Passports. Check. Suitcases? Check. Cot. Pram. Tablet? Laptop? iDevice? Maybe not. When travelling with kids, it’s tempting to turn to technology as a quick fix on long car trips or rainy beach days. But with a little forethought and a dash of determination, it’s possible to keep kids entertained on holidays without screens dominating.
Tech free transit
The time in transit is often when most parents have technology at the ready. But while it’s hard to avoid kids using screens on plane journeys (especially if they are built in to the seat in front of them), think again before you pull out technology at the airport.
For young kids, airports are super interesting: they can watch the planes take off or see luggage getting loaded, or simply wander the endless public spaces. (If the latter sounds tiring, consider a Trunki – these ride-on suitcases are handy if your child gets tired at the wrong end of the terminal.) Check in advance if there’s an airport playground (Auckland and Perth are two good local examples) and remember, those lucky enough to be taking trains in Switzerland should make a beeline for their family carriages, where a playground (yes, on the train) and mobile coffee cart make travel time enjoyable for all.
Keeping the screens out of sight on a road trip can be challenging. But for young kids who still have a day sleep, the smart money is on parents who time their departure to coincide with sleep (leaving about an hour before is usually reliable).
At the start of a trip, reveal a new toy you know will be a hit.
When kids are awake in the car, parents have two main options. The first, setting kids up with their own activities, has obvious appeal, although works best for the over five-year-old crowd, who can be kitted out with a stable table and drawing materials, sticker books and games like “Where’s Wally?”
Toddlers, despite being notoriously hard to keep happy for long periods of time anywhere, will often do well for short stints on an Etch-a-Sketch or Aquadoodle. Kid-friendly music is also a hit with this age group (save it for when they get grizzly) and, for any ‘bookish’ children over the age of two, audio books are a winner in the car. For the younger crowd, look for authors and stories they already know (Mem Fox and Alison Lester are two good examples). Buy from a site like Audible, or borrow from your local library.
When these strategies inevitably run their course, parents will need to get more engaged by turning to old school ‘car games’. Eye spy may seem old hat to adults, but if you’re between four and ten it’s still a winner. Variations for younger children include spying something with a particular colour rather than starting with a letter. You can also spot letters on number plates, or number plates from different states (great if you’re somewhere like the USA, where variety is rife).
Holidays sans screens
On arrival, bring out a few favourite toys from home: these are particularly useful when a planned beach day gets rained out, or kids have to sit quietly during an adult meal. Another popular strategy is, at the start of a trip, revealing a new toy you know will be a hit.
In general, take toys that are small, light and won’t raise hell if they get lost. For toddlers, small cars and animals are usually winners (keep them in a tackle box), as are sticker books, playdough and drawing materials that older kids can use in a car.
For older kids, frisbees and balls are great, but don’t write off the option of taking one bigger item like a kid’s bike; one family I know unscrewed their toddler’s balance bike to fit into their luggage, rebuilding it on arrival with an Allen key. Ten minutes’ work saw their two-year-old happy for hours.
Regardless of your location or child’s age, the real winner is other kids. In Indonesia, they might be found playing the local sport, badminton – easy for young kids to enjoy. In Malaysia, sepak takraw, a small rattan ball is used in a volleyball-esque game played without using hands (little kids can quite happily just kick the ball around). Further afield, in the Netherlands, young families frequent the kinderboerderij, community-run spaces where pigs, goats and chickens wander the play area.
And regardless of the destination, if you’ve used your transit to learn a few local words like hello, goodbye, please and thank you, you’ll see that laptop stay packed away even longer.
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Image by Flickr.