Trip Binders

I never posted about our flight from Portland, OR to Abu Dhabi and I’m too lazy to go digging through my old photos. Suffice it to say that flying World Business Class (which is the top class they offer on KLM flights, la dee da) is outstanding….unless you have to fly with young children. It’s still a million times better than flying coach (I don’t think I can ever go back), but Jeff and I weren’t truly able to enjoy the fully reclinable private bed-pods, movies, fine dining & free-flowing booze, because the kids needed our full attention and never went to sleep. This is exactly how they have been on every flight we have taken together: perfectly well-behaved…as long as we give them 110% of our attention and keep them entertained for every last second.

Adele is very easy to fly with. She is content to sit on her own and watch a movie (or six, if it’s a twelve hour flight), draw, eat, read, etc. May, however, was – and still is – at that absolute worst age to fly long-haul, as she has all the energy of a child, the attention span of a baby, and the patience of…ehh, I was looking for some sort of really impatient animal or famous literary character to make a joke here, but couldn’t think of any. Joke falls flat. Point being, she’s tough! Luckily, that’s no surprise, so I was prepared.

I’m writing this post now, because we have another long flight coming up. It’s not nearly as long as the twenty+ hour itinerary we had on the way here, but it’s almost seven hours each way and that’s nothing to scoff at. And maybe some of the people reading this post have travel with children coming up. So hopefully it will help if I share some of the things we brought on the plane to amuse the children.

I made trip binders for both girls:


When I was a little girl, my family (my mom, uncle, grandmother and sister) would drive to Cannon Beach, OR for summer vacation, which was about six hours away from home. My grandmother always packed “trip bags” for me and my sister. Every half-hour or so, we could “dive” into the bag to pull out a new present. They were fun, cheap little doodads that she had collected and wrapped individually. We loooooved them and each gift amused us long enough until it was time to dive in to the bag again. I wanted to do something similar for my girls, but we had so much stuff to bring with us for the move that I didn’t want to overburden our carry-ons with unnecessary toys. I came up with the idea that I could condense various amusements into a binder, which kept things neat and tidy, safe & secure, and easy to find & grab.

I tailored each girl’s binder to their age and interests and tried to keep things equitable.

Let me take you through each one.



I wrote out every thought I had for what we could do on the plane, so that my mind wouldn’t go blank when the kids were getting antsy. I think all of these are pretty self-explanatory, but sometimes I make up names for the games that we’ve “invented” for the kids, such as the alphabet game (find something you see that starts with each letter of the alphabet in order), the rainbow game (find something that is each color of the rainbow, in order), and “what kind of animal am I?” which is a guessing game where one person thinks of an animal and everyone else asks yes or no questions until they can identify what the correct animal is. These are great games to keep in mind for a trip, because they require no things; they can just be talked through, so they work especially well when you’re waiting in the check-out lane at the grocery store or are stuck in the car.

Along those same lines are the talking activities, which are not games per se, but similar. Everyone knows the “would you rather” game, but just like I wrote out an index of activities so that I wouldn’t have to use my tired brain, I printed out questions and conversation starters that I found online (here and here):


An exquisite corpse story is one where one person starts a story and then passes it on to the next person, who adds to or changes the narrative a bit, and so on and so forth, whereas a story-stone story’s narrative is dictated by drawing “stones” that are painted with characters or scenes on them, but instead of stones, which would be ridiculous to bring in a carry-on bag, I made cards:


These are just images of random objects and animals that I cut out of magazines and old, broken children’s books and glued onto index cards. Total cost = however much the index cards cost (and it was back-to-school time in stores, so there were deals on everything. IT WAS SO MUCH FUN TO BUY SCHOOL SUPPLIES. NEWSFLASH: I’M A BIT OF A NERD.

