Sanity Travel Tips 2: Games to Play in Tight Spaces

My dear friend Hannah—children’s author and mother of two boys with twin girls on the way—gets really practical in this guest post by giving us a list of games you can play in tight spaces that require no extra packing.

You may think these are simply games we all played as kids, but when you have a screaming child in your lap, you will be wishing you at least emailed yourself this list!

For the Two and Younger Crowd

●      Entertaining Games

  • Peek-a-boo [Editor’s note: This one is really great if you have a nice grandparent in front or back of your seat who wants to play also.]
  • Tear the Paper (Let the child rip Sky Mall into strips of paper. Use the strips to create chains, hats, animals, etc. Sure it makes a mess, but oh well!)
  • Singing Time with Hand Actions (Pat-a-cake, This Little Piggy, The Itsy-bitsy Spider, Wheels on the Bus, etc.)
  • Where’s the Binky? (Alternate hiding his favorite small toy in different hands or other places he can see)
  • Tickle Monster
  • Find Your Nose, Tummy, Hair… Now, Find Mommy’s Nose…
  • Make This Face! Imitate This Sound!

●      Wind Down Games for Sleepy Time

  • Counting Fingers Hand Massage
  • Counting Toes Foot Massage
  • Sleepy Time Songs (use your favorite lullabies)
  • ‘I Paint Your Arms and Face with My Fingers’ Soothing Rub
  • Invent a Quiet Bedtime Story (Once upon a time there was a boy/girl named [child’s name], who went on a long sea voyage. The boat rocked back and forth…)
  • Give them their nod-off sippy-cup/bottle (Remember that descending on planes is harder on ears than ascending, so don’t run out of bottle/sippy-cup/suckers at the end of the flight… or expect a screaming fit.)

For the Three and Older Crowd

  • I Spy
  • 20 Questions
  • Origami (A page from Sky Mall can become a balloon, a flower, a swan…) [Editor’s Note: Check out the cool website Tiny Shiny if you—like me—need an origami brush-up.]
  • Who can find the letters A-Z first? 1-10? (Hunt through Sky Mall…)
  • The Magic Bag (Form a make-shift bag out of a torn page from Sky Mall. Have the child toss an imaginary rock into the paper bag. Flick the underside of the bag to imitate the rock landing there. Hours of entertainment…)
  • Interactive Songs/Rhymes (Down by the Bay, Going on a Bear Hunt, The Green Grass Grew All Around…)
  • Teach a Magic Trick (Can you make a penny disappear?)

I try to avoid using movies or iPhone games for as long as possible because once you turn on these devices children lose the power to self-entertain. It’s whine-whine-whine from there on out if you have to take your phone back or the portable movie player runs out of batteries. [We do love our Signing Time iPhone app with songs and ASL sign demos. The phone does get hurled at something when the Pants decides he’s done being calm, though, so I get your point.]


Want more kid-friendly travel tips? Try 14 Tips for Flying with Young Kids (this one’s great if you have two little people under age 4 with you).

Or visit the Travel With Kids page for more posts.

12 responses to “Sanity Travel Tips 2: Games to Play in Tight Spaces

  1. For longer car trips, we bring a shopping bag filled with tiny little packages, wrapped in gift paper (by their OCD grandmother) one of which the little darlings get to open every hour. They can even be time-specific, like little boxes of cereal in the morning etc. Benefit – they can be used as leverage – “if you don’t stop x, you won’t get to open a gift.” Drawback – be sure that none of the little gifts is a noise-making anything. Somehow, their usually wise grandmother packed one of those whistles with the slide handles that make a funny descending, ascending and TOTALLY maddening sounds. Overall the gift bag was a huge hit for our last new york to chicago and back again road trip.

  2. I hate flying, so my BFF made an in-flight care package for me just like the one that GetbetterME described when I flew overseas. At age 26. It was awesome.

    Great list — need to print this out and keep it in my car!

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  7. My mom realized we loved stickers so she’d buy a cheap pad of stickers and cut each page in half. Every hour or half hour, we’d get to choose a new “page” of stickers. If there were any fancy, shiny stickers, the sheets were cut even smaller.

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