Holiday travel is always crazy, but it's especially chaotic and stressful when you have kids. The traffic, the crowded airports, the rest-stops, the long lines, and did I mention the traffic? No matter how you get around during the holiday season, it's usually never entirely pleasant. When I was a kid, it was all about long road trips to visit family. And since I never enjoyed being in the car for long stretches of time, my mom came up with a genius idea to keep me entertained; every hour — if my brothers and I behaved — we would each get one mystery bag with some little activity inside that would hopefully keep us occupied until the next bag, and the next, until finally, we'd arrive at our destination. While I give my mom full credit on this one, I'm far too lazy to make individual bags for each of my kids for every hour we're in the car, so I came up with my own hack to keep them happy: road trip baskets.
The first time I used these [travel] baskets on a six-hour road trip with two kids, it was the easiest trip we'd ever taken.
My family and I mostly travel up and down the East Coast by car, but this one big travel hack could work for planes and trains as well. It keeps my kids occupied, keeps me from hearing the dreaded "Are we there yet?" question a thousand times, and ultimately keeps me sane on the usually dangerous roads full of other holiday travelers. Each child gets one basket, and inside are crafts, books, activities, and snacks to keep them busy for hours. I put them in an easy-to-reach spot and my kids can take out whatever they want whenever they want without having to ask me. The first time I used these baskets on a six-hour road trip with two kids, it was the easiest trip we'd ever taken. Since that trip, I've made countless baskets and am currently working on a few for the upcoming holidays.
I don't love giving my kids a ton of screen time, so plugging them in for a six-hour trip isn't very appealing to me. But there's a definite time and place for kids to lose themselves in a TV show or movie, and a long stretch of traveling is one of them. We use tablets as backups, but they aren't the main focus of the trip. I wait until the right time to pull movies out like when they're overtired or melting down in a traffic jam. But until that happens, their road trip baskets are the focus, and they really do love it.
The first thing I do to create these baskets is think about each child's current interests and what keeps them entertained. I pack some of their favorite books and toys, but also introduce new things to keep them intrigued. Once I've put together in my head what will excite them, I begin collecting things they might like. I shop on Amazon, hit the dollar bins at Target, and scour the Dollar Tree shelves for little trinkets, toys, puzzles, books, and games with not too many pieces that will get lost in car seats. Big hits have included dry erase boards (bonus if it's magnetic), mini action figures, interlocking blocks or beads, interactive books (electronic or pop-up/pull-out pages), magnetic tiles, water paint books, and road trip bingo boards.
We also head to the library before the trip and I let the kids pick out books on CD that they can play on the DVD player and follow along with. Another thing my oldest really enjoys is her very own road trip binder. For this, I bought a three-ring binder with sheet protectors and a few three-ring pencil cases which I loaded up with new crayons and markers. I filled the sheet protectors with pages I printed off the internet or tore from an age-appropriate workbook like mazes, I-Spy pictures, or connect-the-dot pages. Because they can be wiped off, the sheet protectors provide a place for the kids to do a page more than once or erase mistakes. Behind the sheet protector pages, I also put in some blank construction paper and another pencil case filled with stickers, stamps, and fun rolls of tape for them to create whatever they want.
When it comes to traveling with kids, snacks are key, and I always make sure to pack goodies in their baskets. I try to make it a mix of their go-to snacks and some things they aren't usually allowed to have. It's a balance of salty and sweet, so there's always something they're in the mood for and they can't tell me there's nothing they want (well, they could, but spicing up the snack department helps curb the hunger complaints).
The road trip baskets have been a traveling lifesaver for us, and they're so easy to recreate with your own unique spin. It could be a backpack full of things for a long flight or a bag for each child to rummage through on a long train ride. The possibilities are endless, and you can tailor everything to each child. It's also pretty fun keeping everything a surprise until the kids are packed up and ready for travel. If I'm ever worried they'll blow through everything quickly because they're so excited to see all the new things in the basket, I keep a few things in a bag in the front seat with me, because this mom has always got a few tricks up her sleeve.