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Keeping a Toddler Happily Busy on a Long Flight

Regular readers are probably tired of hearing about our upcoming trip, but it’s finally almost here, so I thought I would share some of the things I’m packing to keep 23 month old Annabelle happy during our 26 hours of travel. Fortunately 8 of those hours will be made up of layovers, so running around and using up energy should fill the time quite easily. For the other 18, here’s what we have:

Homemade Felt Activities 

I had so many more ideas for mini felt boards, but these two were the only ones that actually reached completion in the midst of everything else we’ve been doing to prepare. Both are on quarter sheets of felt. The first is probably a bit old for Annabelle right now, but I’m hoping it’s interesting anyway. I used a compass to make half circles, varying in size by one centimeter, in the colors of the rainbow. When stacked in order, you get what’s pictured at left. I didn’t intend to make an entire scene, but after I finished the rainbow, that empty space was just calling for something, so I made the little sun and cloud. All pieces are fully removable.

The board on the right is a simple sorting exercise. I used fabric glue to secure one square and one triangle as a control. The rest are loose, to be sorted into a line beneath the first. I used a textured felt to create a richer sensorial experience.

Art Supplies

We’re bringing along a mini dry erase board, for which I bought three miniature, magnetic markers.

I also have stickers galore, all depicting real things, so they should be interesting to name and discuss in the tough moments, keeping Annabelle in good spirits if needed. My secret weapon for the flight home is a sheet of stickers made in a photo booth that are actually recent photos of Annabelle, the daddy, and me. Those should be extra exciting.

I also have plenty of fresh, white paper and a brand new drawstring bag of beeswax crayons.


I have packed just a few books that I think will be of interest. Some are new, and the others are old favorites that have been tucked away for a while. I loved Lyle’s idea of bringing along finger puppets to act out a favorite story, and had planned to make some using felt, but just plain ran out of time. I’ll have to hang onto that suggestion for our next long flight, which we’ll be taking before we know it! I purchased one new book especially for the trip: Gabriella’s Song, which is set in Venice. Annabelle has been walking around repeating its opening line, “Ah, Venice!” and I think it’s getting both of us more excited. I also picked up a small Italian picture dictionary, which we’ve been reading for a couple of weeks now.

Miscellaneous Activities

I’m bringing along a handful of store bought activities that should keep things interesting, if not on the plane, then as things to do while I’m otherwise occupied in Italy.

From left to right, there’s a magnetic book with wild animal magnets to match1, a magnetic fishing game, an I spy bag, and the Melissa and Doug Magnetic Farm Hide and Seek2. I also purchased the Plan Toys Classic Airplane3, since I figure you can’t fly without a toy airplane, and one small storybook and animal set from Green Start.

Not pictured is a small drawstring bag filled with a few of Annabelle favorite, and smallest Schleich animals. I also tossed in these sets of sorting cards that I had stashed away from my days in the classroom. I don’t offer cards often, because at Annabelle’s age, I prefer she have more concrete items to manipulate and play/work with, but these take up virtually no space and I figured the photos alone might be of interest when something new is in order, if not the actual sorting activity.

For the most part, we have chosen things that are relatively inexpensive, and almost everything is new. I like that it’s all gender neutral, because I can lighten our load for the return trip if anything turns out to be a flop for Annabelle, but is attractive to the handsome toddler we’re visiting.

So that’s what we have planned. I would love to hear your best ideas for portable toddler activities. What do your children like to do on the go?

Linking up with Montessori Monday at Living Montessori Now and the Seasonal Celebration Sunday Linky Party at Natural Mother’s Network.

P.S. Please forgive me if I take a bit longer to respond to and return comments this week. We’ll be headed out shortly, so my participation will lag a bit behind the usual, but I’ll be back!


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  1. Thanks to Charise for this great idea! She brought the On The Farm version along on a recent trip with her toddler, but we have plenty of farm animal books and figures as it is, so I went with the wild animals instead.
  2. I have written before about lead in paint on Melissa and Doug toys. Following that, a friend and I both tested some of our own toys for lead and the result was negative. I still don’t buy them often, but they do make several things that serve a purpose for us and I don’t see comparable items from other companies. So, now that Annabelle is more or less finished mouthing things, I have picked up a few of their toys. I’m not sure how comfortable I am with that decision, but I do think this will come in handy during our travels.
  3. When it comes to wooden toys, this is a company I feel perfectly comfortable supporting. We have many things from them, and I love every one.

21 thoughts on “Keeping a Toddler Happily Busy on a Long Flight

  1. Talia's Travel Blog

    I found your blog a few weeks ago and have been enjoying reading along (I especially love your nursing post. I nursed through my pregnancy and loved it but definitely received some poor advice along the way).

    As for travel, the kids and I do that a lot. We’re the type of family who don’t even really consider a 14-hour flight when signing up for a trip (our most recent, 22 hours total transit time. Needless to say my husband declined to join us). A few quick thoughts:

