be so proud. Worth it.
What kid's camera should you give your child?
You can bring along a disposable camera (perfect for toddlers since there's not the same worry of breaking an expensive camera or phone).
For school-age kids, consider a fun instant film camera. We did one as a 6th birthday gift, and my daughter was ready to handle that responsibility (knock wood, the camera is still going strong and she loves bringing it around places!) We did add a camera case onto hers for added protection, too.
Or you could try a kid's digital camera and skip the added expense of film.
6. Tell jokes or play with a paper fortune teller to pass time.
A friend gave us this teeny tiny book called Lunch Lines, and it's been one of our most used gifts. Since then, I've given it out as a gift. I really love this little book!
A couple years ago, I thought about what feeling I want to add to our days.
Being a more serious person by nature, my intention landed on laughter.
I want to hear my kids' giggles. Every day should include some lightness.
More laughs. Less grumps.
To be honest, we use this joke book far more than just when we're on-the-go.
Telling jokes is an easy way to keep dinners feeling social and fun (which tends to translate to kids eating more food!). It's small enough to slip into my bag when I know there's a wait ahead in our travels.
Another great tool of distraction for long waits: paper fortune tellers.
Bonus: when you have a simple tool like this in your bag, you can distract your child, you can pass the time with giggles, no matter whether there's a good wifi connection or not. Because we've all had times when the internet connection is spotty at best.
7. Talk through what's happening next, like going to the airport.
Toddlers are supposed to have the classic toddler meltdowns. That's part of their development. And toddlers do not like new. They thrive on routine and consistency.
But sometimes you can avoid the meltdowns when you're traveling (that are not related to being hungry, overstimulated, or overtired.)
Talk about what's on the agenda with your toddler.
More than once. In simple clear chats.
I personally love to use books and visuals to talk through new situations (like the first time flying or going through an airport). Sharing the small details gives your child a visual map of what to expect...so it will feel more familiar.
I've seen way less resistance when my kids know what to expect.
I wish this book had been around when I was planning my first cross-country flight with a toddler and a baby in tow! This Look Inside an Airport book would be such a helpful guide for any flights with toddlers, sharing the details of what happens when you're flying somewhere, showing the details of what it will look like. (This cute Airport sticker book would be great for the actual day of the trip, too.)
8. Let your child draw to their heart's content.
Pack a travel drawing kit for each kid.
I'm aware this isn't news that kids love to draw and drawing supplies make an easy, on-the-go travel solution for kids.
But I still remember the day we stopped off to visit friends during a roadtrip and discovered the magic of the Boogie Board when my kids were playing with their toys.
That magic little drawing board went straight on the Christmas list and has been used for countless hours in the car ever since! (Bonus: less crayons on the car floor.) It's a tablet that has one function: drawing and writing!
Other favorites for doodling on-the-go:
My kids love this series of 32 Ways to Dress (different animals). Rather than simply coloring between the lines, you get to create the outfit for the animals.
All-in-one sticker books
A separate art pouch (for each child) with their crayons and pencils. We also like to stick in a dollar-store pencil sharpener for trips.
9. Play a favorite children's book in the car.
Okay if you don't have an Audible for Kids account, what are you waiting for?!
This simple membership has saved me many hours of whining in the car on long roadtrips. Plus, you can stay connected on the car ride.
Listen to the story, ask a question, laugh together about a silly character.
Audiobooks in the car have the win-win value of keeping kids distracted and connected to their imagination, and even connected to you.
Bonus: unlike seeing the movie version of a book before reading a book, listening to the book on Audible doesn't get in the way of the child's imagination. They can still be imagining what the characters look like, but you're free from having to read all the words.
Here's a list of a few favorites for your next roadtrip:
10. Set realistic expectations for travel days.
What does that all mean? In simplest terms, I've heard moms I'm working with in a potty training consultation share expectations of their child that are far too high.
For example, here are some too-high expectations..
Expecting toddlers to take themselves to a new bathroom at night to go pee.
Nope, you want to bring a travel potty and expect to help.
Expecting your toddler to listen to you all the time.
Also setting a too-high bar.
Consider this: As Jamie Glowacki shares in her new book, Oh Crap I Have a Toddler, it can take a toddler up to 45 seconds to hear you.
So it may FEEL like your toddler isn't listening to you as you say over and over to put on their shoes and hat. But really, you're likely using TOO MANY words.
On the flip side, I've seen expectations set super low because the parents assume they'll see a disaster.
It helps when you don't assume the worst.
Because kids can smell fear and then you tend to see a self-fulfilling prophecy.
What are realistic expectations for toddlers and their behavior?
Obviously that question could be its own post! But I'll direct you to the guides that have helped me most with understanding what's realistic (and not) to expect at different ages:
Oh Crap I Have a Toddler: Jamie Glowacki's new book that talks through the child's whole brain/whole body and what to expect in the older toddler years. She also has an awesome podcast now that speaks to this parenting topic.
How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: I love this book that shares scripts that work, and language that doesn't work, with toddlers. This book also helps navigate through sibling relationships.
