Busy bags for long journeys

We recently had a family holiday to Japan, and I was pretty daunted by the idea of keeping a 2yo entertained for 10 hours on a day flight. I try to avoid screen time (although I admit, a movie on a flight is definitely a saviour for 30 minutes of downtime, now she’s a little older), so although food can keep her entertained for quite a long time, I had to turn to Pinterest and the local toy store before we headed off.

Busy bag ideas are all over Pinterest, and they’re a real life saver when you’re on a long trip. So I compiled my favourite ones after trawling the internet, and created them for Little Bu. I supplemented this with some small toys and games that could be brought out whenever the last one had lost it’s appeal.

I thought I’d share them with you, with links to the sources, so that you can pick and choose your favourites too. Here are my top tips followed by my favourite resources. Enjoy!

Tips for creating Busy Bags for travel

Zip it up

Get down to your local Pound/Dollar store and grab some pouches with multiple zip sections. I chose two A5 pouches with multiple sections, and one large pouch with one zip, that I could fit everything into.

Split it up

If you’re doing an outbound and a return journey, split everything you compile in two, and make sure the second set is tucked away out of sight until your return journey.

Space it out

Hand out the little activities/toys at spaced intervals, waiting until they’re bored of one before you introduce the next. Intersperse this with food and a walk, and you should make it through the flight without much boredom!

Take it out (and about)

Once you’re at your holiday destination, take one of the smaller pouches out and about with you, and bring it out whenever you are sitting or standing still for long periods (restaurants, queues, shops etc). Our restaurant tables were always covered with colouring pages, stickers and spinning tops, but Little Bu was happy and we were all able to eat in (relative) calmness.

Test it out

If you’re trying any of these Pinterest ideas, and you have time, test out something similar on your LO before you fly. I made an awesome felt pizza making kit, and was so excited to give it to her, but she played with it for 1 minute, shut it back up and handed it back to me. Find out whether your LO loves velcro activities, or felt, or fabrics, and adjust your selection accordingly (although variety is still important).

Make-at-home activities

Build a Snowman

Little Bu loves Frozen. Oddly enough she’s not interested in watching it (she’s seen bits of it 3 or 4 times in total, but probably only once in full, and that’s enough), but she loves the idea of being Elsa. She wears Elsa nighties at every possibly moment of the day, and with her christmas money she chose to buy an Elsa plait to tie into her hair. As far as she’s concerned, she IS Elsa when she’s dressed up.

So I found a ‘Build a Snowman‘ print out, which I laminated in it’s separate parts, and we have fun making silly combinations before building a proper snowman each time we play with it.

Animal Puzzles

These animal puzzles are really versatile. You can play match-up, or create silly new animals, or even play memory games where you flip the pieces over and then try to match animals up by finding the pieces one at a time. And they’re so simple to make – simply print them out, cut them out, and laminate them.

The best thing about them? Despite creating multiple games, they’re super portable. Pile the pieces together and it all fits inside a tiny pouch. Perfect for when you’re out and about.

Making Funny Faces

This Face Parts Game is good for a little giggle – make silly faces, create characters, or allow them to put the pieces in completely the wrong places for an even funnier face.

To make it, print out and cut out the pieces, laminate them individually, and then stick velcro dots onto the back of each piece and on the face where the features should be placed (make sure you put opposing parts of the velcro onto the face vs the features so that they actually stick).

(N.b. on the link you need to ‘buy’ the download, but it’s free so it’s just a step in the process, there’s no actual cost.)

Clothes Line and Dress Up

This is a really sweet little game. The premise is that your LO can dress the girl up, then ‘wash’ the clothes (we used a plastic cup given to us in whichever plane/restaurant we were on/in), then hang them on the washing line. Great for discussing colours and processes, and good fine motor skill practice as they have to concentrate to match up the dresses to the girl.

The blog I found this on (Mother’s Niche) suggested printing the pictures onto felt so they stick together by themselves. We laminated and used velcro dots instead, in the hope that it’ll last longer and survive the mess it gets subjected to when we travel! Then, I cut 2 little holes in the washing line printable and tied a piece of garden twine in to act as the washing line. If you had mini pegs I’m sure these would be awesome to use too!

Shape Matching

Shape matching is such a classic game – lots to talk about with your little one, but i’ll also keep them entertained on their own as it’s so self explanatory. I can’t find the link to the sheet I used here, but any shapes page from Pinterest will do. Print it out twice, cut one set out, laminate everything and then add those amazing little velcro dots. Easy peasy, super transportable and will last a long time.

(N.b. make sure the sheet is printed out to a size that fits into your bag. My bag is huge so A4 suited me, but you could also do A5 so that it would fit into your busy bag pouch).

Road Play Mat

If your LO is into cars, this is great for some simple tray-top entertainment. Print out the pictures in this link from The DIY Mommy, double sided, and cut to size, then laminate. That’s it.


It goes without saying that every busy bag pouch should have colouring pencils/crayons and paper. We had some plain paper, but I also printed out some free colouring pages from Pinterest and bound them into a little book. A mixture of animals, simple shapes (star, heart, tree), and subjects of interest (Frozen, outer space etc). At 2yo Little Bu wasn’t really ‘colouring in’, but she loved looking at the pictures and choosing the colours that she felt were appropriate, then covering the page in her own artwork. I don’t like limiting her creativity (hence the plain pages too), but for fine motor skills, this is a nice activity as they get older.

Beyond the printables

Tiny toys to engage with

I popped to the local toy store a few days before travelling and found several cheap, intriguing toys to include in the pouch. In between the printable activities and colouring, I would bring out a toy every now and then. These were met with mixed interest (the stamp set and wipe cloth being the most successful), but always kept boredom at bay!

  1. Window clings are awesome! The choice in our pound store was pretty poor, but they still offered lots of fun, sticking them to the window on the plane, and the to table tops and chair sides in restaurants.
  2. The mini stamp set and mini note book went down so well with Little Bu. Hours of stamping fun. Just make sure they’re supervised enough to ensure they won’t stamp on the furniture.
  3. This little toy is so cute! Stick it between your fingers and it turns your hand into a puppet. This is more of a hands on toy (unless you have two LOs who can play together), but it can get some good giggles from them!
  4. This is literally just a wipe cloth. Nothing more to it. Little Bu found so many ways to play with it: cleaning surfaces, a blanket for her peg dolls, hiding things under it, sticking stickers to it, and so on.
  5. Good for fine motor skills, practising to wind them up. And on a plane, they’re really handy as they don’t travel very far so a back seat tray table is the perfect size.
  6. Little build-and-play toys like this goat are good fun and can be re-built time and again. In the shops I also saw planes, cars and other animals to build in a similar way, depending on their interests.

I hope some of these tips and links are handy for you on your next travels. An hour or two of sourcing, printing, laminating and visiting the local toy store before you head off can really save your sanity on a long flight!


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