Family LIfe

Themed Party Idea: Planes, Trains and Automobiles
by Penny Warner with Balloon Time Helium Balloon Kits

Because kids are always on the go, why not provide them with a way to get there - via a Planes, Trains and Automobiles Party? You can include popular icons, such as Lightning McQueen from "Cars" or Thomas and his crew from "Thomas the Train." Then hop on board and take a trip to Transportation Station. You never know where you'll end up.


Create over-sized tickets inviting your guests to your transportation party. Use a plane or train ticket as a model, and copy it via computer and printer or with construction paper and felt-tip pens. Make the destination the party house and include arrival and departure times.

Ask the kids to come dressed as race car drivers, railroad engineers, flight attendants, cruise ship directors, astronauts or bus drivers. Or, have them dress as tourists ready to travel the world.


Hang up posters of race cars, big trucks, trains, planes and other forms of transportation. Or, use posters featuring characters from "Cars," "Thomas the Train" or "Midnight Express." Set the party scene by creating the interior of a plane, train, boat or different cars. For a plane, set up two rows of chairs, use a TV as the in-flight movie screen and serve food on TV trays. Do the same for a train, except for the movie screen. For a boat, set up lawn chairs in a row, serve the food buffet-style and draw a shuffleboard game on the patio. Make portholes using construction paper, with fish on the other side of the "glass," and hang them on the walls. Inflate helium balloons using a Balloon Time Helium Balloon Kit and then tie them to chairs, float them around the ceiling and create an archway of balloons for the kids to enter through. Unfold a map across the table as a tablecloth, or cut maps into rectangles and use them as placemats.

Games and Activities

  • Play Musical Airplane Seats (or train or bus seats). Set up enough chairs for all but one guest. Play music and have the kids walk around the chairs. When you stop the music, the kids scramble for a chair. Whoever does not find a seat is out until there's only one player left. Give everyone a prize for playing!

  • Have the kids make and decorate small paper airplanes. Use a Balloon Time Helium Balloon Kit to inflate balloons and tie the planes to the ends of the balloon strings. Let the kids "fly" their planes using the balloons for lift.

  • Encourage the kids to pantomime a mode of transportation, such as driving a car, flying a plane, steering a boat or riding in a spaceship. Let the other players guess how they're traveling.

  • Provide cardboard boxes about the size of a large microwave oven, so the kids can fit them around their bodies. Let the kids create a mode of transportation - train, car, plane, boat and so on. Then help them cut windows, doors and holes for arms and legs as needed. Have them paint and decorate the boxes. When they're finished, let them travel around the party in their new transporters.

  • Take the party on the road and visit an airport, cruise ship, train depot, or fire station, and see behind the scenes. Or, go to a car show or race, or take them to a small-car driving range for action-packed fun.

Have the kids sit in their passenger seats. Pass out packaged trail mix or pretzels before mealtime. Then serve individually wrapped "airline" food, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, a cookie and juice box, on TV trays.

Make a Train Cake. Bake or buy one small loaf cake for each guest. Have the kids decorate their loaf cakes to look like train cars, using a variety of frostings, decorations, and candies. When finished, line the cakes up to make a train. Or let them decorate individual cars, planes, or boats, and line them up with their creators for a group picture before you eat them.

Give the kids small cars, planes or trains to take home. Or, pass out small picture books that feature trucks, rockets, and other transportation themes. Let them take home their cardboard vehicles and tie a helium-filled balloon to the back of each one.

About the Author:
Penny Warner has more than 25 years of experience as an author and party planner. She has published more than 50 books, including 16 specific to parties. Additionally, Warner writes a weekly newspaper column on family life, penned a column for Sesame Street Parents magazine and has appeared on several regional and national TV morning programs. Her latest book, HOW TO HOST A KILLER PARTY, debuted in February 2010 from NAL/Penguin.

Balloon Time is the leading brand of consumer helium balloon kits in North America. Balloon Time kits feature a helium-filled tank, latex or foil balloons and ribbon, and are available at national retail chains, party goods and grocery stores nationwide. For more information, visit

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