My fondest memories of childhood holidays are spending hours with my cousins, entertaining ourselves with made-up games and whatever we found in their magical garden. What I don’t choose to remember were the painfully long and mind-numbing car rides every year, which inevitably ended with one or all of us in a very bad mood for the start of our holiday.
Today my extended family lives all over the U.S.A., so in order for my kids to make those special memories with their cousins and grandparents, I have to face the daunting overseas trip to America, which can take over 30 hours door to door.
It can be quite overwhelming to plan a trip with a little one. Let’s face it, any travel time with a toddler feels like an eternity, so it’s always important to be prepared and know what works for your little one.
Being organised with activities to keep little ones calm, content and entertained can ultimately be the most important prep work that you do for your holiday. And, if these activities can help promote your little one’s development while also keeping them entertained and you sane while travelling, even better.
Here are some of my tried and trusted tricks to travelling with small children:
If you make your own homemade playdough, then even if little babies want to put some in their mouths in between squishing, squeezing, pulling and smashing it with their little fingers to build up all the little muscles in their hands, you will know exactly what went into that playdough and you won’t need to worry.
For older toddlers, adding a mini rolling pin and some dough shapes adds to the fun, and now you can chat to them about shape recognition and boost their creativity. On a plane, it is easy enough to use some hand sanitizer and wet wipes to wipe down the tray table for your little one to play on. In the car, you can get tray tables with legs on them to put over your little one’s lap.
Click here for a homemade playdough recipe.
For this, a mini dry erase board and dry erase markers work brilliantly. Water painting travel books and magnetic doodle boards also work great for a no spills and no mess option, as well as triangle shaped chunky crayons and colouring books, as the triangle crayons don’t roll around on the tray as easily as rounded crayons.
For older toddlers, these also help to encourage a more mature tripod grip.
By music, I mean action songs. Songs like:
These are a great way to while away the time while your little one is actively awake and not really wanting to sit still.
You can download your own music for when they are blissfully napping, which is never long enough. Homemade musical instruments like a toilet roll shaker to accompany the music in the car is also a big hit.
You may be thinking, “How can snacks keep my little one entertained?”
Take an ordinary little box of raisins and wrap it in some newspaper for little hands to tear open. They will be so excited to see what’s inside, they won’t mind what it is, and they might have more fun scrunching and tearing the wrapping paper than eating the little treats inside.
Otees in a Ziploc bag with a piece of string is another great activity. Hands and eyes have to work together to thread the Otees onto the necklace, which they can then eat in a really fun way.
Using fun containers like coloured plastic Easter eggs to hide finger food in is also a great way to incorporate snack time with activities like matching, packing and unpacking and getting little ones to work on eye-hand coordination and fine finger work.
Some advice from a mom who has travelled extensively with little ones from newborn – do not forget to pack a few comfort items from home – a favourite blanket, stuffed toy, cushion.
Being in a new environment might be a welcome change for you, but for your little one the unfamiliar can be very daunting.
Fabric busy books can keep little ones entertained for ages. Zips, buttons, finger puppets, lift the flaps, and different tactile fabrics are great to stimulate many aspects of the sensory system, especially the visual, auditory and tactile systems, as well as promoting fine motor play.
I bet you never realised just how much fun you could have with an in-flight magazine! Play games like where’s the baby, where’s the car, and get your little one to point and to help you turn the pages to see what treasures lie on each new page.
For older toddlers, go on a colour hunt through the magazine. Being able to match colours is the precursor to actually learning the names of colours. For example, there is a red car. What else can you find that is also red? This is a wonderful activity for matching and for eye tracking and scanning, which are both precursors to later learning how to read.
In the car, I Spy can be as simple as “Can you see the big red bus? What else can you see that is also red?”
On the plane, your baby can still get some tummy time play in. On most airlines, the centre armrests lift up, so you can lay your baby on its tummy across your lap for some tummy play.
You can help your baby work on strengthening its neck, upper back and shoulders. It’s important during long car rides to give little ones a chance to stretch with frequent rest breaks.
Long stints in a car seat is not healthy for little growing bodies and can put a lot of pressure on growing backs and promote tight hips. Pack a play mat for little ones to spread out on for tummy time during rest stops, and take toddlers for a walk to stretch their legs. It would do you a lot of good too.
No matter how short or long your travel time is, that little extra time you take to prepare will be more than worthwhile so that your family holiday memories are fun and meaningful.
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