While traveling with children looks drastically different from solo trips, kids certainly know how to turn a boring drive into an entertaining adventure. To learn the best tips on keeping kids entertained during travel, we asked BestReviews' baby and child expert for help.
Dr. Aimee Ketchum is a pediatric occupational therapist and assistant professor of early childhood development. Here are the kids activities she recommends to keep children entertained and tantrum-free as you travel over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house.
According to Ketchum, whether you travel by plane, car or train, preparation is key. “There are a few key things to think through in advance,” she said.
“Did your children get enough sleep the night before? If you hope for them to snooze on the trip, are they in comfortable clothes or pajamas? Did you pack their pillow and comfort item?
One of the reasons long family trips are challenging for children is that time is an abstract concept. They don’t understand how long five hours will take and are left confused. Ketchum recommends marking the passage of time in a more tangible way that little ones can understand. For example, instead of saying “five more hours,” say "five more 'Sesame Street' episodes."
Another way Ketchum helps her children understand time is by giving away a prize every hour. Then, kids will know they will arrive after five prizes. If you wrap each prize in tissue paper, it also adds excitement.
The types of activities for kids Ketchum recommends for families involve the whole family, such as singing songs, creative talking games and telling open-ended stories where one family member starts and the next person continues. She also loves road-trip car games, including I Spy, car bingo and the alphabet game.
While Ketchum doesn’t recommend toys with screens, traveling is the exception.
“This is probably the only time that I do recommend screens. Especially if you are traveling by plane or train and you have other travelers to consider," she said. "Just make sure your child has headphones, the volume is appropriate for their ears and the content is appropriate for their age. Also, break up the screen time with games and other activities including interactions."
“If a tantrum cannot be preempted, try to talk calmly to the child as they begin to escalate. Sometimes they just want their voice to be heard," Ketchum said. "Tell them you empathize with them, and try to learn if their needs are easy to meet. Are they hot? Do they need a potty break or a drink of water? Start by asking some of these questions.”
When traveling with babies, look for all-in-one play toys to avoid packing and potentially dropping a variety of small toys. This in-car play center connects to the headrest and allows babies to see themselves in the mirror and interact with the accessories.
Don’t worry about dropping toys all over the car or airplane, thanks to this all-in-one sensory toy. The interactive puller strings keep the baby entertained with several sounds, textures and vibrations. Plus, the material is nontoxic, BPA-free and phthalate-free.
Little ones will be busy for hours exploring this 14-in-1 skill board that features buckles, buttons, an adjustable strap, laces, zippers, Velcro and more. Not only will these toddler activities keep them entertained, but they also help to develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and everyday life skills.
With 26 cards representing letters of the alphabet and coordinating colored laces, preschoolers will learn their ABCs, how to match colors, fine motor skills and sorting. The durable wood cards and box are made for traveling and stand up against drops or spills.
Riding in a car just got way more fun, thanks to this exciting and fun game of cards. Friends and family of all ages can participate in the challenges, games and hypothetical questions posed on each card. The sturdy steering wheel-shaped case comes with 160 action-packed cards.
Who knew scavenger hunts are also fun in the car? This classic search-and-find game comes in the form of cards and includes common road trip finds, such as a fire truck, yellow house and motorcycle. Plus, hidden in the deck are special cards to swap with another player.
To take the guesswork out of it, opt for an all-in-one road trip activities kit. This option includes four dry-erase markers and two erasable and reusable sets of each game, such as hangman, tic-tac-toe, connect the dots, scavenger hunt, geography map and others.
Organize toys, road trip snacks, drinks and more with this backseat caddy that keeps everything within reach. It includes a see-through tablet pouch, drink holders and 12 storage pockets. It is also waterproof and protects the seat from kicking and other damage.
Download educational apps, road trip games or television shows to keep preschoolers entertained and tantrum-free with this kid-friendly Amazon Fire tablet. The kids tablet features parental controls to monitor all activity and comes with a durable kid-proof case.
Kids headphones are helpful on trips when using a tablet, listening to music or helping a little one with sensory issues have a moment of silence. They are adjustable to fit several head sizes and fold for compact storage.
Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Bre Richey writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.