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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10 Holiday Travel Kit Essentials

Young family at the beach

As you head off for the holiday weekend with your family, be sure that you have all of the items you need to make travel smooth. Sure, you could pull together what you need every time you leave the house, but it saves a lot of time to keep a kit in your bag with your travel essentials.

Pull together your essential items in travel sizes. This is my essential kit, but choose your own by thinking through what you are going to do on your trip and what you use every time you are out.

  1. Sunscreen – Safe, natural sunscreen is the most important item in your kit if you are going to be outside at all.
  2. Bug Spray - Outside, you will probably also need bug spray, which is a close second.
  3. Hat – Keep the sun off your baby with a hat. Sunscreen isn’t recommended for babies under six months old. If you use a lightweight hat, you can roll it up neatly in a corner of the kit.
  4. Lip Balm – Lips dry out in the wind, and burn in the sun. Lip balm with sunscreen is best.
  5. Water Bottle – Stay hydrated. Fill your water bottle with as much ice as you can fit first, then pour in the water. This won’t fit in the kit, but you definitely need to keep it close by for everyone when you are outside.
  6. Wet Bag – If there are accidents, and there probably will be accidents, you will be happy you have a bag to collect wet pants, dirty shirts, or wet wipes.
  7. Toys – Distraction might help if it takes a while to get to your destination. For your kit, one small toy is enough.
  8. Peppermint Headache Stick – Based on my own experience, a day out with children can be stressful. A peppermint stick is one of those things you really need to try to see how well it works (for a mild headache). I relied heavily on mine.
  9. Natural Hand Purifier – If you won’t have easy access to hand-washing facilities, you will be glad you have a quick and easy way to wash up before you eat and after you change diapers.
  10. After-sun Care Badger Balm – If you or your children do catch the sun, a little after-sun balm with naturally anti-inflammatory ingredients will soothe the heat.

Once you have gathered your items, put it all in a travel bag. Better yet, find another reusable container that will keep everything safe and available.

Reusable Sandwich Bag with Window
Sandwich Bag with window
A sandwich bag with a window leaves everything easy to see so you can grab what you need quickly. This is smaller (7″ x 5.75″), so it is only appropriate if you have just a few items.

Lunch Bots Uno
Lunchbots Uno Stainless Steel box
To keep tubes from squeezing, I like hard containers. Small Lunch Bots Uno, the smallest of the Lunch Bots containers, can hold a small kit at 6.25″ x 4.5″ x 1.75″.

Stainless Steel Lunch Box
Stainless Steel Lunch Box
If you have a big kit, a stainless steel food storage container will give you plenty of space and keep all of your items from squeezing out at 7″ x 5″ x 2.5″. I especially like that the two separate layers let you spread everything out so you don’t have to dig through a deeper container.

Any of these kits is small enough to fit in a backpack, a glove box, or a diaper bag. Pack your travel essentials early and you will find that the travel day will go much easier.

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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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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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Diaper Service for Extended Vacations

Mother and baby traveling by car

If you are planning an extended vacation in one place or you are attending a long event, you can travel with cloth diapers without actually having to take your own diapers with you. Look for a local diaper service.

Though it is possible to fill your suitcase with dirty diapers and bring them home to wash (many of us have done this), wouldn’t it be more convenient to have someone else wash the diapers while you are busy all day?

Coming up in the next two weeks is the biggest baby product trade show in North America. A thousand vendors will be there, and many thousands of retailers will be shopping for new products for their stores. A lot of the attendees are parents who will have babies in arms. A lot of those parents use cloth diapers, so they want to find a way to continue using reusable diapers while away from home. Talking with some of these parents as they prepare to travel with babies, I have heard that they have plans to make travel much easier. They are using the local diaper service.

What a brilliant idea! (Because I didn’t ever think of it myself when I traveled.)

Most diaper services are able and happy to deliver fresh, clean diapers to your hotel when you arrive and pick them up when you leave. You keep your baby in reusable diapers, and you support the local economy where you stay. It’s a good deal all around.


Tips for Using Diaper Service on Vacation

  • Look up a diaper service that delivers where you are going.
  • Call the diaper service well in advance to make arrangements and reserve your place.
  • Call your hotel to make arrangements for drop off and pick up.
  • Bring your own covers.
  • Bring a few of your own diapers for travel to and from your destination.
  • Encourage the diaper service to leave a few pamphlets for the hotel to let other guests know about this option.

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