Since we have been home, a lot of mums have asked me how we kept the kids happy and occupied on our travels. Apart from the obvious excursions to castles, museum and parks, it was a little tricky. Our kids were used to lots of unsupervised time in our backyard, making stuff with sand, dirt and wood. We were three months living out of one suitcase in apartments with no backyards. The kids had few toys and books with them because we just couldn’t carry much after all the warm clothes were packed!
We packed loads of things that the kids never really touched like activity books and puzzles but these are some of the things that really engaged them for a sustained period of time on home days and quiet afternoons.
- Books – Basically we just could not carry enough. The best value travelling books were the light weight paperback chapter books that engaged both our 6 year old and 3 year old. Books like Winnie the Witch series by Laura Owen and Korky Paul and the Usborne Early Readers series were great for both children. In places where we were staying for a few weeks in the UK, we joined the local libraries with a temporary membership. This was brilliant for giving old books a rest, reading new books and just visiting and browsing, colouring and chatting to the staff. On day trips to villages or small towns, we would often visit the local library for the kids to have some rest time and for us to take turns exploring on our own.
- Waterplay – Our kids enjoyed hours together mixing up magic potions and making things out of squished up wet newspaper. We would raid the apartment cupboards for plastic bowls, woodens spoons and whisks, save plastic trays and newspaper and set the kids up in the shower base or empty bath tub. A jug of water, some liquid soap and some handy towels and the kids were in heaven.
- Cubby Houses – My man is the cubby house genius and builds amazing multi-room palaces for the kids from whatever sheets and chairs are to hand.
- Construction – We started the trip with a little Lego kit for each of our children. They made it once and then never touched it again. When we got to Germany and visited the Lego shops, we bought a little bucket (the size of a margerine tub) of mixed Lego blocks. You could pick the blocks yourself and we included a couple of doors, a couple of steering wheels, a set of wheels, a computer screen, a variety of little base boards and blocks of various sizes. I put it in a bag for easy packing and both children played and played and played with the Lego, building cities, vehicles, houses…all kinds of things. They played in our apartments and on the long train trips. We found this was a much more engaging, open-ended way of playing with Lego than the kits. We also had a great little retro TinkerToy type set that both children just used and used.
- Paint palette and pencils – These things took up so little room in our case, yet provided many hours of entertainment for our children. We introduced novelty with colouring books from museums like Knights and Castles, Dinosaurs and Scenes from the Industrial Revolution! When we ran out of blank paper, the kids painted on newspaper and cardboard boxes.
- Craft kits – We packed a few of these from Little Craft and supplemented them with extra sequins, woollen scraps from my knitting and cut outs from the billion brochures we always seemed to have. They were great for a special activity, were very light and packed flat and contained everything you needed for paper dolls, peg dolls and hanging butterflies – brilliant.
This is by no means a definitive list – just some ideas that our kids particularly enjoyed. I would love to hear about your own experiences of travelling with children.