Activity Bags

With the holidays either on us, or coming up fast, many families will no doubt be planning some kind of travel, whether it be by air or road. How to entertain kids on a long trip has always been a topic for much consideration. I know that the obvious answer these days is to invest in a in a cheap portable DVD player, but if you are looking for some other bits and pieces we have some suggestions for you.

It’s best if you can do a little preparation ahead of time by finding a bag or backpack and filling it with goodies which your kids can absorb themselves in during the trip. Even each activity only manages to entertain them for a few minutes (this is especially the case with little kids) it should at least break a boredom patch and stop that awful accompanying whining, fighting and grizzling.

Kiddley reader Aoiffe wrote in with her suggestions which she packs for her three year old:

“bubble wrap, manilla folders cut down to half size to stick stickers on (he’s not old enough to stick them in the “right” places in the sticker book by himself), etch-a-sketch, bath toys (minus the water) useful for games and smaller ones to chew on, and a towel per child (useful for blanket, cleaning up and generally annoying other backseat travelers with, and of course Playschool CDs and storytapes.”

You will need:
A fabric bag, strong plastic bag (for older kids only) or backpack per child
(a backpack is especially good if you are rushing through airports)
A Bottle of drinking water
Wipes (for hands and faces and spills)
A favourite soft toy

And some of the following from each age group:


(hopefully they will sleep a fair bit)
Finger puppet or hand puppet (for you to do the entertaining)
Board books (especially ones featuring babies faces)
unbreakable mirror

Unbreakable Mirror
Cellophane scrunched up and tied inside an orange net
Music CDs for car trips


Several small inexpensive new toys for novelty value such as plastic dinosaurs, small car, Small plastic or wooden dollhouse family etc
Finger puppets or hand puppets
Unbreakable Mirror
Magnifying glass
Notebook and crayons (thick unbreakable ones)
Audio books or tapes (libraries usually have a good selection)
Sing along music CDs
Magnetic play sets

Notebooks and crayons or washable markers
Picture books to look at alone
Audio books or tapes (either home made ones with accompanying books or bought or borrowed)

Lacing book

Threading cards (we have the Chicken Socks Amazing Lacing activity book and it’s great for travel — but you could easily make some of your own with some old greeting cards, glue, a hole punch and some shoe laces)
Magnifying glass
Sticker books and stickers
Sing along music CDs
Toy phone (one that can record and playback a little segment is especially great)

Activity books with puzzles and games


Magna doodle (great for playing games such as tic tac toe and so on)
Notebook and markers
Road diary for recording adventures or scrapbook
Stickers and tape to go along with the scrapbook
New paperbacks
A book of jokes
Print outs of grids for games of fences

Stamps and ink-pad
Road diary for recording adventures
New paperback
Mixed music tapes or CDs
Portable music player
Activity books
Address books and postcards or note paper

Kids Travel

Maybe a copy of Kids Travel: A Backseat Survival Guide which gets good reviews on Amazon.
Bird book
Travel games (including print outs of grids for games of fences)

Magic Tricks
Nail Tattoos
Road diary
Mixed music CDs or tapes
Portable music player
New paperback
Address books and postcards or note paper
Disposable camera or sticker camera
Travel games (dig out your old rubiks cube!)

I got a little stuck on ideas for 5-7 year olds… so if you have any suggestions for this age group or any of the other groups please leave them in comments — I will compile an extended list at a later date for our resources section (which does not exist as yet!) so your help will be greatly appreciated.

17 Responses to “Activity Bags”

  1. mar

    Deck of cards for anyone 4 or over. Even some 3 year olds can play Go Fish! I always have one of the mini set you get at the dollar store in my purse – they’re about 1″ x 2″, and easier for little hands to hold.

    For me, crayons and the car = bad news. Leave them in the sun, and it’s all over. However, the Twistable Crayons from Crayola don’t see to melt like regular ones. I keep these for just trips to restaurants, etc. – this way they’re still novel and interesting, not the same old ones we use every day. Otherwise it’s pencils for us.

    For our family – headlamps are indispensable. We are often driving in the evenings/nights – or just in winter, when it’s dark by 5 p.m. – and we still have 4 hours on the road. With the head lamps, they can still read, etc. w/o having to have the interior car lights on. A booklight also is good, but the headlamp works for coloring, card games, etc. Petzl makes some for about $20 –

    If you don’t want to go the headlamp route, and you’re traveling in the dark, glow sticks provide endless entertainment to the 4-8 yr old crowd!

