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Toronto, Canada

312 Adelaide Street West, Suite 301
Toronto, Ontario - M5V 1R2
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Over the river and through the woods (tips for holiday season travel with kids)

Written by Jessi McAlpine

For many families, the upcoming holiday season means lots of travel to see friends and relatives. Whether you’re traveling by car, plane, or train, you’re probably starting to get nervous and wondering how the heck you’re going to entertain your child in a confined space for that many hours! You are not alone, friends. Parents all across the country are thinking the same thing.

Last spring, our family went on a 10+ hour road trip to visit friends in the U.S. Goose had just turned two and this was to be his first really long car ride. Up until this point his longest trips had been to the cottage about 3 hours away. I had no idea how I was going to entertain him in the back seat for hours on end, so I did what many a modern mama has done and hit up Pinterest for some ideas.


First up I took him shopping for a special travel backpack. I let him pick out a special bag for the car. He chose the adorable elephant zoo pack from Skip Hop. Then it was time for me to get to work filling it with fun activities and surprises to pull out along the way.

Pinterest told me I should make a whole bunch of busy bags to entertain my toddler in the car, so I gathered my supplies and got crafty. I didn’t want to spend too much money on this, so I chose busy bag ideas that I could make with things I had around the house already.

button snake

I had ribbon, buttons and some felt leftover from birthday party decorations so I made a button snake. Goose loved it. It not only entertained him on that road trip but it is still a go-to car toy and he’s gotten really good at buttoning it.

colour game

If you’re anything like me, you have tons of paint chips floating around or sitting in a junk drawer somewhere. So my next pinterest project attempt had me putting these to good use: just add clothespins, scissors, and glue I had a colour matching game for Goose. I thought it was super cool but this was less of a hit with him and he ended up pulling a lot of the paint chip pieces off of the clothespins. So consider this a #pinterestfail for me.

There so many more awesome “busy bag” ideas on Pinterest (go search and you’ll see) but after accomplishing these two projects (while home taking care of Goose full time and working from home part time during his naps), I was all crafted out! Goose and I went to the local library for some new picture books, and the dollar store for some stickers, a sticker book, new crayons, and a colouring book and a cool little toy car to pull out as a surprise during the trip. We also made stops at our local toy store and at Target to pick up a couple more small toys and this awesome magnetic drawing board. That drawing board is also an ongoing hit and now comes on cottage trips and trips to the grandparents’ houses with us.

With the backpack now overflowing with activities, I turned my attention to food. I packed all of Goose’s favourite snacks. Granola bars, those squeeze pouches of puree that he still loves even though he’s not really a baby anymore, fruit, crackers, apple chips, a bag full of those little tiny boxes of raisins and a lunch of bagels and cream cheese for the whole family to eat at a rest stop picnic table.

I also made sure that I had one last thing in my bag of tricks to pull out if things got dire: my iPad. Pre-loaded with an entire season of Peppa Pig. Goose didn’t and still doesn’t get a lot of screentime (everything in moderation) but I knew we needed to have this as backup, just in case. You know what? We made it to hour nine before we needed to pull out the iPad because Goose didn’t nap (he’s a weird kid that won’t sleep in the car) and the tears were about to start and we hit traffic on our way into our destination city (seriously, Central PA, who knew you had so much traffic?). Overall, Goose rocked this car ride and I’d like to believe I did too because of all of the prep I put into it.

So dear parents, don’t despair. With a little bit of preparation and some strategic packing, you can go into this season of holiday travel with confidence. And if your kid is that one screaming on the plane even though you’ve done everything you possibly can to prepare? Don’t stress. We’ve all been there. This too shall pass, and soon you can hand that screaming child over to Grandma to entertain for a few days.

Other awesome travel tips from the parents here at PLN:

  • window stickers for airplane windows and trays
  • plan for lots rest stops
  • special snack treats that they don’t normally get (Cheezies!)
  • My Quiet Book (an adorable felt book with interactive pages)
  • colour-with-water books
  • for older kids: a BINGO board where they can mark off things they see on the way

Where are you planning to travel this holiday season? What do you pack in your bag of tricks for travel with your kids? Let us know in the comments!


header photo credit: jencu via photopin

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.