My first attempt to travel with arts & crafts supplies was not what I expected.
The first time I handed Tiny Traveler a box of crayons on a plane she was not quite 2. She was mostly entertained by taking them out of their plastic box and putting them back in again.
But not long after she became a kid who loved drawing, gluing, painting, covering things with glitter (including herself), playing with Play-Doh and even trying some rudimentary sewing.
Art supplies were a reliable way to entertain her on airplanes and in cars until she was in middle school (now she just needs her iPod and books). I was always on the lookout for supplies and kits for arts and crafts activities that were portable and likely to pass muster with the TSA.
Here are some of the best travel arts & crafts I’ve found over the years. Most of them are under $20 and many are under $12.
Vacation Arts & Craft Ideas for Kids Ages 3-11
Table of contents
Drawing & Coloring On the Go
Paper and crayons are foolproof for keeping kids busy. And they’re ideal when they come together. These Color & Carry pad-and-crayon packs from Melissa & Doug are compact, just the right size for fledgling artists and easy to carry.
They’re part of Melissa & Dough’s extensive On The Go line of small craft activities and toys kids can take with them.
When your kids reach an age where they just want a blank notebook for dooding and journaling, grab this three-pack of mini sketch pads from Melissa & Doug. Each has 50 pages of acid-free paper for pencils, pencils, pastels, or whatever else your child tosses in his or her backpack.
I loved the Britto crayons in its bright P’Kolino cup. The 12 colors go beyong the usual primary ones. And the triangle shape makes them easy to hold and harder to break.
We’ve traveled with crayons and markers but my favorite coloring tool away from home are colored pencils. They don’t break or run out of ink, and they won’t stain furniture if coloring goes off the page.
Young artists will love mini colored penciles from Mziart. Their cases are decorated with bears and have built-in pencil sharpeners. Three 12-packs make a set, a great deal and handy stocking stuffer.
Older kids and tweens will gravitate toward this tube of 48 pencils from Arteza. They’re not-quite-round shape means they won’t roll away and they come in an eco-friendly tube they can pop in a backpack.
It’s hard to resist the portable drawing kits from The Piggy Story.
Dye-cut felt animal shape artfolios are adorable and flat enough to slip them into any bag. They have two pockets inside that hold a small pack of crayons and pad. It’s easy to refill when you go through the pad and crayons that are included, so it can take many vacations with you.
There are also chalk and marker artfolios that come with those two items and a zipper pouch for holding them. It has erasable “blackboard” pages for the chalk and a doodle pad for the markers. Again, just keep refilling it and bringing it with you.
The Piggy Story’s Create & Doodle Travel Sets will keep your kids busy on the longest flight or road trip. A 35-ft roll of paper and 10 markers fit neatly into a slim zippered carrying case.
Jaq Jaq Bird’s reusable chalk coloring books give kids scenes to color and blank spaces for their own art. Some books are inspired by famous artists while others have popular kid themes like constellations and dinosaurs. They come with dust-free free chalk, making them mess-free as well as easy to pack.
The Pipity travel activities set is hard to resist. Start with a folio that closes tight and has its own cross-body strap. Open it up to find a pencil, colored pencils and a sharpener, as well as a glue stick, ruler and scissors.
A built-in “easel” holds paper in place. It comes with games and coloring and craft activities. I would add a pad of blank paper, too.
Tip: The TSA says you can bring scissors on planes as long as they are no more than four inches long from the pivot point.
Craft Kits For Every Age Group
They are compact and self-contained, and you can make cool things with some of them. School-age kids can make some cool things with them.
Between preschool and first grade we gave and got these Alex Pops kits all the time. They have everything you need for a simple craft project inside a compact box. Kids can make spoon dolls, owl stick puppets, straw rockets and more. Bring them on plane rides when your kids are beginning to craft on their own.
Needle projects come in handy when kids start outgrowing other kinds of crafts. They can do finger knitting and embroidery at age 8 or so and start knitting around 10 or 12 YO.
While Alex has a wide range of needle-craft kits. I think one of the best for travel is the super embroidery kit. It comes with its own tote bag, which you can decorate with the embroidery materials and also use it to them your projects with you.
Both include wooden knitting needles, yarn and instructions for knitting projects. Kids will want to take the stuff out of the boxes and keep it in a bag for travel.
Tip: The TSA says some knitting needles are OK in your carry-on.)