    For 8 and over – maps of where we’re going, esp. when driving somewhere new. Good for their map reading skills, and they like to follow their progress. We have a Kids Road Atlas by Rand McNally – it has a few puzzles, etc. in it, plus info about each state – state bird, tree, flower, capitol, etc. My kids love to quiz me about it – and laugh when I get them all wrong!

    Also for the 8 and over crowd – word search books and the like.

    I also like audio books – you can borrow them from the library – I put them on my MP3 player, and the whole family can participate – readers and non-readers.

    I do keep separate toys/coloring books/activities just for either the car or general waiting (restaurants, doctors offices, etc.) – I think they enjoy them more because it’s not the same stuff they see every day – it’s a treat to use the special crayons, etc.

    Most of suggestions are geared to car travel – it’s what we do the most!

  2. Julie

    for car travel, I go to

    From there, I got the idea to bring a roll of aluminum foil. We make tiaras, jewelry, even a bowl and a bunch of tiny aluminum balls to fill it. Bring a box of baggies for holding/catching loose items and completed works of art.

    Also, at, there are printable road bingo games.

    String or yarn for string games.

  3. Aoife

    The headlamp idea is a good one for just general amusement and adventure. We have one from National Geographic shop that is dinosaur shaped (and roars like one if you press it) for about $15. It is the best present for pretty much any boy (and maybe the dinosaur interested girl) 3 and up.

  4. Emy

    I always have a mini magnadoodle in the car for my 2 year old. Its good for times when we have to wait somewhere. I draw a picture and he guesses what I drew. While driving he draws on it. He likes to use magnets because then he can cover more space.
    I always carry a book or two as well and small cars. If he’s still bored, I ask him questions about what he sees. He points out every tree, house and cloud along the way.

  5. MagFly

    Since my girl was almost three we always include a camera. She has taken a lot of great holiday pictures. Her brother (2,5) will get one this summer.

  6. Teresa

    We have a few games we like to play with our 6 year old girl on car trips – many of which our 4yo boy can join in with – even if he doesn’t get it quite right. “I spy” is always good value, then there’s the shop game – “I went to the shop and I bought an…. apple, banana (if feeling extravagant:), some carrots etc.” following the alphabet and taking a turn to add to the list.

    Then our all time favourite, that I played as a child and have since converted my husband and daughter to is the ‘alphabet’ game. Basically you have to look for all the letters of the alpahbet from signs, number plates etc. and see who can be the first to get to ‘z’. It’s got us through many a tiresome journey. Ideal for the 1/2 hour drive into town where we all look out for the ‘Fitzroy swimming pool’ for our final z.

  7. Laurie

    I’ve been making travel bags for my 10 year old twin niece and nephew since they were 3 years old. They drive from Ohio to Vermont every summer around their birthday and I wrap 11 small presents for them, one for each hour of driving. This was especially great (says their mother) when they were small as it kept them occupied the entire trip and gave them something to look forward to. Some of things I’ve included over the years were:

    SILLY PUTTY – not recommended for small children, unless you can supervise them. We had a hair incident.

    TRAVEL GAMES AND PUZZLES – Magnetic Checkers, Connect Four, Hi-Q, The Cracker Barrel Peg Game (available at Cracker Barrel restaurants), travel Bingo, license plate game, Uno card game, Rubik’s Cube, Rubik’s Tangle, Colorforms, Magnetic Doodle Balls, Wooly Willy, Flip-A-Fish.

    PLAYMOBIL – You can buy a box of just one or two Playmobil people. I got a lady that came with a grocery cart and a plant for another 4 year old niece on a long airplane ride and she was busy for hours putting the plant in and out of the cart and pushing it around.

    LEGO – My nephew particularly loves the X-Pod sets because you can make 2 or 3 things with one set. Pack a Ziploc bag for the pieces after they open it.

    ART SUPPLIES – Crayons, markers, The Anti-Coloring Book (available on Amazon), Ed Emberley drawing books, pads of drawing paper. I think they make a travel Spirograph, too.

    WORD GAMES – You can get big books of puzzles and mazes. I also like Yes And Know Invisible Ink books (Amazon) and Mad Libs.

    BOOKS, MAGAZINES, AND COMIC BOOKS – They love Cricket magazine, Goosebumps books, Asterix, and Tin Tin.

    BOOKS ON CD AND TAPE – They listen to the Harry Potter series over and over. I also started making them mix CDs.

