Traveling Unplugged

By , July 18, 2007 1:21 pm

WE SURVIVED!!! Southwest Airlines will never be the same again. No, seriously, a four hour flight with an 18 month-old (in my opinion-the absolutely worst age for travel!) is never fun, but it could have been much worse.

Yes, she screeched, shrieked, whined and only slept for half an hour out of the four hour flight…but she didn’t actually cry. I felt like I ought to have offered to buy drinks for my neighbors, or perhaps I should have passed out ear plugs. But actually, I was the one who seemed stressed and bothered the most I think.

Pilot trick: when you have a screechy kind of child that you must take on an airplane, sit as close to the engine as possible since that is the noisiest part of the plane. Screechy child=bad, lots of ambient noise to help drown it out=good.

My two oldest kids were fabulous. I would take them around the world without batting an eyelash. Even while travelling, they remain unplugged. Many people nowadays wonder how it is possible to travel with children without hauling along a stash of electronics to rival NASA. Unplugged children don’t have portable DVD players and Gameboys, but there is plenty out there to keep them occupied, and you don’t even have to worry about fresh batteries! Your fellow travellers may actually want to thank you for unplugging your children on public transportation.

Now is the time of year when many family vacations happen. So, how do you travel and keep your kids entertained, yet unplugged?

My two oldest are now 5 and 6. They each pull their own little rolling suitcase packed with their activities, as well as a favorite stuffed animal or two. Note: I supervise the packing of the suitcase, or better yet, pack it for them when they are not there. This avoids us finding a suitcase full of rocks, scraps of paper, bits of string, and other “toys” that simply could not be left behind. I always try to include a few new “surprises.”

Here are some ideas that have worked for us:

An obvious choice. Try to pack lightweight, paperback books.

– A French knitter (easy for ages 5-6+ to do on their own – makes yarn “snakes” that can be coiled and sewn into various projects)
– Modeling clay (I squish one stick into a plastic Easter Egg which makes a great travel container)
– Wikki Stix (strings coated with wax, like candle wicks, can be bent into many different shapes)

Art Toys:
– Travel-sized erasable drawing board (Magna Doodle for example)

– Pocket Etch-A-Sketch
– Don’t forget the plain old pad of paper and crayons.

Travel Games:
– Are We There Yet

– Haba Story Telling Tin (children make up stories based on the picture cards they choose-very creative!)
– Also look for travel-sized editions of other favorite board games, there are many out there, you just have to search for them. Beware of games with too many small pieces to lose if you have young (or unreliable) children.

Magnetic Playsets:
– Melissa & Doug Magnetic Farm Hide & Seek
– Smethport Magnetic Playboards (some examples are below, but search for “Smethport” at Amazon toys to see all the possibilities).

Choose toys that are small, light, and don’t have a lot of pieces to get lost.
– Lacing block

– Zip-lock bag full of hotwheels cars
– Peace Ring
Piece of string or yarn (for Cat’s Cradle)

Creative Coloring Books:
I like to find coloring books that are not your typical stay within the lines type of activity.

– The Anti-Coloring Book series is wonderful with suggestions for all kinds of imaginative possibilities.
– The Taro Gomi books are also very original but have a lot of pages so may be too big to pack easily.
– Here are also a few other suggestions for coloring books featuring abstract patterns that can be colored in many, many different ways.

Wipe Clean Board Books:
Tip: Stash away an airline cocktail napkin or two for wiping these off.

Find-It Books:
– Our favorite is the Look-Alikes series of books by Joan Steiner. These feature amazing, realistic photos in which the objects are almost always something else (sidewalks made of crackers or wheels made of buttons, etc.). Kids (and grown-ups too) enjoy looking through these books over and over as there is always something new to notice. It is also a fun activity to say to kids “I see a penny” and have them find it. You will tire of that game before they do!
Of course there are also the well-known Where’s Waldo and I Spy books, but here are also some additional ones we like that are not so common:

Scholarly Pursuits:
Not fun for all kids, but my oldest loves this stuff!

– Workbooks
– Flash cards
– Brain Quest

Learn Some Games Yourself!:
If you are really desperate, buy a book such as
Car Games: 100 Games to Avoid “Are We There Yet?”. This book offers suggestions for over 100 fun games to play in the car, airplane, or even while camping or waiting in line for example (not all games rely on spotting license plates or signs). A fun book. Parents could learn a few of these games in order to provide timely distractions at critical moments!

As for travelling by air with 18 month-olds: my best piece of advice is grit your teeth and remember that you will never see any of those people again!

I wish you all happy unplugged travels!

PS. What works for you when your kids travel? Please let me know in your comments. I am always on the lookout for new ideas!

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8 Responses to “Traveling Unplugged”

  1. Andamom says:

    Everything you posted is great for kids that are of the 4-10 year old range. Unfortunately, earlier than that and older than that requires different sets of occupiers.

    When I drove alone with my daughter from Maryland to Louisiana when she was 4, my mother helped me wrap little presents that I gave my daughter each hour. She got a tiny snack on the off half hour. So, she was constantly content. We stopped once in Virginia overnight and drove straight from there to Louisiana — and on the way home did not stop. So, it worked out beautifully. I had a tape player at the time (it was ’98) and we sang throughout.

