It is a good idea for all of us to turn off our many electronic devices once in awhile and actually talk to each other face to face. Whether you’re traveling by car, bus, train, or plane, summer vacation offers the perfect opportunity to “unplug” your kids and have some old-fashioned fun traveling! You can keep family bickering to a minimum by filling a backpack for your child or teen with surprise items which will entertain and comfort them.

Before you begin to assemble your kids’ individual backpacks, you need to do the following:

  • Find out your kids’ favorite book authors, musicians, colors, gum, and candy. If you don’t know, ask them. Don’t tell them why. It will drive them crazy.
  • Give them each a small address book and tell them they have to write down their friends’ full names, addresses, and zip codes. Don’t tell them why. It will drive them crazy.
  • Find a backpack for each of your kids. You can be very brave and clean out their school backpack (beware of old tissues, leaking pens, and sticky, unidentifiable food remains) or you can be smart and get new packs in their favorite colors.

23 Great Things to Put in a Backpack

Pack some, or all items. Judge as to age appropriateness for your child or teen:

  1. Bottle of water
  2. Gum (sugar-free or regular)
  3. Deck of cards (great cheap entertainment for hotel rooms and in crowded restaurants waiting for your meals to arrive)
  4. Clip board (mini-travel desk!)
  5. Bound sketchbook (so the pages don’t fall out) for journal writing; drawing; playing tic-tac-toe and hangman; reviewing hotels and restaurants; writing silly limericks; making signs to communicate to other cars and trucks (“honk if you like mashed potatoes” was one of my kids’ favorite signs); and keeping lists of: state license plates, animals they spot, cars they like, cool names they wish they had instead of their own boring name, things they hate/love about traveling by car.
  6. Markers of all shapes and sizes. Younger kids like the scented markers. *Hint: take out of boxes and put in zip-lock plastic bag.
  7. Kneaded eraser
  8. Lead pencils and colored pencils. See* in #6. Remember you take a risk packing crayons, they melt in hot cars.
  9. A great age-appropriate, FUN paperback book or books (not mandatory books from their school’s summer reading lists). Find books by their favorite authors. Ask your local librarian for entertaining books. Libraries have paperback copies as well hardback books.
  10. Correspondent’s kit. Tuck the following in a large zip-lock plastic bag: their friend address book, blank postcards, STAMPS, stickers, water-proof pens or markers, blank cards and envelopes. Encourage them to write to their friends throughout the trip. And stop to mail!
  11. One to two packs of favorite candy. Keep backup supply with you to dispense gradually.
  12. Terrific sunglasses
  13. Healthy snacks – a banana, trail mix, or bag of carrot sticks
  14. Plastic bag full of disposable hand wipes
  15. Pack of tissues
  16. Comic books
  17. Dime store treasures: paper doll set (pre-cut and put in folder), animal stickers and album, Silly Putty, Fuzzy Magnetic Mustache Man, Kaleidoscope, etc.
  18. Personal CD player, iPod, or other music player
  19. Audiobooks, age appropriate. Audiobooks are often more expensive than the books themselves, but at most libraries, you can borrow audiobooks on CD or even download them directly from the library’s website.
  20. CDs or playlist of favorite musical group
  21. Disposable camera
  22. Cheap binoculars for spying
  23. Flashlight for reading/writing/drawing when it gets dark.

The “anti-boredom” backpack will not only keep your kids entertained in the car, it just might hone their reading, writing, and creative skills as well. Make sure to pack your own bag full of goodies. Why should the kids have all the fun?

© 2015 The National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance