5 Activities (and 1 Zen Reminder) for Holiday Flying with Kids


travelOur family lives spread across thirteen time zones and two oceans. (My daughters started accumulating airline miles at 10 weeks.) Now in their preschool years, I can attest that iPad-fatigue is real. Since they’re not yet readers, I find it’s helpful to have a few new tricks in the carry-on to keep everyone happy.

As you gear up for your holiday travel, check out these five easy, packable plane activities for toddlers and preschoolers. For a more robust list of travel ideas, revisit our June travel post.

  1. Egg Surprise: Fill plastic eggs with a tiny trinket and treat and wrap in tin foil. Character Band-Aids, stickers, Shopkins, jellybeans, dried fruit or tiny marshmallows work well. Let your kiddo unwrap, enjoy, and then shape the foil into a new toy. Keep a few in your checked luggage for the flight home.
  2. Toy-Swap: New-to-you toys are the best. If you swap a few small toys with another traveling mama you both get a fresh supply of fake keys, toy phones, etc. No cost, no waste.
  3. Finger Puppet Fun: Kids get to wear, name, and re-arrange them, and then present mini puppet shows. Go for inexpensive ones so you get a variety and won’t stress if one is left behind on the lavatory floor (ew!).  
  4. Decorations: Kids love a mission. Instruct them to make seasonal crafts for whomever you’re visiting or decorations for your hotel room. Cut color cardstock into shapes (circles or trees) or use index cards. Bring themed stickers appropriate for the holiday or destination.  
  5. Scavenger Hunt: Speaking of missions: print copies of these awesome airport scavenger hunts from Makes and Takes and Game Gal!
  6. Baby Bonus: For children under three, bring along enough earplugs to share. If baby gets loud, offer the earplugs to other passengers. I guarantee they smile or take one.

We’ve had easy flights and not-so-easy flights. It’s helpful for your overall wellbeing to remember that it’s not entirely under your control.

Example: Prepping for an 11-hour daytime flight from Europe, I meticulously packed my daughter’s carry-on with everything imaginable to keep her happily busy, comfortable, and clean. And then in the departure rush we left the bag at the hotel.  For reasons that mystify, Duty Free was full of leather belts and whiskey, with nary a crayon to be had. Airport Fail. And yet somehow, it was a pretty easy trip. Fast-forward one year: A 4-hour flight where my daughter screamed the entire flight despite every toy/comfort aid/trick imaginable. (She finally passed out in baggage claim.) We’re all still here to tell the tale.

Breathe deeply; get on the plane and go. In the end, we all give over to the capricious gods of travel. Chances are they’ll be merciful and it won’t be awful. And “not awful” is pretty high praise when flying with kids.

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Originally from New York, Kimberly moved to the Bay Area in 2014 after a five-year hiatus in beautiful Madison, WI. Immediately charmed by the sunshine and foothills, she’s amazed how quickly the left coast became the right one. Kimberly and her husband have two creative and spirited daughters ages 2.5 and 5 years. With the help of their trusty trailer, they enjoy a family bike almost every weekend. Kimberly graduated from the University of Notre Dame (Go Irish!) and has worked as a playwright, literary coordinator, technical writer, and educator. This fall, she’s thrilled to be back in class teaching drama at PVTC. When Kimberly and her family aren’t picnicking, hiking (oh-so-slowly), or on a plane to far-flung family, they’re usually at home singing, dancing, painting, or playing soccer – often simultaneously.


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