Heading on a trip and wondering how to keep your little one entertained? After hundreds of hours in cars and planes with my kids, these are the toys that have been real winners. Read on for our most used favorite travel toys for toddlers.
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What to Look for in a Travel Toy for Toddlers
1. Easy to manage
Make sure the toy is easy to manage. I avoid toys or activities with lots of small pieces that can get lost or be hard to keep track of. I aim to not use water. Also think about overall size. Does it fit in your bag easily?
2. Developmentally appropriate
I don’t think you’re going to try and give your child something inappropriate (obviously) but what I mean here is to focus on activities that encourage skills your child is working on. This will help your child focus on a task longer, which is key when you have limited options. For example, if your child has been interested in fine motor skills practice, focus on activities that engage that skill (such as embroidery/threading or posting toothpicks into the small holes in a toothpick jar).
3. Related to your child’s preferences
No matter how much you see other kids on the internet loving poppers or beading, it doesn’t help to bring it on a trip if your child hasn’t shown interest. Double check that they are interested in the activities and travel toys you choose before they take up valuable packing space.
4. Considerate of others
Toys that are noisy or light up may not be the best fit for planes.
5. Encourages independent play
If you’re having to consistently help with a toy while managing the logistics of travel, it can leave you frazzled. Aim to choose travel toys your child is mostly capable of engaging with themselves.
19 Travel Toys for Toddlers
The age range for this one varies greatly from kid to kid so I highly recommend offering at home once or twice before you pack it. But if your child is into buckles, this can keep them engaged and practicing. It’s lightweight and soft for carseat safety.
This is kind of like a new age Etch-A-Sketch. You can doodle with the included pen and then press a button to erase. We have the Boogie Board brand. These can last from 1 year old through primary school and beyond (I enjoy playing with them too).
Playdough is clutch for high-energy toddlers who love to move. It gets their hands and muscles busy in a small space. I like to pack a small jar of playdough with a few toys (scissors, knife, cookie cutter, small roller). It works great on an airplane tray or this tray for a carseat.
There are many fans of Water Wow for travel but I’m a much bigger fan of Color Blast, also by Melissa & Doug. I don’t like dealing with the water and the wet pages. The marker is no-mess and brings out color on the pages and hidden images to find.
Stickers can sometimes be frustrating for younger children if you’re not available to help. Try practicing at home first. You can also pick puffy or textured stickers to make them easier for little fingers. If you’re using standard stickers, try taking off the backing to make it a little easier for younger toddlers to peel them off. Including a small notebook for your toddler to put stickers in can be a fun addition.
Coloring + Mini colored pencils
Any coloring book and pencils like these. Don’t forget a sharpener!
Books (but not just any books)
For younger toddlers, I found my kids loooooved books with flaps and things to touch. Also books with babies in them These were some of our favorites:
- Peek A Flap Moo
- That’s not my book series
- Where’s Mr. Polar Bear and the whole series – the felt flaps are great for independent play
- Brown Bear Brown Bear
- Baby Faces
These ones are common and great for older toddlers. For younger toddlers I liked this one that was easier to manage. This is another item worth testing your child’s interest on. Mine have varied in their interest from one trip to the next.
Animals, cars, characters from their favorite shows or movies. Encourage them to make up stories or pretend Daniel Tiger is also buckling into his seat 😉 Great multi-use item for imaginative play. We have plenty from the dollar store/dollar section of stores plus some Toob’s like this one, which if you’re unfamiliar are lifelike figurines and in Montessori circles are often used for
I tend to let each child pick a soft toy like a doll or stuffed animal to have for comfort, sleeping, and imaginative play.
Throw some burlap on an 8-inch embroidery hoop (like this one). Tie some yarn in a loop through a plastic embroidery needle and let your child have at it, going anywhere they please, with no pattern in mind. It’s great fine motor practice and imagine how their embroidery can improve through the years if they enjoy it.
Other similar fine motor movements could include printing and laminating your own lacing card and using a shoelace, or a lacing toy like this one.
These spinners were a *huge* hit when my youngest was close to 1 year old. Great for an airplane window.
Soft Play Books
There are a million to choose from, each with their pro’s and cons. If you want a true quiet book, make sure to avoid velcro. I learned the hard way that stuff is *loud* in a quiet room. We have soft play books from Educating Amy (the abacus and the fire play) and they’ve been great. The Abacus is a favorite between the two, my youngest loved the magnetic fishing page even at 18 months old. The downside of soft play books is many lack compactness, so I find they are best for cars but not worth the packing space on planes.
These are one of those things I did not expect to be as fun and engaging as they turned out to be. A cousin gave us a couple and the kids loved them so much I bought a whole bag and that only extended the fun as the kids connect them and what not. Highly recommend.
I learned about these from a family we met at a campground and they are so fun! I love taking them to restaurants to keep the kids engaged at the table while we wait for our food to arrive. For those who aren’t familiar, the best way I can describe them is like a pipe cleaner covered in wax…? At 2 years old, my youngest doesn’t play with them independently much, though she’s happy to play with creations I make for her. But my 4 year old can make plenty, especially if I help with ideas and examples.
Dollar store window clings can work wonders on an airplane window. I prefer the sticker-like ones (not the jelly-like ones). The jelly ones pick up lint and dirt easier, break easier, and can be more tempting (and gross) to put in toddler mouths.
Toothpicks + Container
I picked up a $2 container of toothpicks from Walmart (similar to this one), took most of the toothpicks out and let my 2 year old do what’s called posting – putting small posts through small holes. It’s a great fine motor skill practice with a strong presence in Montessori-based households. You can also use Q-tips in a self-made container or cut off straws or pipecleaners.
New Dollar Store Items
If all else fails, go to a dollar store (or the like) and select a few totally new toys. You can even wrap them in wrapping paper or tinfoil to add an extra fun element. Then select an interval (like every hour) and give one of the toys to your child at that interval (i.e. a new toy every hour of the flight).
Car track tape
I have not used this stuff personally but I want to. It looks cool and it’s reasonably priced.
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Heading on a road trip with your toddler? Make sure to check out 5 Mistakes I’ve Made Road Tripping with Toddlers so you don’t have to make the same errors. Until then, happy travels!