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Five favorite screen-free travel toys and kits for young children

Tangram tiles travel easily, require no batteries, and can be used to make flat images or stacked for a 3-D effect.

Tangram tiles travel easily, require no batteries, and can be used to make flat images or stacked for a 3-D effect.

If you’re looking for screen-free alternatives to help keep your child entertained on an upcoming flight, road trip, camping trip, train ride, cruise (when wouldn’t these come in handy?!) … consider these favorite travel toys for young children. No charging cord or batteries required!

And better still, these travel toys will help keep your child’s imagination and hands busy in constructive–and tidy–ways.

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1. Tangrams

What are tangrams? Traditionally, a tangram is a Chinese geometric puzzle, starting with a square cut into 7 geometric shapes. These shapes can be used to create seemingly infinite representations of animals, numbers, letters, boats, buildings, flowers, and the list goes on!

This travel-friendly tangram set (for kids 3 years+) includes a booklet with 240 possible puzzles to create with the magnetic tiles on the fold-out work space. Of course, your child is free to improvise as well — imagination’s the limit!

While there are many kits or box sets available in travel-friendly sizes (see more here), my kids have most enjoyed having a baggie full of wooden tangram pieces and a booklet of animals to make. They follow the patterns as well as create their own imaginary scenes, sometimes laying the design flat (like this fox) and other times stacking them for a 3-D effect.

Click here to see more tangram puzzle sets.

2. Wikki Stix

If you haven’t yet added Wikki Stix (or similar product) to your travel toolbox, these can be a great activity with no mess or clean up required (just don’t let that cute Wikki Man melt into the dashboard of your rental car, ahem).

They are bendable, reusable, and can be used to make simple flat designs, or rolled and wrapped to make 3-dimensional objects. Most sets include idea cards that show simple ways to make a design.

This activity set is ideal for travel with a small board, set of wikki stix, and all pack into a travel pouch. Recommended for children 3 years and older. Click here to see more Wikki Stix sets.

3. Travel Doodle Pro (Tag Along).

Stamp-initiated drawings, freehand scribbles, your next round of tic-tac-toe? If you missed my ode to the travel-size Doodle Pro some years back, you can click here to read in detail (and rhyme) how it’s helped our family, saved my sanity, and yes, inspired poetry.  Just imagine what it might do for your family!

As you can see, it’s handy for even the youngest scribblers and is always ready for more. Click here to see the line-up of travel-size Doodle Pro drawing boards.

4. Log cabin art with coffee stir sticks

Make a 2-dimensional log cabin with wooden stir sticks from a cafe.

This kids craft travel kit is free, reusable, compostable, and so much fun that you’ll have a hard time not building one on your own fold-out airplane tray.

Just don’t forget to swipe a handful of complimentary wooden stir sticks from the airport cafe before your flight (with plenty of extras for yourself). Stash in the pocket of your purse or day pack and you’ll have an instant activity wherever you find yourselves waiting…

See more in your copy of Take-Along Travels with Baby or in this post.

5. Crayola Color Wonder activity kits

All the joy of marker madness with non of the marker mess! These marker tips distribute only CLEAR ink except where they come in contact with Crayola’s special papers. Genius?

This travel-friendly set includes a handy carrying case, makers, papers, and Crayola Color Wonder stamps for good measure. You can add to and switch out other Color Wonder products as you see fit.

For best results, don’t let your child use them at home in advance of your trip. Better yet, save the surprise until well into your flight, when the freedom to paint feels most unexpected–and appreciated!

Pack along a spiral drawing pad or just use airline-issue napkins. Click here to see this kit and additional Crayola Color Wonder products.

More screen-free alternatives to keep kids entertained during travel?

Want more screen-free alternatives to help keep your kids busy during travel? There are dozens of tips, ideas, and inspiration for the younger set in Take-Along Travels with Baby.

And for school-age kids, check out these screen-free and battery-free favorites on FamilyTravel411.com.

Here’s wishing you the best of luck on your next family adventure!

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli

Curious about this content? See my editorial content disclosure. An earlier version of this was first published in May 2012. It’s since been updated.