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The Best Road Trip and Travel Activities for Kids

by Rachel Withers
June 1, 2023
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Road trip activities for kids that are great for plane travel too! Great travel activities for kids ages 1-7!

Updated June 2023

A few years ago my family traveled to Spain with our toddler and baby. It was an amazing trip, and although very tired, we wanted to prove to ourselves that we could still do something we value, with kids in tow.

And you know what? We did!

Traveling with my toddler and baby throughout Spain
Photo by Christopher Withers

Kids are quite capable of being amazing travelers! Most of the time travel is super exciting for them! (There are meltdowns from tired kids too, of course.) But the experiences they gain are worth it:

Wider perspectives, new ways of doing things, new ways of seeing our kids and ourselves––to name a few.

For some of you, maybe travel is by necessity. If you’re like our family, we travel often to visit out of town family.

Whatever reason you’re here, I hope you’ll find some ideas to help give you the confidence that You. Can. Do. This! And as my kids are now a little older, it’s already getting so much easier.

road trip activities for kids_pin
Photo by Rachel Withers

Travel Tips for Families

Traveling with kids is fun, scary and exciting. It can mean handling your child’s energy and excitement on less sleep, in a variety of settings. But you’ll adapt your toolkit and gain new parenting skills along the way.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to bring along some packable activities to maintain a sense of normalcy. In general we maintain a lot of the same routines on the road (activities in the mornings, quiet time or naps in the afternoons, and low key evenings).

Here are some of my favorite kids travel activities that have stood the test of time. Most of these are open-ended and adaptable to your child’s specific interests.

Traveling with toddlers – boy with playdough

One last thing: I recommend keeping these items hidden leading up to your trip to increase the novelty factor while traveling.

These items are all easily packable and don’t take up much space in our bags. (We travel light, with only carry on or personal items.)

Oh and don’t forget snacks! When you think you might have enough, pack a few more! You never know when a flight might be delayed or restaurants might be closed at your new locale. It sure beats hangry kids.

Alright, here we go!

Travel Activities for Any Age

mini sketchpads

1. Sketchpad for Drawing

I bring along a large drawing pad for my toddler and sketchbook for my older son. It’s a nice excuse to get a new set of markers for each child and maybe some fun extras like tempera paint sticks or gel crayons. Add some stickers to extend the activity. 🙂

2. Plastilina Clay or Playdough

This clay is a major staple in our household and keeps my active child quiet and busy for many hours, whether at home or while traveling. It’s cheap, never dries out and inspires many creations. I highly recommend!

A small container of playdough will get you by in a pinch and is great for the 1-3 year old crowd especially..

jovi plastilina clay
stickers for road trip activities

4. Stickers

These rainbow gem stickers are especially fun to incorporate into kids’ drawings. We also use eye stickers and dot stickers quite often.

This Ocean Anatomy sticker book is great for older kids!

4. Headphones + Podcast or Audiobooks

Each of our kids has their own special headphones and we have a splitter cable so they can listen to stories together from our phone or iPad. If traveling by plane, be sure to download podcasts and audiobooks prior to flying!

kids headphones for road trip activities

See below for a list of some of our favorite podcasts:

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Photo by Rachel Withers

Travel Activities for Toddlers (1-3)

reusable sticker pad

1. Reusable Sticker pads

These Melissa & Doug sticker pads are my go-to for toddlers. To me, these are such a great value. They come with a number of sheets per pad that can be rotated through with your child.

2. Water Wow pad + pen

These boards seem to mesmerize toddlers and both my kids did them over and over again at this age. A nice mess free activity while on a plane or in the car.

Melissa & Doug Water Wow boards
Wee Gallery Lacing Cards

3. Lacing Cards

There are many similar lacing sets out there, but my mom gifted us a set of Wee Gallery stitching cards. I like them because they’re sturdy for little kids to hold onto while learning a new skill.

4. Pipe Cleaners + 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. Surprisingly, I found these items kept my toddler busy and his imagination active.

Sort and stack the sticks, create a sparkly star or any other shape/sculpture with the pipe cleaners. And all for $.99!

popsicle sticks
little transportation toy

5. A small toy

Often a new little toy can entertain this age for quite a while. Maybe a little car, train or doll––play to your child’s current interests and keep it hidden until that moment.

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Travel Activities for Grade School

Usborne travel doodles card set

1. Usborne Travel Cards

These travel cards are wonderful! I love the open-ended the drawing prompts. There are additional packs available as well:

Pro tip: Substitute washable markers for dry erase markers as they can stain kids’ clothing.

2. Janod Magnetic Book

We stayed at an Airbnb that had one of these magnetic books and our kids played with it the whole time we were there. What a happy surprise! There are many variations and themes to choose from.

Pro tip: This isn’t ideal for plane travel as it’s on the bulkier side.

Janod Magnetic book
Wikki sticks

3. Wikki Stix

We have the Wikki Stix Alphabet cards but there are so many different choices available–numbers, shapes, animal and much more!

4. Invitation to Draw

Written by The Artful Parent founder, Jean Van’t Hul, and filled with fun drawing prompts for kids. Great to slip into a backpack for pulling out at restaurants, etc.

Invitation_to_Draw
diy stickers

5. DIY Stickers

Use big white labels to draw your own stickers inspired by what kids’ see during their travels.

6. Cross Stitch

These sturdy wooden cross stitch kits from Moon Picnic are a great introduction to stitching for kids. Make a sweater for a cat, owl, bunny or bear!

A small bag of pony beads and pipe cleaners is another great alternative!

moon picnic_ cross stitch
scratch art kits

7. Scratch Art Kit

These little kits are a special activity for travel. Choose a theme that fits your child or purchase blank scratch art cards.

8. Origami

Kids have fun folding 3D creations out of paper. Skill level lis adaptable for big kids to tweens!

origami paper
golden guide nature books

9. Golden Guide Books

Maybe you remember these little Golden Guides from your own childhood. They add a fun educational aspect for research to match for your upcoming trip.

10. Travel Sized Games

You might not play these en route, (or you may if experiencing airport delays!), but regardless, having a few packable games on hand can be fun for downtime at “home”.

A few of our families favorites that fit the bill are: UNO, Battleship, magnetic chess set, Quirkle.

travel sized games

We’ve also enjoyed geoboards, and these pattern shapes and cards. And don’t forget some favorite picture books or chapter books for reading along the way!

travel with kids
Photo by Rachel Withers

I hope these ideas are helpful and will spark new ideas for engaging with your own kids while traveling as a family.

It can feel daunting to travel with kids, especially with babies and toddlers. But I find the opportunity to connect with my kids while being disconnected from my normal life, is a really special opportunity. 

My kids thrives when they have all of my attention, undistracted. And those memories of our time spent together will last a lifetime.  

road trip activities in spain
Photo by Rachel Withers

More Kids Travel Activities

Looking for more ideas for traveling with toddlers or kids?

If you’re preparing for a big trip, 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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The Best Road Trip and Travel Activities for Kids

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