Photo illustration: The strategist; Photos: dealers
Typically, when preparing for a trip, you have to pack bags, fill pet feeders, set those pesky light timers, and everything else that comes with going out. But there is one more important thing to consider: what do you bring to entertain the children? As a dad who travels with the family quite a bit, I’ve tried dozens of products over the years, all of which have promised in one way or another to ease the boredom and maybe even bring us closer together. Of everything we’ve tested, here are the best. We own, play, and enjoy all of the games on this list. Most are suitable for kids ages 5 or 6 (and some even younger), but just as important is that all of them are legitimate adult fun – because we are human too, and we deserve to enjoy life. In addition, they are all travel-friendly: with one exception, they all fit in a trouser pocket.
We played dozens of rounds of this fast-paced card game with the kids who are currently 3 and 7 years old. Even our youngest can keep up. When my son and I started camping a few years ago, we always brought this game with us – and it won many times. It doesn’t require reading or arithmetic, just recognizing a shape and being the first to play a card of the same shape. Up to eight people can play and it is available in a waterproof version that is always useful with children.
While not a huge challenge for adults, these inexpensive little 36-piece puzzles are not baby toys. You need a decent time for the kids to exercise and they are just so difficult that you as a parent don’t have to pretend you’re trying. If you’re short on space – which we always seem to have, even if we’re only out for the afternoon – you can put the parts in a plastic bag and leave the larger box at home.
This game is intended for ages 13+, but we have had lots of success (and fun) playing with our younger children. All you need is to understand what the three symbols – panda, bamboo, and water – mean, and then know who to screw up. Each player starts with the same number of dice. In your turn you roll the dice. Everything that shows up is removed from the game, everything that is bamboo is used to challenge the player next to you, and everything that is pandas is happily passed on to another player. The first person to get rid of all of their dice wins. Since all you need to play is the dice, this is another one that can easily be shrunk down into a plastic bag for packaging.
Note: Although this game is currently out of stock, Amazon expects it to be available soon. You can order for delivery as soon as it becomes available.
Settlers of Catan, It’s great to play, but not something that you can easily put in your pocket. However, this small, cube-based version is. It’s also easier to learn; it is fast moving and therefore ideal for children; and it will more than itch the adult fans. If you use the resources rolled to build cities on your playing map it will be difficult for kids under 10, but if you have older kids (or the kids are finally sleeping) this game will keep you entertained for hours. It can even be played on its own if you are a unicorn parent who somehow found a way to have some time to yourself.
Jump in is a logic and thinking game that, depending on the challenge chosen, can be easy enough for a 6 year old or hard enough to frustrate that dad in his late 30s. Each challenge consists of moving rabbits and foxes over and around each other on the board. Some are simple enough that I can resolve them in my head and offer (subtly) help when my son tries to resolve them – although often he doesn’t need a bit of help. Others are so difficult that we both need several tries before we can finally solve them. But they’re all fun.
Full Disclosure: My wife and I play this game at night with a glass of wine or a plate of snacks ten times more often than we play it with the kids. Why? Because it’s really fun (and they tend to slow us down). You start each game with four rows with the numbers 2 to 12, each corresponding to one of the colored dice. With each throw you mark one or more numbers on your list. But if you pick the wrong number (and roll a better number next time) – or if your opponent can complete and close a line in front of you – you will miss a lot of points. It’s a mix of probability, luck, and the ability to read your opponents. It’s a great learning opportunity with the kids; without her it gets hot.
We didn’t say this was a list of the best unknown Travel games, only the best. Banana grams is our constant companion for a big reason: it’s great fun to play with kids, but it’s also great fun to play without them. We found that Scrabble-Style tile game – in which each person has to form words as quickly as possible with the assigned tiles – a useful learning tool for vocabulary and spelling.
I have had fond memories of playing this classic card game with my own family while traveling in the 90s, matching colors and numbers, and happily playing Draw-4 cards on my brother. Now that I’m a father myself, I still have so many great memories of playing with my children and my wife. When our children first learned, we played with our cards face up on the table so everyone could join in and get help when they needed it. But soon they had their cards back in hand, and it was each player for himself.
The strategist is designed to provide the most useful expert recommendations for making purchasing decisions in the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best Acne treatments, Rolling luggage, Pillows for side sleepers, natural anti-anxiety drugs, and Bath towels. We update links whenever possible, but please note that offers may expire and all prices are subject to change.