Surprise Bags for our Rolling Party

We are moving! Well, right now, I'm not. Right now it's 10:30 at night and I've just checked into a hotel and am trying to chill out with one child asleep and another watching Treehouse. I've also got one seriously traumatized kitty (after he did something he very much did not want to do in his travel kennel and it took us awhile to get to him to get cleaned up) and another who seems to be doing pretty good, sniffing the corners of the room. There is also a man, munching down some curry and talking back to Go Diego Go (which is why he is not normally allowed to watch children's programs). It's peaceful, in an odd way, and I'm glad to not actually be in motion for awhile.

The drive today was relatively short, just a few hours in the car, with a ferry ride in between jaunts, but long enough that I got to try out my 'Surprise Bag' system for Happy Traveling Children. The idea came about from the discussion in the comments from this post last year, when contemplating a mere 8 hour car ride (ha, we thought that was rough!) We've got two whole days of travel coming up, so I'm pleased my Surprise Bag test run today went pretty well well.

The Surprise Bags are just ziploc bags filled with a few items and an enticing snack, dispersed every hour or two along the car ride (depending how everyone is feeling). I called them Surprise Bags for our Rolling Party to try to set a mood of adventure and fun, rather than the usual, "Oh, crap, not another looooong car ride!" I get from the kids.

Today the kids ended up with two bags each, one shortly after we left home after the whole day of waiting around while their parents frantically got rid of most of their belongings (again), cleaned and settled up with the landlords. Plus the hundred and one little stops around town (mailing one package to our new home - roller skates, in case you are curious) and dropping off our modem, etc. It's all so tedious for me, I can't imagine how it feels to a five year old.

Anyway, I just wanted to share some of the items in the Surprise Bags:

a) a familiar book, a new character toy, and a little bag of animal crackers
b) a new book, a handheld mirror (seriously great idea), and some pretzels
c) some yarn for finger knitting (or just tangling for Birdie), a notepad and pencil, and a soy milk drink
d) kazoo, colouring page and a couple of crayons and, some corn crisps
e) a favorite toy, a little puzzle or wind-up toy, and a few small cookies
f) stickers, binoculars, and gum

And so on. I have enough items for 15 bags for each child: little action figures, slimy insects, lacing boards, and all sorts of fodder for imaginations. Since most of the new books and toys actually come from the thrift store, each one no more than 10 cents (I find the novelty is the payoff for most toys, new or second hand, so as long as it's new to the child, where I get it from doesn't matter), it was surprisingly inexpensive. I have the bags all separated and coordinated, so that each child gets an individualized to taste and age Surprise, but similar in activity to the other child.

At the end of the day, all the toys and clutter are picked up and squirreled away to be recycled into another Surprise Bag the next day or later or at least stashed out of the way so that the the morning begins fresh, without the feeling of being overwhelmed and hedged in with stuff all around. I plan to let them get good and bored before I even bring out the first bag tomorrow. All the better to help them appreciate the small things as they come.

Hope your morning is filled with fun and yummy surprises too :)


  1. I love the bag idea. My mom did something similar when we flew from NH, USA to South Korea. Hers were wrapped like presents, which is fun in itself since the kids then feel like they are getting a little gift. But hers were just a little dollar store toy--I like the idea of adding a little snack to the mix.

    I don't know you at all, but I love your blog and was excited to check in and see how the move is going! Good luck with the rest of the drive.

  2. Good luck on the move! We've got a 10 hour car trip coming up this summer. I'll have to remember the surprise bags - it just might make the whole thing bearable. :)

  3. Praying for a happy trip! I remember long car rides with my parents when I was young...you're making great memories for your precious children!woolan

  4. be praying for your journey today to be pleasant.

    i remember one time when i was a child that my dad had to go away for a week... and he bought some little trinkets and candies and wrapped one thing for each day he was gone - and a little note with each one - it was so special to open something from him everyday he was gone. your children will remember the fun they had on this adventure! even if they don't remember specific items from their bags...

  5. What a fabulous idea! I have a travel bag for my son, but he is quickly bored with it now as he has often played with the toys inside. We have a 3 hour car trip that we make several times a year, so I will definitely be making some suprise bags for future trips. Thanks for the great idea (and hopefully quieter car rides).

  6. That's what I do for my kids when we travel. We take a 3800 mile trip every summer and only a week to do it. I bring my "boredom buster bag" and open it up from time to time and distribute little things like you did. This works with teenagers too!

  7. Oh, oh! We do the surprise bags, too...although I use paper lunch bags, because they can't see what's in the bag and it feels more like they're ripping into a present lol.

  8. You're so very prepared!! We have a move coming up this summer...but we're flying. The big girl is easy - it's a three-DVD plane ride (one coast to the other) but...the one year old is a little more iffy! I almost wish we were driving...but that would take at LEAST 4 or 5 days of straight driving, which (also) doesn't sound great. I might put together bags for the kids....

  9. The surprise bags may just about be the best idea ever. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Genius! My 19 month old son is pretty happy with books. I offer them to him one at a time when he gets bored with the last one. He is pretty content eith reading books. "Busy" books, soft ones with things to do, take up a lot of time too. he doesn't really care for toys, he'll just stuff them down between his seat and the door. Right now he is againt the door and little bro (5 months) is in the middle seat, right next to him, facing him. Big bro likes to steal little bro's blankets, hold (or tug) on his hands, and talk to him when he's crying. :) Sorry for the long comment! I read over 80 blogs, I think, and yours was my first one (gateway drug) and still my favorite! <3 I hope your drive has gone well! We've driven 6 hours a few times to go from AZ to CA and we went to Disneyland yesterday and today (CRAZY). And when big bro was 5 months, we drove from Ohio to AZ in three days and with two cats. I feel ya.

  11. Dang, I forgot to edit and proofread my comment before hitting post! I'm sorry for my errors!!

  12. Thanks for this! We're headed on a 3 hr trip tomorrow. I'm so glad I saw this first. Trying to keep 5 kids occupied for the trip and then in a hotel and then standing around for 4 hours while we watch some guy mow our 5 acres, then heading back home. Even I feel bored just thinking about it!