When you are traveling with kids, you definitely need small, lightweight toys to keep them entertained. You also want to take toys that don’t necessarily matter if a piece falls irretrievably into the tray table armrest slot (I’m looking at you Melissa & Doug puzzle set), so that means cheap and replaceable.
The first in this series of cheap toys is a building set made of CPVC pipe, or the poor man’s Tinkertoys.
Go to the hardware store and pick up a set of 1/2″ CVPC pipe fittings from the plumbing section. You’ll want some 90° elbows, 45° elbows, T’s, and couplings for sure. Only get a couple caps, if any, as these aren’t really useful for building. I found these doohickeys, which are 90° elbows that can connect straight into another fitting without first connecting to a piece of pipe. Each of these fittings should cost you $0.30 to $0.40 each. If you get 4-6 of each kind, you’re looking at a $5-$10 outlay.
Speaking of pipe, you’ll need some of that too. 1/2″ CPVC runs about $4 for a 10 ft length. You’ll want to take this home and cut it into pieces between two and six inches long. This doesn’t need to be precise, just have a variety of lengths available. My father-in-law made short work of this task with a table saw, but it will only take you a little longer (and a little more elbow grease) to use a hand saw. You might ask at the hardware store if they can help you cut it.
Et voila – for $10-15 you have a nigh unbreakable, portable building toy with pieces that are totally guilt free and only cost $0.30 to replace. We carry ours in a gallon size zip-top bag. Not only is it not a big deal if you lose a piece or two, but you can find replacement “parts” virtually anywhere in the world.
My husband would also like to point out that you can actually use the parts for plumbing projects later, in an ultimate triumph of dual usage. This is just huge bang for a few bucks.