The Montessori Toddler: I went through Montessori schooling as a child, and so have both of my kids. I thought I knew everything, but really, I learned so much from this amazing book on helping your toddler be more independent (and less whiny), while also understanding toddlers better.
11. Let toddlers have a special object they bring everywhere if they're seeming anxious.
This small, simple tip I've shared with so many moms who I've worked with in potty training, and it's one constant I've noticed has helped my kiddos through transitions..
We know that transitions can be hard on young kids, especially fast transitions. So it helps to have a constant..something safe that they can hold and bring along for the ride.
I've found having a little security object helps with travel.
But it likewise helps for new experiences at home (like the first day of preschool.)
Around age three, that special object (or handful of objects) often changed by the day. A tiny plastic bear would be replaced by a fairy doll, mini kaleidoscope or pile of fun erasers...often random little things that they attached to that day.
Sometimes it would be something worn (like a handmade bracelet).
Typically it's something small they could hold.
It's okay to need a little something familiar in your bag or back pocket to help you feel more confident in what's ahead.
12. Make flashcards about them to look at when you're waiting.
Years ago, I made these personalized flashcards from Pinhole Press for my kids.
When they were toddlers, I liked to sneak a few in my bag to have something for them to look at (pictures of themselves, the best!) if we got stuck in a line somewhere.
13. For potty training toddlers, be prepared for accidents.
For more tips, check out this post on travel with your newly potty trained toddler.
14. Choose easy-to-pack activities.
The key with toys for traveling kids is you want things that are less weight, less parts (i.e. puzzles and jenga games are risky), and it helps to have something open-ended for play.
Toss a roll of washi tape in your bag for eating out at restaurants. The possibilities are endless. Kids love to play with this not-so-sticky tape and it comes in fun colors.
Make sun prints together as a simple, portable craft.
Sidewalk chalk can entertain on a driveway or sidewalk for hours. You can make a hopscotch course.
15. Send postcards, start a penpal exchange, or pick up a souvenir.
Vacations are an easy time to model for our kids how giving back to others, spreading some love, makes you feel good, too. Send postcards to friends or find a special souvenir to bring back for someone at home.
Bonus: Drawing on postcards is an easy activity they can do anywhere. (Maybe even waiting for breakfast somewhere.) And giving your kids the job to choose a souvenir for someone else, like Grandma, takes the focus away from the *what I want* whines when you find yourself in a gift shop.
If you're looking for kindness-spreading supplies, here are a few we love:
Make-and-mail postcards in bright colors
A sweet pen pal kit (for kindergarteners on up who have started writing)
Bring stamps with you (so you don't have to pick up when you're on vacation) to mail a postcard from all of you.) ps. Did you know they have Sesame Street stamps now?
16. Bring toys that can be used in more than one way.
I've definitely fallen in the trap of packing our car for a roadtrip with far TOO MUCH stuff! And it's draining on you. You have to pack it in the car, take it out at your destination, repack it at the end of your trip, then put it back where it came from in your home.
Suddenly that extra bag of just-in-case-they-get-bored toys feels not worth it.
I started to wise up and think about where we're going to be and what toys could be used in multiple ways. For example, a trip to the beach..
You want some sand toys.
Your child will take baths and a few toys would help in the tub where you're staying.
Bring along a toy that can be used for both places!
I started bringing our rainbow stacker with us on trips because it can be used at the beach, in the bath, or simply stacked on the floor. I'm sure you have many of those kinds of toys, too. One time on a trip, my friend brought these simple rainbow cups for her daughter and all of our kids were using them throughout the weekend, everywhere.
17. When it's a lemon of a situation, be honest, and apologize for being a crab.
Let's be clear that no matter what you see on someone's highlight reel on Instagram or Facebook, there will be hard moments where someone's falling apart, hangry, jet-lagged, or feeling a little sour.
(And yes, your kid will have some tough moments during the trip, too. Wink wink.)
So no matter who got cranky first, it helps to apologize when you find yourself being short with your child. Get down on their level and be honest, show some empathy, and apologize when you modeled a snappy tone because you guys were rushing to get somewhere.
When you do a simple apology with your child, that helps get you back on track.
That repairs your connection.
And then you tend to see less behavior.
18. Pack card games to play with your school-age kids.
The humble card game is one of my secrets for travel.
Once your kids are past the put-things-in-mouth phase, you have a whole world of play to look forward to in the preschool and school-age years. We play a lot of games as a family, and these are the card games that typically slip in my bag for a trip.
Sleeping Queens: New favorite game my kids are obsessed with. Don't be turned off by the directions! At first it sounded complicated to me, but my 6-year-old picked it up after one round. It's super fun, and the game was actually thought up by a kid!
Crazy Eights and Old Maid: The classics never get old. Bonus: you can often find games like these at the dollar aisle of Target, which means if it gets lost in travel, you haven't lost an expensive game.
Fairy Queen: If you live with any fairy lovers, this game will be requested often. It's easy to pick up the rules and the illustrations are so sweet!
19. Drink more water.
So simple, but so often overlooked in shuttling around (and herding kids) on travel days.
Have you been drinking enough water yourself?