Tween Traveler never had an American Girl Doll, but the craft kits are really good. So we bought them anyway and she either skipped the mini version of the project or made it for one of her stuffed animals.
The Infinity Scarf Knitting set isn’t actually knitting; it uses a hook and loom. But it looks easy to learn, is very portable and the resulting scarves are pretty cool.
Klutz has quirky and fun kits that are often about the size of a book; and sometimes are contained within a book.
Kid can make their flying creations en route, then have some thing to play with when you arrive at your destination.
Klutz offers the tried and true Friendship Bracelets kit with thread and instructions for ten kinds bracelets.
It also offers quirkier kits like Finger Knitting, Pom Pom monsters and a stuffed animal sewing kit, all in book form. They’re ideal for kids looking for more challenging crafts, but not quite ready for knitting needles.
Even fickly tweens might light Creativity For Kids’ Decorate Your Own Sunnies. Comes with three sets of sunglasses, stuff to bling them up with and three cases. Bring it on your next beach vacation.
Creativity For Kids one ups the many friendship bracelet kits out there with its Lots of Knots, which offers instructions and cord for necklaces, key chains and headbands as well as bracelets. (It includes scissors the; read our tips above about the TSA.)
Pinwheel Crafts is new to me, but it’s bracelet making kit comes with durable parachute cord for chunkier bracelets, as well as five charms to weave into your crafter’s choice of patterns. And it includes eight snap-on claps, which means kids don’t have to leave bracelets on until they rot.
Tip: A lap desk like this one from Alex gives kids a flat surface for crafting and drawing. It’s slim enough to pop into a seatback pocoet, too.
Things Kids Can Mold & Shape
I have come to love chenille craft stems (I call them pipe cleaners) is that they’re cheap and kids can use them over and over.
On our Senegal trip, I tossed a pack into my suitcase almost as an after thought. During that lull between sight-seeing and dinner each night, Tiny Traveler sat on the floor of our bedroom braiding all 100 stems.
Then she used the braids to make bracelets and necklaces that she passed out to our hosts and traded for other trinkets.
You can buy a pack of 100 on Amazon for $3-$8 for. Buy assorted colors. A mix of short and long ones is ideal.
When Tiny Traveler outgrew Play-Doh I started bringing modeling clay on trips. It was a definite step up. It doesn’t dry out easily and kids can do a lot with it without molds or accessories. It’s also the kind of thing that gets adults involved.
Tiny Traveler would make simple animals, beads and pretend food. My husband would amuse her with pastel elephants and kangaroos.
Art Supplies Just for Toddlers & Preschoolers
I was quite ready to write off Crayola’s Color Wonder line as gimmicky. But when I saw a demo I decided it was pretty cool. Most of the products are inexpensive and ideal for traveling with toddlers and preschoolers.
Your tot can paint, color and make stamp art at grandma’s, the hotel or a vacation rental without you having to worry about crayon on the walls or marker on the couch.
Either one can be refilled with an extensive line of coloring and activity pads, some of which incorporate popular Disney and Pixar characters.
Workman Publishing makes a series of Paint by Sticker for kids books with gender neutral zoo-animal, under-the-sea and beautiful-bugs themes.
New Seasons makes similar spiral-bound books with sticker puzzles in themes including robots, nature, awesome animals and “totally cool,” which involves unicorns.
Each book has ten pictures for kids to do. And each one should keep kids busy for up to half and hour. They’re ideal for kids old enough to have the dexterity to place the stickers well and to follow the numbers.
Kids. Love. Glitter.
Parents: not so much.
So one of Melissa & Doug‘s more clever innovations has been its line of Mess-Free Glitter crafts. They include stand-alone stickers, puffy stickers, holiday crafts, create-a-scene packs and crafts like bracelets and tiaras.
Much of the line is very girly, but there are ocean, dinosaur and holiday themes. Your youngster will have fun with these and you’ll appreciate not having glitter all over your car’s backseat when he or she is done.
Alex has a series of Sparkly Sticker Picture kits, which create layered pictures with glittery details; choose a robot, owl or birthday cake. Only 1 picture per kit. It’s the kind of thing I’d stash in my bag for that moment when you really need something.
Peaceable Kingdom’s Foil Art kits lets kids make shiny puffy stickers or scenes in a range of themes from fairies and butteflies to robots and monsters.