This is the second post on what to pack in your suitcase to entertain your toddler while traveling. The first was for two year olds, and this one gives updated ideas for three year olds.
Sometimes I wonder whether or not I should keep up the blog or if these posts are ever helpful to anyone else. There's so much content in media, does my voice matter? But the other day, I got a postcard from a friend who is a travel guide in Japan. She recently planned a three-week trip for a couple who found her through my blog. She thanked me for the post. I was so grateful to receive that message. I don't have to be helping hundreds or thousands of people with my thoughts and words--just one is enough. I believe in the starfish principle. Or the ripple effect. Like how kindness is contagious. So, on with the blog I go.
We’ve found, the older Theo gets, the less we need to pack. I attribute part of that change to his ability to turn kitchen whisks and brooms into guitars, leaf blowers or tractors. And, since naps have become optional, we get out for more adventures and activities, so we’re not in our hotel or rental house as much as we used to be. Nonetheless, we still pack a few key items to keep him happily entertained during downtime.
When Theo was younger, we traveled with Duplos, which required a lot more parts and vehicles for a complete playset. Now we’ve switched to Magna-Tiles, magnetic tiles of different shapes and sizes that can be used to build unlimited structures. Magna-Tiles are genius. Theo can build towers and castles and houses and farms and then do demolition and rebuild again. They are fun for adults, too, which is a bonus. I fill a small plastic tub with as many as will fit and tuck it in the suitcase. It’s well-worth it’s space and weight. And since they attract to each other, it’s easy clean up!
Multi-colored (and sized) pom poms
If you’re not three, you probably can’t imagine the 1001 things to do with pom poms, but Theo can. They can be counted, or sorted by size or color. They can become a garden of vegetables or flowers to plant or pick. They turn into presents inside his Magnatiles houses, or are carried by Santa’s imaginary sleigh. Don’t worry about coming up with ideas—your three-year-old will take care of it. Our imaginations are no match for theirs. Trust me and fill a gallon-sized Ziploc bag with these, and you’ll have endless play time. Bonus: they are cheap, so no worries if you lose a few. Plus, they take up no space or weight in your luggage. The only disadvantage: they are a pain to clean up. We sing the ‘clean up’ song a lot.
Theo loves puzzles, so we’ll tuck one in our suitcase, and he never tires of putting together the same one over and over again. We’ll also take a puzzle to restaurants to occupy time while we wait for our food.
Speaking of restaurants, we pack a restaurant kit in our suitcase. We fill another small plastic bin or a clear zippered bag with a few different activities to keep Theo interested when we’re dining out. On this trip, we brought a Water Wow alphabet color activity pad, a picture matching game, a small magnetic drawing pad, and a Tegu magnetic block set. In restaurants, its key to bring things that are rather quiet and don’t end up all over the floor. Stay tuned for a future post where I talk about our full car/restaurant kit.
Theo’s love of reading has not waned, and we always travel with a pile of paperback books, usually a few favorites plus a couple of new ones as a surprise. We read first thing in the morning while we’re all still in bed, before nap (if he takes one) and as part of our bedtime routine. Since he has mostly dropped his nap, we’ll often have ‘quiet time’ where he gets his motzetz (pacifier) and reads books. It’s still one of our favorite activities, and we can sometimes snuggle up and read for an hour or more. I also bring one or two books on the plane or in the car.
Because Theo loves music so much and is so easily entertained with playing music, we often bring a ukulele when we travel. It's a win-win, because Elie can also play.
Theo has the Amazon Fire tablet, which has a terrible user interface, but is durable in the wake of drops and spills. It’s funny, but as Theo has gotten older, we have relied on videos much less for entertainment. On planes, he’s often content to sit and watch what’s going on around him and carry on conversations with us. I think the novelty of videos has worn off a bit. (We also use these headphones.)
In restaurants, we only use the tablet (or our iPhone) as a last resort, when we’ve run through all our activities, and Elie and I really want to have an adult conversation. We’re trying hard to raise Theo to have good manners and live well in the world, and being a good dining companion is an important piece. But, he is only three, so we give him grace when he needs it.
A video is also really helpful when we’re busy showering, packing or making dinner. It’s a good tool in small doses. We are very particular about what he watches, allowing only sweet story lines and no loud or hectic music. The only shows loaded on his tablet are Curious George, Tumble Leaf, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Daniel Tiger and Stinky and Dirty. If you have other gentle shows to recommend, I’d love to hear about them.
And that’s it! Two small plastic bins of toys and activities, a video tablet and books. That will last him from two weeks to a month or more on the road.
I hope this is helpful in planning your travels. What activities do you pack for your three-year-old?