Keeping kids entertained on a family trip can be a full-time job! When I share with people how much our young daughter has traveled with us, I am usually met with the same three questions: “how do you afford to do that?”, “isn’t it scary traveling with her that far?”, and my personal favorite, “how do you keep her entertained the whole time?” I’ve come to understand that one of the “scariest” things about traveling with kids, is how to keep them entertained, avoid meltdowns, and not disturb their routines.
I have also come to learn, through our own travels, that kids are kids no matter where they are in the world! A meltdown in Target can be avoided and addressed similarly to meltdowns while visiting the Borghese Gardens, for example. Plus, as parents, we can take comfort knowing our children are resilient — often more resilient than adults. To help you stay at ease during a future trip with your little ones, here are a few lessons I’ve learned for keeping kids entertained on a family trip!
Know YOUR Kids
Before I dive into what has really worked for my family, it’s important to remember to follow your own gut. You know your kids best, so trust your instincts on what will and what won’t work for them. But don’t be afraid to try new things either! If you know they meltdown when they miss a nap, plan nap time into your travels. Do they have to eat yogurt in the morning to feel happy and healthy? Make sure they have access to yogurt for breakfast.
Alternatively, make sure you arrange some socialization. Many kids love meeting new kids at the park (my kiddo does!). Plan time into your trip to stop at a local playground, for example. While traveling, it is also okay to slow down and enjoy the everyday-ness of life. Adding playground time to a trip means meeting local families and adding balance to a trip. Plus, this is where I often get great recommendations for local restaurants!
Let them Pack Their Bags
Kids love feeling independent! One pre-departure strategy my family uses, especially now that our daughter is a pre-schooler, is to allow her to pack her own bag. She also has a small backpack that she uses especially for her books and toys. When we travel, everything she wants has to fit in the bag and she has to carry it. This helps keep her busy while we are trying to pack, but it also helps keep her entertained on the trip. We ask her to think about what she wants to play with while we are there and what type of environment we will be in (beach or urban city?) This strategy helps her learn how to pack, but it also helps her think about what the experience may be like, and what “pieces of home” she needs while we are gone.
Pack Snacks for Keeping Kids Entertained on a Trip
Make sure you have snacks on hand — and in every bag! Snacks are very necessary for keeping kids entertained on a family trip. I pack snacks my daughter can access immediately in her own backpack, plus I have some stashed in my bag. We also have what we call “emergency snacks”. These snacks are hidden until absolutely necessary. We do this in transit, but also if we are out for the day. You never know when you need a little snack along the way! I also keep things I know she will eat and will keep her going on hand. (Try fruit, applesauce, pretzels, fruit snacks — and emergency candy for the worst moments.) Run out or don’t have anything on hand? Going into a grocery store or stopping at a street cart can be a great way to try new snacks and get to know local cultures and food!
Side note: If you are traveling to a Muslim country during Ramadan, packing your own snacks is a MUST. Most, if not all, shops and restaurants will be closed in observance of Ramadan from sun up to sundown.
Surprises are a Fun Way of Keeping Kids Entertained on a Trip
Who doesn’t love a surprise? Any time we fly, take a train, or embark on long drives, we pack a few fun surprises for our daughter! They are usually small, inexpensive items that I know will keep her busy. In the past, these surprises have included new crayons, books, special snacks, stuffed animals, weird items from the dollar section of our local store, etc. I usually have one for every 2-3 hours of travel, especially for long haul flights. I hide them in her backpack and we don’t open them until we are in the air or on the way. The anticipation is definitely half the fun! We only let her have one at a time and hide the rest until they are needed.
Now that she is older, I also try to incorporate books or other items to help her learn about the place, culture, or history of where we are going. These techniques have helped immensely. You would be surprised how much a small, new item helps in keeping kids entertained on a family trip! This is certainly one of our go-to strategies!
Let Kids Help Plan the Itinerary
I often find that parents do not include their children when planning itineraries. I also think this can be a big hurdle in keeping kids entertained on a family trip! You can certainly provide them choices of activities or experiences, but allowing them to be part of the conversation gets them excited, gets them invested, and allows them agency in their own entertainment. You may not be excited about what they choose, but traveling with kids means striving for a balance of what you want and what they want. This may be my most important piece of advice. Kids will be far more entertained if they have choices while traveling than if you plan the whole itinerary without them.
For example, when we are traveling with our daughter, we may give her a choice between two or three restaurants. Or, she may get to decide when we do something (“it’s going to happen, do you want to do it today or tomorrow?”) Finally, we may also share a number of activities and allow her to choose what we do that day. We also have “mommy days” and “daddy days,” where myself or my husband plan the activities that day. Again, it’s about balance and finding ways to keep everyone having fun and enjoying the trip!
What Else? I Need More Ideas for Keeping Kids Entertained on a Trip!
There are many strategies for keeping kids entertained on a family trip. Beyond my lessones learned above, we polled our Facebook community for their expert advice. Again, know your child and their interests. Here is a list of successful strategies provided by our Facebook community:
- Borrow movies, books, or audiobooks from your local library. Kids can enjoy them on their own tablets, or as a family. Don’t forget to get great headphones before traveling.
- Pre-load their favorite movies and shows to smart devices. Did you know Netflix allows some downloads that work off-line? They do!
- Invest in travel-friendly toys. Check out our top toys for toddlers. In addition, our friends at My Fernweh Family have a great list of toy ideas. Or, try Melissa & Doug Puffy Sticker Playsets or Water Wow coloring activity books.
- Play games as a family. Families can try observation games (“I Spy” and “Would You Rather Be” are a big hit at our house), card games, small board games, etc. Those planning a road trip can check out these entertaining road trip games (article includes a free printable!).
- Pack for comfort. Be sure to pack pillows, blankets, and other comfort items to help kids sleep while traveling. Traveling with an inflatable leg rest can also help kids sleep on airplanes.
- Journaling is a great way for older kids to stay entertained, reflect on their journeys, and remember the trip.
- Writing postcards to loved ones and friends back home is another great way to keep entertained and share the love of travel.
- For older kids, give them a project! Facebook member Mayer Angela has her kids work out the budget for the trip. First, consider the price of tickets (comparing business class fares with economy. Then, think about the differences between 4 and 5 star Star hotels. Finally, calculate the cost of restaurants, room service, museums, tours, etc. This is a great math problem for kids to test their skills, as well as better understand the cost of traveling.
- Let them take pictures. Kids love taking pictures! Let them use yours or get them a kid-friendly camera of their own. This is also a great way to see the trip through their lens.
And finally, keep it simple! Facebook member, Stacy Levy, warns “the more I bring, the less they use!” Kids can be great at entertaining themselves, so try not to stress too much!
Thank You to Our Community!
A special thank you to the Families Love Travel Facebook community who shared their expert tips on keeping kids entertained on a family trip! They are a group of amazing families who love adventure and exploring through travel. Join the Facebook community or find us on Instagram to connect with other families who love the unique experiences travel has to offer, whether by planes, trains, or automobiles. It is also a safe place to ask questions and gather travel-related information specific to families. We welcome you!
Want to see more from Antonia? Check out her other articles.
Please note: We use some affiliate links. So we may receive a small percentage of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. All prices listed are accurate at the time of publication.