While we’re spending more time at home, we’re also finding new and creative ways to stay entertained. There are still plenty of ways to explore the world – and map out your next great adventure – from your living room (or kitchen!). Travel-inspired movies and board games can spark a little cheer, and travel toys, games and crafts that are usually meant for cheerfully distracting kids during a long journey can now be used to engage and educate at home.

Here are 13 parent-approved, mess-free activities to entertain the kids, whether it’s during a transatlantic flight to a faraway country or for a few quiet hours at home.

Tattly temporary tattoo
A temporary tattoo of a peacock from Tattly © Natasha Janardan / Tattly

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Toddlers:

Temporary tattoos

Let your kids turn hands and arms into canvases with temporary tattoos like the ones from Brooklyn-born brand Tattly. Designed by artists and made with non-toxic vegetable-based inks, they’re both adorable and safe, and they wear off in just a couple of days.

Reusable Stickers

Any stickers are handy for amusing kids, but the Melissa & Doug Habitats sticker pad includes 150 reusable stickers and five backgrounds – a jungle, farm, or underwater scene, among others – for creating a masterpiece. And then recreating it over and over again. (The books come in a variety of themes, including vehicles and my town).

Reusable coloring books

Water Wow coloring books are a must-have for parents with small kids when traveling or just trying to enjoy a peaceful dinner in your neighborhood restaurant. Fill the accompanying plastic paintbrush with water, and let your tot “paint” each page of the book, revealing colorful scenes. (Parent hack: if you don’t have easy access to a sink to fill the brush, use a straw to siphon a little from your water glass).

Stack of blank adhesive notes on a wooden desk
With enough imagination, adhesive notes can offer loads of creative entertainment © William Mebane / The Image Bank / Getty Images Plus

Post-it notes

It’s usually the most low-tech activities that provide the most amusement. (See: the beloved giant cardboard box used to ship any expensive electronic toy). Parents of young toddlers swear by Post-it notes, which offer mess-free fun – sticking on tray tables, car seats, or anything else in arm’s reach. Older toddlers can draw on the sticky squares, or arrange in colorful designs.

Sorting bears

The durable, portable Skoolzy kit is several games in one. With dozens of colorful bears, cups, a large die and tongs, kids can stack, sort, engage in imaginative play, and flex those fine motor skills. When playtime is over, it all fits neatly into a sturdy sack.

School age:

Play-Doh

Open-ended activities usually entertain for the longest stretches. Tiny, 1-ounce pots of Play-Doh are easy to throw in your bag before traveling, and are just as easy to pull out while you’re cooking dinner. Dole out the little pots with instructions to create a favorite animal, a character, or whatever meal they’re about to eat.

scribble and play.jpg
Wireless and reusable, the Scribble and Play tablet is hours of mess-free fun © Courtesy of Kent Displays

Writing tablet

A wireless tablet can provide a creative distraction for kids of any age. The Boogie Board Scribble and Play allows kids to write and draw in color, using one of four easy-grip stylus tools that attach to the board. After they add the finishing touches to their artwork, get a blank canvas with the press of a button. If they’re sad that their masterpiece will disappear, snap a photo first.

Rush Hour game

Even with some small parts, the Rush Hour Jr, traffic jam is a winner for to-go game time. Brightly-hued vehicles, a traffic grid board, and deck of cards fit inside a portable pouch, and the logic game doesn’t require much space to set up. The cards include 40 different challenges to clear a path for the ice cream truck, and build problem-solving skills in the process.

Paint by sticker book

Use numbered stickers to create vibrant mosaic pictures with these paint by sticker books. Available in various themes, like zoo animals, beautiful bugs and unicorns & magic, they help kids practice numbers and fine motor skills while crafting colorful works of art.

Spot It game

Engage in a little friendly family competition. A fast card game that comes in a portable, packable tin, Spot It is fun for both kids and adults. A round of takes about 15 minutes, and can be played anywhere, with groups of two to eight players. Two cards are laid on the table, and one image is always the same on both. The first person to spot it wins the cards and the player with the most cards at the end of the deck wins the game.

Family of four playing cards in kitchen
A deck of cards is a classic way to pass the time © Sara Monika / Image Source / Getty

Older kids:

Card games

One deck of playing cards can be used to play myriad games, and with one player (solitaire) or more (rummy, crazy eights, go fish). Other fun, packable card games include Uno (this one comes in a tin travel box), Monopoly Deal and travel Scavenger Hunt

Chess set

You know what passes the time? Learning how to play chess, and then playing a few rounds. A magnetic chess set is screen-free, strategic fun, and folds down and stores pieces when it’s time to pack up.

Mad Libs

First introduced in the 1950s and still silly, side-splitting fun, kids can flex creative muscles – and learn about nouns, verbs, and adjectives in the process – to build hilarious stories in the Mad Libs word game books. Plenty of different options are available, and there’s also a dry-erase activity book option for more limitless entertainment.

You might also like:
10 best board games for little travellers in lockdown
9 kids podcasts for curious explorers
Home-school project: how kids can plan a city break

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