In my experience, young children start whining after about 14 minutes in the car. It’s really fun to listen to.
Of course, if I come prepared with something to keep them busy (you know, things like… kids travel games), things are (a little) better. We crowd-sourced some of the top travel games, toys, and activities to keep kids entertained on trips. (See also: Our Favorite Kids Media, because there is *no better time to throw out whatever screen time rules you usually follow than when you’re traveling.)
A note: Everybody has different preferences here… Personally, I want to throw anything with lots of parts and pieces straight in the trash (because my kids would 100% drop them every 6 seconds and I would spend the entire car/plane/train ride picking said pieces off the ground), but some kids actually do really well with these activities. And keep in mind that it’s helpful to have some fun new games or activities that are also *small/easy to pack for your actual trip — even if you choose to skip them on the plane/car and pull them out for playtime at your destination. Hopefully there’s something for everyone here. 😉
Quiet Toys for Driving and Airplane Travel
These travel toys are perfect for keeping littles busy on trips, and some of them even offer quite a bit of educational value to boot. Here are some of our top *quiet toys for road trips and airplane rides.
Um… reusable stickers? Yes please. These extra-large reusable sticker pads have five different colorful backgrounds and more than 150 reusable stickers. These stickers don’t have any adhesive on the back so they only stick to the pad pages (not your car, windows, the plane, or anything else). Store the stickers on any page in the activity pad or keep them in a plastic bag.
Wikki Stix ~ $8
Kids (and adults!) can create all sorts of fun sculptures with Wikki Stix. They’re sticky enough to hold whatever shapes kids make with them, but they don’t leave any gooey messes on surfaces. They’re also an awesome sensory toy — when I see my kiddo revving up for a meltdown, I often hand her a pack of these and she calms down pretty quickly. Best part? Kids can make masterpieces over and over again. Wikki Stix are my favorite toy to pull out at restaurants, too.
Raise your hand if you loved Brain Quest as a kid 🙋🏻♀️. Well get excited because this is the toddler version! Not only will it entertain your child, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to engage with your kiddo when you’re on-the-go (or anywhere for that matter… ).
Tic-Tac-Toe ~ $9
All the tic-tac-toe you want and none of the wasted paper. This classic game is magnetic and travel-sized, ideal for a flight, a road trip, or even just a visit to the dentist. It’s great for kids ages 4+, but younger children can play it too.
Inspired by car bingo but with way more cool things to find, this Travel Scavenger Hunt Game is easy to learn and fun to play! It’s intended for ages 7 and up, but a toddler can easily play too with a little bit of direction from an older sibling or parent. The card set features 54 different cards, each with an object to search for while on the road. Fun for the whole fam.
Classic (car travel) Car bingo ~ $11 (set of 3)
Who doesn’t remember these??? It makes me feel nostalgic for the two (count ‘em) cross-country trips I took as a kid. No iPads back then (or seat belts for that matter, lol). Each of these bingo cards has a slide shutter window so you don’t have to deal with any tiny pieces.
Play Foam Go! ~ $14
Kinetic Sand is great, but it can still make a mess. This non-toxic Playfoam, on the other hand, is mess-free! It comes in a convenient travel case with a handle and — get this — it never dries out. With eight different bricks of foam and four built-in shape molds that won’t get lost on the floor, your toddler will enjoy hours of fun on any trip.
If you haven’t tried these Water Wow pads, you’re going to love them just as much as your kid does! Simply fill the paintbrush with water, securely fasten the top so it won’t spill, and “paint” the pages with the damp bristles to reveal a fun watercolor picture. *Best part: you can then wipe the page dry to erase and do it all over again! This bundle comes with three different activity books.
Your toddler won’t even notice the hours spent traveling with this fun game. The object of the puzzle is to try to get the colored balls to their matching color garage, but you have to watch out for blocked roadways. This travel-friendly magnetic puzzle board game encourages your child to concentrate and work strategically.
Busy “Board” Backpack ~ $21
This is a fun activity and a backpack all in one. Entice your toddler with all kinds of fun buckles, zips, laces, snaps, Velcro, and more to keep them busy during travel. The bag itself is roomy enough to store necessities like diapers, snacks, a water bottle, plus other travel toys. Did we mention it’s also machine washable?
