Traveling with a small child may seem overwhelming, but with the right preparation, a three-year-old can be the perfect travel companion! Mentally preparing your child in advance for all of the new experiences is key. Keeping your child entertained is crucial to keeping him or her happy. Here is a list of some entertainment tips I have found successful with a three-year-old traveler.
1. Mini Figurines
Figure out whatever your child is currently obsessed with, and pick up a set of mini figurines in that style (Paw Patrol, Peppa Pig, My Little Pony, Disney princesses, etc.). These figures provide a variety of ways to entertain. The Disney Animators mini figurines have been a hit with my daughter for several years. They’ve gone to every beach, restaurant, plane, and hotel with us. The only drawback is that they’re heavy for carrying around all day but great when using a rolling suitcase or bag.
*PRO TIP: Segregate each set of toys or entertainment in separate gallon-sized plastic storage bags, so you can pull out one distraction at a time. Kids get bored too easily if you give them all of their options at once.
2. Mini Toys To Enhance Pretend Play
Any type of mini toys work to enhance storytelling and pretend play. Mini food, cars, tea sets, doctor tools, band-aids, pets/animals, pipe cleaners, paper bowls or cups. Collect this type of toy at the One Dollar store. We have had success with the Iwako Japanese Vegetable Eraser Set and Dollar Store Tea Set.
3. Wikki Stix
Wax-covered yarn that is moldable has endless ways to interest a kid (or adult!) with a bit of imagination. These packets take up almost no space and are very lightweight. My daughter uses them to handcuff the criminals caught by her Paw Patrol pups, to create a harness for a horse, or to build a staircase for the dolls to walk on.
4. Magnetic Play Scenes
Various magnetic play scenes can routinely be found at the Target $1 spot in different themes–Princess Castle, Outer Space with Astronauts, and Vehicles with Tracks.
*PRO TIP: These can be a little bulkier and heavier than other options, so they might be better for travel where the weight of the entertainment bag is not an issue (like car travel).
5. Art That Won’t Make a Mess
If your child enjoys art, gather a Water Wow book or a few $1 store paint pages that only require a brush and water. The Crayola Color Wonder markers are also great because they will only show color on the coordinating coloring pages.
6. Handcrafted Busy Books
So many adorable, handcrafted “busy books” have been available through Etsy for a while, but Target now carries $3-versions of felt books that are just as entertaining but a lot cheaper!
*PRO TIP: Keep travel entertainment hidden away and only let your child play with it once you’re in the car, plane, or train. The anticipation builds the excitement. Once you’ve finished your trip, retire the entertainment used during that trip for a while and rotate it back in at a later time.
7. Toddler Scissors and a Few Sheets of Construction Paper
A simple pair of toddler scissors and a few sheets of colored paper may be the key to entertaining your child for hours.
8. Jewelry Making Set
The Disney princess and My Little Pony necklace making set come with beads and rubber strings to make necklaces. One of these sets kept 3 small children entertained for almost an entire 4-hour train ride. This may not be good in a smaller space because of the beads.
*PRO TIP: Once the initial fun of making the necklaces is over, toss most of the tiny beads. The necklaces will continue to entertain, but you won’t be chasing after beads all the time.
9. Sticker Scenes; Sticker Dress Up Dolls
Good-quality repositionable sticker scenes can not only keep a child entertained for a long time, but also be used repeatedly. The $1 store sticker scenes do not last very long, but the Melissa & Doug versions are of such good quality that they’re well worth the $5 price tag.
Grab a $1 bag of legos (not branded) from Target or the $1 Dollar store. They are a little difficult to pry apart, but for $1, you don’t have to worry if a few pieces escape.
11. Kids Tablet with Offline Content
My child started getting interested in the iPad when she was 3-4 years old. Before that, she would not watch or play anything on screen for more than a minute. Now it’s much easier to keep her entertained during a 15+-hour flight. Favorite downloaded content (available offline with no data or WiFi necessary) includes:
- FarFaria—book app with 5,000+ books. Just “favorite” items to be available offline.
- Netflix and Amazon Prime—both have downloadable kid content. For 3-year-olds, “Stick Man,” “Room on the Broom,” and “The Gruffalo” are great shows that are simple but interesting. Since they last only 20 minutes, they’ll grab your child’s attention better than a long movie. As downloads often expire after a 48-hour viewing period, make sure you renew them before your trip.
- PBS Kids is the BEST for games and shows with a viable educational message. The challenging games feature a secret knowledge builder that doesn’t make a kid feel like she’s in school.
- Nick Jr.—some available offline content if you have a TV subscription that includes this channel.
- Disney Appisodes–$5/month but lots of great books, games, and cartoons available to download for offline viewing.
- Toca Boca or My Town games–100% worth the cost as these games provide hours of entertainment not requiring any interaction from an adult!
Consider carrying an under-the-seat-sized rolling suitcase filled with entertainment, snacks, water bottle, change of clothes, blanket and pillow, anti-bacterial wipes, tray table covers, and emergency diapers. On long-haul flights, pull it out from under the seat and sit it up between your child’s seat and the seat in front, cover it with the blanket, and it’s similar to an inflatable foot. It will also serve as entertainment at your destination.
With the right kind of preparation and entertainment, a 3-year-old can be a fun and enjoyable travel companion!