    – endless snacks. Packed in small containers so you can dole them out over time. If you have a seat for your daughter you may want to consider a sippy cup or lollipop for take-off (I wasn’t allowed to nurse my daughter during take-off on international flights because she and the bump didn’t fit into the seat well and if your daughter has her own seat she has to be strapped in, which can lead to some very uncomfortable nursing positions for you. This really depends on the airline and I’m happy to e-mail about it. American airlines don’t require “infant seatbelts” but most European airlines do, and depending on the airline I’ve had decent luck being allowed to just use my ergo or ring sling).
    – possibly triangle crayons or ones you have melted in ice cube trays? The problem with things like the pens you bought is that they will roll off the tray and can be really hard to find. Also, I generally don’t allow my kids to use the tray table if the person in front of us looks at all grumpy
    – consider bringing along a small, possibly easy to toss blanket (I have a bunch of under $5 ones from old navy). Depending on where you are sitting, you may actually have enough room to put a blanket down on the floor and play (there’s always room for that in the bassinet seats, and also sometimes in the back near the bathrooms). On a really long flight it’s great to be able to let your kid sit on the floor, but since the floors are filthy we bring blankets and toss them
    – definitely consider allowing your daughter to shred the in-flight magazines. We discourage shredding paper at home (our poor books) so this is a wonderful in-flight treat only
    – LOVE toobs animals. Small, not a big deal if you lose them but plenty of pretend play, lining them up, marching them across the armrests
    – stacking cups. Lots of fun. We also only have them for bathtub play so my daughter thinks it’s fun to see them in a new situation.

    I would consider skipping the puzzles you’ve packed because they are heavy and it will annoy you if you lose just one piece. We always land up picking up a few new items along the way (foreign goodwill-like stores are SO much fun) and you want to make sure to leave room for those.

    1. melissa Post author

      Thanks so much for your experienced point of view! Unfortunately, I didn’t read it until I was laid over in Paris before the last leg of our journey ;) I did bring everything pictured along, and I’m sure not all of it will go back with us, but all of it worked out fine. I can definitely see it having been a larger hassle if I had more than one child/activity to keep an eye on at a time.

  2. elsie

    you could make some very quick paper finger puppets for your stories, even do it as a joint activity to help pass some of the hours. Have a good trip

  3. Discovering Montessori

    Love the velcro sorting exercise, and I am crazy about Schleich animals. Stickers from the photo booth are the coolest. Looks like a lot of fun you all will be having. Hope you share pics. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Zoie @ TouchstoneZ

    I hope your trip is wonderful and relaxing. I will be interested to hear your results bringing these with you. They’re great ideas, although my perspective has changed traveling with one child and now traveling with several: if the little parts aren’t permanently attached, I either plan to lose them or don’t bring them.

  5. Rach

    Have a fantastic trip Melissa. When are you off? Lovely ideas. The felt rainbow is particularly pretty. And re the finger puppets – you can just use any old thing to enact the story. Sometimes I use just an old sock or even a napkin, whatever! Ah Venice indeed!

  6. Lulu

    Love the felt boards!!

    Very timely post for me as I have a 9.5 hour trip coming up with both my boys by myself {They will be 27 months and 14 months…eeeeek!} and have just started preparing things to put in their bags for on the plane. I think my younger one will be harder than my older one as the younger one has no interest in TV {SOrry, I know you are not a tv watching family but my older one watches dvds} and is still in the mouthing stage so can`t do colouring/stickers etc. My younger one will be on my lap but my older one will have his own seat and I hope we will have a spare seat that the younger one can sit in.

    Advice of the post above about the pens rolling off the table and also other things like snacks helped me out as well. I must remember to put snacks in individual bags otherwise they will want to eat them all in one sitting.

    This will be the first of many trips I take with both boys. My younger one has flown 4 times total and was the hardest on the trip back to Japan last time at 13 months…probably because I was 7 months pregnant at the time!

    Hope you have a wonderful trip.

  7. Rebecca @ Natural Mothers Network

    Thank you for sharing these great ideas for keeping little ones amused during a long plane trip- Bon Voyage!!
    I’m so glad you dropped by and I really welcomed this contribution last week to the Seasonal Celebration Linky- a great collection of seasonal recipes, homemaking, crafts, homeschooling and motherhood thank you so much!
    Seasonal Celebration is live once more, so feel free- if you are able while away of course- to pop over and join this wonderful celebration of creative talent! http://naturalmothersnetwork.com Rebecca x

  8. Christine @ African Babies Don't Cry

    These all sound like great activities, and by the sounds of it they worked well. I’m still amazed you managed with a young toddler on such a long flight, I don’t know if I would have attempted it. I fleetingly thought about visiting my sister in London this year, but its a 9 hour flight and the thought of Jesse in an enclosed space for that long put me off, perhaps next year when he is able to concentrate on activities like these may be a possibility :)

    1. melissa Post author

      They really did for the most part. I think I’ll take fewer things next time we fly, because we didn’t end up needing this much, but everything was a success. I totally underestimated the power of stickers – those were a hit!

      I don’t blame you for avoiding the London trip, though. I’m sure it will be a fantastic time when you’re feeling up for it!

  9. Lauren @ Hobo Mama

    Love these tips! We’re planning a cross-country flight sometime this summer or fall, with one toddler and one preschooler. I will definitely be packing activities to dole out! Thanks for the ideas.

    1. melissa Post author

      Good luck on that trip! The nice thing about having both boys it that they may be able to entertain one another part of the time. Maybe? :)

  10. Stacy @ Sweet Sky

    These are great ideas — I love the felt boards! We rely on novelty a lot, picking up a few new toys to bring along on each trip.

    I learned my lesson once when I only brought a few toys along for the flight and nothing else. We were staying in a hotel (with aunt and uncle in the next room) and were out and about a lot, but my boys often resorted to wrestling as the play-of-choice in our hotel room. I was continually trying to shush and re-engage them and it didn’t make for very relaxing hotel time for me or my husband. :) Since then we’ve tried to think of our time away (where we’ll be staying, length of stay, etc.) and plan accordingly!

    I also stash a set of toys/activities in the suitcase that they only see on the way home (again, the novelty factor).


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