Keep your kids busy on the plane: DIY travel activity kits

The last time I flew with the girls, I was by myself. So I schlepped two kids, a couple of carry-ons, Peeper’s lovey and a whole bunch of anxiety onto a plane. I was, understandably, worried about flying with kids solo.

How do you keep your kids busy on the plane—especially when you only have two hands? I wondered.

With luck, and the kindness of a few understanding strangers, we survived that flight. I learned a few lessons, though, that I want to share here: tips on building travel activity kits we’ll be using when we’re doing road trips and flying with kids over the holidays. With Thanksgiving, Christmas and the busiest travel days of the year staring us down, we could all use some ideas to travel as a family.

Looking for ways to keep your kids busy on the plane, too? Want to limit their screen time? Want to survive the flight without the rest of the passengers threatening to throw your family out an air lock?

Learn from my experience—and be prepared. You’ll stress less at 30,000 feet in the air when your kids are happy with these travel activity kits!

Traveling on the busiest travel day of the year? Keep your kids busy on the plane—or on a road trip—with DIY travel activity kits. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

How to put together travel activity kits

  1. Keep everything corralled. When you’re sandwiched in those too-tiny plane seats, the last thing you want to do is rummage around an oversized bag for stray crayons. So when you put together travel activity kits for your kids, store everything in a gallon ziplock bag or a big pencil pouch.
  2. Pack a kit for each kid. Children don’t like to share under the best of circumstances, and being cooped up in a plane with 300 cranky strangers doesn’t count as the best of circumstances. So create a travel activity kit for each kid. You can even personalize it with their name.
  3. Make it new. Novelty is a parent’s second-best trick when traveling with kids. (Snacks are #1, obvi.) So buy new stuff and don’t show it to them until they’re buckled in their seats.
  4. Prep for the return flight, too. When you assemble your kids’ travel activity kits, make two so you’ll have a new one for your trip home. After all, they might lose their toys—or lose interest in the Curious George coloring book.

Traveling on the busiest travel day of the year? Keep your kids busy on the plane—or on a road trip—with DIY travel activity kits. Ten Thousand Hour Mama

Supplies ideas for kid travel activity kits

Packing a variety of activities will get you through this. So buy a little of this and that, and chances are your kids will stay entertained.

Most of this you can pick up at the dollar store, Target or a craft store.

  • Coloring books
  • Crayons (I tossed a handful of crayons from home into a baggie instead of buying a new box)
  • Markers (washable, of course, and only for older kids/kids who don’t still try to eat markers—Kiwi I’m looking at you!)
  • Small pieces of construction paper
  • A small notebook
  • Stickers
  • Melissa and Doug Water Wow (these have entertained my kids on SO MANY trips!)
  • Small Magnadoodle
  • Flash cards (see this post for ideas for a bunch of games to play with flash cards)
  • Small puzzles
  • Small toys, such as Matchbox cars or plastic dinosaurs
  • Stick-on rhinestones and google eyes 
  • Craft kits with self-stick foam pieces
  • Magnifying glass

How about you—how do you keep your kids busy on the plane?

18 thoughts on “Keep your kids busy on the plane: DIY travel activity kits

  • November 16, 2016 at 8:44 am
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    Great ideas! I’ve traveled A LOT with my kids (both on plane rides and road trips), and I think the very BEST advice is to plan EARLY! I have always had the best of intentions of doing what you are recommending, and making these cool kits to have on hand, then I wait until last minute, when there is lots of packing to do, cleaning, prepping, and making these kits gets put aside. Then I end up throwing tons of stuff in a backpack and pray. That “plan” always backfires. It works best when you can have those kits days (or weeks) before your actual trip.
    Also, if you do go the route of using an iPad (which only work for about an hour or less for my own kids, but worth it), put a mix of new/familiar games as well as a couple new ones to get them interested. I always crowdsource my friends w/kids days before a trip to see what new games are out there (age appropriate) for my own kids.

    I’m about to leave for a 10 hour road trip next week with my kids in tow, so this is all a good reminder to start prepping NOW! Thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • November 16, 2016 at 3:01 pm
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      I always forget to download new apps on the iPad before I go, but you reminded me I need to start doing that now. The assistant in Peeper’s preschool classroom recommended Osmo, so I’m going to check that out!

