14 Best Travel toys for toddlers on airplanes
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‘Wow! I’m so looking forward to spending hours together with my toddler in a close confined space with lots of people to judge me” said no parent ever!
Most parents I know dread traveling with a toddler. The challenge of keeping them quiet and making them sit in one place, not tearing your hair while waiting for hours to board the plane, the shrieks from ear popping due to changing cabin pressure, the changing of diapers in the small plane toilet – none of it is easy. I can tell you that with good authority, having flown internationally long haul with my toddler to India, Qatar, China, and Chile! And on many of those flights it was just me and him – and let me tell you it wasn’t smooth sailing! But the one thing that literally saved my ass was having a good collection of travel toys with me. Since then I firmly believe in carrying lots of travel toys for toddlers on airplanes and recommend it to everyone who wants a decent shot at a low-stress trip!
While I have personally used and love most of these travel toys, I have also included a few that have been highly recommended by my friends and fellow travel bloggers. Apart from using them as travel toys for toddlers on a plane, you will also find them useful for car travel and road trips or even while camping – basically anywhere out of the house. I have also included some of the best toys for an airplane that can be safely given to babies as well – if you are like me and have 2 under 3 running around the house!
The ultimate list of Best Travel toys for toddlers on airplanes
Buckle Toys are my absolute favorite when it comes to best toys to entertain toddler on plane. This toy is so simple that it’s almost genius: it combines a plush toy with lots of buckles! It comes in many sizes, colors, and shapes – we have 3 in various diaper bags, in the car, and in my toddler’s backpack. The buckle toy is almost an assured hit because it captures toddler’s fascination with buckles, snaps, zippers, velcros, ties etc and keeps their little fingers busy as they try to close the different buckles. It also helps them with matching the colors and I love that I can strap it anywhere – to the stroller, car seats, bags, purses etc. When I bought it, it kept my one year old busy for almost 20 to 25 minutes, which is great for that age, making it one of the best toddler toys for airplane. My son absolutely loved this between the ages of 1.5 to 2.5 yrs but now that he is getting older I can see his fascination slowly wear off. That’s why I would suggest this as best toys for airplane travel with 2 year old. This toy also makes a great gift for traveling parents.
Similar to Buckle Toy, the Busyboard has all types of buckles, zippers, velcros on a flat soft foam board. While I personally prefer the plush buckle toys, my friend swears by the busyboard for her toddler. The Busyboard can be stored flat like a book and stays well in backpacks, diaper bags, purses, and carry-ons. The one thing I love which the plushy buckle toys don’t have is the shoelaces! Tying and untying the shoelaces are quite fun activities for active toddlers. The busyboard is also quite great at developing a toddler’s motor skills and in spite of being a foam board, holds quite well up to a toddler’s rough use. A great option to the Buckle Toy Busyboard is the Melissa and Doug activity board with different types of latches. Such activity boards, busyboards, and busy books which give toddlers something to do with their fingers are among the best airplane toys for 3 year old. You can also buy or create felt quiet books and use them similarly.
Magnetic Drawing boards and Water drawing pads
Almost all toddlers love doodling, drawing, and even scratching anything that resembles a drawable surface with a pen, pencil or crayons! My toddler can sit for hours and draw circles and is currently even trying to write the first letters of the alphabet. I never leave the house without having something for my toddler to draw on. My very favorite is this Magnetic Doodle Board with different color zones. My toddler loves that he can draw as well as color. The board also comes in a smaller size which is perfect for babies and infants. A great option to the magnetic drawing boards are the no spill water coloring books. How do they work? Basically, you fill a pen with water and draw on the coloring pad. Once the water dries, the picture gets ‘erased’, and the pad can be reused. We love the AquaDoodle and my toddler loves scribbling in it and keeps himself busy for hours. Other alternative is the similar Melissa and Doug Themed Water Activity Pads. Apart from the boards and pads, I also keep basic pen and paper or a few crayons in my purse. Often I have seen that my toddler considers doodling with the magnetic board, water pen and crayons as “separate” coloring activities and wants to do them all one after the another buying me almost an hour or so of quiet time! The best part of these is they can be used even by 6 month olds and are one of the best baby toys for airplanes. I also like these drawing stencil sets – they come in a cool carry bag and the set has colored pencils and drawing paper too.
