Last-minute Travel Games for Kids

Child in a car seat

If you don’t have a quiet book, and there isn’t time to sew a homemade bingo game or buy a nice travel toy before you head out onto the road, try a few of these quick-fix car games to keep your child engaged and happy through a long Labour Day drive.


Licence Plate Hunt

It’s a classic. Games involving license plates are an obvious favorite when you are driving with children. The way to play depends on your child’s age and ability. Before a long trip, I went to a school supply store and bought a large stack of black-outline maps. When the children saw a license plate, they had to be able to read the state name then figure out where it was on the map. The goal was to fill in the whole map.

NOTE: To make writing and drawing easier in the car, we grab a serving tray for each child to give them a hard surface. Trays store easily under the seat or next to a child, so they won’t add bulk.


Are We There Yet?

On the long trip when I had 50 blank maps, I came up with all sorts of map games and projects. We were driving from one side of the country to the other. Every day, I had the kids start out with the same map and draw in a line showing our progress. Your map could be as large or as small as you like, depending on your trip. You can even draw your own map that shows you going over a river and through the woods to Grandma’s house. When you get to the river, mark the path that far. Once you reach the woods, keep marking your progress.


Rainbow of Cars

For a younger child who can’t yet read province or state names, you can play a similar scavenger hunt game by starting with a blank color wheel and a pack of crayons. When your child sees a red car, fill in the red section of the wheel, and so on.


Color Switch Drawing

While you have the crayons out, try a game of Color Switch. Ask your child to draw a house (or a lion or a scene of fall leaves), but they can only use a crayon the same color as the car in front of you. For a faster-paced version, they must use the color of the car next to you. Those cars change frequently, so you could find that they are switching colors every few seconds.


Hi, Cow!

For an easy game that encourages everyone to look out the window, try Hi, Cow! Every time your child sees a cow, they could eat a peanut (or a wasabi pea, in my children’s case) or put a penny in a jar to save for a souvenir. It’s a flexible game, far less about what happens inside the car than about seeing what is outside of the car.


Name that Tune

I play 80s songs from my iPod, and we quiz our children on the titles and bands. Some things are important to know. Everyone in the family could also play this from the radio, but someone has to have a fairly comprehensive knowledge of popular songs. If you already sing a lot of songs together, you could sing the songs rather than using the radio or a music player.


Sing Off

My extended family plays a game at holiday parties where we divide into teams and each team sings a Christmas song then the next and the next until a team can’t think of any more Christmas songs and they drop out. To adapt this game for the car and for a young child, have them sing any song they remember. Everyone can join in and sing. Then ask the next person to sing a song and go around until no one can think of more songs—or until you arrive without your child really noticing the trip.


Rest Stop Olympics

Young children can get especially restless on a long drive. Did you children watch the Olympics last month? A game of Rest Stop Olympics can keep them focused on the next leg of the trip as well as giving them the physical activity they need. The event at one rest stop might be A Timed Tree Running. This was one of my kids’ favorite games at the park. They run to a tree, ane I time them. Simple. The stop after that could be a 20 Cartwheel Marathon or Roll Down the Hill Like a Sausage. If you tell them in advance what the event will be, they can train in the car. This is a fun way to add some physical activity when you have a day of sitting a lot.


Puppet Show

For a very small child, give them a puppet show, or have them give you a puppet show. Use seats as stages and make a show of any story


Endless Stories

My family loves telling stories. My husband started before the children even remember telling them adventure stories starring themselves. He always added heroic versions of recent activities. After they went digging for rocks, for example, their adventure heroes had to cross an ocean and fight pirates to get to a rock quarry, then they had to figure out how to get back home. They had read Odysseus, so every story became a heroic adventure. My children, now teens, still tell one another stories. They call them Option Stories, and they have several accounts (storylines) going at once: one in Avatar (The Last Airbender) world, one on a desert island, one as a Greek god, and so on. The teller frequently comes to a point when the listener has to make a choice: will you take the plane or fly, will you go right or left, will you where the cloak of invisibility or the wings. You could do a short, one-trip-long version of these stories, but part of the reason they are so important to my children is the fact that it is all the same decade-long story. It’s one continuing adventure. So, if you start a story, you may be committing to it long-term.

You don’t need to rush out and buy new toys or games for your car trip. Grab some paper and crayons, a few puppets, and you are ready to make your own games, even when you have to sit in the car for hours.

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Traveling with Cloth Diapers

Baby packing a suitcase

Real Diaper Week
Real Simple. Real Diapers.

Sometimes, it is easier to face an unfamiliar situation with confidence just knowing that others have been there before and have done just fine. Traveling with cloth diapers may sound intimidating—unless you have done it. Once you hear the stories of other parents who have used cloth diapers while on vacation or in other travel situations, you will realize that it just takes a little bit of extra preparation, then it takes very little fuss while you are away. The key is organization.

