21 Travel Toys to Occupy Tots on the Go
Road trips and train or plane rides with toddlers can be stressful, but you can make it easier on your little one—and yourself—by packing some clever items in the carry-on bag. Let’s face it: phones and tablets are great in a pinch, but the blue light can keep them up for hours when they should be napping, and lots of parents choose to go without the added stimulation, especially on the road (or in the air).
While you know YouTube is waiting if you should need it, there are lots of adorable and engaging toddler toys for travel to try first. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite plane, train, and automobile-friendly toys for tots and offer you this other priceless piece of advice while packing up: Snacks always help!
Toddler Busy Book
Not only does a “busy book” lay the foundation for eager learners who will one day be little readers, it is also a quiet activity that keeps them occupied so you don’t have to. There are so many options to choose from (like this Amazon find)—look for something with lacing, buttons, flaps, and other interactive activities on each page to keep tiny fingers and active minds engaged.
Montessori-Style Travel Busy Cube
Again, the key word here is “busy.” Handheld activity cubes are great for on-the-go, keeping your toddler focused on their task at hand while the world whizzes by out the car or plane window. Your little one gets a chance to work on fine motor skills, cause-and-effect, and problem-solving with this miniature take on the popular, cube-shaped Montessori toddler toy concept.
Travel Car Mat
If your tyke is into cars, a roll-up mat with “parking spot” pockets is the perfect toy to take on the road or in the air. The mat opens up onto their lap or tray table for “driving” time. When they’re done playing, everything is easily tied up to store in one compact system that you can toss in your purse or their little backpack.
Cloth “Paper” Doll
The classics are a classic for a reason! Paper dolls have been entertaining children since the mid-1800’s with cute, interchangeable outfits and accessories. First, the dolls get dressed and ready, and then a story unfolds. While actual paper dolls can be tricky for little ones to manipulate, and often too delicate for toddler use, a cloth or felt version is the answer to your travel needs. Plus, the rush of nostalgia that comes with this quiet-time activity will totally tug at the ol’ heartstrings!
The fidget toy that elementary kids everywhere were obsessed with last year has spawned a whole sect in the marketplace of poppable toys for toddlers. Whether you hand down big sibs’ old pop-its that they don’t play with much anymore, or purchase some specifically made for little hands, you’re looking at some peaceful popping time on-the-go with these cheap and easy Amazon finds.
Water Coloring Sets
Look for invisible ink or a wet-brush book that allows kiddos to color mess-free, and let your babe make their mark again and again with no waste or stress. These sets are not just fun to “color,” they also help tots with their pincer grasp and give them the reward of seeing their artwork magically appear on the page no matter how advanced their actual coloring skills are.
A simplified take on the busy books and cubes, this soft and handy toy is easy to toss in any sized bag or purse and has a lot of fun little hanging pieces to keep your tot busy on the go.
The only thing cooler than the view out the airplane window is customizing it with zoo animals, cars, hearts, and other cute shapes. These are also fun in the car and can be stuck onto (and peeled right off of) a small dry erase board too, if your toddler does not have window access.
Here’s another sticker option that leaves no mark or goop behind and can be used again and again. Your kiddo will love creating a scene and then using their imagination to tell a story about it. These sets are easy to pack away between uses and will be fun on a rainy day at home, too.
Travel Doodle Board
If you have a budding artist on your hands, consider an adorable, electronics-free tablet they can draw on or use to practice their letters. These are easy to store in the pocket behind the seat in front of them, making them a great road trip choice that feels special for car use only. We love the ones that allow them to use their fingers or crayons for ultimate ease and options. For older toddlers (3+), a travel drawing tablet with a stylus is extra fun.
The best way to keep your child’s favorite travel toys interesting enough to sustain them on the go is to store them out of sight and only take them out when it’s time to hit the road. A more complex sensory toy that lets them pull, twist, push, rattle, shake, and even chew is going to give you the most bang for your buck. This toy is fun from infancy through the early toddler years.
Magnetic Game Set
When it comes to travel, you want playsets that are easy to keep together and pack up, and that contain pieces less likely to fall to the floor. Your tot will love making silly faces with this magnetic set; you can also assemble your own with a cookie sheet and magnets from home in a plastic zip bag. This is an activity they’ll enjoy now and through early elementary school.
Photo: Melissa & Doug
Basic jigsaw puzzles become fun around 2.5, and will stay that way for years to come. A magnetic puzzle they can take on vacation is intellectually stimulating and enjoyable at once, and big sis or bro can pitch in to read the accompanying story book on a set like the one shown.
Magnetic Building Blocks
… And even more magnets! Are you sensing a theme yet? Magnets are amazing on the road and in the air, mostly because they make clean-up a cinch for travel-weary parents. A handheld set of magnetized blocks fosters unlimited fun and creativity while you travel.
Keep their fingers and minds busy with an old-school learning toy they’ll love. Montessori-style lacing toys are fantastic for hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, and problem-solving. Plus, they’re plain cute to look at. Your little one can create different designs with their string and will love the satisfaction of lacing up their little fruits—then pulling it all apart to start again.
Toddlers love the reward of flipping through a book and finding little surprises behind doors, under boxes, and so on. A sturdy lift-the-flap book they can “read” themselves through picture storytelling is a great take-along activity for long car rides, air or train travel, and any time they could use a quiet activity.
Open up a world of imagination and fun with a set of finger puppets for your pint-sized traveler. These pack away easily in any small bag or backpack and are a screen-free way to explore their own ideas and act out the cutest little scenes. Parenting pro tip: Sneak a video of your kiddos creating little voices and scenes with their finger puppets; you’ll want to hold onto these sweet memories.
Take-Along Shape Sorter
Any self-sustaining sensory toy that comes in its own pouch or bag is a win for traveling with toddlers. This classic early childhood toy will be a fun one for them to play with during the trip and when you reach your destination.
If you love “slow” toys that are handmade from natural materials, this whimsical toddler toy is going to be your new favorite thing. Outside it looks like a simple cloth zip case, but when your little one opens it up, there is a world of fun and whimsy waiting for them. Invest now and change out or add characters and accessories as they grow to keep this handmade cloth toy relevant and special for years to come.
Personalized Busy Bag
Parents in a pinch can find pre-packed travel baggies on Etsy, already stuffed with age-appropriate toys and activities that are personalized to your child’s interests and favorite colors. You can also create something like this yourself before your trip; a sturdy plastic bag they can see through is best. Sneak a snack in there for good measure, and make sure everything inside is new and exciting.
This cuddly travel companion is a major multitasker: SNOObear plays white noise, so your little one will have audio comfort anywhere; it's a familiar pal to snuggle when sleeping away from home; and SNOObear doubles as a playful puppet (use the holes on the backs of its arms!), for giggles on the go!
Safe—and sane—travels to you and your crew!
More Tips for Entertaining Tots:
- The Best Toys for Toddlers—According to a Pediatrician
- Playroom Ideas to Fuel Imaginations
- 3 Types of Play Toddlers Need Every Day
- Ultimate Baby. and Toddler Book List
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.