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 tha