I’ve done it. I travelled overseas with two in cloth diapers. I didn’t worry too much about it. I didn’t wonder if I could. I just packed all of my best in-law-ready diapers and got on a plane with two small children. And, it worked just fine. I washed diapers first thing every morning, which was a lot more often than usual for us. Daily washing was perfect because I always knew which day to wash, since it was everyday, and I didn’t have to pack a whole suitcase of diapers. I had 12 diapers for a baby and for a toddler wearing only nighttime diapers. I had towels and t-shirts for backup (though I didn’t use them). I’ve also cloth diapered my children when travelling by car, with a 5-gallon bucket in the trunk swishing the diapers around as we went along. When I travelling with babies, I just looked at each situation and asked how best to fit cloth diapers into the trip.

Whether you are going camping, flying, driving, and heading off to a conference, you can take your cloth diapers with you. One of my favorite resources from the Real Diaper Association is their collection of parents’ tips for using diapers while travelling. I love this because it isn’t someone expertly distilling the lowest common denominator from all available information. These tips are from real parents talking about how they made it work for them.

If you are planning travel, make a plan to take diapers with you. Look at the resources you will have available, make a plan, and set off on your cloth diaper adventure.

Real Diaper Association is a nonprofit charity that trains grassroots cloth diaper educators. They are the organizers of Real Diaper Week and of the Great Cloth Diaper Change this Saturday. To celebrate Real Diaper Week, we are posting about cloth diapers all week. Parents at 262 Great Cloth Diaper Change events around the world will change their babies’ cloth diapers on Saturday at the same time in order to break the world record for the most simultaneous diaper changes. bynature.ca and NaturalNutrition.ca will be co-hosting a fun cloth diaper event in Orillia for up 50 babies and their parents.

Real Diaper Week

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Vacation Toy Strategies

Child with Soft Toy

When you are going on vacation or travelling for the holidays, you need a strategy to bring along enough toys for a small child without having to pack a whole suitcase for every toy your child has touched within the past year.

We have travelled overseas a lot with our children, and we had to figure out over time what worked well for us. Each child’s needs can be different, so be sure that you are sensitive to what your child will experience on vacation and how best to balance the comfort of familiar toys with the excitement of travel and new experiences. As your children get older they are better able to take what comes on a trip, but they still need a few comfort items. As we get ready for a month-long trip over the holidays, we’ve started talking about what we need to take with us.

These are a few of the ways we have kept the balance of toys under control as we travel.


Take Comfort Toys

Each of my children has gone through stages of needing particular toys, pillows, blankets, and books with them. The soothing effect of having these is worth the space it takes to pack them. If your child talks, you might ask, “Which toys do you need to have with you at grandma’s house?” If this results in two important toys, perfect. If you have 21 stuffed animals, board games, and giant pillows lined up, work to narrow the choice down to a few. The younger a child, the higher stimulation an unfamiliar place might bring on. Familiar comfort toys encourage some down time to recover before heading back into the adventure.


Take Creative, Quiet Toys

Whether you will be travelling by public transport or in your own car is important in determining what kind of toys you need. Dings and beeps and clickity-clacks don’t work so well on a plane, when other passengers are already looking sideways at you, wondering if your child is going to disturb them. Quiet toys that hold the attention work well on the plane. This might mean cloth books, drawing materials, fuzzy felt story scenes with movable characters, finger puppets, or other small, soft toys that encourage long periods of play but won’t create more noise if they are banged on a tray. If you are driving, the noise level depends on what the other passengers can handle. A noisy, singalong car trip certainly has its appeal.


Play with Daddy’s Old Toys

Whether you are stopping in with the grandparents for an extended stay or just for Thanksgiving weekend, you children will likely be interested to know what you played with when you were their age. Of course, this only works if your parents haven’t cleared out those old toys years ago. In my husband’s family, they have generation after generation of toys still out, from Dobbin the mid-19th century rocking horse (whom all grandchildren ride) to bagatelle, a pinball game from the 1920s, and Granny’s own dolls from the 1940s. If you are travelling home for the holidays, ask your parents or parents-in-law to gather a few old toys that your children might be interested in. It’s great fun to watch as your children realize you really were their age long, long ago.


Encourage exploration

You don’t always want your child to be focused down on a toy. Encourage looking around, watching people, taking in the scenery, even just looking at license plates. Not every moment has to include toys for entertainment. At Granny and Grandpa’s house, my kids create a whole new world of games in the huge garden, and they spend time talking, reading, and exploring with their grandparents. We don’t want to recreate home on vacation, but we do want to have a few familiar toys to give a child an anchor during the adventure of travel.