      Reply
  • November 16, 2016 at 9:21 am
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    I love using blank (non-lined) 4×6 index cards as the paper for them to draw on. They are small so they don’t take up lots of room on a restaurant table or airplane tray. Also, if you plan ahead of time and cut off 3/4 of an inch off the long end, the resulting 4x 5.25 paper is the perfect size to glue to a half sheet of cardstock to make cards from their artwork. Also, we got two sets of twistable crayons which eliminates the need to sharpen crayons and prevents them from breaking (two things that annoy my oldest)

    I found the following items worked better for my older daughter (age 6) than my 3 yr old: wikki stix, Usborne mini sticker books, and Melissa and Doug marker coloring book sets. The Usborne dry erase writing books work pretty well for the 3yr old, but I use washable dry erase markers instead. They don’t write as well, but it’s worth it to me to avoid the marker stains on clothes 🙂

    Reply
    • November 16, 2016 at 3:00 pm
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      That’s such a good call to use washable dry erase markers. I hadn’t considered the stain factor! (Though I know you are on point at treating stains, haha!)

      Reply
  • November 16, 2016 at 11:12 am
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    this is such a great idea! as a nanny i’m always looking for ways to keep kiddos entertained in the car, and have a stash of books in my back seat at all times. although i don’t often fly with kiddos, this is such an awesome resource that i will point parents of littles to 🙂 also great to see that there are still parents who want to be creative and avoid just handing the kiddos a screen…

    Reply
    • November 16, 2016 at 2:58 pm
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      Thanks Melissa! I’m definitely not opposed to handing the kids an iPad in a pinch, but I like to try something a little more imaginative first. I also drive with a million books in the car—good thing my oldest likes to read!

      Reply
  • November 16, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    Such an amazing idea! I LOVE it. We have an 8 month old and she’s pretty much entertained by anything these days, but I know these will come in handy when she gets older (AND we have other kids!).

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    • November 16, 2016 at 2:59 pm
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      HA! I remember the days my kids were entertained by a (clean) barf bag on the plane. These days I have to prepare a LOT more!

      Reply
  • November 16, 2016 at 3:40 pm
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    These are so great tips! It is important to keep the kids busy on the plane, if not they might get bored. Thank you for sharing.

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    • November 16, 2016 at 4:52 pm
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      AND they might get in trouble with other passengers! 😉 Thanks for reading, Vibeke!

      Reply
  • November 16, 2016 at 8:35 pm
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    Great post! I completely agree about the whole making sure you pack 2 activity packs. When I took my 3 year old to Bulgaria, the flight was so long and I am so grateful that I made one of these activity bags. I wish I would have done the same on the flight back. Thank God for iPads and movies on the plane, however. We did spend a lot of time just playing little silly games and colouring. I also read a lot of books to him. I definitely recommend putting anything your kids are interested in into the activity pack 🙂

    Reply
    • November 16, 2016 at 8:51 pm
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      Thanks for reading, Desi! I totally agree about the books. My problem with books, though, is that they get heavy when you’re carting so much around the airport. But whatever will keep the kids occupied is worth bringing!

      Reply
  • November 17, 2016 at 12:51 pm
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    Those sound like great ideas! I remember having a travel book that came with a kit of markers and crafty things and it was fun on longer drives!

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    • November 22, 2016 at 8:18 pm
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      Yes! I have a big stash of toys, books and activities for our drives—even cross-town drives. It makes everyone in the car happier when the kids are occupied.

      Reply
  • November 20, 2016 at 1:48 am
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    I always brought activities with us on while travelling it is the only way to travel with kids and these are fabulous ideas Catherine

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    • November 20, 2016 at 10:14 am
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      Thank you Amber! Preparation is key when traveling with littles—that, and packing a lot of patience. 😉

      Reply
  • November 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm
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    Such great ideas! I once traveled for six weeks with five kids, and WOW, was that an adventure! Each kid had a giant travel backpack, and I kept a stash of extra surprises in the trailer to refill as needed. (Yes, we lived in a trailer on the road for five weeks on the Al-Can Highway because I temporarily lost my mind!) One thing my kids loved were those magnetic drawing boards, and (believe it or not) the Etch-a-Sketch was also a big hit. Even now when I travel on planes, I keep a couple of finger puppets in my purse. I always seem to be sitting behind a fussy child or exasperated mama, and I can keep them entertained over the back of the seat. I usually let the child keep the puppet (with mom’s permission). It doesn’t cost much, and it makes a memory!

    Reply
    • November 22, 2016 at 8:13 pm
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      Renee, it’s people like you on planes that keep parents from going insane. That is such a kind and thoughtful thing to do! Next time I travel by myself, I’ll bring finger puppets along—and think of you. 🙂

      Reply

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