These truly magical invisible markers don’t leave color on anything except the special coloring pad. Trust me: kids think it’s magic too! The set comes with two 30-page coloring pads and two different sets of classic and pastel-colored magical markers. No more worrying about your little artist coloring the inside of your car, the tray table on the plane, or herself (we’ve all been there).
Buckle Toy ~ $24
This cute toy teaches toddlers how to snap and click buckles into coordinating colors. Not only is it entertaining — what toddler doesn’t love fastening buckles?! — but it’s also awesome for hand-eye coordination. When your tot’s done playing, you can snap it to the car seat or stroller for easy storage.
Fun and educational, this scribble and write toy encourages tots to practice their numbers (1-10) and letters. Bonus: the easy-to-grip stylus is attached to the scribbling pad so it won’t get lost on the floor of the car or airplane.
Boogie Board LCD Writer ~ $34
For your budding artist, the Boogie Board offers a fun and creative way to draw and create art on the go without leaving any messes behind. It has a translucent LCD writing surface which allows kids to draw and trace shapes, letters, hands, etc., and the pallet grip makes it easy to hold. It includes a double-sided stylus pen for drawing thin or thick lines, and also comes with five different accessory packs to enhance your kid’s fine motor skills and encourage their imagination.
Best Activity Books for 3, 4, and 5-Year Olds
Activity books are also an excellent go-to when you’re traveling. It’s okay if your kid’s not a fan of coloring — many of these books offer different activities to keep them entertained, such as tracing letters, making tape art, or practicing fastening zippers, snaps, or buttons. Without further ado, here are a few favorite toddler activity books:
“Airplanes go zoom” is very apropos: the airport theme offers a great opportunity to speak with your child about planes, the runway, the control tower, and all the other fun happenings at the airport. These stickers are reusable, so they can be applied over and over again… or you can just sit back and enjoy the silence while your tot plays. We like that option too.
This travel-themed activity book is a great way to get toddlers excited about going on a trip (especially if they’re a little hesitant to travel). Kids ages 3 to 5 will enjoy the car, truck, and airplane-themed activities that involve working with colors, letters, numbers, shapes, words, and patterns. All your little one needs to get started is a box of crayons or colored pencils.
This sturdy plastic spiral-bound activity book includes four rolls of easy-tear tape that your child can use to decorate and fill the 20 reusable pages. Use the tape to fill empty dashes, stripes, train track ties, and more — all without making a mess.
The First Words Sticker Activity Book is not only fun, but it also introduces toddlers to words and language concepts. The illustrations are super cute and each one has a corresponding learning activity. Bonus: it’s small enough to throw in your diaper bag, purse or carry-on.
This wipe-clean activity book (which comes with a dry erase marker) lets your child draw, trace, and color over and over again. Not only do the creative exercises pass the time while traveling, they offer plenty of opportunities to practice early spelling, math, and drawing skills. Both child and mom approved!
This activity book is based on the Kumon Method, which is a specific educational philosophy that introduces learning concepts with a step-by-step approach to help your child reach his or her full potential — this one is filled with lots of fun mazes for kiddos to try.
What’s more entertaining for a traveling toddler than cutting with scissors?! (Kidding… kind of). This is Kumon Method book (see above also) introduces your tot to child-safe scissors and gives them a chance to practice cutting while also developing manual dexterity.
These books are great for children 4+ — they’re sticker puzzles (match the sticker to the number with the same shape) that take time and focus to put together and have kept my daughter busy for an hour at a time multiple times over. Choose from tons of different themes (dinosaurs, spring, magic, etc.) — kids seriously love these!
Busy Books ~ $14
These busy books come with fun figurines so your little one can bring the different scenes to life with creative play. You can choose from a variety of fun characters and stories, like Peppa Pig, PAW Patrol, Lion King, and more. Just make sure to bring a plastic baggie to contain the little figurines when your toddler is done playing.
deMoca Quiet Book ~ $36
This Montessori activity is ideal for 2- and 3-year-olds. Soft and easy to carry, the deMoca Quiet Book encourages toddlers to match colorful Velcro shapes, play with zippers, snaps, buttons, and tell time. It also comes with a zippered washing bag so you can wash off any questionable junk — airplanes are gross! — that gets stuck to it.
Free Preschool Travel Games
If you’re on a tight budget, and/or the last thing you need is more STUFF to keep track of on your trip, there are plenty of ways to keep your kids busy without having to buy a single thing…
The travel games listed below are completely FREE and they’re also fun for all ages, including preschool-aged kids! Here are quick instructions on how to play each of these fun travel games. (HEADS UP: Some of these require a little bit of planning on your part, so be forewarned.)
