What to Pack to Make Your Kids Happy (and Quiet) in the Backseat and Beyond
Family vacations are a treasured time to make lasting memories for years to come. But let's get real, when the kids are bored, crying, or sulking—family vacations can also stress everyone out. Smart parents know that the road to happiness is paved with bumps, and planning ahead with age-appropriate travel toys and gear can buy mom and dad some much needed peace of mind and quiet. Whether you're taking the kids on a plane, train, or the backseat of an automobile, these travel-approved items are a surefire way to keep the youngest members of your family (from infants to teens) happy and entertained in the backseat and beyond. Let the memory-making begin!
The Best Travel Toys and Entertainment for Babies
Traveling with babies is hit or miss. They might sleep for the entire journey, or spend it fussing. Regardless, pack an arsenal of stuff to keep babies distracted and comfortable, so that everyone is happy. Choosing what to give infants and babies on the road requires some forethought. You don’t want anything too stimulating, since that could make them cranky or keep them up past nap time. Also, refrain from toys with lots of pieces that will inevitably get tossed on the floor—picking up parts in a cramped airplane row is almost impossible. Instead, choose soft and cozy toys that develop hand-eye coordination, like a cloth book or this stuffed whale with baby-size buckles. And did you know babies are very entertained simply watching themselves in a mirror? Bonus points for an owl-shaped portable sound machine that clips to a stroller or car seat and sets the stage for sleep on the go. Just add a fuzzy pacifier toy and watch how heavy their little eyes get.
The Best Travel Toys and Entertainment for Toddlers
Toddlers go full speed ahead, regardless of their surroundings. Instead of hoping (or bribing them with treats) that they’ll choose to sit quietly, stock up on entertainment that tricks them into sitting quietly and having fun (and maybe falling asleep with a favorite snuggly duck friend). Travel with toddlers isn’t the time for elaborate toys with lots of moving and noisy parts. Opt for entertainment that won’t take up much space or make a mess. Think portable. These cute and plush finger puppets, sweet little sticker book, and hypnotic motion bubblers all fit the bill nicely. And if you want to hand your toddler your phone or tablet to watch an age-appropriate video, these bunny headphones are safe for little ears (and so adorable).
The Best Travel Toys and Entertainment for School Age Kids
School-age kids are pretty used to sitting still for short stretches and working on projects, thanks to—well, school. But travel is supposed to be fun, so pack entertainment that goes beyond worksheets and flash cards. If your kids love gaming, the New Nintendo 2DS XL was made for the road, thanks to a lightweight clamshell design and wireless connectivity. It comes pre-loaded with Nintendo’s all-time-favorite Mario Kart, or you can buy additional games. When screen time is up, let the kids get creative with intergalactic slime, an artistic neon take on the original Etch A Sketch, and a whimsical stamp set. The License Plate game is especially appealing and educational on long road trips. Give out a prize to the first one to spot Hawaii.
The Best Travel Entertainment for Tweens
Tweens on the go are going to require more stimulation and activity than a never-ending game of I Spy. Of course, handing them their very own Fire tablet pre-loaded with books, movies, and educational games is an easy way to buy peace and happiness. But eventually they’re going to need something to actually do, so keep their hands busy with a fruit-inspired string art kit or let them get creative designing and coloring in canvas travel bags (that they can then use to tote their favorite belongings). Emoji UNO is a fast-paced and fun card game sure to provide hours of easy emoji entertainment and Cat Mad Libs will have them giggling and practicing their grammar skills—no parental intervention required.
The Best Travel Entertainment for Teens
Teenagers tend to know exactly what they like and don’t require a lot of entertainment guidance from their parents. They probably just want to be in their own world for at least a little while, so let them be with the Kindle Paperwhite e-reader and a solid pair of stylish wireless headphones for tuning out any distractions (i.e. younger siblings). When your teen is ready to join the rest of the family, let their inner travel photographer shine with the Instax mini camera. It’s basically a Polaroid for instant mini-prints and an ideal way to create lasting family travel souvenirs. And this cactus crochet kit should appeal to any teen’s sense of aww and delight. Looking for a game? Tile Lock Scrabble is ideal for on-the-go play, since the tiles lock firmly in place. Look how happy your teenager is! Now don’t ruin it by asking if their homework is finished.