I get super tired when I'm running even slightly dehydrated.
And what about your kids?
Keep in mind running dehydrated will also affect the poop and can cause mild constipation when you're traveling.
If you're looking for a new water bottle, we love our reusable ones.
20. Bring picture books that are all about discovery.
For roadtrips, I like to bring a few books the kids can look at (even if they're starting to be readers.) Often a quality picture book or an activity book will keep their attention longer.
A few favorites from our library:
Any Shine-A-Light book is a hit. My son especially loves to bring his little flashlight and look at the hidden pictures in these books. (Shown here: Secrets of the Vegetable Garden, but there's one all about Dinosaurs, Trains, Earth, the Seashore, you name it.)
Count to 100 is a colorful, big book of numbers with fun illustrations and interactive challenges for young kids.
1000 Things to Find in Nature is perfect for the child who asks questions about anything and everything. This age group of kids actually loves to learn that there isn't just one type of bees, sharks, or trees, but many kinds, many names, and here's what they look like.
Don't Let the Pigeon Finish this Activity Book is another gem by Mo Willems. It's a huge book that will likely last through a few travels. We got treated to a sweet puppet show thanks to this book.
Have you seen these magnetic activity boards? Not a book, but another solution I pack for keeping kids busy and it's been a winner.
For little ones, I like the key-ring style flashcards for the stroller or carseat.
21. Pack double the snacks. Give each child their own pack for the road.
Whoever said you can never have too many snacks was most definitely a mom.
That goes double for traveling with kids! Here's what helps us:
For flights and car rides, I like each kid to have their own contained (freezable) snack pack for travel days. Passing food around the backseat just results in food everywhere! One of my kids has food sensitivities, so I always pack extra to be sure we have enough food options on a travel day.
Sometimes we'll use a lunch sack as our water bottle carrier for travel days. We've done that a lot with this mermaid lunch sack.
22. Dress your kids in the same color if you're going to a busy destination with crowds.
We've done our share of amusement parks, parades, and busy, crowded outings. With two kids to look after, one trick I used since they were little: dress them in the same color.
It helps my eye to spot them more easily.
And whenever we're in a crowded situation where I'm nervous about someone getting lost, we hold hands (where again, I prepare them before about our safety rule.)
In our family we like to call it *linking up*.
Let's link up for the parking lot.
And my kids now know that whether it's my hand or my bag, or the shopping cart, each other's hands, in some way they need to be linked to me so I know they're safe.
23. Be prepared for heat and getting wet.
We spend a lot of time in the car in the summer driving to go swimming in a lake or go berry picking...or our car often stays parked for the day in the hot sun while we hit up a beach.
Those metal buckles on car seats get SUPER hot, so long ago I started keeping a couple of muslin swaddle blankets from our baby days in the car to toss over the carseat and prevent the metal from heating up to an ouchy level.
Bonus: you never know when you could use a lightweight blanket for some other kid crisis in the car (forgot a sweatshirt, wiping a spill, etc).
Another solution for travel: shoes that can do double-duty.
Meaning cute and super functional...comfortable for my kids to wear while walking around, doing a light hike, and can get wet (because carrying rainboots around is bulky.)
Our pick since when the kids first started walking has been Saltwater Sandals. We've also become recent fans of the Native sandals for my son, which are velcro so they're easier for younger kids to do by themselves.
24. Sunscreen faster with a sunscreen stick.
This is a brand-new trick we just implemented this summer.
And it's saving me so much time in sunscreen application!
A mama friend shared that they use sunscreen sticks (mostly for coverage on arms and legs). With two kiddos to sunscreen (and one with particularly fair skin), I loved the idea of a sunscreen stick we could roll on faster.
And most importantly, my kids can apply the sunscreen stick all by themselves.
(Of course, the younger your child, the more you'll need to help to ensure good coverage.)
ps: here are more beach tips for potty training toddlers.
25. Make up lyrics to a familiar nursery rhyme to replay the day or set up for a big day ahead.
When you mix something expected with something unexpected, you keep your kids guessing (in a good way) and it becomes ever-so-easy to capture their attention.
I've used this trick at the end of a tough day, but I think it's especially helpful for travel, where there is so much new (and exciting and big!).
A simple song can help settle a child.
I'll take a bedtime song they know and change the lyrics after the first verse.
Sometimes I'll use the song to walk through what's coming up tomorrow.
Sometimes I'll use the song to walk through the big day we just had.
Either way, they'll lay in their beds with big wide eyes listening to the tune that they know so well, wondering what I will say.
It's such a simple thing I can do that I've noticed makes a big difference at bedtime.
Here are a few songs you could try changing the lyrics to create a personalized bedtime song for your child:
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
You Are My Sunshine
Moon Moon Moon by Laurie Berkner
Little Bird Little Bird By Elizabeth Mitchell
Itsy Bitsy Spider
After the infant stage, your child's needs and travel solutions sure do change.
But that's also when all the cool chats with your child come in, too.
The crazy sweet things they'll say when they see something new for the first time.
Be prepared to take on the world with your little travelers.
Illustrations by Citrus and Mint Designs.