    Now, my daughter is 13. She brings her own stuff — workbooks, books, iPod, etc. I’m happiest when she interacts with us (detaches from the iPod) — but I know she really need space at her age. So, I allow some separate time.

    As you know, we’re going on a whirlwind family trip to Canada’s Maritime Provinces soon. I need to find appropriate things that I can bring for my 1-year-old so that he doesn’t pester us and his sister for the entire trip. I was thinking of some books, music CDs we can all sing to, and toys… Unfortunately, he eventually starts to “chuck” things and he then thinks it is game to have someone (generally his sister) pick them up. If you have any other thoughts for me — let me know though…

  2. CelticMommy says:

    Now that the trip is over, I’ll tell you how it worked for us. When Emerson was 18 months old, I was 3 months pregnant with our second wee one… and we chose to keep Em in our lap for the flight rather than get him his own seat! Oh boy!! We brought lots of finger foods, books, his tag blanket to keep him company, and the DVD player (he was plugged in at that time) with sign language DVDs. Since our flight was very early in the morning, we kept him in his PJs with an extra layer. He fell asleep as we took off and napped for 2+ hours. When he woke, we had snacks, read a book, walked the airplane aisles, did sign language, diaper change and repeat for 2 hours.

    On the way home, he was very wiggly at the beginning of the flight, so he ate his way up into the clouds, fell asleep for an hour and then woke up. Snacks, reading Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, playing where is baby’s belly button, walking the aisles, passing from mom to dad to mom to dad to mom…, diaper changing, watching the Emperor’s Penguin in-flight movie and another nap took the remaining four hours. He really didn’t cry much at all since we got out of our seats and walked him back and forth a lot.

    While we were visiting my mom, we took long car trips to Salem, MA and Maine without him making much of a peep… he just “read” his books, looked out the windowm, sipped milk, napped and babbled with me. He is still very patient and cooperative in the car!

    We’ll see what happens when we go to Bulgaria next year… they’ll be 2 and 4 by then and that flight is reallllyyy long…. a total of 19 hours from beginning to end I think!

    Oh! Now that they’re older, we also have a portable chalkboard (can send you the link) and a few others you already mentioned.

  3. Another A-lister says:

    I loved everything in your post. I have gone overboard at times with packing things for my little guy, most of which he ends up not paying any attention to. I have taken a portable dvd player in the past and found it really of little use. My little one is more interested in what is going on around him, especially the bathroom on an airplane. I don’t consider myself to be that plugged in, but the more we travel, the less plugged in I want my little one to be. Thanks for all of the travel suggestions. We hope you are all having fun on your trip!

  4. wishy the writer says:

    I’m so impressed that you can create such a useful and funny post while on VACATION! Go relax, girlfriend! (And find some relatives to foist your kids on so you can have some alone time!)

    On your subject, though…I always pack a little gift for my Silly Goose that she can open at the gate right before we get on the plane. I always include a disposable camera. She has taken more photos of airplane wings and seats than I care to think of, but it doesn’t matter. It’s *her* camera for the whole trip and she usually fires off a dozen shots right on the plane, but then miserly doles out the remaining few shots during the rest of the trip.

    A new set of colored pencils and a little “travel diary” in a little zippered pouch are always nice little gifts to give the Silly Goose in her travel gift pack. They make nice mementos later, then, too with the pictures she’s drawn and the photos she’s taken.

    As for an 18-month old…those zippered pouches work great for them, too! When my Silly Goose was 18 months old and we’d travel, I’d get her a new zippered pencil case or zippered little jewelry bag and I’d stuff it full of canning rings (thus, the whole toy cost about a dollar!) and she’d zip and unzip for the longest time and then reach her fat fingers in and pull out the rings and they could be bracelets or she could stack them or bang them and annoy all our seatmates! Good times!

    Have a wonderful time!


  5. girlcarew says:

    We just flew across the country yesterday w/ my 5yo and 2yo. The thing that kept my 2yo interested most of the time were (a) a bag of legos or (b) magnet shapes. I bought two packs of magnet shapes at the dollar store and I have a metal lid from a square Christmas cookie tin. Wonderful!

  6. Whymommy says:

    Great list! I really like these ideas and will use them! (I’m off to make a lacing block for my 2 yo right now!) For younger kids, I’ve found that the intensity of variety isn’t necessarily necessary. We insituted a different idea — a new toy for a new trip. For his first 2 years, he pretty much only got new toys on trips, so it was a big deal. A fisher-price airplane, a rolling corn popper … all these things easily take up several hours of investigation if they’re new. At least they did for us.

    We also do a lot of talking together about the experience and our surroundings.

    And getting juice on the plane has been the highlight of each trip.

    Car trips — are all about the “scoops,” “diggers,” cranes, and such. Loads of fun.

    Hope you’re having a great time!

  7. MC Milker says:

    Great ideas – this is a great topic. we also do the several gifts doled out over the hours on long plane and car trips. One thing we have always brought is small figures with which to tell stories – wooden and plastic animals, tiny people and little scenes. We also also pack a small bag with a few pipecleaners, a bit of cloth, a “jewel” or two and maybe assorted minatures for our stories.

  8. […] tried a few of your traveling with young toddlers tricks from the comments to my Traveling Unplugged post (thanks!), but alas, I had little success. She is an awful traveler. She did have ten minutes […]

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