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Babywearing for Air Travel

Mother with baby in baby carrier

If you are preparing for airport travel over the holidays, consider wearing your baby rather than pushing a stroller. It is much easier to move through a crowd, and your baby will likely be happier up near the faces in the crowd rather than surrounded by a sea of legs.

Very young children might be bothered by the busy-ness and crowds at the airport. Babywearing gives your child a place to tuck into a familiar space and hide against you. Or, for a more adventurous child, babywearing gives your baby a good vantage point to see all of the excitement.


Choose a carrier that is very easy to get on and off.
You may need to remove it at security and carry your baby through in your arms. Some parents find that they are allowed to wear an all-cloth carrier (like a mei tai), but you will certainly have to remove a ring sling because of the metal rings. Be prepared just in case.

Choose a carrier that is comfortable. If you have to stand for a long period of time or if you plan to wear the carrier on a long flight, you will be glad you considered comfort. I wore a ring sling on every flight with a baby, and it was very easy to nurse or get up without too much fuss.

Front carry or back carry? You might find back carry easier as you check in or claim bags, but a front carrier will make it easy to just scoot into your seat if you are flying with your baby on your lap. A baby carrier that makes either easy is a good choice for air travel.

Greet the flight attendant. I think I’ve already told the story of me getting hassled for holding my baby in a sling on my lap on an Air Canada cattle car from Toronto to London. If you are going to have your baby on your lap, my advice is to board early and make sure the flight attendant sees your carrier and knows how you are going to use it. It’s better than having them threaten to turn around because you are a breastfeeding, babywearing threat to the flight. (I got to have a chat with the pilot while I defiantly breastfed. They didn’t turn around.) I understand that most flight attendants are better informed about breastfeeding on a plane now, especially to relieve ear pressure during take off, but just prepare yourself to calmly explain your carrier to avoid an incident.

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Using Cloth Diapers on a Plane

Airplane flying

I hear parents afraid of flying with cloth diapers. They’re only little pieces of cloth—nothing to be afraid of. Whether you are going to wash your own diapers once you arrive at your destination or use a diaper service while you are there, you really can do it!

If you can camp with cloth diapers, you can fly with cloth diapers. No problem. Just plan for the tight space in your bag and the tight space for changing diapers. You and your baby will be clean and happy when you arrive.


Essentials for Flying with Cloth Diapers

Wet Bag

Don’t choose just any old bag or a plastic grocery bag. You need a wet bag with sealed seams because this is going in your carry-on luggage with all of your purse and the novel you never quite get to and your snacks. Make it a really reliable wet bag. The Bummis Fabulous Zippered Wet Bag is double seamed on three sides, and the small size is perfect to hold 3-4 diapers

Simple, Flat Diapers

Don’t use your all-in-one diapers on the plane. They will be more bulky to carry and more difficult to get clean once you arrive. Simple diapers, flats or prefolds, will be the least bulky, since you will likely be able to reuse the cover. Flats are the easiest diapers to clean because you only need to force soap and water through one layer. They rinse easily. Unless you know you will have access to a great washing machine, go with hand-washable diapers on the plane.

Wipe-clean Covers

No matter what covers you use at home, for travel you might find it convenient to have covers that are easy to wipe clean. Bummis Super Brite covers are lightweight and easy to wipe clean because the inside layer is just laminated polyester. It won’t absorb messes. These covers also come in cute colors and patterns, so you might find yourself with a conversation starter if other passengers watch you change diapers.

Spray Bottle

If you need to pack your bottle empty to get through security, you can still fill it in the restroom once you are on the other side. Just be sure that you have an easy way to clean up messes. Hope for no messes, but be prepared. If you travel enough, a big, messy diaper will certainly happen while you are on the plane. Armed with a bag full of dry, reusable wipes, a spray bottle, natural hand sanitizer, and an extra set of clothes, you can tackle anything.

Choose the Front Row

For diaper changes, I found kneeling on the floor in the front row so much easier than juggling a baby between parents in the cramped rows further back. Changing diapers in a tiny airplane toilet is even more difficult. The front row with a big changing pad will make diaper changes much easier.

Pack Your Confidence and Good Attitude

The best advice for travelling with cloth diapers comes from parents who have done it. Don’t let someone who hasn’t used cloth diapers on the road tell you it’s too hard. When the Real Diaper Association (RDA) asked their members for their best travel tips, one mother said, “I am so glad that I decided to travel with cloth. It was much easier than I had anticipated, and when it was over, I felt accomplished.” RDA compiled the best cloth diaper travel tips from parents into one sheet. You can even read all of the original cloth diaper travel tips for details.

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