    SMALL TOYS – Hot Wheels cars, Polly Pocket dolls, small plastic animals, finger puppets, Transformers robots, tiny baby dolls.

    DISPOSABLE CAMERA – I got them waterproof ones this year to use at the lake, but another fun activity is to have a car scavenger hunt: give them a list of things to look for and take pictures of while they’re in the car – police cars, mountains, horses, cows, water towers – look at Travel Bingo for ideas.

    SUGAR – Since I don’t have to be in the car with them, sometimes I’ll give them a Ring Pop, Lifesavers, Pez, or gum.

  8. Emily

    Thanks for this list! I’ll try this out for our summer trip.

    Great site!

  9. Crystal

    Wow! Getting together activity bags for my kiddos has been on my mind for a week now. We are about to embark upon a cross county trip with them. Thank SO much for the great ideas! I love this site!!

  10. Katie

    A word of caution for the magnifying glass. My 5 year old daughter started a small fire with one in the back seat of our car!

  11. Jenna

    We’re travelling home for a big anniversary party this weekend and this is a big help for us. I’m sure Nicholas won’t be interested in vow renewals or cake so, I’ll be sure to have packed some of these things.

    And yes, we always have our camera, too. 🙂

  12. Baby Cheapskate

    Love it!
    Little Baby Cheapskate is taking his first plane ride this summer. Thanks for the oh-so-timely post!

  13. jenney

    We took our (then five) daughters on a trans-America drive two years ago. We (now with six daughters) also drive two hours to church every weekend and just got home Sunday from a week-long drive to Yosemite National Park. Here are some things that worked for us:

    The Klutz Kids Travel books were a huge hit with the older two (age 9 and 6) but the 6 yo was an excellent reader. If your child isn’t a great reader, then the book might not be as fun for him/her. My current six year old can’t read at all really and she wouldn’t enjoy the book very much. We bought a few other travel activity books, but they were completely neglected as the girls kept going back to the Klutz ones.

    My then-four year old had a magnetic doll with dress up clothes to stick on it. It was more sturdy than paper dolls, and since the stuff was all magnetic, it would stick to the board it came with and the pieces didn’t get lost. Ours was by Smethport and they have other magnetic activity sets, as well, not just dolls and not just dress up princesses!

    The girls also liked the hidden pictures books from Highlights. If you have a non-reader, then make sure they have the pictures of the thing you’re supposed to find. Some of the Highlights books have just the words, like “candle” and then you need a reader in the car to tell the child what it is.

    We also like to play Rubberneckers and Rubberneckers Jr. (both available at Amazon). They are cards for different things you might see on the road with a point value for each. We really got stuck on a few, like trying to find a skyscraper when we were in Wyoming or a barn in Washington DC, but each person has several cards, so it isn’t a big deal.

    My husband rips a cd for every trip we go on of songs to sing as a family and we enjoy a lot of drives just singing along. Favorites for the whole family include Maria Muldaur (Swingin’ in the Rain), Silly Songs with Larry (from Veggie Tales. We don’t know the videos at all, but the songs are fun) and anything by Louis Armstrong.

    At home we learn different parts to songs and sing those in the car, too. That takes some practice but it is a lot of fun to hear little girls singing harmony!

    Just writing this makes me want to go on another road trip! Maybe after all the laundry is done from the last one…

  14. Matt

    What a fantastic collection of suggestions to keep kids happy on long trips from so many different parents. We have a few articles on this topic at Minti but would love to see some of this ideas being shared with our member base there. Hope some of you will stop by and share your ideas on our parent-to-parent advice-opedia website 🙂

    Love your content Kiddley

  15. Nanette

    For older primary school age children you can use road maps to make up on the spot quizzes which helps with maths, and conceptualising space and time. How far is it to where we are going? If we made a detour to town X how many kilometers would that add to the journey, how much more time if our average speed is Y? And ask them to work out when you’ll need to fill up the tank next and if it cost as much as the last town, how much will that cost? And if they are going to have a drink how much will the bill be? You don’t have to check their answers, the fun is in the figuring it out, or you can get them to check each others. Or if they get the bill within $2.00 they get the drink. Make up a journey of 350-360 kilometers from the next town – where could we get to in any direction?
    With pen and paper they can create themed crossword puzzles for each other and non-driving adults to do.
    Car numberplates can be the source of silly poems or stories about the owner for which everyone takes turns or work together to add words; “Harry in his hot Honda is hooning over to Hilda’s to help her hump hay”.

Comments are closed.