Travel Toys To Keep Your Kids Entertained


Last week I wrote about handheld video games, kids and travel. It seems fitting that I should follow up with a list of the board and card games which we also usually bring with us when we travel. To be clear, these are not just travel games, we play them at home and on the road but they’re all rollicking good fun for kids three and up and easy to pack.

Puzzle games By ThinkFun



Rush Hour by ThinkFun is one of my all-time favorite games for kids. It can be a challenge for three and four-year-olds to get used to the rules of the game, but boy, once they get used to it, they can entertain themselves with it for hours – challenging themselves using puzzle cards of increasing levels of difficulty. The game comes with a pull-close bag. Sometimes I wish all game manufacturers were so considerate as to include such a useful detail.

When my niece and nephews were visiting recently, they proved that Rush Hour can also function as a team game with the three-year-old and the five-year-old playing against their seven-year-old brother. And as a game for older kids to help flex their leadership skills as they assist a younger child to play – without giving away the solution. There’s also a Rush Hour Jr. version.


Hoppers is another classic from ThinkFun. Again, the game comes in a self-contained unit which is immensely useful for traveling families. It follows a similar style to Rush Hour in that there are puzzle cards and the player needs to figure out how to solve the puzzle such that only the red frog is left on the board. It’s trickier than you might think!

Personally this is my favorite since “Hoppers” is also a short name for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing which is an awesome networking organization for the (paltry few) women studying Computer Science these days.

Card Games By Gamewright (and Mattel)

ratatatcatRat-A-Tat-Cat is BigB’s favorite game mainly because it’s a game which makes it easy for even a young child to beat the grown-up he or she is playing with – always a crowd-pleaser.slamwich

The basic premise of this game is small set memorization but it’s a hoot to play.

Slamwich will exercise your child’s matching skills but by matching food toppings to sandwiches in hilarious combinations. You’ll get a kick out of your child’s giggles.

A list of fun family card games for home and travel wouldn’t be complete without Uno.

You know the drill. It’s quick and easy to learn. It lends itself very well to team playing where a younger child can team up with an adult to learn the game and beat an older sibling or friend. Truly, a classic.


Do you have a budding math geek in your family? SET by SET Enterprises Inc. is going to be right up his or her alley.


And then there’s Scrabble .

You know it’s a great game, but it’s tricky to know when to introduce to children. Let’s be honest, there are many adults who struggle with this game. At nine, my BigB isn’t quite ready to play alone. Spelling is not his strong suit and it can be frustrating for him to play against his older brother. CAM has pretty incredible word-attack skills (that’s the educational term for always aceing spelling tests) and he’s been flexing his Scrabble muscles since he was about 10.

I don’t normally like to buy the travel-version of any game – it’s extra expense and usually just a packaging gimmick – but I made an exception for this travel Scrabble folio. It’s been a worthwhile investment. The tiles click into the board and the tile holders for players snap shut holding your tiles inside. It’s easy to start and stop games without losing continuity.

So there you have it! A family-tested list of games which we have and still enjoy playing.

Have I left out your favorite? Leave a comment and let me know.

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About wandermom

". . .life is short and the world is wide" - Simon Raven I'm not sure I've ever consciously planned a trip based on this sentiment, but it definitely influences my subconscious! I've been traveling as frequently and widely as possible since I finished school. And I love it. I love the research, the planning, the fervent packing and the curiosity of exploring somewhere I've never been before. My husband & I are both Irish - as in born-in-Ireland. But we live in Seattle. We have two boys: wild, boisterous, regular boys. So, since becoming a Mom, I've been a WanderMom. Given our slightly-unusual family situation, routine "visits-to-Grandma" are international trips requiring passports, 10hr-flights and (oh joy!) airport transfers. I have rants, raves and opinions about how, where & why to travel with kids (start them as young as you can, I say!). I hope to learn even more by researching topics which other wandermoms may be interested in reading about on this blog. Passports, pacifiers, diapers and gameboys at the ready - off we go! Contact Info: Email Michelle: michelle (at) murphnduff (dot) org

13 thoughts on “Travel Toys To Keep Your Kids Entertained

  1. Linda

    A good old-fashioned deck of cards is easy to keep in the car and you can do a ton of things with it to keep the family entertained.

