Keeping kids entertained on a family trip can feel like a full-time job! When I share how much our young daughter has traveled, I’m usually met with the same questions: “how do you afford 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 learned that kids are kids no matter where they are. For example, a meltdown in Target can be avoided or addressed similarly to one at the Borghese Gardens. Plus, our children are resilient — often more resilient than adults. To help you prepare for your travels, here are my tips for keeping kids entertained on a family trip!
You Know YOUR Kids Best
Before diving into what has really worked for my family, it’s important to remember to follow your gut. You know your kids best, so trust your instincts on what will and won’t work for them. But don’t be afraid to try new things either! If you know they tend to melt down when they miss a nap, plan a nap time into your itinerary. Do they have to eat yogurt in the morning to feel happy and healthy? Make sure they have access to yogurt for breakfast. Knowing the types of things that increase your child’s chance of getting grumpy or feeling off while traveling will help you prepare and know what to pack.
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Let Them Pack Their Own Bags
Kids love feeling independent! Starting around age 3, my family’s pre-departure strategy is to allow kids to pack their own bags. Our daughter also has her own small backpack, especially for her books and toys.
When we travel, everything she wants to bring has to fit in the bag, and she has to be able to carry it comfortably. 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, as well as 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.
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Pack A Lot of Snacks
Make sure you have snacks on hand — and in every bag! Snacks are essential 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 and if we are out exploring 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 during our travels. Things like fruit, applesauce, pretzels, fruit snacks — and emergency candy for the worst moments. Particularly when she was little, having known foods around throughout the trip was really helpful. If you run out or don’t have anything on hand, grocery shopping or stopping at a local street cart can be a fun way to try new snacks and get to know local cultures and food!
Pro tip: If you travel 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 fun surprise? We pack a few small surprises for our daughter whenever we fly, take a train, or embark on long drives. 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 3-4 hours of transit travel, especially for long-haul flights. I hide them in her backpack. Then, we don’t open them until we are in the air or on the way. The anticipation is 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 keep kids entertained on a family trip! This is undoubtedly one of our go-to strategies! Keep reading, I’ve shared a few specific recommendations below.
During the Trip, Go to a Park or Playground
While traveling, dedicate some time to socialization and playing. Many children love meeting new kids at the park (my kiddo does!). Plan time into your trip to stop at a local playground or park.
During your family vacation, it is also okay to slow down and enjoy the everydayness of life. Adding playground time to a trip means meeting local families and adding balance to the experience for our kids. Playing freely also allows kids to reset and have a sense of normalcy when traveling. Finally, a pro tip, playgrounds are often where I get the best recommendations for local restaurants!
Let Kids Help Plan the Itinerary
I often find that parents do not include their children when planning itineraries. This can also be a big hurdle in keeping kids entertained on a family trip. You can certainly provide them with 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 enthusiastic about what they choose, but traveling with kids means balancing 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 few options for 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!
A Few More Ideas for Keeping Kids Entertained on a Trip
There are many strategies for keeping kids entertained on a family trip. Beyond my lessons learned above, we polled our Facebook community of family travelers for their expert advice.
Here are some parent-tested, kid-approved items for traveling with kids:
- 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 or shows to smart devices. Netflix and Disney+ even allow some downloads that work offline.
- Invest in a few travel-friendly toys. Try things like Paint by Sticker Books, Magnet Activity Books, Melissa & Doug Puffy Sticker Playsets, a Coloring Travel Kit, or Water Wow coloring activity books.
- Play games as a family. Families can try observation games (like, “I Spy” and “Would You Rather Be”), card games, small board games, etc. Those planning a road trip can check out these entertaining road trip games (includes a free printable!).
- Pack for comfort. Pack pillows, blankets, and other comfort items to help kids sleep while traveling. Traveling with an inflatable leg rest or a Stokke JetKids™ BedBox™ can also help kids sleep on airplanes.
- Journaling is an excellent way for older kids to stay entertained, reflect on their journeys, and remember the trip. If you want to elevate your journaling game, purchase a Liene Portable Photo Printer!
- Writing postcards to loved ones and friends back home is another great way to keep entertained and share the love of travel.
- 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 also be great at entertaining themselves, so try not to stress too much!
We hope you found some great tips for keeping kids entertained on a family trip. From snacks to new toys, there are many ways to keep kids happy and excited throughout your travels together. 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 traveling with kids.
*Unless otherwise noted, all images within this article belong to and are courtesy of Antonia Grant.
*This post may contain affiliate links that may earn us a small commission, at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links in no way inform the hotels, sights, products, or other recommendations included in our articles. All opinions and recommendations expressed here are that of the attributed author, Antonia Grant, or are compiled from submissions submitted by the generous members of our Families Who Love To Travel community.
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