Yes, you’ve probably heard of this one before, but it’s a great road trip game for kids (and adults) of all ages. Plus, we all know toddlers already love to ask questions, so this is right up their alley. First, have someone think of a person, place, or thing. Then, everyone else in the car can take turns asking yes or no questions like, “Is it red?” “Does it have feet?” or “Does it eat grass?” to figure out what it is. After everyone has asked a total of 20 questions, let each person take a stab at what it might be. If you’re playing with young children who need a little more direction, you could also play this with a category, such as “animals” or “characters.”
If your toddler enjoys listening to audiobooks or reading books at home, they also might enjoy some family storytime on the road. For this game, have one person start the story with “Once upon a time” followed by one complete sentence. Then, each person in the car can rotate to have turns adding a single sentence to the story. To keep things from getting out of control, set a time limit and tell the most creative story possible. Your toddler will love having the chance to participate, but it’s always a challenge to cap their contributions to just one sentence per turn!
The Alphabet Game
Looking for a fun way to practice letter recognition with your toddler? The Alphabet Game is a great way to do it on the road. Simply start at “A” and search for each letter of the alphabet on random signs, trucks, license plates, and such. The goal of the game is for each person to point out every letter in the alphabet (in order from A to Z) before the others can. Although your toddler might not be able to keep track of their progress, they’ll have fun pointing out letters and identifying them as the older members of the family compete to get to the letter “Z” first. *You can also play as a team, rather than competing.
Road Trip Scavenger Hunt
Before your trip, make a list of things you might see on your drive. (*For young toddlers, this list would be best if it were made up of pictures of the items, not words.) Print off one or several copies of your list and make sure you don’t forget to pack it! Once you’re on the road, hand your kids the list and have them search for each item as you drive. If they are able to find everything on your list, offer them a small prize like a toy or the opportunity to pick out a treat at the next rest stop. Nothing like a little motivation, eh?
It’s always fun for little ones to see cows, goats, and other farm animals while you’re driving through the countryside. This simple game requires nothing more than some good ‘ol farmland. Turn your road trip into a fun game by challenging your toddler to yell “Mooo!” every time you drive past a cow. If you have multiple kids, have them keep track of how many cows they each see with a simple point system and a small dry erase board. (Just a friendly warning, but you may or may not want some earbuds to make it through this one, LOL.)
This classic road trip game is simple and easy for little ones to play. Entice your toddler by starting off with something like, “I spy with my little eye… something cute.” (The answer, of course, is your kid!) They’ll enjoy the interaction with you and it’s also a great way to practice using senses like sight, sound, and smell with your growing tot.
Before your trip, write down a list of fun questions to ask your toddler. Examples might include, “What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?” or “If you could pick any animal as a pet, what would it be?” This road trip game is such a fun way to have conversations with your little ones, get to know them better, and chip away at potentially torturous hours in the car.
Guess Who Said It: Disney Version
One of the best free toddler travel games involves your little one’s favorite Disney movies. If you plan to let your toddler watch a movie on your trip, have them watch one of their favorite Disney hits. Afterward, read them quotes (that you have prepared ahead of time) from the movie and have them guess who said it. Not only will this get their brain going and test their memory, but it will also keep them preoccupied with an activity for just a little bit longer before they start begging you to watch another movie or show. You can also do your best imitations of each character’s voice to get them giggling.
Before you hit the road, prepare a list of trivia questions that involve some of your tot’s favorite characters, stories, and other interests. Ask the questions to see how much your little one really knows about each topic. You can make it even more fun by rewarding each correct answer with a small prize, like a sticker or a gummy bear.
Animal Name Game
To play this game in the car or on the plane, one person will have to name an animal. Then, the next person has to name another animal that starts with the last letter of the previous animal. (For example: turtle, elephant, tarantula, alligator… and so forth.) You’ll likely need to help your toddler identify the last letter in each animal name, but it’s a great way to practice letter sounds on the go.
Now that you have plenty of fun travel games, activities, and tricks to keep your little ones busy on your next vacation, you can sit back and enjoy the ride. Hopefully, these tools will help you ward off as many meltdowns as possible so everyone can enjoy themselves and spend some quality time together. Bon voyage!