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16 Technology-Free Activities to Keep Traveling Kids Busy

When we visited the Sahara Desert in February I knew that my kids technology devices (Kindle, Nintendo DS, and my iPhone) were not going to hold their charge the entire trip. I’m somewhat ashamed to admit my youngest son is addicted to technology. It’s something we’re trying to work on and it’s hard! The kids knew we were going, they knew how much driving was involved , and how long we would be gone.

As always, I allow them to pack their own bags. I knew the little one was going to rely on his Kindle and I fretted a little wondering just how bad his meltdown would be when the power went off. I don’t advise this. Even though it really was refreshing to not be on the grid towards the end frustration and boredom began to set in.  

Instead, prepare yourself and your kids for their technology free reality. I asked some of the experienced family travel blogger community to share their tips and ideas for technology free travel activities and here’s what they had to say. There’s really way more than 16 ideas – something for everyone!

16 Technology Free Activities to Keep Traveling Kids Busy

Deanna of Mommy GAGA My kids are 3 and 6, so I always visit the dollar store and grab a few crayons, notepads, and random trinkets that they’d go for.  Also, goldfish. Plenty of goldfish.

Debbie of Frisco Kids has some great real world advice for flying in general.  Don’t miss her section on keeping kids busy. “While the standard goody bag of toys is helpful, parents ignore the hidden treasures already on the plane: barf bags, laminated airline safety cards, in-flight shopping magazines (with pictures of kids and toys), in-flight snack packets (at least the free ones on Southwest). They have texture, noise and don’t hurt if thrown.

Some more tips for keeping kids busy on planes? Jessie from Wandering Educators offers some great advice. My favorite – never underestimate your own imagination! We’ve spent hours (literally) playing a made up game of “Guess the Animal” where we take turns describing an animal and then guessing what it is. My kids love animals so it works, but you could change it to be anything you wanted.  Jessie’s game? “Be creative – on one trip, we spent at least an hour laughing at a game I made up – what can fit in my tiny pocket? My tshirt had a very tiny pocket on it, and we “filled” it with the craziest things in our minds (3 salad shrimp? one oak leaf, folded strategically? one-third of a kiwi?).

Jenna from This is My Happiness suggests portable games like these Melissa & Doug’s portable games, and favorite books. “For younger ones, new books with flaps. For the older one, the Magic Treehouse Books are amazing! They are small and keep my son entertained for hours (but at age 6, I have to read them to him. Age 7+ they can probably read them alone).

These simple ideas from Tamara of We 3 Travel are a great way to get kids to do some educational work on the road! “I put together a travel workbook with various worksheets for school work and destination related info. To provide a little motivation, she earns souvenir money by completing her workbook. We also like to bring along a deck of cards and either Uno or Skip Bo.” Uno holds a special place in my heart. On our Sahara adventure K got in on a game with a Mallorcan family – there were three languages at play and the game was still enjoyed! 

If you want to create a few activities ahead of time Karen of Desert Chica Ramblings has directions on her site of how to make Velcro Craft Sticks that would keep a toddler happy for hours and a Kids Travel Activity Tray that is perfect for road trips. I’m saving those ideas for our road trip next week!

When my boys were little I always carried small toys in my purse. Liz of Travelogged makes a similar suggestion, “my son is 3, and I like to have a little car, truck or train with me at all times. Can drive it across the airplane tray or restaurant placemat. Just seeing some wheels seems to diffuse most situations!

Allison of Tips for Family Trips provides her own list of ten screen-free activity ideas for preschool ages and up.

Another simple card game for kids of all ages? Julie of Road Trips for Families suggests Would You Rather. It’s available with a few different themes and while it might not be good for really little kids, most ages can easily play.

Dana of Find and Go Seek shared this post about their family “mandatory unplug” on one vacation a year.  “We bring books (no kindles), small versions of games, a deck of cards and art supplies. We are about to leave for 9 unplugged days on Eleuthera with our now 12 & 15 year olds and I can’t wait!” The older kids get the more important I think it is to unplug – great ideas Dana!

Tonya of the Traveling Praters is a travel veteran, having spent many years on the road with her three kids. She shares seven ways to occupy kids on the road– my favorite? Talk to them and sleep! I’m so happy my boys have become very good road sleepers.

Need more inspiration? Shannon shares on Traveling Mom some more games and ideas to pass time on (or off) the road.

Gabi of The Nomadic Family shared her ideas. Simplicity friends- there’s nothing like an empty notebook! “My kids have loved travelling for years with play dough, word puzzle and crossword puzzle like books, a handful of small plastic toys in a ziplock bag, and of course, colors and coloring book or a blank book. Now they are into reading too so that goes well too.

I think it’s worth reinforcing the idea that being cornered on a mode of transportation with no technology is a good time to get some “work” done – if even in small doses. Rachael of Nate and Rachael does just this! “For my toddlers: plane rides are the time when we pull out the Tot School worksheets. Activity sheets + plastic page protectors + dry erase crayons are fun for a bit.

Snacks! Maybe the single best tool for parents dealing with kids in meltdown mode. Stephanie of Metropolitan Mama offers this advice, “For road trips, our family of five (kids are 7, 4, and 1) enjoys listening to audio books, munching on snacks, playing “I Spy.

Last, and maybe the most resourceful ideas are from Suitcases and Sippy Cups. What happens when you’re leaving in a matter of hours and it’s time to find things to keep the kids busy? Use what you’ve already got around the house of course! Seriously, give my kids each a mini flashlight and they’ll be content for hours.

Your turn! What keeps your kids technology free and busy on the road?

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Friday 7th of November 2014

Thanks for including Tips for Family Trips in this post! I've enjoyed picking up some fresh ideas as well. Pinning for my own future reference.

Carrie Groneman

Friday 14th of March 2014

Stopping by from Daily Blog Boost and I am SO GLAD I did!!! Great collection, thank you. Carrie, A Mother's Shadow

Bronwyn Joy

Friday 14th of March 2014

I have a little tin box I bought at a shop called "Fifty Ways To Keep Kids Entertained" - all tech-free. It ranges from riddles to word games to simple toy-less play needing only a patch of grass. Each idea is printed on a little card. I carry the box with me in my handbag at all times! It would be easy to make up your own box - leafing through and picking a card is half the fun for the kids.


Thursday 13th of March 2014

These are great ideas- and not just for kids! I think I'll try that animal game next time I'm on a road trip with my friends! Really like how you asked different bloggers to contribute their tips. Looking forward to more articles!