Vacation season is upon us and I’ve learned one major truth as a parent: When your children are happy and enjoying themselves, you will be happy and enjoy yourself. This is true whether you travel by car, plane, bus or boat, or visit the seashore, mountains, Israel or anywhere else.
It is tempting to bring bags of toys/games or to use tech devices as an electronic babysitter. But do you really want to shlep so much stuff around? And if the kids are going to play on their phones, why not just stay home?
Here are a few hints I have picked up over the years that may save you from the dreaded “Mom, Dad, I’m bored” or “Are we there yet?”
A bit of ingenuity can go a long way. Boredom won’t stand a chance if you pack some crayons, markers and paper. Create your own game boards by having the kids recreate game boards from their favorite games. Checkers, Chutes and Ladders, Parcheesi, Monopoly etc. are easy to duplicate on paper. Be creative—use your vacation destination for Monopoly street names or use theme-park rides instead of plain chutes and ladders. You can make a spinner with a circular piece of paper and a pencil, or bring a pair of dice or even an old dreidel. (Granted a dreidel only gives you four “numbers,” but who wants to count as high as six on vacation?) Save bottle caps or pick up interesting seashells or stones to use as markers. Snapple bottle caps make great checker pieces; a soda bottle cap placed inside makes an instant king. A permanent marker can identify chess pieces.
Alternatively, you can take along games that have some missing pieces. No catastrophe if you lose a few more. Mix and match odds and ends from various games and maybe even come up with a new game entirely. Google “games to play with stuff you already have” and see if anything strikes your fancy.
How about drawing pictures on paper and then cutting them into pieces to create a jigsaw puzzle? For added difficulty, color a picture on both sides of the paper. If your family is big into jigsaws and only a “real” puzzle will do, pick some up cheaply at yard sales. Put the pieces in a ziploc bag and take a photo of the box cover. Printing the photo or storing the pic on your phone may make things easier, and then there is no need to carry a large box in your luggage.
A pack of file cards can be used to create card games. Create a brand new game or recreate a family favorite. Memory matching games can be made with pictures or words that describe your vacation destination. Use 52 file cards (or 26 cut in half) to make a “regular” deck of cards. Have a contest to see who can create the best new card game.
Older children (and parents) can enjoy competing to see who can complete a Sudoku puzzle the fastest. Find a Sudoku puzzle and make enough copies for everyone. Set the timer and you’re on your way.
You can choose to bring home your new games, or save the space in the luggage and create new memories (and games) on your next adventure.
Sometimes, though, kids just need something that comes in a package. I’m not sure why ripping open cellophane and peeling away cardboard is so appealing, but it works. Dollar stores can be lifesavers; give each child a few dollars to spend on whatever new toys or games s/he would like. A minimal $5.00 per person and you are good to go. Gather the toys and allow each child to open no more than one new toy per day. At the end of the vacation, you can either bring the new toys home, or leave them for another family to enjoy. To increase the level of surprise, have children buy toys that they think their siblings would want, rather than purchasing for themselves. Parental input can be very useful here.
Long car rides or airport waits can leave you in need of something to do. Google “dinnertime conversation starters” before you leave and write down (or print) some of the best topics that you think would work for your family. Some of the sites divide the questions by age group, others list them together. Some discussion topics are listed by theme. Questions like “If you could be a famous person for a week, who would you be, and why?” or “If you could eat only three foods for the rest of your life, what would they be, and why?” would get some interesting conversation going that will make the time pass quickly. The game can be paused on a moment’s notice and resumed at any time. Best of all, it also works well on Shabbat and Yom Tov.
In the same vein, keep a list of word games (like Geography). Google “word games to play without pieces” to get a slew of ideas for games for all ages. All you need is your mind and a bit of imagination and time will just fly by.
Another suggestion for those car rides is a creative scavenger hunt. Spend a little time before the trip making up a list of 50 to 100 items to find and challenge family members to find as many as they can by the end of the car ride, day or vacation. Rewarding the whole family with an ice cream prize if the entire list is completed is a great way to encourage participation even from reluctant teens.
A word of caution when bringing stuffed animals on your trip. Always remove stuffed animals from bedding when leaving hotel rooms. Hotel staff members often scoop up bed linens, which get sent in bulk to a laundry. I’ve visited more than a few hotel laundry rooms in search of stray stuffed animals before I figured out that the animals are just as happy spending the day seated on a dresser as they are tucked under the covers. It is also easier to find brightly colored animals than white or light-colored ones. As more hotels outsource their laundry services off-site, it is better to take a few precautions than have a disappointed, unhappy child.
Wishing you a wonderfully happy and safe summer vacation.
By Deborah Melman