Flying with little kids? Then you know the dreaded feeling of discovering the iPad battery is low.
That's when the right toys can help keep your children busy — and keep you sane — even on a lengthy flight.
I’ve been traveling with my two kids since they were infants; we’ve survived because we always remember to bring along engrossing activities. A few rules of thumb: make sure travel toys are compact, mess-free, and quiet. (Your flight attendants and fellow travelers will thank you.) I never introduce them before a trip, because familiar toys aren’t nearly as fun as new ones.
These are some of our tried-and-true trip savers:
Jinja’s House, $30, Amazon
Though it’s on the pricey side, this tiny playset is packed with enough lovable (and lose-able) figures, furniture, and accessories to keep a toddler busy for ages. It has a kid-friendly handle, and easily fits into a carry-on. My daughter, who calls it “liddle house,” is especially fascinated with the bathroom hidden behind a flap door.
Mudpuppy Puzzle to Go, $11, Amazon
These cute 36-piece puzzles come in soft, packable pouches. They’re big enough to be interesting, but small enough fit onto an airplane tray. And the design options—including a map of the United States and animals of the world—mean your kids might even learn something en route.
Water Wow! Activity Pads, $15, Amazon
Melissa & Doug’s activity books are a great alternative to messy markers. Kids use a refillable water pen on the pad, revealing colors, letters and numbers. To use them again, just let the pages dry--the colors disappear.
Kindle for Kids, $99 (normally $125), Amazon
This kids version of the Amazon Kindle is perfect for trips. You can download any number of educational or fun books and help them toggle between the two. Plus this Kindle comes with a 2-year worry-free guarantee for damage caused by drops, spills and airplane tumbles.
I was really, really nervous the first time I took my son on a flight alone. He was just 18 months old, and I was prepared for disaster. Instead, he spent three hours playing with this deceptively simple set of eggs. He took them in and out of the carton, “cracked” them into a cup, and played peek-a-boo with their shells. Later, they helped him learn about colors, shapes and matching. Though they squeak when squeezed, they’re quiet enough to make the cut.
Wikki Stix, $4, Amazon
There’s a reason they’re handed out to kids in restaurants. Made from yarn that is coated in non-toxic wax, Wikki Stix can be bent, twisted and rolled into almost any shape a child can imagine. I also love that kids can stick them to things, like the back of an airplane seat, without causing damage.
Mini Sticker Books, $2, Amazon
What kid doesn’t love stickers? These activity books are small, but they come in a number of themes—airplanes, cupcake decorating, funny animal faces—and the stickers are reusable. Throw several in your carry-on, along with those magazines you’ve been dying to catch up on.
We also love this jumbo coloring book for $9.
Kid O Magnatab, $22, Amazon
A great toy for fiddly fingers. Draw pictures by using the magnetic pen to pop beads to the surface of the tablet; it’s so satisfying to snap them back in with a fingertip. If you lose the stylus, you can buy a new one for a few dollars. There are letter and number versions, too.
Dear Zoo, $5, Amazon
Books are good; lift-the-flap books are even better. Rod Campbell’s classic about a kid searching for a new pet has simple illustrations and something for little hands to open on every page.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com on July 10, 2017.