Some of the other school supplies I bought were pencil cases, which I used to hold all these little paper games and the various sundries I thought would amuse young children (stickers, crayons, pipe cleaners, small containers of Play Doh, a roll of painter’s tape, etc), and transparent drop-in folders (more on those later):



Truth be told, the cards were actually kept in May’s binder, which is pictured above. I tried to make items that were as multipurpose as possible and could be shared between the girls. I may as well throw May’s binder’s index in here, so you can see that there’s some overlap:


Let me tell you more about those cards that I made with pictures and glue. There were so many ways I discovered to utilize them. Aside from pulling random ones to dictate a story à la story stones, we used them to play “what’s missing?” by laying out a few and then taking one away and making the girls remember which one was no longer on the table, we let the girls make groups of similar items (for example, Adele discovered that there were several fruits, and animals, and round shapes, and things with blue in them, etc), we practiced word & image identification with May (I could ask her to search and find the lamp or I could point to the lamp and ask her to tell me what it was called), and, really, I just gave the piles of cards to the girls and they invented their own games. It was so simple.

Perhaps even more simple? These paint chips that I took for free from Lowe’s and cut in half:


It might be kinda hard to tell from the quality of this photo, but there are two of every color and two light and two dark of every color (so, two light greens and two dark greens). We made this into a memory game for Adele as well as a matching game for May – we had her find two of the same exact shade and we had her put all the like colors in piles, like so:


I also made other card puzzles for each girl. For May, I cut out simple scenes from the same magazines and books that I used for the big set of cards, glued them to index cards, and cut them in half. I shuffled them up, laid them all out face up, and she had to put the scenes back together again. It also uses up time to talk about what she sees in each scene and make up stories for each scene. I also drew very simple shapes on index cards and cut them in half. She put them together and we talked about the names and qualities of shapes. For Adele, I drew different kinds of lines on index cards and cut them in half. This ended up being waaaay more difficult to reassemble than I expected, but it was a really good brain teaser for her (and Jeff):


The rest of the trip binders focused on art. A binder’s whole raison d’être is to hold paper, so drawing is a no-brainer. Aside from blank white computer paper and some graph paper for free play, I included pages ripped out of a coloring book for May:


Prepped several sheets of paper with random body parts as an invitation for Adele to fill in the rest of the person:

IMG_5449 (2)


And found drawing prompt ideas online here and printable drawing prompts here:


The genius (if I do say so myself…and I do) idea that I had that put these drawing activities over the top was the use of the transparent folders and dry erase pens. It meant that the girls could use the same coloring book pages or drawing prompts over and over and over again. A real space saver. And it was a medium that they had never played with before, so they went wild for it. The absolute best example of the transparency drawing was this:


I printed out black & white photos of everyone in the family and let the girls doodle on top. Hilarity ensued. Sigh, I wish I had my external hard drive hooked up right now so that I could add the pictures of the girls coloring each other’s faces, but like I said above, I’m too lazy.

I have to say that I really loved the trip binders I made. They were cheap, easy to make, educational, and did their job on the plane, but perhaps more importantly, they continued to amuse the girls long after we arrived in Abu Dhabi. We lived in a temporary apartment for a month before we moved into where we currently are and I didn’t want to do too much unpacking before we were in our permanent place. So we didn’t get very many toys out of our suitcases (but we also didn’t bring too many toys with us at all, because I really wanted to pare down what the girls had to make them appreciate it all more and because we just couldn’t bring much more than clothes!). They were happy to play with the index card games and transparency-covered drawings all month long.

I still have the binders and I might just refill them with new activities and prompts for our next trip. Things that I had planned on having inside the binders for the big move, but ran out of time for, were: flat magnet sets, paper dolls (bonus points for diy-ing them to look like the girls), Where’s Waldo-type scenes, a mama & baby animal matching game for May, and a few, key Arabic words to learn (but when I tried to research them on Google, I could only find translations in Arabic script, not transliterations, so that did me no good before I learned the Arabic alphabet – now I could rock it).


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