Help kids explore the world from home with these activities, games and books, mom-tested and vetted by our travel trends expert, Kelly Soderlund.
My kids love traveling. I like to think it’s because we started them both when they were really young: my oldest son’s first flight was a 17-hour jaunt from San Francisco to Dubai on New Year’s Eve, where we watched the Burj Khalifa break the world record for fireworks, followed hours later with another jump over to Delhi. He was 18-months old at the time and I thought, “Why get him his own seat since he’ll probably be climbing all over us anyway?” It didn’t take long to learn that lesson—though it did take several bottles of free wine (me) and some Benadryl (him) to cope.
With my second, I started taking him along when I flew for business, on what I dubbed “training flights”— short, one-to-two-hour hops so that he could get used to the security process, get used to the changes in altitude and air pressure. By the time we made his first 6-hour trek to Hawaii, our toddler was a seasoned pro, sleeping the majority of the way and charming our neighbors for the remainder.
Before COVID-19 canceled our plans (and everything else), we had several trips in the queue. And while those plans have obviously changed, my kids’ love for travel remains unabated—and so, to me it became incumbent to feed that curiosity as best I could until the world opened up to travel again. Luckily, I found that, though we could not go anywhere, there was no shortage of brilliantly imaginative activities and toys that brought the world to us.
Here are some of our favorite travel activities, games and books that have salved the disappointment of our lost spring and summer:
Little Passports: World Edition
Launched in 2009, this mom-founded monthly subscription box company was created to inspire children to learn about the world and features kits curated with age-level appropriate activities.
“Growing up, we were both exposed to different cultures, whether it was moving between the US and England, or growing up in a Chinese-American household. Those personal experiences taught us how important it is for children to learn about geography and the world around us. Now that we have children, it's important to us to provide those opportunities to learn while inspiring the imagination.”Amy Norman and Stella Ma, Co-Founders of Little Passports
My mother signed up my 8-year-old son for his birthday in April, and it’s proven to be so much more precious to us than I could have ever imagined. The boxes come in the mail (a treat at any time, and even more so during peak-quarantine). Together, we’re able to explore a different country, adding sticker pins to the map my son has crookedly taped over his bed. Together, we’ve painted the Eiffel Tower on a mini easel; studied precious gems from the Amazon; practiced Japanese sushi-making and more.
Osmo Detective Agency
Like a cross between Where’s Waldo and Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego, this interactive offering from Osmo includes a “smart” magnifying glass for kids to leverage as they search for landmarks around the world while also learning trivia facts about geography, local culture, international landmarks, and history. Kids use critical thinking and listening skills to solve mysteries in cities like Egypt, Rio de Janeiro and for my Brooklyn-loving son, New York City.
We purchased Osmo several years ago and while it’s a bit on the pricier side, it’s stood the test of time, with different games and applications that grow along with your children, spanning the gamut for everything from tangram building, to a friendly monster that creates stories from your child’s whiteboard drawings, to coding games featuring a strawberry-gobbling blob named Aubie.
LEGO Architecture Skyline Collection
The LEGO Architecture series is amazing; it’s also pretty expensive, even for LEGOs. Enter the LEGO Architecture Skyline Collection, which is not only less expensive, but also less technically complicated. Featured cities include San Francisco; New York City; Paris; London; Tokyo; and Dubai.
Lonely Planet Kids World’s Strangest Places
Okay, so this is technically for kids but I really love this series, too. Together, the books let us explore the planet’s weirdest and therefore coolest places in this already-strange world.
Lonely Planet’s travel experts have found 40 of the planet’s most bizarre sights and natural wonders and ranked them in order of their oddness. Chock-full of jaw-dropping facts and amazing photos kids will discover such oddities as the city where everything is underground, a post office you need a swimsuit to visit, and secret locations that, well, are far too secret to mention here. There’s even a ‘strange-o-meter’, which lets kids compare each place based on its uniqueness, wow factor, surreality and mysteriousness. Featured places range from the Rainbow Mountain in Peru to the Crooked Forest in Poland to Snake Island in Brazil.