While the average American may take the occasional cross-country trip for a major holiday, most families stay relatively close to home and are under-prepared for long-haul trips.
Our family, on the other hand, regularly takes long road trips and flies internationally once or twice a year. We’ve got a lot of miles under our belts, and with three kids, we’ve learned quite a few travel secrets.
We know how hard it can be to keep little ones entertained on long journeys.
Whether traveling in a car, by train, or by plane, taking a trip with a toddler can be a challenge, to put it lightly.
Their short attention span and busy bodies mean more work for you to entertain them while they sit strapped into a seat for much longer than they would prefer (which is usually any amount of time at all!).
Lucky for you, I’ve searched the internet to bring you 15 of the best toys for traveling with toddlers, from a mom who knows, so you won’t have to work quite so hard to avoid those embarrassing tantrums on planes, trains, and automobiles.
1. Quiet Book
As the name implies, a quiet book is meant to keep your toddler quiet. If not quiet, then at least busy for a generous amount of time.
This quiet book has 7 pages of activities to keep your little angel from turning into a monster. There are color matching pieces with Velcro (little kids love Velcro!), a build-a-face activity, shoe tying and buttoning, and more.
Toddlers will love playing with it on their own but if you’re sitting next to them on an airplane, your guidance will help keep their attention for even longer. It’s great for their fine motor and problem-solving skills, as well.
If you have some time on your hands and some basic sewing skills, you can make your own quiet book with as many pages and activities as you would like. Or, enlist a crafty grandmother to make one for you.
2. Melissa & Doug Take-Along Farm
This farm set by creative toy company Melissa & Doug includes a soft play mat that folds into a handy travel case to carry the nine included farm friends.
Each of the soft farm friends makes crinkle noises, rattles, or squeaks. But don’t worry – the sounds aren’t loud enough to annoy or bother anybody sitting near you.
It’s perfect for airplane trays or holding in little laps and toddlers will feel like a big kid when they carry it by the handle around the airport like a briefcase.
3. Melissa & Doug Take-Along Shape Sorter
Another great toy from Melissa & Doug, this shape sorter is a two-in-one toy.
One side is a shape sorter for nine different shapes, and the other side is a lift-the-flap activity with pictures of real-life objects that match the shapes.
This activity helps toddlers recognize shapes in their every-day surroundings, an important part of their development.
Instead of the usual removeable lid, the shape sorter opens with an easy to grasp zipper and has a handle for your little one to tote it around.
Each of the soft shapes is a different color and texture so there is plenty to keep a curious child entertained.
4. Melissa & Doug Magnetic Dress Up Set
What can I say? Melissa & Doug make so many wonderful and creative quality toys – there’s enough for a list of their own!
These magnetic dress-up sets allow your child to pretend to dress a police officer, fireman, knight in shining armor, pirate, and more.
You can tell them funny stories and help them find the matching pieces, and because they are magnetic, you don’t need to worry about the “costumes” falling off and scattering.
The pieces are large enough for even the most uncoordinated toddler to handle and each costume only has a few pieces, so it’s not too complicated for them to figure out.
Choose between the male Joey set or the female Julia version who can be a police woman, superhero, doctor, and more.
5. “Blu” the Whale Buckle Toy
This plush whale is more than just a stuffed animal – it’s a multisensory life skills activity.
The whale’s mouth opens with a zipper (revealing a small pouch to hide a treasure, like stale French fries and pebbles from the garden, you know, the things toddlers really love) and the belly of the whale is covered by six colored buckles with a variety of clasp styles.
They’ll learn important life skills, improve their coordination and motor skills, and when they tire of thinking so hard, they can snuggle up with it for a nap.
6. HABA Magnetic Maze Town
This creative maze will keep your little one entertained for the long car or plane ride.
The simple maze requires children to maneuver colorful metal balls to the garage by using a magnetic wand to direct them. The wand is attached with a cord, so it won’t get lost.
Along the way, there are road blocks that your child will need to manipulate with the magnetic wand in order to allow the balls to pass.
This toy develops fine motor skills, visual-spatial skills, and more.
It fits perfectly on a lap or seat tray and can slide easily into a backpack or carry-on once you’ve reached your destination.
7. Montessori Wooden Cheese Block
Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of it – this toy is not only wildly entertaining for small children but also highly educational.
The wooden block of “cheese” is filled with holes for your toddler to practice threading the cord through.
Once they have twisted and turned the cheese and run out of the generous 22 inches of cord, they’ll need to then reverse their steps in order to un-thread it.
This simple, quiet game encourages patience, problem-solving, hand-eye coordination, and so much more.
