Toddlers are loads of fun. From learning to walk to learning to talk, this developmental stage in young children is filled with previous moments that you’ll savor forever. But, amid all the cuteness, toddlers can cause a fair bit of stress. Many parents fear going on long trips with their toddlers because they imagine how stressful it might be.
Over the past year, we’ve spent over 100 hours in the sky with our toddler on several international flights. We’ve found that if you can keep your little one entertained, the plane ride will go off without a hitch. This list of the 25 best toys for toddlers on an airplane is packed with great travel toys that can also be used for a long-haul flight, in the car on a road trip, on a cross-country train, and beyond.
A Note on Screen Time for Long Flights with Toddlers
Every parent does things differently, and that is their own prerogative! Some parents are very restrictive with screen time for their little ones, while other parents happily pass the phone or iPad over to them. Regardless of your opinions on screen time, there is one key thing to point out; toddlers generally can’t (or shouldn’t) use headphones, and you normally can’t play audio on an airplane without them.
The flight attendant is normally very quick to ask you to turn down the volume on your device if you don’t have headphones, and this can make screen time impossible. You can’t blame them, either! There are hundreds of other passengers on the flight, and not everyone wants to hear Bluey or Cocomelon. With this in mind, it is crucial that you pack plenty of other things in your travel bag to keep your little one entertained.
What Makes a Toy Good for Airplane Travel?
Not all toys are created equally! There are a few things that really set some toys apart from others when it comes to long trips, including both long car rides and flights.
- Toys that don’t make noise
- Toys that don’t take up much space
- Toys that are cheap
- Toys that don’t have many pieces
- Toys with different uses/functions
- Toys your child loves
Six Qualities of the Best Toddler Travel Toys
These six qualities can really help you to identify good toys for travel. Whether you’re in the car or on a plane, you (and those around you) probably don’t want to hear sound effects for hours when your toddler repeatedly hits a noise-making button. On an airplane, your space is very limited, and large toys are both inconvenient and impractical.
Toys with a lot of pieces are never a good option for air travel because there is a good chance some pieces will go missing by the time you get off the plane.
Toys with different uses and functions – like a coloring book with different pages or a stuffed animal that turns into a pillow – help to keep your little one’s attention longer. We all know how short a toddler’s attention span can be! And finally, having a toy that your child just loves is a great quality, as toddlers can be oddly picky and prefer things that they are already comfortable with.
Montessori Toys Are the Best Travel Toys
Montessori is a movement in the parenting world that emphasizes simplicity and the natural stimulation of children. The Montessori Method claims that children are overstimulated by toys and TV shows today, and that the develop much better when left with simple toys that encourage the use of their imagination.
Whether you agree or disagree with the Montessori Method, there is one undeniable truth: Montessori toys are perfect for traveling with toddlers. Generally speaking, they check all of the boxes that I outlined above, and they can be purchased on Amazon for often less than their noisy, colorful Fisher Price counterparts.
The Best Travel Toys for Toddlers: Our Picks
A busy board is essentially a single toy that is covered in gadgets and gizmos that can keep your little one entertained. The different toys on busy boards are meant to engage each of your toddler’s developing skillsets, which is what makes them such a great option for flights. In a single toy, you can satisfy many of your child’s urges while encouraging imaginative play! The best part about these closable busy boards is that they zip up for easy carrying and storage.
On that same trend, this series of Montessori baby toys is perfect for travel. They are lined with little toys and features that will keep your child’s little fingers busy for the full flight. At such an affordable price, this toy is the perfect option for many parents.
While I already mentioned busy boards above, this one really sticks out to me as a special option. The car-centric design is great for encouraging imaginative play, and it only weighs a couple of pounds. If your little one is getting into a car phase, you won’t want to skip out on this.
Busy books are special books that are designed to stimulate your little one’s mind beyond just pretty pictures and words on paper. These books are filled with interactive activities and toggles that are designed to keep your toddler engaged, all while learning important things like colors, numbers, and animals. Much like quiet books, these are a type of activity book that takes regular reading to the next level.
Water coloring books are incredible. As a parent, I think these are so cool. Instead of coloring with crayons or colored pencils, your child colors with…water. And it is mess free! These pages turn color when wet, and they go back to being black and white when they dry out. They are reusable, affordable, and very much fun for kids in the whole toddler age group.
If you are a Catholic family, you won’t want to miss out on a Chews Life Rosary. Chews Life is a small business that makes silicone rosaries and other religious toddler toys. We bought our son a Chews Life Rosary when he was 6 months old, and he still loves it to this day as a toddler. They are designed to be great teethers, take up very little space, and are a great way to teach your child about Christianity.
7. Action Figures
Action Figures and other toy figurines make exceptional airplane toys for toddlers because they are small, encourage imaginative play, and can be played with anywhere. Encouraging your child to use their imagination is always a great idea when on a flight, as it helps them to get lost in their own little world and lose track of time. If they get deeply absorbed in playing with their toys, you’re sure to have as stress-free of a flight as possible.
8. Pillow Pets
Pillow Pets are some of the greatest airplane toys ever made – especially if you go for the miniatures. One of the key aspects of toddler travel toys that I outlined above is versatility, and few toys are more versatile than pillow pets. They function as both stuffed animals and pillows. Encouraging your child to play on the airplane is a good idea, but getting them to sleep is always the best bet.
An LCD writing tablet, or doodle board, is a grand slam of an airplane toy for toddlers. Doodle boards are mess-free, very portable, and stoke your little one’s imagination. Little people of all ages can enjoy doodle pads, and some even allow your child to draw in different colors. They are also surprisingly cheap on Amazon!