    Thanks for the new ideas.

  2. wandermom

    @Linda: you’re killing me :) I had a regular old deck of cards on this list originally (I swear, I have a listmania list on amazon with all these things on it), but I thought for the purpose of the post I would stick to the more unusual games.

    @Rita + @Amie: happy to help!

    @Rita: Math N Stuff ( at 90th and Roosevelt stocks all of these games and more. Maybe a day trip with M?

  3. Leanne

    I haven’t heard of some of these games, but they look like great fun for everyone. We do play UNO and Scrabble a lot (although my two youngest are a bit little for Scrabble).

    Last trip the kids got right into draughts/checkers. There was huge excitement when they beat Dad :-) It’s a simple game with not too many rules to remember but enough of a challenge to keep them interested. We also play lots of Connect 4. Even the little ones get in on that action.

  4. MudslideMama

    Why this post is great and needed: My younger daughter was playing Nintendo during a long car trip, didn’t recognize (or ignored) the symptoms of carsickness from it, and BARFED all over the back seat. She’s been relegated to finding neat license plates until now.

  5. jessiev

    GREAT recs!! i love it! we have a matching card game with ancient egyptian symbols/gods/icons on it. it is the coolest thing, and comes in a handy tin. i never leave home without it! plus, our 7yo is still entranced with ancient egypt. so 2 birds…

  6. Lorraine

    This is a fantastic, brain-powered list. Rush hour is now on our wish list. We love UNO, it’s so small and compact. It’s also a nice transition tool for regular card games. Although, I did feel a little strange once I started teaching her poker. That’s OK, right? OK, well, maybe no chips yet.

  7. Bridget Smith

    I am a huge scrabble fan. I have been playing with my son (with mom helping out when necessary) since he was about 7. It has really helped his spelling. Will have to put the travel version on my wish list.

    What about Battleship? Lots of pieces I know, but very compact.

  8. wandermom

    @Victoria: It’s no problem to add your link – thanks for including it!
    Since this post is focused on games, I didn’t talk about activity books and art materials – maybe I need a follow-up. But three things: (a) we never travel without at least a frisbee and notebooks and coloring pencils – every time I do, I find I end up walking around a foreign city or town hunting down a store where I don’t have to pay a fortune to buy some; (b) when my boys were younger my bag included a lot of the things you have on your list: stickers, sticker books, small durable toys, and paper-bound copies of favorite books etc; and (c) pack more educational activity books than you think you’ll need – or plan to replenish during your journey. I ditched the disney-or-character logo-ed activity books very quickly in my traveling experience and basically only pack educational-type activity books. I find they hold the kids attention for longer. I can’t remember where the US fits in your itinerary, but the homeschooling section of any Barnes & Noble should be a good resource for you.
    A couple of suggestions (from experience): ditch the felt tips (markers). They can leak and destroy clothes. Crayons can melt in the heat. I’ve found coloring pencils work best – but I’ve kept the pencil sharpener in my purse!! Scholastic is a book supplier in the US and they have a huge selection of paper-bound books which are fantastic for travel. You might want to check out their website ( to beef up your supplies – I’ve noticed that books in this binding are not very common in your local Dillons or Waterstones. I found this a life-saver.
    Finally, don’t write off the games. My sister-in-law just visited with her kids. They live in Portugal and the UK and they played some of these games for the first time when they visited (they were 3,5,7) and were totally entranced. We did a day trip to my favorite educational game store here in Seattle and she went home to London with a bagful of card and logic games – and has since called to let me know the kids are still playing them. Apparently these are not too common over there – I know ELC has a lot of good stuff so maybe that’s a good place to check? At any rate, even while they were here, I could see that the games were a fun alternative to their little bags of Silvanian Families and My Little Pet Shop toys :)

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