No Tech, Low Cost Airplane Activities for Kids

Traveling with children is not for the faint of heart. Electronic devices can run out of battery during a long layover. Or get broken or lost. Or kids get bored. Then what? It’s time to get out the fun airplane activities for kids you’ve packed! Everything on the list is lightweight, fairly small, and won’t break the bank.

If you’re looking for airplane activities for preschoolers, this list has several no tech, low cost, low mess ways to entertain children while traveling.  All items in this list will go through airport security and also work well for road trips and entertainment in hotels.

Updated: August 29, 2018

no tech, Low Cost, low mess Things to do on an Airplane for Kids, Preschoolers, and Toddlers

Being prepared (or even overprepared) will save your sanity when traveling with little ones! The first time I traveled solo with my kids, we had an unexepected 2 hour layover in the Houston airport. Once we boarded the plane, we waited another 45 minutes for jet fuel. My kids’ tablets batteries died. I was so grateful I’d brought other entertainment options!

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Inflatable beach ball

This is great for layovers in airports. Blow up the ball, find an empty area (which I know is challenging in busy airports), let your kids run and play as long as they want! When it is time to board, deflate and pack it in your carry on. It will also be a nice toy for a hotel pool, the beach, and even possibly the hotel room (use your best judgement on that!) An alternative would be to bring balloons instead.

Check beach ball prices on Amazon!

Wooden Clothespins

You can paint each pin and have a corresponding color chart, write a word (like their name) with a corresponding chart or simply leave them plain and let your kids invent games. The best part? If they get lost, it isn’t a big deal! They also store easily in a simple plastic zippered bag (or upcycle an old make-up bag for this purpose).

A great game for toddlers!

Paint with water books

They still exist! This is definitely a better hotel activity than a car or airport one. It’s a little bit messy and older kids may not love it as much. Pro-tip: take the pages out before painting with water.

There are reusable ones now, too! I decided on the reusable ones by Melissa and Doug for our next trip, even though they cost a bit more than the paper books. The reusable ones may work better on an airplane or in the airport, too

We like Melissa and Doug Water Wow reusable books. Check prices!

Post-it Notes


This is a messy one, with fairly easy clean up. Light weight and small, so will fit well in luggage! It is also unlikely they will be traveling home with you. My children made buildings on a hotel room wall with some post-it notes that my mom gave me before  trip. There is no wrong way to play!

Paper cups

Okay, no one really wants to travel with paper cups, but for kids, the possibilities are endless! Combine this with the clothespins and see what games your kids invent. They are also lightweight, can be reused, and ditched, if room is needed in your suitcase.

Kids can toss the clothespins in the cups or bring a ping pong ball along. If you’ve traveled out of your home country, toss coins from the local currency into the cups. Whoever got the most money in the cups wins! It’s great practice with counting and getting familiar with different currencies.

Three pictures of a beach ball. It's shown flat and inflated.

Beach ball. A great, reusable, and entertaining item!

Popsicle sticks

You could create a game out of these, if you love to DIY. You can paint the sticks different colors and sew color coordinating pouches so your kids can sort them. Another fun idea would be to add velcro dots to each end and let your kids have fun building. Both of these games can be played on the airplane’s tray table. It’s a quick and easy clean up when it’s snack time!

Also, they are light weight and won’t take up much room. You can keep them in their own plastic zippered bag or upcycle a second small make up type bag to stay organized.

Scratch Off Mini Notes

It’s a mini, post it note size version of scratch off art! Kids can use the enclosed stylus “pens” to doodle, draw, and write silver or rainbow colored creations. These can be used on long car rides, airplane rides, layovers, and in restaurants. My children love these. For ages 3 and up.

We used these larger books on airplanes. They were a big hit as the kids scraped off the black top layer and the rainbow colors were discovered underneath. Sometimes, they worked with the pictures and sometimes, they created their own thing.

Sandpaper Activities

While it seems weird to bring sandpaper on an airplane, it can be used for multiple activities. You can draw on sandpaper. You can cut them into shapes before your trip for your children’s creative play on your trip.

Add some yarn and you have reusable artwork!

more ideas to entertain children

Here are some great ideas for travel toys for toddlers and preschoolers and also my tips for ways to survive going to a family wedding with kids. Want even more? Check out this post with great hotel activities for kids by the Educational Tourist!

Conclusion

Go forth and travel bravely with your kids. Make sure to pack snacks and some non-tech entertainment. Travel delays can occur without warning. When kids get bored, adults get stressed. Head off that stress with some of these great airplane activities!

What are your go-to ways to entertain your kids while traveling? What would you add to this list?

 


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