Summer travel season is just around the corner! That means lots of time in the air or on the road with potentially very bored kids. I’m assuming you don’t want to be the parent hearing “are we there yet” for hours on end, so be sure to pack plenty of in-flight or road trip entertainment for the kids.
Like most traveling parents, an iPad is my go-to device. Although my mantra is that normal screen-time limits do not apply when we are in-flight (or on the road), I don’t love seeing my kids stare at a screen like zombies for hours on end during our travels. It is important to mix it up with some good old fashioned tech-free entertainment too.
I was intrigued by a study that British Airways did last summer that showed that the best in-flight entertainment for young kids was not the iPad. However, like many fellow family travelers, I wasn’t pleased with some of British Airways’ recommendations, which were decidedly not mess-free. Legos? Loom bands? Play-Doh? All I could think about is how many times I’d be crawling under the seat in front of me to pick up tiny pieces or how the time-starved post-flight cleaning crew would hate me for what my family would leave behind after a flight.
So, with less-mess as my guiding principle, here are 20+ tech-free products to entertain your kids on your travels. Best of all, the majority of these products are under $10!
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Tech-Free Travel Entertainment for Kids
1. Melissa & Doug License Plate Game: A reusable board to play the classic game of spotting license plates from every state. Great for teaching geography too.
2. Road Trip Bingo Cards: A great game for your children to play together to pass the time on the road. Each set comes with three cards and sets are available for interstate highway trips, license plates, traffic signs, and more. I love that the Bingo cards include pictures to make the game doable even for pre-readers.
3. National Geographic Kids Ultimate U.S. Road Trip Atlas: An inexpensive and informative atlas that includes a page for each state as well as activities and games. This is best for older kids who can read independently, but even the younger ones will get something out of it as well.
4. Mad Libs: You can’t go wrong with the wacky word game you played yourself as a kid on road trips in the days before iPhones and iPads. I love that there are travel-specific varieties like the “On the Road” and “Vacation Fun” versions.
5. WikkiStix: WikkiStix are a great invention for kids who want to be creative but not get messy. These waxy sticks can be bent and molded into a variety of shapes and designs. Our family likes to buy a set of party favor size bags so we can take a few on each trip.
6. Fisher Price Doodle Pro Trip: Your kids can doodle for hours with the travel-sized version of this magnetic writing tablet.
7. Melissa & Doug Flip to Win Hangman: A reusable dry erase board to play the classic hangman game.
8. Travel Scavenger Hunt for Kids Card Game: Another twist on the games that have your kids gazing out the window on road trips to spot things passing by. Players try to spot the object on their cards and get new cards as objects are found.
9. Pass the Pigs: Roll the pigs to see what positions they land in to score points. This game is small enough to play on an airplane tray table and with only two dice (well, pigs), there isn’t much to lose.
10. Travel-sized Trouble: This miniature version of the game involving everyone’s favorite”Popomatic bubble” is perfect for airplane tray tables. The mini moveable game pieces can be lost, so I’d recommend this game for slightly older kids.
11. Travel Guess Who: Another miniature version of a classic game sure to keep your kids entertained for extended periods of time. The game requires small cards, so this is one that I’d again recommend for older kids.
12. Imagine Ink Magic Ink Pictures: These little booklets come with a single clear marker that magically colors the included coloring pages. Mess-free and the booklets come in a wide variety of Disney and other cartoon character versions, including Disney princesses, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, My Little Pony, Thomas & Friends, Frozen, and many others.
13. Crayola Color Wonder Travel Tote: For all those with creative little ones of nearly any age. Crayola Color Wonder products are great for road trips or flights because the markers only work on the special Color Wonder paper. This travel tote includes four markers and a replaceable activity book.
14. Usborne Wipe Clean Books: Usborne makes a cute and highly educational set of dry erase wipe-off books perfect for preschoolers learning the alphabet, numbers, and spacial skills like completing mazes. The dry erase marker means less mess in the car or in the air.
15. Munchkin Traveling Flashcards: While there are plenty of products to keep older kids entertained, the babies and toddlers need distractions too! These connected flashcards include shapes, colors, numbers, and more.
16. Crayola Triangular Crayons: So simple but so ingenious for travel. If you’ve ever been with a young kid trying to color on an airplane tray table, you quickly learn how annoying round crayons are – they roll right off! We are never without a set or two of roll-free triangular crayons during our family travels.
17. Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pad ($4.99): Keep little fingers busy with stickers on your next trip. This set can be used over and over again. Best of all, the stickers are vinyl cling material so they will not stick well to other materials. No more peeling stickers off airplane tray tables and windows at the end of a flight!
18. Melissa & Doug Tape Activity Book: Noticing a trend here? Melissa & Doug has a ton of tech-free creative entertainment products and this is another one that works well for travel. Tape is easy to tear to use in decorating creations.
19. Rand McNally Best Travel Activity Book Ever!: 200 pages of travel entertainment and activities (mazes, connect the dots, coloring pages) for kids.
20. 2 x 2 Rubik’s Cube: A neat little twist on the classic cube puzzle that is a bit easier for younger kids just getting started.
21. Curious Columbus Busy Book: One of the more expensive items on the list, but this busy book is high quality and guaranteed to keep little hands busy for hours. You’ve probably seen hand-sewn products like this on Pinterest but much easier to buy one rather than make it!
22. Magnetic Fun – Cars Planes & Trains Playset: Kids can play with their favorite transportation scenes with the less mess help of magnets to keep the pieces together. We’ve found magnetic playsets to be ideal with our three year old.
What tech-free products have you used successfully in cars and on planes with your kids? Share some of your favorites I may have missed in the comments.