20 easy travel activities to keep kids happy on an airplane

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I remember feeling REALLY scared the first time I took my daughter on a plane. She was about 11 months old at the time, and I had stupidly suggested we go and visit my parents for a week while my husband was away at a conference. It seemed like a great idea, but the week before we were due to fly, I almost cancelled the trip.

I just didn’t think I could do it.

But then my mother reminded me that, when she was my age, she flew all over the world with my sister and me without any help from my dad, and that if she could get us through this horrible experience in a Malaysian public bathroom, I could handle a 4-hour flight to the US with an 11-month-old.

Isn’t she sweet and sympathetic??!

So I put on my big girl underpants and did the trip, and you know what? It was a total life changer for me. Not only did it give me more confidence as a mom, but it also made me realize how FUN it can be to travel with kids.

Unless they are throwing a temper tantrum at 30,000 feet.

That kind of sucks.

The only problem is that, as my daughter gets older (she turned 3 in March), stickers and iPads and DVD players don’t interest her for very long anymore, so I am always on the lookout for new and EASY travel activities to keep her happy. So I spend a lot of time on Pinterest, and when I see something I like, I bookmark the page so I can come back to it before we travel.


And since we just got back from visiting my parents a couple of weeks ago, and I know a lot of you will be traveling over the coming months, I decided to share my latest list with you.

But before I do that, I wanted to tell you about a few fabulous travel activity books I purchased for our last family vacation. Up until that trip, my daughter was too young to sit still and enjoy anything these types of books have to offer, but they were such a success, I simply have to share them with all of you. I think I bought about 8 books in total (I’m an overachiever), but the ones we enjoyed the most were The Everything Kids’ Travel Activity Book (lots of great puzzles, activities, quizzes, and games), Super Silly Mad Libs Junior (my daughter’s still a bit young, so we really had to help her with these, but she laughed and laughed at the silly things we put together!), and The Everything Kids’ Hidden Pictures Book. (I decided Where’s Waldo was a bit too advanced, and this ended up being a fabulous purchase!).

And now, for those travel activities…

1. Buy a bunch of toys from the dollar store, wrap them in colorful wrapping paper, and hand one over to your child every 30-60 minutes. Works like a charm!

2. Make some velcro craft sticks.

3. Grab some Monopoly money, expired gift cards, and fake coins and make a busy wallet.

4. Print off and laminate these awesome play doh printables!

5. Make a few of these felt busy bags.

6. Book your child a window seat and stock up on some gel window clings so she can decorate to her heart’s content . You can buy these at most dollar stores, and I’ve seen them at Walmart and Target as well.

7. Make an activity binder to take with you!

8. Get out the felt and make this Mr. Potato Head activity mat.

9. To keep kids occupied as you’re checking in for your flight and struggling through airport security and immigration, make up some of these Learning Letters on the Go Plates. You can even make one specific to airports to really keep them engaged!

10. Make a rainbow rice eye spy bottle.

11. Dig out an old (plastic) spice container, cut down some pipe cleaners, and make this easy (and awesome!) fine motor activity!

12. Get out an old pool noodle and make this easy pool noodle lacing activity. It may be bulky for your carry-on, but if it keeps your kids occupied, why not, right?

13. Make some craft stick puzzles!

14. Find some felt and a large button and make this button snake. By using different colors of felt, and different shapes, you can easily turn this into more than just a button tutorial for your kids!

15. Make a few busy bags to take with you. There are HEAPS of ideas on Pinterest, but I particularly like these busy bags (especially the number wheel!) as you can play with them together for some good one-on-one time when you’re trying to avoid a meltdown.

16. Make your own tic tac toe game!

17. Bring some tin foil and let your kids make their own creations!

18. Make your own sponge blocks. They are light weight and will easily stack up on an airplane tray!

19. Get out the markers and make “barf bag puppets”. I saw a family doing this once when I was in my 20s and thought, “why would you tempt fate?”, but now that I’m a mom, I’m about 100% certain I will one day be scribbling on barf bags as well. And you bet your life that will be the flight my daughter gets sick and I won’t have anything to catch it in…

20. Get creative with bubble wrap!

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Gwen is a 40-something freelance writer and social media consultant who has an unhealthy love for makeup, hair, and fashion. She lives with her husband and 9-year-old daughter in Toronto, Canada and hopes to move to a warmer climate someday. Preferably tomorrow.