It’s gender neutral and small enough to fit in your purse. It’s a puzzle of sorts, with a unique solution each time your child uses it.
Personally, I’ve added this one to my own wish list for our next road trip!
8. Montessori Busy Block
This incredible gadget takes all of the wonderful skill building of a Montessori-style busy board and compacts it into a portable cube, perfect for long flights or drives.
Each of the six sides has a different activity to play with, all while training your child’s fine motor skills, critical thinking, and more.
There are gears to turn, a nut and bolt to twist, latches to open and close, zippers, beads, to name just a few of the activities.
Each cube is hand-made and it fits easily in a diaper bag or carry-on.
If you have some carpentry skills and tools, you could easily make your own, but really, who has time for that?
9. Fat Brain Toys Oombee Cube
This creative and portable shape sorter has the shapes tethered to the corners so you’ll never have to worry about them falling under seats or getting lost on layovers.
The shapes fit snuggly into each of their slots and are made of food-grade silicone, so they’re safe for teething toddlers to chew on as well.
At just over four inches wide, it will easily slip into your purse or diaper bag and fits comfortably in little hands. It’s easy to wash (just rinse off and wipe with a damp cloth) so not even spilled milk and sticky fingers can ruin the fun.
10. Fisher Price Little People Zoo Animal Friends
There’s something about zoo animals that little kids go wild about.
They love making animal sounds and imagining funny little stories with them, and these little animals are just the right size for little hands with big imaginations. Throw them all in your bag, or, if you are limited on space, pack just the favorites.
Since you’re traveling anyway, why not add a real zoo to your itinerary?
Bring these toy animals along and your little one will be in awe as they see their favorite animals in real life.
11. Jumbo Nuts and Bolts
These brightly colored nuts and bolts come in a set of 12 or 24 pieces in a zip up pouch. Your toddler will develop their gross and fine motor skills while working on color and shape matching, patterns, sorting, counting, and twisting.
As an independent activity (such as in a car seat), it is ideal for an older toddler, or for a plane ride, it makes a great assisted activity.
You can scale the activity down for children as young as one year old or focus on patterns and sorting for your preschooler.
From toddler to kindergarten, there are countless ways you can use these as a teaching tool and to score a few moments of silence in the car or plane.
12. Fat Brain Toys Dimpl
If you, like me, find a sweet satisfaction every time you open a package filled with bubble wrap, you’ll understand why children love this incredibly simple yet addictive toy.
The “Dimpl” from Fat Brain Toys is like bubble wrap for toddlers, but better (if that is even possible).
Each of the 5 silicone bubbles is a different size and color for a unique, satisfying “pop” each time your child pokes and pushes it. And while it is advertised for babies and toddlers, older children will be fascinated by it as well.
The company claims it is a “keep their attention” kind of toy, and this is one case in which I have no doubt my children would love it. Hold on a moment while I add it to my cart.
13. Vtech Write and Learn Creative Center
While a basic magnetic drawing board nearly made the list, for just a few dollars more you can get this Vtech Write and Learn Creative Center.
It’s a magnetic drawing board with an educational twist. While it includes the usual magnetic pen and stamps, it also has stencils for your child to trace and an interactive program with 6 activity modes and animated illustrations to teach your child to write letters and words.
So, while your toddler may begin with only scribbles, in time can take full advantage of all of the included activities and get a head start on that academic scholarship (or maybe just the alphabet).
14. Tegu Pocket Pouch Wooden Blocks
Tegu magnetic wooden blocks improve upon the classic wooden building blocks by adding magnets, allowing a wider variety of creative building options and avoiding the frustration of your child’s creation crashing down due to turbulence or a bumpy road.
This pocket pouch set comes with 8 pieces, which may not seem like a lot but you will be surprised at what your child can create.
If you like the set, you may want to invest in a larger set for the home.
Tegu is a company founded by two brothers who wanted to create something beautiful while also fostering a positive social impact in Honduras by creating fair paying jobs at their factory.
The mission of the company alone is worth supporting, and the high-quality toys will last from one child to the next.
15. Melissa & Doug Farm Animal Block Puzzle
The last on our list is another great item from Melissa & Doug. This farm animal block puzzle is six puzzles in one.
Each piece of the puzzle is a side of a cube (six sides for six puzzles), so when your child tires of one animal they can work on another.
For traveling, I love toys that do double duty so a six-in-one puzzle ranks high on my list!
The blocks sit neatly in a wooden tray so they won’t slide around a moving vehicle.
If this is your first long trip with a toddler, take a deep breath: you can do it!
With a few new and exciting toys to keep their attention and plenty of snacks, you’ll find that traveling with a toddler doesn’t have to be so hard, after all.