How We Travel with a Toddler–WITHOUT Electronics

At the risk of sounding old: When I was a kid {I’m hearing the Grandpa in the Simpsons as I’m writing that} we didn’t have all of these fancy dancy DVD players and video games to take on road trips {okay, maybe the first Gameboy had just come out, but my parents being the evil  sensible people they were, wouldn’t get us one}.  So we did road trips the “old-fashioned” way, hours in a car of fighting travel games, coloring, snacks, and good old family fun.  

My in-laws live out of state, so we road trip {about nine hours each way} several times a year, and I try really hard to make the drive with no movies, iPhone games, etc. She watches enough TV at home, believe me.  It’s not really an option anyway because we don’t even own a portable DVD player or an iPod, in fact, I don’t even have internet on my phone–I know, I’m practically living in the dark ages.  Anyway, there are lots of activity ideas out there for older kids, but I think entertaining a toddler can be hard, especially on an airplane where activities have to be quiet–something many toddler toys are not.  So through a lot of trial and a little bit of error, this is what we’ve found to be effective and how we keep our toddler entertained when we travel:

I buy her a new bag almost every time we take a road trip.  At $1 each (on the Target dollar aisle), it’s a small thing that adds to the excitement.
There are two keys to the success of our road trip bags: {1.}VARIETY– as many varied and random things as I can think of/find/shove into one bag, to keep her occupied, and {2} This one is IMPORTANT: she doesn’t get the bag, or even get to see what’s in the bag until we’re on the road–zero peeking

Next comes the “lap desk.”  Ours is a dollar store cookie sheet, spray painted pink.  The lip on the tray holds crayons and snacks in place and since it’s metal, you can create magnetic games to play (we’ll get to that one in a minute).  Another bonus: it stores right between or under the seat because it’s flat.

I mostly buy new things and mix in some of her tried and true favorites, so here’s what’s in a typical bag.  

1.  There are always LOTS of stickers in the bag, along with some form of paper–again, Target $1 aisle or stolen from the printer–to stick them on.  But sometimes, we resort to decorating our faces instead–whatever keeps a girl entertained.
2. Melissa & Doug Magic Dress-Up: This is a new one I picked up, and per the no peeking rule, she hasn’t tired it out yet, but I anticipate that it’s going to be a hit. All of the clothes are magnetic and it’s packed neatly {which will last about five minutes–just keepin’ it real} in its own little case. 
3. Crayola Color Wonder coloring pads.  I will admit, I think these are seriously pricey for coloring items, but for me, they’re worth it {and I stock up when they’re on sale}. Watching the color magically appear keeps her more interested than your run of the mill coloring, and I love that the markers won’t color on anything besides the paper.  You want to do something fun?  Take them on an airplane and check out the looks you get when you hand a toddler markers.  The old lady next to us was all but gasping in shock.
Random things like crazy glasses have proven to be entertaining for us as well.
4.  Landmark “I Spy” game found via Pinterest.  This may be a little advanced for a toddler, but cut out two of each of those pictures and you have yourself an educational matching game.  Put magnets on the back and it works perfectly with the cookie sheet lap desk I mentioned earlier.  For a more basic matching game, check out the school aisle at your dollar store.  They have classroom bulletin board borders with shapes, animals, numbers, etc.  There are several strips, so you can cut them up, put magnets on and for a few dollars, you have several matching games.  They also have flash cards which make great matching games, or just buy a matching game (novel idea, I know) and slap magnets on it.  
5. I love this method of keeping the crayons and paper together, also found via Pinterest.
6. I also always include a new sippy cup, just another novelty that keeps her entertained and happy.  And while we’re on the subject of sippy cups…I’m sure I’m not the only mom who has seemingly tried Every. Single. Cup under the sun and found out that “leak proof” is a dirty lie.  Or was a dirty lie, until I found these ones.  No joke, they don’t leak–at all.  I. LOVE. THEM!  And she thinks they’re cool because they look like a coffee cup.
7.  And it’s not a road trip without snacks! I take a lot of food, because when all else fails: shove food in their face. I keep some of the snacks with me and funnel them to her throughout the trip, but again, I try to find novel things that she doesn’t get all the time {like the Hershey’s Cookies and Cream milk O–M–G–it’s good}.  I will admit, on a nine hour road trip, the name of the game is keeping her entertained, so I’m not overly concerned with making sure the snacks are healthy.  I do, however, try to limit the sugar.  No one wants a three year old, hyped up on sugar, trying to bust out of her car seat like the Hulk.
And for airplane travel, lots of:
Most of the stuff is still new enough by the time we drive home that she’s still entertained and I don’t have to do an entirely new bag for the return trip, but I do hold a few things out and add them into the bag for the when we head back home.
My very last piece of advice in this marathon of a post {I really didn’t plan on it being this long}:

Let’s be honest: a sleeping child on a road trip is a little slice of heaven.  However, experience has taught me that this planning around sleeping thing can be a crap shoot, because sleep is a thing of beauty, but we all know that if they can’t sleep, a tired toddler, when confined to a car seat can make every minute pure torture!  This seems to work for us–most of the time–and we always plan the trip so that we drive for a few hours, stop for lunch or dinner somewhere fancy, you know, with a play place {bust out the hand sanitizer} to wear her out, and then by the time we’re four or five hours into the trip, we’re coming up on her usual nap time.  When she wakes up, we’ve almost reached our destination.

We have three road trips this month, so I’d LOVE to hear what you do to keep kids entertained on the the road.

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  1. Anonymous says

    Thanks for the awesome ideas! I have got to know though (link has changed at TRU), what brand/type is the perfect sippy cup?!?

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