We’ve gone to Wyoming every summer since we’ve been married (and I’ve gone every summer but one since college).  When the girls were small,  Bill didn’t have much vacation time, so we flew but eventually the girls couldn’t travel for free in our laps and paying for four seats didn’t figure into our budget.  But no matter the mode of travel, there are two necessities for travel with children to go well–plenty food and drink (and not at airport prices unless in dire need) and something for them to do.

The latter need lead to the invention of the surprise box, something I might have been able to market in those days before so many rules and regulations governed everything and lawsuits ran rampant.  Today just the thought of selling something with a pair of scissors in it makes me clutch my purse reflexively. The first surprise boxes were simply inexpensive divided plastic food storage/microwave containers, filled with whatever I thought the girls would like and would fit. This was prior to electronic devices, when children did active things, not just watched something.

I put in art supplies, scissors, markers and pens, mini-Etch A Sketches (a blast for adults, too) , tongue depressors which turned into little people under their deft ministrations; whatever things I could find that looked like they’d be fun.  By far the most popular were sticker books and all sorts of stickers.  These were popular for years, even at home.  Prior to every trip, I scoured the stores for the cutest, most unusual, and apt stickers and the girls could hardly wait to see which ones were in their box each year.

It was the one rule, however, that made the surprise boxes even more special.  They couldn’t be opened immediately!  If flying, they couldn’t be accessed until we were on the plane and if driving, until we got on the highway.  Yes, delayed gratification!!  And yet our girls would be considered by most to have turned out to be normal despite this cruelty.

In the usual course of events, we hit the highway about five minutes after leaving the house.  But sometimes one of the parents, who shall remain nameless, would drive through downtown Cleveland, meaning we didn’t get on the highway for twenty minutes or more.  Our younger daughter’s plaintive, then annoyed, voice would sound more than once as she asked, “Dad, are we on the highway yet?”  Amazingly, she and Bill not only both survived but still get along.  🙂

I could have sold any number of boxes, either while waiting for takeoff or in the air,  to frustrated parents with fussy children .  More than one mother asked me where I’d bought the boxes.  I should have made extra and sold them on the plane, traversing the aisle in the manner of the cigarette girls of bygone days.   We even had a little song with words that went, “You never know what you will get in the surprise box.  You never know, you never know, you never know what you will get in the the surprise box.”  You might not know what was in the surprise box, but we knew it made our traveling life much better and made some great memories.  Highly recommended for a traveling child near you.


  1. billgncs says:

    but I never got one!

  2. You got Janet, you big baby.
    What more could you want…

    • Awww, Randy, that was so sweet! (Have you been inhaling again?? 🙂

      • Inhaling?
        I always inhale, then I exhale. It’s called breathing down here in Florida.
        You northerners don’t do it?

        I know there was a President who smoked but never inhaled, but I think that was something different – or was that what you were perhaps referring to…? Hmm.

        Like wow..This is way out. Head games, huh?

  3. I had 4 children (they’re adults now) so I understand completely, I did the same sort of things without the boxes.

    Planning ahead to keep them occupied. We went on many road trips. i loved it. Some of my favorite ones since we live in south Florida, and the kids never saw snow, were entitled for all of us:

    In Search of Snow

    on the way we’d count cows, license plates, sing , play ghost, grocery store, and more. And oh yes, fight and yell and separate the kids and make a gazillion pee stops and it was great times…
    and a few hairy ones, too.



    • We did the license plate search, too, and I read aloud to the kids (and Bill, too) and he sometimes read aloud to them (and me) while I was driving. Do remember Slug Bug? That was before our kids’ time and wasn’t really a travel game, but fun if the hits weren’t too hard.

      • No, what is slug bug?

      • Whenever you see a VW Beetle, you try to be first to slug whoever’s close enough to hit. I drove a 1975 Super Beetle for a long time, but you don’t get to hit people for that. I may have caused lots of hitting, though.

        Speaking of hitting and traveling with kids, when we got our second van, we got captain’s seats so the girls each had their own spot and didn’t have to touch each other. It was worth losing one seating space!!

      • we called that “punch buggy, don’t punch back!”

        “Speaking of hitting and traveling with kids, when we got our second van, we got captain’s seats so the girls each had their own spot and didn’t have to touch each other. It was worth losing one seating space!!”

        us too!

        there were 6 of us in the van – so it worked out fine.

      • We only had four, so we still had plenty room. It certainly made trips of any length much more peaceful.

  4. Bumba says:

    So that’s how you make it to Wyoming!

  5. Shannon says:

    The surprise boxes were pure genius! I still think about playing the license plate game, sleeping in the car and listening to the Lord of the Rings tapes!

  6. Abraham says:

    I should put together a surprise box for my daughter. I usually carry something for her to read or colour.
    And I normally wonder why many parents don’t prepare something to occupy their children.