As you can tell from my The art of long drives with kids: my top tips post, I’ve been traveling long distances by car with the kids fairly often since my eldest was 3 months old.
24-hour drives from London to Lisbon mean a lot of hours in a car going slightly mad at times. So having the right entertainment for my kids helps me feel a little less stressed pre-trip.
I also like to make sure they have entertainment that will keep them interested and focused for as much time as possible, following their current interests, and that don’t get lost in the car every 3 seconds. well, until there’s a need for (endless) toilet stops. Or they need to run in the “wild” for 5 minutes. Or we are desperate for coffee and sweets (that we obviously hide from them or only eat when they’re asleep).
I tried to group kids together by several ages in the same group, but to be honest, they’re such different little creatures, with major different capacities and needs that I can’t. So I’ve made a top 5 list per age from 0-5 year olds. And because we’ve travelled with the kids through all those different age groups, I think that all together I’ve got a great list put together. At least for our family, they’re great options. I hope they work for you too.
Some items on almost every list I’ve created work really well for more ages, whilst others are more specific to their age abilities. So I also recommend that, for a 3-year-old you should take a look at the other lists, especially the 2-year-old and the 4-year-old list (I’d highlight the Usborne First Sticker Books and the Magnetic Blocks). And in case you’re traveling with younger or older kids, here are the links to my other related posts:
- Best toys for long drives with babies
- Best toys for long drives with 1-year-olds
- Best toys for long drives with 2-year-olds
- Best toys for long drives with 4-year-olds
- Best toys for long drives with 5-year-olds
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For toddlers and older kids, these Car Trays are essential. They can play on them, they can draw on them and they can eat on them. They can also hold tablets on them if your kid doesn’t get nauseous in the car (mine do). It helps contain spillages and keeps everything a little more contained.
As for storage, you can use other storage solutions to contain the kid’s toys in the car (like bags or fabric baskets), but with 1 or 2 kids (if you have more kids, it only works if you have a minivan), I find that this Car Organiser does a brilliant job at containing the toys and books, keeping everything accessible for both kids and (very importantly) it can be attached to the middle seatbelt for safety. A backpack that kids can open easily is the second best option I would say, as it can also be attached to the seatbelt for safety.
Another essential is getting these Mesh Wallets to contain the items per theme or group of things. They can fit pens, paper, little cars, magnetic blocks, LEGO sets, games, etc. It gives things a place to go back to, they’re easy to open and close, and they fit in the car organiser. At home, I transfer most of the puzzles and board games into them as they take much less space inside these wallets.
Another couple of essentials for me are:
- a couple of Story Books (kid’s favourites at the time and maybe a new one for novelty)
- their favourite soft toys
- their sound machines that help them fall asleep
- a blanket
- current favourite toys that they play with constantly
- a colouring set (book/blank paper + pens/pencils)
Look, I was going to put 3 to 5-year-olds together, but there’s such a big difference between them that they need separate categories. And you know, it gives me more items to list.
Magnetic Wooden Maze
For traveling, magnetic is always an ideal option. It helps to keep everything together so there’s less frustration on both kids’ and parents’ sides. Janod has these cute boxes with magnetic pieces to build an image that is true to the cards they provide. They have several themes and the Transport theme is the favourite in our house. We also have the Crazy Faces and I think this Dinosaur one would totally be a hit too.
Small Kids Computer
My kids both love their LeapFrog Computer. They have the previous version and they learn so much from it. My eldest has been interested in it since he was 2 and will still at 5 years old play with it every now and then (mostly motivated by his sister playing with it, of course).
Mess Free Colouring Kit
We love this Paw Patrol Easel set as it helps contain everything together and is a great surface to colour on. For car trips, we removed the “paint” set and kept the pens only. We also got extra pens and plain paper for creativity. As we used the pages and bought other books, we used an A4 mesh bag for paper and an A5 mesh bag for pens. Easel sets also come in a Moana version, Toy Story 4, and Frozen II. You can also get sets without the easel and there’s plenty of options.
The secret to having noisy toys is to have nice-sounding noisy toys. While traveling through France we have bought these musical books that have lovely French nursery rhymes and easy-to-press buttons. My kids are not French, but these books do a great work of teaching some French to the kids and they love the songs. I do recommend getting it because it helps the kids get a more sensitive ear to foreign languages. Our favourites are Petites comptines pour danser, Petites comptines pour gigoter and Petites comptines pour faire de beaux rêves. If you want English songs, Usborne are my go-to books as their buttons are also easy to use from a young age. Our favourites are Night Sounds, Quiet Time and Nursery Rhymes looks lovely too.
I hope these options are useful to you.