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Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Hacks For Traveling With Kids - Safari Ltd®

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Hacks For Traveling With Kids

“Are we there YET?!”

Spring weather, fun, and travel are right around the corner. It’s a great time to plan ahead and gather supplies for your upcoming adventures. Keeping kiddos placated while traveling can sometimes feel like an impossible dream, but have no fear…we can help! Check out some of our tried and true favorite hacks to help the time pass and reduce the amount of "Are we there yet?!" cries.
While technology is super popular as an entertainment option during travel, there are many other screen-free activities that you can add to your travel arsenal. Having a mix of activities from the following key categories will have you covered for some screen-free entertainment options for most kids:
  • Snuggle or Comfort Item (blanketsplush, favorite book, teethers, etc.)
  • Sensory Activities (sensory bags, calming jars, playfoamputty, play dough, fidget toys, music, etc.)
  • Sparking Curiosity (Books, Magazines, activity books, riddles, 20 Questions, etc.)
  • Interactive Activities (games, group storytelling, Pass the Picture shared art activity, puppet play, Mad Libs, I Spy)
  • Fine Motor Activities (drawing/coloring, peel & stick, tearing paper, object transfer, lacing, & unwrapping)
  • Large Motor Movement (stretch breaks, dancing in our seats, freeze dance, Simon Says, road stop exercise, etc)
  • Snacks

Portable Organizers 

Portable organizers, such as this Multicolored Toy Organizing Bin, are an awesome way to keep smaller items organized, contained, and easily accessible. Super easy to grab and go, and you can throw just a few of the small individual containers in a purse, backpack, or diaper bag.

Snuggly Comfort Item

Most kids love a good plush friend or blanket to bring along on trips. A comfort object is often something soft, but I’ve known many kids that choose things like a favorite dinosaur figurine, toy train, or even a spatula! Whatever your kid chooses, a comfort object is a wonderful way to provide some soothing comfort during a hectic, stressful, and sometimes scary travel situation. Some kids have even ended up taking their beloved comfort objects with them to college! Grab your kiddo their own plush friend today for all future travel adventures.

Sensory Activities

Travel sensory activities are going to look quite a bit different from the elaborate sensory bins that many parents are familiar with. For travel sensory experiences, we need to think small, portable, and fairly quick and easy to clean. Also, the age of the child and how directly they will be supervised must be considered. I would not, for instance, advise turning an unsupervised one year old loose with putty in the backseat.
Sensory Activities stimulate or calm through the five senses. These activities involve auditory, tactile, olfactory, visual, or tasting experiences. Most children find sensory activities to be very engaging.

Sensory for Tiny Tots:

Sensory for Multiple Ages:

  • Auditory sensory experiences can involve listening to music or stories as well as making music. You can play music or stories for all to enjoy, or you can give your kiddos an individual listening experience with a Toniebox (don't forget some Tonies® Headphones: durable, kid-safe, & volume-limiting) or other device.

Children can also gain auditory input by making their own music. You can provide instruments for your children to rock out it with during a long drive. If you have older kids, you can provide craft supplies for them to create DIY instruments of their own.

