At our house, we have what I call a “travel bag of tricks.” This bag has a permanent home in the back of our daughter’s closet and is filled with travel toys. It only comes out when we travel, so all of the toys are special and novel when we take a road trip or a flight. On shorter trips, we take out some of the toys and activities; as our girls change, we update our bag.
Here’s a peek at some of what we keep in our travel bag! Oh, and guess what? Many of these ideas will cost you about $1!
(These are ideas and suggestions–to include everything on this list would mean lugging around a ginormous, over-stuffed suitcase filled just with toys! Use this list to inspire you and pack your own, much-lighter travel bag.)
Travel Toys & Activities for Babies and Toddlers
By nature, babies and toddlers are wild card travelers. The carefully considered activities you packed in your carry-on may only hold your daughter’s attention for approximately 30 seconds. There’s a good chance your son will melt down and wail inconsolably just as you need go through the security line. And your child may be so stimulated that they don’t sleep much during that perfectly-timed red-eye flight.
BUT would you believe me if I told you if I told you that the baby and toddler years are also great times to travel? Little ones are easy-to-please and delighted with simple things like a sick bag puppet. Plus, they’re (more) flexible and can (usually) nap in your arms in spite of the roar of the engine!
Links within this post will either take you to a product on amazon via my affiliate link or to another site/blog with instructions for travel-friendly activity or toy!
For more tips and tricks for flying with babies, check out this post! Had you heard the one about the water? Gross!
As a general rule, you want the toys you bring for babies and toddlers to be easy-to-clean (they’ll probably be tossed on the ground a time or two or twenty) and quiet enough as not to annoy your fellow passengers.
- Stickers–such a frugal form of entertainment! And great for exercising those fine motor skills. Toddlers may like to decorate their own stickers. You can order stickers to color here.
- Painter’s tape is easier to peel and stick than other types of tape, so it’s good for little fingers to maneuver. Make a tape ball. Let your tot pull tape off the armrest. Make tape art on a piece of paper or a napkin. Fair warning–I once had a roll of tape confiscated at security!
- Finger Puppets
- Personalized photo books. My youngest (now 22-months-old) is obsessed with the book we made her using personal pictures. You could fill it with pictures of family, animals, letters, or body parts. Find the easy how-to here! (Bonus: it will only cost you a few dollars to make!)
- Foam blocks (easy-to-clean and light-weight)
- Things to tear. On airplanes, I let my babies have my magazines when I finish with them. They gleefully rip them apart.
- Similarly, you could cut out pictures from magazines of things your baby recognizes. We did this with dogs, cats, cows, fruit, and babies. Since they came from magazines, I didn’t mind if they were crumpled or destroyed.
- Stamps and stamp markers.
- Crayons and craft supplies neatly housed in a made-for-travel craft box like this.
- A play phone–we always keep a couple of old cell phones with our travel toys so that our girls can (pretend to) text and talk to each other.
- Baby dolls or pretend play characters such as action figures. Our girls take their dolls everywhere.
- Paint samples–these cost the paint companies money, but we reuse the ones we’ve legitimately taken for paint purposes. They’re great for color matching and sorting!
- Crayola color wonder paper and markers. Because a long road trip isn’t the time to have your toddler color your car upholstery.
- Your child’s lovey. Our almost-two-year-old has two wubbanubs (like this). She uses one as a pacifier and snuggles with the other one.
- A tiny toy car or plane to drive or fly. We always carry a little wooden airplane with us when we fly. Our older daughter pretends to fly (which gives her some sense of control) during the somewhat scary moments of takeoff, turbulence, and landing.
- A toddler timetable to help little ones mark the progress of their trip.
- Busy bags—here are some great busy bag ideas that will cost you about $1 to put together! You can find more ideas on my “Busy Bag and Quiet Time Ideas” pinterest board.
- Finger foods that don’t make a mess–when stuck in traffic in Chicago, we spent an hour passing our baby one cheerio at a time. Hey, whatever it takes, right?!
- Songs–I often turn to songs when I need to distract and redirect my babies. Songs that involve hand motions (“If You’re Happy and You Know It,” “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” “Little Green Frog,” “Wheels on the Bus,” etc) are favorites with our girls.
For Older Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Paint with water book. Our girls LOVE to paint with water on airplanes. We bring cotton swabs and use the water provided during the drink service. Paint-with-water sheets are much less messy and much more travel-friendly than other forms of paint!
- If your child can’t bear to leave the legos behind, then this travel lego case will help contain the lego chaos!
- New books–we love airplane/travel-themed books like this Richard Scarry airport book. For first-time flyers, check out this book about your child’s first flight.
- I love this collection of vacation busy bag ideas for older kids–these are geared towards kids ages three to eight!
- Reusable sticker pads like this one.
- Water Wow books-I recently ordered one of these for each of our girls (ages 1 and 3), and they’ve been a huge hit! I love that they’re mess-free.
- Similarly, a travel AquaDoodle would be fun! If you don’t want to buy one, try making your own! This homemade AquaDoodle is super simple to make and nearly free!
- Camera for kids so that you can see their view of the trip.
- Walkie talkies–a good set of walkie talkies could serve a practical purpose if you’re on a cruise ship and without cell phones. Otherwise, they make fun (albeit a bit noisy) car toys.
- Etch-a-sketch–my three-year-old keeps an etch-a-sketch with her during quiet time at home. We have a smaller version that we take with us when we travel.
- Magnadoodle–like an etch-a-sketch, this is a mess-free toy that encourages quiet creativity. These type of toys are great things to pick up at consignment sales and yard sales!
- Repurposed holiday items–I picked up a few sets of clearance mass-produced Valentines at the end of February, and they are FANTASTIC for travel. Ours are hand tattoos and scratch-off art cards. You could toss a few in your diaper bag for both big trips, doctor’s office visits, and restaurant waits.
- The “52 Things to Do in a Car” (or plane) cards look like fun!
- Wikki Stix and pipe cleaners
- Card games like Old Maid or Go Fish
- If your child loves trains, check out this idea for pencil box trains.
- Playdough–on our last flight, we took an old, well-used batch of homemade playdough with us and threw it away when we were done.
- I would love to make my girls one of these portable light boxes! They’re compact (always nice when you travel) and unlike anything else in our travel bag of tricks.
- Mr. Potato Head
- We have something similar to this light-up tracing board in our bag. You could use it for tracing or to spice up classic games like hangman or tic-tac-toe.
- Magazines for kids are light and easy to pack. We love Highlights!
- I-Spy books
- Don’t forget classics like the alphabet game!
- I like to put printables related to our destination (like ocean-themed pages for a beach trip) in plastic page protectors and offer them to my older daughter with a dry-erase marker or crayon. We don’t do a lot of worksheets at home, but these are great for when kids are strapped into a seat! You can find ideas
- Puzzles–you could try making your own! Check out this “Puzzle in a Box” and these homemade photo puzzles.
Travel Toys For Elementary-Aged Kids
A lot of the ideas mentioned above could be modified for older kids, but here are a few ideas for those kiddos who are reading and writing!
- This FREE printable activity book would be great for a road trip!
- Mad Libs
- Printable travel bingo–a classic for a reason!
- You’ve played the License Plate game, but add a these free printables to your travel bag for accurate record keeping.
- How about this travel journal idea? I can’t wait to encourage my girls to try this!
For all ages (including parents), I can’t over-emphasize the importance of remembering to pack snacks. Hangry kids generally don’t make for good travelers. (Everyone in our family loves this travel-friendly chex mix!)
For more tips and ideas, be sure to follow our favorite pinterest board all about traveling with kids!