Travel: Don't leave home without one

TRAVELLING or going on holiday with young children? Scared of delays or long-haul flights? For me, packing a toy bag started one Christmas when Lewis was six months old and I had to keep him happy during a flight to Florida. Now we never leave home without our "travel toys". Basics include pencils, pens, colouring and drawing books, and favourite teddies or comforters. If you pack carefully you can even ensure that long-haul flights or drives pass with (relative) ease. The following are our top 10 favourites (stockists are given when the toy is not widely available).

Fisher Price Perfect Photo 35mm Camera, pounds 25

Age: 5 plus. Children's 35mm camera with easy-grip handles and large push buttons. Takes good-quality pictures, once you teach your child to hold the camera straight and look through the dual-eye finder. My children enjoy the chance to capture their own view of the world around them.

Mega Sketcher (Tomy), around pounds 10

Age: 3 plus. No ink or paper needed, just use the magic pen and drawing board to doodle or design again and again. When you want to erase it, simply turn the knob and the screen magically clears.

Little Tykes Mini Cassette Player (Early Learning Centre), pounds 19.99

Age: 3 plus. Has all the normal functions of a tape recorder, but is almost break-proof, with a handy carrying handle and headphones. This is brilliant for travelling: the "Read Along" tape and book sets from Ladybird, and Meringue Productions' Dinosaur Diaries and Oh No! Not Another Travel Song tape are highly recommended.

Lego Sets, from pounds 7

Age: 6 months plus. Some airlines, such as the Danish Maersk Air, give out Lego children's packs on their flights; others sell them on board, and you can also get them in duty-free shops. These are an absolute essential, whether your children are six months or 16 years. Sets range from the basic "stack and learn" to those from which you can build motorbikes or space ships.

Tommee Tippee Potette Travel Potty, pounds 5.99

Age: 18 months plus. Amazingly useful for any small child, whether out in the wilds, on the beach or in the middle of a busy terminal building. It folds flat and comes in bright lime green or orange. The potty has scented disposable liners (which simply knot after use to give an airtight seal); there's no smell, no mess and no problem of how to dispose of potty contents. Phone for stockists (tel: 0500 979899).

Swim Mate (Styrox UK), pounds 19.99

Age: 12 months plus. Swim Mate is a great swimsuit which comes with built- in buoyancy pads. They are easily adjusted to suit swimming ability and enable children to begin swimming in a horizontal line. Both of my children have learned to swim with the help of Swim Mates and it is money well spent. Available in sizes 12-24 months and 2-4 years. Phone for stockists (tel: 01252 316626).

Travel Nintendo Game Boy Travel Bundle (Argos), pounds 54.99

Age: 8 plus. Though by no means cheap, this hand-held computer game is almost guaranteed to keep the children (and some adults) quiet for hours. The compact Game Boy Pack includes Super Mario Land and Super Mario Land 6 Golden Coins game packs. Phone for stockists (tel: 0870 600 3030).

Crayola Stamp & Go Travel Desk, around pounds 5

Age: 4-12 years. This plastic desk is ideal for travel use. Contains six mini-stamper pens, two colouring pens and a paper pad, making the desk ideal for stamping, colouring and travel games. All of the contents pack away into the desk.

K'NEX Sets, from pounds 4.99

Age: 5-8 years. I found out how great these were for long-haul flights when we flew off one Boxing Day; the children grabbed these to take along. They all needed to be constructed and this must have amused them for three hours or so. The small Windmill sets and Micro Grand Prix appeal particularly to boys, who love the instant speed as they pull the cord (but be careful about losing them down the gangway of your jumbo).

Travel-size classic games, from pounds 5

Age: 3 years plus. Several classic games are now available in travel sizes, including Cluedo, Monopoly, Scrabble, Connect 4 (prices from pounds 5). The Early Learning Centre also has several good games in its Game Bag (pounds 6.99). This contains Ludo and Snakes and Ladders. Magnetic Noughts and Crosses (pounds 2.99) is always fun.

Karen Banyon is a travel writer and broadcaster. She has travelled with her two children, Lewis, six, and Craig, four, since they were just a few weeks old.