When preparing for our first overseas family holiday in 2009 (when the children were 3 years and 1 year old) one of our biggest packing dilemmas was what toys to take for our two children. In 2010 we faced an even bigger dilemma - what toys to take on the road for the next twelve months as we backpacked around Asia. It was really hard to decide what toys that would keep them occupied, that they wouldn't get tired of too easily, didn't have too many pieces that would get lost and didn't take up too much room in the packs. Looking at the mountain of toys in our house we were certain the kids were going to go insane with only a couple of toys each to play with.
A few months into the trip we realised the kids didn't really want or need that many toys while we were travelling. We're always exploring or visiting new places, staying somewhere new. Provided there's a laptop for movies and a few toys to play with during rest time, you really don't need that many toys on the road.
TIPS FOR CHOOSING TOYS
The best travel toys are quiet, compact, inexpensive, can be used for a variety of games, and do not have a lot of parts that can get lost. The last thing you want is a vital piece of a toy to go missing one day into a trip or to spend the entire flight retrieving toys from under seats. Dinosaurs, small plastic farm animals, little babies or dolls with a few accessories and matchbox cars are perfect.
If your children aren't seasoned travellers or your embarking on a long haul trip it's well worth buying some new toys especially for the flight. You don't need to spend a lot of money - some brand new pencils and a toy car will do the trick. For extra milage wrap any new toys or make little present bags that children can choose one thing out of every hour.
DON'T GO OVERBOARD
Kids need surprisingly few toys on the road.
Although, make sure you leave enough space in your packs to bring home any toys you might buy during your holiday. Travelling with your children is a wonderful chance to introduce them to different toys from around the world. And often more simple hand made toys that will last longer and promote imaginative play.
Based on our own experiences and speaking with other travelling families, here's our list of toys to consider packing.
Crayons, pencils, notebooks, colouring books, stickers, sticky tape, water paints, glue and safety scissors are the ultimate travel toy. They're easy to pack, cheap to replace if lost, can be played with anywhere and have a 101 uses. These items have become our children's favourite toy on the road. They spend more time colouring, sticking and cutting than playing with any other toy. Paint with water books are great to travel with as they're almost mess free... apart from the occasional spilt pot of water. Aquadoodle and WOW have a great range of small travel accessories, including books with pages that are colourless until water is applied. As the page dries, the colours disappear ready to be painted again and again. Craft and colouring supplies are usually quite cheap, particularly in Asia, so it's easy to buy a new notebook and special pen before every bus or plane trip. If your child enjoys drawing, a new colourful pen and a notebook will be the highlight of their flight or bus ride.
Camping stores often stock foldable buckets that perfect for collapsing into packs and bringing out when the children are bored. If you're at the beach, bucket are of course the perfect toy. Even without a beach, so long as you have access to a balcony, garden or bathtub, a bucket and water can keep young children occupied for hours. Paint footpaths or garden beds with water and a paintbrush, use empty cups or water bottles for pouring games, see what toys can float or create a garden soup from the plants around your room. Buckets can also become houses for toys, a bed for dolls, helmets or princess crowns during dress-ups, a home for caterpillars or snails ... the options are endless.
A COMFORTER OR FAVOURITE TOY
For younger children especially its often a good idea to bring any attachment toys (cuddlies) with you. Of course this raises the issue of what to do if it gets lost? Honestly if you're on the road for more than a few weeks and your child insists on bringing that toy with them everywhere they go, it's going to get lost. As much as possible, insist that favourite toys stay in your hotel or hostel room. If they have to come with you, try to keep them in your backpack whenever you are somewhere your child might put it down and forget about them. Taxis or public buses are the worst. We've lost more toys in taxis and public buses than anywhere else as we're usually in a rush to get out. If you loose a toy in a taxi or bus you really have no chance of ever finding it again.
If your child is especially attached, buy a duplicate and leave it at home. That way if the original gets lost, then you can always fake a call from Grandma saying the toy has found its way home somehow. Our daughter has a favourite baby doll that she's very attached too, particularly when we first started travelling. We're onto the fourth doll now. Two permanently lost in taxis and one somewhere in the streets of Vientiane in Laos. Luckly for us our daughter is happy to replace her baby but its turned out to be an expensive exercise to replace them. It can also be really hard to find a suitable replacement. In some countries, like Laos, doll's aren't commonly sold. She now stays in the room or in a pack on travel days.
A pack of cards is a very useful thing to have when your out to dinner with tired kids and the meals that you've ordered are taking a long time to come. With practice and some initial help, our daughter quickly mastered Uno, snap, go fish and memory before she turned three. At 5 years of age our son is a pretty good poker player and uses the cards to practice his addition! Even if your child is too young to learn games, a set of card can be used to practice their sorting or numbers. Our children will happily spend twenty minutes sorting all the cards into their suits, then arranging them from 1-10 (for our youngest we tend to take out the Jack, Queen and King to make things simpler when sorting).
A DOCTORS SET
A toy doctor's set is the perfect toy for when Mum or Dad is tired and just wants to lay down in the hotel room but the kids have other ideas. Volunteer to be the patient and you can have your rest while the kids pod, proke and wrap you up. Include some bandaids and an old bandage - then you have the perfect excuse to snooze as obviously mummy is too sick to get up if her leg is wrapped up and she has bandaids on her tummy. And of course if someone actually gets sick on your holiday the children can pretend to look after them.
LEGO, MECCANO etc
For older children lego or construction toys like MagNext or Meccano are wonderful. Who know's, they might even get creative and start reproducing famous landmarks they encounter on their travels! It's usually best to stick with general sets or have multiples of pieces in case pieces get lost. There's nothing worse than having a specific set of lego that makes a great race car only to find you've lost that one special wheel that the whole design relies on.
OK they're not really a toy but if you are travelling with young kids, an iPhone, iPad or iPod is definitely something we'd recommend. They have been a lifesaver on this trip. They are perfect for entertaining children on planes or long car/bus journeys. Not to mention the number of times we've been stuck in a ticketing office trying to book or amend bus/plane tickets and we need the kids to just entertain themselves quietly while we sort out tickets. There are a wide range of free and paid applications out there that even our 2 year old has no problems playing by herself. Even the paid games are usually under $5 each. Much cheaper than buying games for a Nintendo DS or other kids gaming console. There are some wonderful educational applications that you can include in your child's schooling while you travel. Our children regularly play colouring games, learn their alphabet, do dot-to-dot puzzles, solve simple maths problems, read books, learn about dinosaurs and other animals and practice their sight words on the IPOD/IPHONE. Apple has recently added a KIDS GAMES section to their app store so finding the games is easy. Gaming consoles like the DS are great for older children, but for younger kids the simple games that are available for the iPod/iPhone/iPad are perfect. Its also a bonus that the iPod/iPhone/iPad can be used by adults to check emails whenever you have a wifi connection and can be loaded with movies for once the kids have gone to bed.