8 best toys to occupy kids on long journeys
Avoid screaming matches in the backseat with these gadgets and games that inspire the imagination, keep kids entertained and even educated
“Are we there yet?” chirps a voice from the back-seat – when you only pulled out of your driveway three minutes ago, and your SatNav says there’s four hours and 12 minutes to go. Or perhaps you’ve got a long train or plane journey coming up and you need lots of ways to fill the time. Sure, there’s the tablet approach, but that’s not for everyone and can lead to motion sickness – and likely won’t last the whole journey to Cornwall, or Cape Town, or Bognor, either.
You’ll definitely need some ideas up your sleeve: lots of snacks; pit-stops (if you can, in the car), and your imagination: expect to play plenty of rounds of iSpy, or 20 Questions.
Planes and trains obviously give you more options – to walk around, but also to play actual games which could be too squashed or impractical in the car – and travelling at night gives the advantage of the children (hopefully) sleeping.
But however you’re travelling on your long journey with kids, here are lots of toys and ideas to help make it pass peacefully.
Top Trumps emotis card game: £3.35, Amazon
This game hasn’t changed since you were a kid – and nor has the appeal. Our testers (aged six to 12) all enjoyed this two-plus player card game, where you compare categories to try to win the pack of cards. The dogs version was popular with our canine-loving testers, but there are a huge variety of categories, stretching from Harry Potter to football to Roald Dahl, so there’s sure to be something to capture your mini traveller’s imagination.
We also tried the junior Peppa Pig version, aimed at those aged four plus: it didn’t have quite the same lasting appeal, but the kids did enjoy the five different activities (including spot the difference, pairs, wordsearch, and an observation quiz).
Kurio tab connect kids: £84.99, Argos
Tablets have become an easy way to entertain kids, and they are ideal for long journeys. Our testers loved the Kurio connect tablet as it allows parents to control the device remotely – to easily set screen time limits including the amount of time between each session, the volume level and even to play games in two-player mode. Kurio claims to be the safest tablet for kids on the market – it automatically filters the internet to keep it child-safe.
Families loved that it was ready to play straight out of the box, as it’s preloaded with 30 apps: our testers (aged three, six and nine) all enjoyed these, especially beach buggy racing. The younger kids also loved sending messages and emojis to their parents. The device isn’t cheap, but it felt robust and didn’t react when our three-year-old dropped it three times. We tried several kids-focused tablets and this came up trumps.
Julia Donaldson audio collection: £9.99, Book People
This disc set of of Julia Donaldson’s most popular stories (including The Gruffalo, A Squash and a Squeeze, Room on the Broom and The Snail and the Whale) read by narrators including Imelda Staunton and Alexander Armstrong, and with an extra song for each story, silenced even the most car-hating travellers.
It was popular with testers from aged three to eight – but one major fault flagged by a few parents was that the stories are inexplicably spread across ten CDs – if you’re on a trip with only one driver and a simple car audio system, it’s frustrating to be asked to change CD every 15 minutes or so. But in general, parents loved audiobooks as a way for children to pass a long journey peacefully.
AquaDoodle colour travel bag: £14.94, Amazon
If your child loves drawing, this is the ideal way for them to be creative without needing tons of equipment in the car. Inside the bag there’s an easel with two drawing areas – so our testers filled up one side, then flipped it over to use the other when it was full. You need to remember to fill the Aquadoodle pen with water before you set off, but after that it’s mess-free: the pen draws on the surface, before the doodles or pictures fade away.
Although this worked during car travel, we found the toy was best suited for other types of journeys, like on a plane or train, where kids have a larger surface to work on. But this would also be great for when you reach your destination, to keep your children occupied during a weekend away, for example. Our testers were slightly disappointed they had to wait for the drawings to fade away rather than making them instantly disappear, but they enjoyed using the set and parents liked the lack of mess.
Hasbro guess who grab & go: £7.99, WHSmith
A lot of classic games have been converted to travel format, but our testers felt guess who? was the easiest to set up and play, even in a squashed car. You have to build the game initially, putting the cardboard characters into their plastic holders, but, as one mum put it, “that gave the kids something else to do!” The game was robust and kept two eight and ten-year-old testers busy for almost an entire two hour journey.
Learning Resources playfoam go!: £10.10, Amazon
Playfoam is like a mess-free cross between clay and Playdoh – and petrol heads who are reticent about even allowing snacks on board will be glad to know it doesn't stick to upholstery, hands, or clothes. And it never dries out, so our older testers enjoyed using the lid of the box as a table to create models, which could then be kept or squashed back to make something new.
Although it’s suitable for ages three-plus, in the tricky car/plane environment, we found it was best for kids aged six and above. The travel case has nine compartments for the different colours, plus built-in shape moulds to keep everything in one place. Kids loved the creativity this offers– although it’s definitely easiest to use on a train or plane journey where there’s a tray to use.
Flipside game: £16.99, Argos
This quickly became an addictive (and competitive) game amongst our seven to 16 year old testers (although it’s aimed at children eight-plus). It’s a cross between Tetris and a Rubik’s cube – you flip to find the colour and slide to match the lights. It has four different game modes (speed, memory, levels, plus a multi-player option to get competitive) and joyfully came with the two AA batteries it requires.
Parents liked the fact that Flipside was popular across kids of a wide range of ages and interests. Only downside is, it’s not small – but then, our testers liked it so much they didn’t put it down – so didn’t need to pack it away anyway.
Smart Games IQ fit: £9.93, Amazon
This is a puzzle game where you have to work out how to fit small 3D pieces flat onto the game board, according to one of the many patterns in the accompanying book, and without any holes exposed – this is a challenging one.
It’s aged six-plus but fairly tricky, so our testers aged eight-plus enjoyed it most. With over 100 different challenges to tackle, it’s a long lasting game that’s also very compact and easy to travel with, plus has longevity as even adults really enjoyed the concept. Our kid testers especially liked it when they beat their parents.
The verdict: Car journey toys
Most parents will probably succumb to a tablet for their kids at some point, and the huge range of games, apps and other activities available on Kurio’s device for kids means it’s sure to be popular, as well as being robust. But for value for money, as well as longevity and popularity amongst kids, you can’t beat Top Trumps. Our testers loved trying a range of the different packs – with hundreds available, you’ll almost certainly find one to match your kids’ interests. Pick something educational and they’ll even be learning in the car too – definitely a best buy.
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