  • Olfactory sensory experiences involve the sense of smell. An easy activity for this is to have your child close their eyes and smell different types of candy, food, spices, or essential oil dabbed on cotton balls and guess what they are smelling. You can also do a matching activity. Have them match a smell (in a jar or on a cotton ball) to a corresponding object (candy cane with peppermint, cinnamon stick with cinnamon, pine scent with a pine tree figurine from the Trees TOOB®, orange scent with the orange figurine from the Fruits and Vegetables TOOB®.
  • Tactile sensory experiences involve materials of various textures and malleability. A wonderful way to provide your child with some tactile input is with various types of play dough, Playfoam, Putty, etc. Plush items also provide wonderful tactile input, and can be very calming for most children.
  • Sensory bags are fabulous for tactile input. They are clear baggies (like Ziplock) that are partially filled with clear hair gel and small items (pom poms, beads, Good Luck Minis®, etc.) that can be moved around and manipulated (without poking a hole in the bag).
  • 1 bottle of clear hair gel
  • 1 gallon sized plastic baggy
  • Rubbing Alcohol - optional (to remove printed bag label)
  • Permanent Marker - optional (to draw circles or squares on the baggy as “targets”)
  • Several small objects (pom poms, colorful beads, Good Luck Minis®)
  1. Use rubbing alcohol to wipe off the printed label on the baggy (this is optional).
  2. Use a permanent marker to draw circles for “targets” on the baggy. This is also optional, but gives a more structured option if desired. The idea of the “targets” is to have a spot on the baggy that the child tries to move the small items into; such as different colored circles to target for small items of each color (red items go in red circle) or numbered circles (3 items go in the circle labeled with a 3).
  3. Squirt the entire content of hair gel bottle into the prepared plastic baggy.
  4. Add small items.
  5. Remove excess air from baggy.
  6. Seal baggy and tape closed with duct tape.
*For how to create a sensory bag, see the above instructions or check out our Sensory Bag Instagram Reel for a quick example


  • Visual sensory experiences can be achieved through games and activities that encourage visual searching, tracking, or discrimination. I Spy games are a wonderful way to provide visual stimulation and can be as simple as looking for items out the window. With a little more prep, you can play I SPY by utilizing small items (such as Good Luck Minis® or TOOB® figures) to make a display for play. To make an I Spy display, you would simply lay multiple figurines/objects on a tray or in a container for your child to look at. Next, you would call out items or cues for items for your child to “spy.” You could call out colors, beginning sounds, rhyming words, etc… for your child to find the corresponding figurine: “I spy something that rhymes with, starts with, is the color…”
Calming jars are another fantastic visual sensory tool. They are clear plastic bottles that are filled with a mix of clear glue, water, and small items (such as beads, pom poms, glitter, Good Luck Minis®, TOOBS®, confetti, etc) that can be turned in all directions to watch a gentle movement (think lava lamps). Check out how our DIY Ocean Sensory Jar Blog Post.


Sparking Curiosity

Humans are curious creatures and are drawn to novel items, experiences, and information. Tap into this natural tendency with something new. Books are invaluable for sparking curiosity. You can revel in new beautiful illustrations, be transported to different worlds, meet interesting characters, stimulate conversation, ponder ideas, and so much more in the pages of a book.  Activity books can also be of high interest and facilitate engagement. Additional ideas would include riddles, pointing out/stopping at interesting roadside sites (you could even have them write/draw about them), guessing games, etc.

Interactive Activities

Any type of interactive activity is wonderful on many levels. They are highly engaging, promote bonding, and often entertain the whole traveling group.
  • Games come in so many different formats from large board games to verbal games. Small portable games or verbal games are ideal for traveling. Games like I Spy or the Alphabet Game are easy and no prep. Cards or other small games can be easily put into a purse or carryon for on the go fun. Scroll through the fun games offered on to find some perfectly portable options.
  • Group Storytelling is an activity that involves taking turns adding on to a story. These often turn into wild tales full of hilarious adventure and zany characters! Whomever goes first gets to start the story. You can decide on a time limit or sentence amount for each turn. Take it up a notch by adding TOOB figurines for character or setting prompts for the story. For example, you can put the figurines into a hat to be drawn out for each turn. Whatever figurine is drawn must be worked into the ongoing story. Your TOOB figures can be part of a theme or be from wildly different TOOBS to up the fun. This was by far one of my own kids favorite travel or restaurant games. If you want to add in some academics, you can have someone, or each player, write down the story as it unfolds. 
  • Pass the Picture is similar to group storytelling, but you pass around a picture for each participant to add another element. Whomever goes first gets to start the drawing. You can decide on a time limit for each turn. Just like in the storytelling activity, the group picture is often crazy and funny! TOOB figurines can be used with this activity as well. You can draw out a figurine to be the subject of the picture to be sketched. Each participant can then draw out a different figurine to have one of its features added to the main character. In the end, you may end up with an Octopus that has wings, spikes, fish lips, and a furry tail. Safari Ltd. has some drawing supplies you can grab with your selected TOOB.
    • Puppet Play is a fun way to interact, sing, do a play, or have conversations. The beauty of using a puppet is that it often lowers inhibition and can engage even some of the most shy kids. Safari Ltd. has many fun puppet friends or exciting Snappers to choose from!
    • Sing Alongs  