The brand Melissa & Doug makes a slew of great toddler travel toys, but one of our favorites is their reusable sticker books. While we don’t normally love stickers, we have to admit that reusable stickers are one of the best toddler toys on the market for flying. They take up practically no space in your bag, are very cheap, are fully reusable, and are entirely mess-free. If you want a small, simple toy that can keep your little one entertained at a very affordable price, look no further.
11. Small Books
Not every toy needs to be fancy. While there are great busy books and quiet books out there, traditional books do just fine, too! We always pack one of our son’s favorite books, as it is a sure way to get him to focus in and maybe even take a nap. For long-haul flights, napping is crucial, and your child’s favorite book could be one of the best plane toys at your disposal. Smaller, soft books are the perfect size to fit in your diaper bag.
12. Coloring Books
Much like a reusable sticker book, a coloring book can be the perfect toy on your next trip. The downside is that you need to bring crayons or colored pencils, but the upside is that there are enough pages to keep your little one entertained for hours while working on their fine motor skills. Coloring books are cheap, disposable, and come in many different themes, from princesses to farm animals.
If your little one has some energy to burn off, suction cup fidget spinners may be just what they need. These oversized fidget spinners stick to the back of the seat in front of you and help to develop your child’s hand-eye coordination without the need for any small parts that can get lost in flight.
We try to avoid screen time as much as possible with our little one, but this makes a great compromise! We were gifted one of these for Christmas, and our son absolutely loves it. Whether he is in the car seat or on our laps on the plane, he loves playing with his little imaginary tablet and hearing the sounds it makes. While we tend to prefer toys that don’t make sounds, the sound level on this one can be turned down and turned off, depending on what you need.
We love toys that can keep small children busy while developing important skills. Lacing toys are precisely that. Lacing toys contain no small pieces, come in many different designs, and are perfect for older children, closer to kindergarten age.
16. Magnetic Blocks
Magnetic toys are great for airplane travel, as it is much harder to lose pieces when they stick together! These blocks are a fun toy that encourage imaginative play in older kids.
These cute puzzles are personalized with a child’s name and are a fun way to teach children how to spell their names. The downside is that the pieces may be easy to lose, as small items tend to get lost on long flights.
18. Learning Locks
Learning locks are a great airplane toy, as they teach children to associate numbers and letters. Each lock can only be unlocked by one key, and the sets are often labeled by color, number, letter, or shape.
Magnetic bead boards are a clever alternative to the LCD sketching tablets listed above. These boards allow children to write with a magnetic stylus that creates 3D drawings on the board by pulling up magnetic beads. While I prefer the LCD tablets, these are a great option as well!
20. Memory Game
The best toys are ones that help your child to develop. Memory games fit that bill! Whether in the form of card games or something like the one seen here, memory games are a great choice that encourage healthy development while onboard your flight.
If you want your child to develop their fine motor skills, these jumbo nuts and bolts are a great option. They come in a handy sack to help prevent leaving them behind, and they can come in many different shapes and sizes.
This magnetic maze game is great for developing your toddler’s problem-solving skills while on your flight. It is lightweight and can be easily packed away in your backpack or carry on.
23. Shape Sorter Box
Shape sorter boxes are great for fine motor skill development. While the downside is that you can lose pieces, the upside is that your toddler can hold the whole toy in their own lap while playing with it.
Again, magnets are optimal for flights! The last thing you want to do is spend money on a toy and immediately lose pieces on the first flight with it. Trust us – we’ve been there. A magnetic puzzle is fun for your toddler, and you are less likely to lose pieces if they stick to the board.
25. Finger Puppets
Finger puppets are simple, take up virtually no space, and encourage imaginative play. They are a simple, affordable, and small toys that are fun for both you and your toddler.
How Many Toys Should You Pack for a Toddler?
Parents often wonder how many toys they should pack for their toddlers. After all, you don’t want your little one to get bored during the flight or drive! Generally speaking, I don’t think there is any need for more than three or four toys for any trip. While your little one might love to have ten toys along for the flight, that doesn’t mean they actually need ten toys.
The More You Pack, the More You Carry
Kids love to have as much to play with as possible. They have fairly short attention spans and always love to move onto the next toy as soon as they see it. However, if there are only three toys, kids are very good about just rotating through those three.
When you add more toys into the mix, they will still rotate through them all. The only problem is that you will have to carry three times as much stuff, which is a real headache! Parents often think that traveling with toddlers or other young kids is stressful, but the reality is that it is only as stressful as you let it be.
Pack a Variety of Types of Toys
The key is to pack a variety of types of toys that will keep your toddler entertained. Rather than bringing three coloring books, just bring one. Rather than bringing three magnetic drawing boards, just bring one.
If you bring one of a few different types of your little one’s favorite travel toys, they will be equally as satisfied as if you brought three of each. The secret is just bringing the right mix of things that lets them exercise their fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and problem-solving skills. Little kids just want to practice these and other similar skills!
All in all, there is no such thing as a perfect travel toy for toddlers. These younger children do probably need more than one toy to keep their little hands busy for long haul flights, but they definitely don’t need ten. This list consists of a bunch of great toys, but it is important to remember that one year olds have different needs from two year olds, and older toddlers have different needs, too.
The best thing to do before buying any new toys for your long journey is to think about what your child might love, whether or not you’d love to carry it around for them, and whether or not you already have something similar. After all, your child’s favorite thing that they already have might be the perfect plane toy and make for a stress-free flight.
What’s your favorite toddler toy for family trips?
Please comment any toys you think should be added!