Try these seven open ended art activities for traveling with toddlers. Great screen-free options for engaging young kids during travel. Post by Rachel Withers, our editorial coordinator at The Artful Parent.
My family lives in Maine where the winters last a solid six months of the year. By April, we feel more than stir crazy and ready for warmer weather. This past spring we headed to Spain with our toddler and 6 month old baby.
Over the course of two weeks we traveled by bus, plane, train, and car. We spent many hours actively traveling or waiting at restaurants. During these experiences we needed an arsenal of activities to entertain our son.
Traveling with a toddler can be terrifying. It means handling high energy + a short attention span in a variety of new settings. My son just turned three and while still very active, his attention span is growing, so this aspect is thankfully getting easier.
To prepare for our trip, I gathered activities that worked well for us in the past and scoured the internet to glean as many new ideas as possible.
Most of these are open-ended and adaptable to your child’s specific interests. They work well for the child to work on alone or together with an adult.
I tend to keep these separate from our regular art supplies at home so there is a novelty factor of new and exciting projects to work on while traveling. These were all easily packable and didn’t take up much space in our bags.
Alright, here we go!
7 Art Activities for Traveling with Toddlers
1. Sticker pads
These Melissa & Doug sticker pads are my go-to and have been since my son was probably 18 months, maybe younger. He LOVES them.
There are 5 different pages with matching stickers so you can rip out the sets & fold them together for easier storage. Or stick them in a Ziploc bag & have a new set ready to go when sitting down at a restaurant. Or rotate the sets for prolonged “activity time” on a long flight.
As I mentioned, these work great from a young age. My son enjoyed sticking them all over the plane window and wall when he was younger. (They easily peel off leaving no residue). And they are still going strong for my now 3 year old son.
To me, these are the best $5 you can spend leading up to a trip. Another alternative is regular stickers and paper of course, but I like how this takes the stress out of stickers getting stuck to things they shouldn’t while traveling.
2. Melissa & Doug Water Wow! Books
I almost didn’t bring this paint-with-water book on this trip, but I am SO glad I did. This provided hours, and I mean hours of entertainment for my son.
In the past, he would try it and lose interest quickly, but for whatever reason this was a top activity for him this time around.
The pages dry out quickly allowing the child to start all over again (hurray!). I also like how there are extension questions like: “find the three lion cubs” or a little story about each habitat.
3. Pipe Cleaners
Now in case you think I work for Melissa & Doug’s marketing department, we’re switching gears and going old school.
I originally saw this idea on Instagram and was amazed by the brilliance of it–such a cheap and easy sculpture idea!
I find this works great to keep little hands busy and imaginations active. And all for $.99!
We had a lot of fun creating pipe cleaner lighthouses and trains. The sky’s the limit with these–you can make letters, numbers, shapes, animals, things that go, etc!
4. Rainbow Popsicle Sticks
While in Spain, we were preparing for the flight back and I stopped into a little bodega looking for some new things to help us with the long flight home. My son likes our rainbow popsicle sticks at home so I grabbed a pack to try. This and the pipe cleaners were my best euro spent!
He sorted these by color, stacked them to make a house (Lincoln Log style)… and I made a sparkly star wand for him as well.
This may make you cringe and if so, hear me out. It’s true that playdough could (and possibly did!) get ground into the carpet or may be hard to contain. But there was a point on the 8-hour plane ride that a major meltdown was pending and we clearly needed something quick.
The playdough allowed him to really work out some pent up energy and kept him busy for a solid chunk of time. When it’s time for cleanup, I like to make a ball or “monster” that gobbles up all the little pieces.
If you’re looking for a playdough alternative you might like beeswax modeling clay. It is a little hard (possibly frustrating) to use at first as it needs to warm up in order to be moldable. The beeswax clay is nice because it’s not very sticky or messy and smells pretty nice.
6. Wikki Stix
These cards and the Wikki Stix are engaging, fun and educational so I consider them a win!
7. Free Draw
I brought along a plain notepad and simple coloring book but for an older child, a journal or sketchbook would be fun. And I used this as an excuse to try out Faber Castell’s neon gel crayons. But of course any colored pencils, crayons, markers or pen/pencil work just as well!
More Ideas for Traveling with Toddlers & Kids
Looking for more ideas for traveling with toddlers or kids?
- Create your own Travel Art Kit for Kids!
- Try these Creative Drawing Activities for Kids.
- Or 16 Printable Art Activities for Kids.
- Make a DIY Art Journal to take along the plane, train or car!
I hope these ideas are helpful and will spark new ideas for engaging with your own kids while traveling as a family.
It can be daunting traveling with toddlers. On this last trip especially, I found the opportunity to connect with my son, while being disconnected from my normal life, was a really special opportunity.
He thrives when he has my attention, undistracted. And those memories of our time spent together will last a lifetime.
If you’re preparing for a big trip this summer think about what your child likes at home. Is it adaptable for travel? Relatively mess-free? Doesn’t take up too much space?
Post your ideas below, I’d love to hear them!
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