Best travel apps for kids

Kids’ apps can save a parent’s sanity.

Kids’ apps can save a parent’s sanity.

I recently took a 27-hour plane ride on my own with a three-year-old and a 10-month-old. The limited highs and cavernous lows of that journey are another story, but one thing emerged as a shining beacon of light in saving my sanity: the iPad.

If you haven’t got one already and you’re planning long-haul travel with kids, then beg, borrow or steal one, because any device that can entertain your offspring for the most of their time awake on a plane is worth its weight in gold.

Here are the apps that saved us. You don’t need to be online for them to work and they are all free, except the film; just Google the title to find them in iTunes.

Thomas and Friends Engine Activities

My son was entertained for literally hours with the colouring game on this app. You dip a finger into a virtual paint pot, select a brush size and colour away.

There are also innovative jigsaws; tap a picture, and it separates into jigsaw pieces which can be moved back into place with a finger.

If you get the piece into the right place, there’s a confirmatory click and once the jigsaw is complete, a narrator fills you in on what’s happening in the scene.

The memory game was less popular, but might work better for older children.

The Shoemaker

As my eyes dropped with exhaustion in the Los Angeles departure lounge, The Shoemaker app came to the rescue.

Essentially, the app reads the story to the child while they look at the pictures (although young readers can choose to read the words themselves). Each page has an interactive element where the child is asked to identify certain objects and touch them.

It’s a lifesaver after you’ve reached book reading overload. Snow White from Story Chimes is equally good.


A different take on the jigsaw idea, Buzzle presents kids with a picture. Some parts of the image are missing, and the child needs to drag and drop the right shape into the empty space to complete the picture. We lasted about 15 minutes with this one, but it was still worth it.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Road Rally Appisode

Part cartoon, part game, Mickey speaks directly to the child in this app and requires them to answer in order to proceed. My son greeted this approach with perhaps more enthusiasm than his fellow travellers would have liked, but hey, it stopped him from bouncing off the luggage racks.

The app then led him through a series of short games and tasks interspersed with Disney dialogue. It took a little bit of coaching to get him going on some of the games, but once he got the hang of it, it kept him gainfully occupied.

Beware though; the M.I.C.K.E.Y song will be seared into your brain for days.

Wild Fables

Essentially a book, you need to read this one to younger children, but they can ‘turn’ the pages by pressing a button, and the fables are fun. Each page has a hidden graphic for the child to find which keeps them interested.

Math age 3 to 5

We enjoyed this app, but most of the activities were a little easy for a three-year-old, and five-year-olds would find them a doddle. This is a good one to download if a younger sibling wants to get in on the action though. The educational aspect appeased any guilt I felt for abandoning my child in screen land (which, in truth, was not very much).


This app turned the iPad camera into a fun house; we spent a good hour taking silly pictures of ourselves, the bulkhead, and the sleeping infant stretched, squeezed, twirled, kaleidoscoped and mirrored. Highly entertaining.

Ice Age, the Movie

Paying to download a film onto your iPad might seem like a waste when there are free movies on the plane but my three-year-old struggled with the head sets and didn’t seem to enjoy watching the films on board much. Having one of his favourites on hand meant that he could watch it while I got some much needed rest in a Los Angeles day room before the second of our long flights. Invaluable.


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