    Fine Motor

    Fine motor skills are the small movements that involve the fingers and the hands. These skills are essential for supporting independence with dressing, feeding, eating, coloring, and writing. Fine motor activities build hand strength and precision. These activities often involve intense concentration, which promotes quiet engagement and calm...all things we desire on a long trip!

    • Drawing or Coloring is an easy option with minimal supplies needed. Grab some crayons, markers, paper, and/or coloring books.
    • Peel and Stick is always a favorite! Some peel and stick ideas include stickers, window clings, magnetic playsets, post it notes, masking tape, and small figurines to “trap” and rescue.
    • Tearing Paper sounds very messy, but it’s a big hit! To save your sanity, you can limit the amount of paper being given to tear up. I also always added in frequent “blitz cleaning” part way through. Letting kids use a portable dust buster (a must have in my car) is an added fun bonus! Old magazines are great for tearing activities because they are very colorful and fun to look through. Torn paper pieces can simply be put into a container or can be glued down on paper to create an abstract picture.
    • Transferring objects involves moving small objects from one spot to another. This can be into another container, counting chart, or even someone’s hand. The individual containers that are stored inside of the Multicolored Toy Organizing Bin would be ideal. Items can be moved by using tools such as: tongs, Jumbo Tweezers, Handy Scoopers, spoons, or fingers. Small transferrable objects can include items like Good Luck Minis, pom poms, snacks, small erasers, cotton balls, etc. The Muffin Tin Match Up is an object transfer set with a bonus counting element. The biggest thing to remember when choosing the small items are the how easy it is to transfer with the type of tool being used. You also, of course, need to consider the age of the child for choking concerns. 
    • Unwrap some fun is a simple way to build excitement while also occupying small fingers. Simply wrap small items in wrapping paper or tape for kids to unwrap or “rescue.”
    • Lacing activities are great for fine motor practice and concentration. The small lacing objects in this Lauri Primer Pak would work great for travel.
      • Puzzles may seem a bit risky during travel, but I have found great success by choosing puzzles with small piece counts and by putting the pieces into a tray. I would recommend puzzles under 50 pieces for travel.

        Large Motor Movement

        Let’s all be real…kids need to move! Most of us have been subjected to getting our seat back kicked by a restless little one on a plane. We can help curb that type of built up release by planning in some movement during the trip. Large motor activities do not have to involve getting up and running around. You can do in your seat movements such as: stretches, Simon Says (for example, “Simon Says reach your arms way up into the air”), dance parties (put on music and let everyone groove in their seats), etc. You can use animal TOOB figures to determine what type of movement to do (for example, if you have a bird, you can flap your arm like wings).
        If driving, consider stopping at rest areas to let your kids stretch their legs, throw a ball, play tag, or any other large movements to get them active and out in the fresh air. Take a fun outdoor toy, like this OgoDisk Max, to use during breaks. You may also consider investigating a few of the road side attractions that you’ll pass on your drive. Don't we all love stops like the World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn or Dinosaur World?!


        Pretty much the number one favorite travel activity is getting to choose and eat snacks. We have always done a special snack shopping run before trips. Whatever your family’s eating style may be, I’ve found that letting kids make some choices about their trip snacks goes a long way to increasing excitement and engagement.


        Most important tip of all…Have fun and enjoy your time together. No matter what travel may throw at you, try to enjoy the ride. It will be a roller coaster at times, but the memories will last forever. 

        Compiled List of Suggested Products:
        Take a moment to peruse the rest of the Safari Ltd. site for additional fun items and ideas on our other blogs!




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