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- Travel toys for toddlers aren’t just good to have, they’re an absolute necessity.
- To keep a toddler busy while traveling this summer, you need engaging toys that aren’t too challenging.
- Travel toys should also be easy to carry and difficult to lose – the fewer pieces, the better.
Travel provides a lush breeding ground for boredom. Since many families will be hitting the road this summer, every caregiver needs a reliable selection of mobile distractions when traveling with a toddler. As a parent of two young children and a specialist in early childhood development, I have been fine-tuning my stash of travel toys over many years.
A good travel toy is quiet enough that it won’t bother other people, and simple enough that you won’t lose or need to pick up a ton of pieces. It should also be something a child can safely handle on their own. Finally, you want them to work for you for as long as possible.
Here are 20 travel toys for toddlers, with age-appropriate pro tips.
These discreet sensory sticks are designed for restless hands. My kids love using one or more of them at a time, and I also appreciate the stress relief they can provide. Even better, they are designed with neuroatypical people in mind, so if your child has autism, ADD, or ADHD and benefits from sensory stimulation, give these a try.
A toddler twist on an old classic
Bright Starts Lots of Links, available at Buy Buy Baby and Amazon, $4.99
As young kids, when my sister and I had to sit through temple during long High Holy Day services, my aunt always gave us and our cousins a handful of paper clips. It was so simple, but so effective. These plastic rings are basically the young toddler version. Plus, they can double as teethers, and you can incorporate different sets.
Reusable stickers that are great for window seats
These reusable stickers are perfect for travel because they can go on and off any surface, and the pad is small enough to fit on your toddler’s lap. They’re especially good if your child is seated by a window and the scene outside provides a dynamic backdrop.
Letters and words, delightfully bound
R is for ring! I like playing cards as a toy in general, and these have the added benefit of being attached to a ring for easy use while traveling. These flash cards are brightly designed, and toddlers of all ages can engage with the illustrated animals, letters, and words.
A magazine just for them
These practically indestructible booklets contain miniature stories, poems, and/or songs, plus a find-it game in every issue. The content is geared toward 0- to 2-year-olds, but they’re also great for when your big kid wants to practice reading or storytelling. You could also try Highlights High Five Magazine for 2- to 6-year-olds, which has excellent content but is considerably less indestructible.
A soft busy board with carry strap
Traveling with more than one toddler? Try this wool sensory activity board. It is similarly engaging to the Buckle whale but includes more variety in the fine-motor activities and has space for at least four tiny hands. It comes with a carry strap but could also fit into a small backpack or carry-on.
Travel-themed magnets that are easy to carry
This breaks my small pieces rule, but it gets a pass because the magnets are contained in a compact tin. Most importantly, the magnets offer many variations on a theme, and because it mirrors the toddler’s travel experience, it’s easier for them to stay engaged longer.
A stuffy that comes with distractions
The Buckle Blu Whale is bright, soft, lightweight, and engaging. It keeps hands busy and provides lots of number and color learning opportunities.
A busy bag they can customize
Encourage your toddler to make their own busy bag to bring on the go. These purses are adorable and durable. The zipper is easy for little hands to maneuver, and little kids love carrying around small domestic items (think: pretend keys). This one also breaks the few-pieces rule, but it’s perfect for car rides with a toddler since everything will remain in your car.
A travel-themed coloring roll
Mudpuppy By Air, By Land, By Sea Mini Coloring Roll, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, $6.99
These roll-up coloring sheets from Mudpuppy are each a whopping 10-feet long but still convenient for travel. Older toddlers, especially, will appreciate all the different items to color. Unroll a small bit at a time while you’re on the go and unravel to display it all at your final destination.
A mess-free paint pad and pen
Fill the pen-brush with water and watch as your toddler intently “paints” the pages over and over again with almost no muss, and certainly no fuss. These work everywhere and are available in multiple designs as well as single or multi-packs.
A very fun activity for older toddlers
The World of Eric Carle “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” Lacing Cards, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, from $14.08
From Eric Carle’s “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” come these 10 lacing cards, perfect for older toddlers. Not only are they a beautiful way to travel with illustrations from the classic story, but they are perfect for keeping hands busy while fine-tuning those fine motor skills.
Books that distract without disturbing
We got these four years ago when my daughter was an infant, and she still enjoys them and can share the excitement with her baby brother. The books make a crinkling sound, and the set features themes such as color, number, and animal. They are small, light, and fall easily to the bottom of our backpack, making them the perfect clutch surprise when we’ve run through the rest of our options.
Durable headphones for toddlers
Plugging your kid in for the trip? LilGadgets Headphones are light and flexible but can handle a little rough play. The cord is encased in nylon, and the audio volume maxes out at 93 db, which is safe for limited use. Perhaps the most attractive quality of these headphones is that they have a port on each side, so you can link more than one pair together to watch and listen on a shared device.
Familiar travel buddies
It feels almost foolish to try to pitch the benefits of keeping a “Sesame Street” character or two in your travel bag, so my only advice is this: occasionally rotate the characters.
Easy-to-hold sketch pads
I cannot recommend mini notebooks enough if your child can be even marginally entrusted with crayons or pens. They can be used for scribbling, tracing, learning, taking pretend food orders, and so on. Suggest prompts that align with your current travel and watch their imaginations take off. Pro tip: Carry one in each bag you’re traveling with. They’ll all get used.
A long-lasting memory game
Great for older toddlers, this memory game comes with 14 themes for repeated rounds of play. The cards slide into the back, and most importantly, the memory pieces aren’t detachable.
Slow and steady wins the ride
The Magnatab’s strength as a travel toy is how slow it is. Creating on it requires deliberate action and occasionally correcting errors. It also works surprisingly well as a group toy because each child’s level of concentration is practically contagious — I once watched four pre-kindergarteners patiently take turns.
A 2-in-1 learning toy
Older and younger toddlers alike will appreciate this two-in-one toy. At top, there is an erasable drawing pad with a conveniently attached pen. On the bottom is a board book with simple corresponding games.
A classic set for pretend play
Pretend phones are an old standby in my house, and this combo set has the added bonus of pretend keys so you don’t accidentally lose yours. They are chunky but light — great for tiny hands — and make just enough sounds to keep toddlers interested without bugging your seat neighbor with aggressive songs. Throw them in your purse, or theirs!