What toddler doesn’t love stickers?! I always, always, always have a few in my purse and have used them to avoid tantrums at the doctor’s, in the grocery store, while cooking, you name it! I have often seen that the sticker fascination is the strongest among preschoolers and honestly think they are the best travel toys for 3 year olds. I often buy the various themed reusable Melissa and Doug sticker books and they have stood up quite well to my toddler’s rough use. We only have a few torn ones after one year of use which is definitely not bad! My toddler likes the themes a lot – his favorite are the vehicles stickers and the firestation stickers. We also like their giant sticker book with over 500 stickers – these do not come with the backgrounds aren’t reusable vinyl but paper ones. But then we bought them at the awesome price of a cent per sticker and they have dinosaur stickers – beat that!
Okay so how do I explain the wonderful wonderful invention called WikkiStix? They are like thick threads that stick together. They have a waxy feel but you can create many wonderful shapes with them. Toddlers can make flat two dimensional objects or even large 3D projects with the WikkiStix. We only recently got these and haven’t taken them on a long trip yet but my toddler absolutely loves them and I think they are soon going to be our favorite toys for aeroplane travel! They do however tend to gather dust and dirt and become less sticky with time so I would suggest buying WikkiStix travel pack to get the free storage box. Or get the smaller stocking stuffer sized box here that easily fits in a small purse. I like that the WikkiStix offer hours of open-ended play time and challenge the brain; I have often become amazed at what my toddler comes up with using these. We have used them as substitutes for hand puppets by wrapping around the fingers and to create fun stories. And multiple uses is such a useful criterion for toys to take on plane for toddlers. Somewhat similar to these sticks is the Tape Activity Book which allows for lots of tape art.
I call these books the original activity books. These type of search books are great to challenge the toddler mind and keep my son occupied for a long time as he searches for things – a much-desired quality in choosing the best toddler toys for the airplane. I also use these books, especially the I Spy books, to reinforce object and color identification and have used the books to create counting games once my toddler could count. I really like these books since my toddler can ‘make’ the game as we go along. This Disney Find It card game is also great at promoting observation skills. The Curious George books come in various themes and are really good for keeping toddlers occupied as they try to find the naughty little monkey.
While my toddler isn’t that fidgety, I do like to keep fidget toys on hand as I can use it to direct his energy, especially on long haul flights. While any general fidget toy is good, I really like the Tangles fidget toy. Originally designed for kids with autism and/or anxiety, it works well with almost everyone. You can open, twist, reshape the tangle in any way. I show my toddler how to create a shape and then let him try it on his own. The best part is it comes in packs of 3 so we have separate ones for simultaneous play!
We have these Brain Quest Decks and absolutely love them. We started with the ‘My First Brain Quest’ book and used it a lot whenever we went away. It’s a great tool to learn new words and concepts, also the questions are present thematically so you can read by topic. The set contains 2 decks and my toddler enjoys the second one more. Later on, we also got the Brain Quest for Threes and the deck is our current favorite. I also plan to get the Kindergarten Brain Quest as a Christmas gift for my son and I’m sure he will enjoy it! I always keep it in his Dinosaur backpack when we go out and love whipping it out when he gets tired.
Dinosaurs / Plastic Animals
My toddler is Dinosaur crazy (show me a toddler who isn’t!) and so I always keep a few of his plastic dinosaurs in his backpack. They are perfect for everything from pretend play, make-believe stories, dinosaur fights, and pretty much everything! We have two different sets, this more realistic vinyl one and this set which looks a bit funny but then I don’t have to worry about them getting lost! Off course, you could always take along simple plastic animals – check out these mini sized ones – but then where’s the fun of seeing the dinosaurs in your bag bringing on weird looks from airport security! If you are looking for something bigger, check out these 5-inch plastic toy animals.
While the magnetic play sets don’t rank at the top of my list since I feel they don’t stimulate the brain enough and are a little bit bulky compared with other toys, my toddler loves them a lot – particularly the Disney Mickey one – and I’m sure he would recommend it to all other kids! He likes taking out the magnets and stocking them on the tin surface which doubles up as the carrying case. He also plays with it at home and I often find the magnets on other magnetic surfaces. I like keeping the magnets in a Ziploc bag to avoid them from getting lost. Another good set to buy is the car, train and plane one. We also love the train magnetic playset which my son received as a gift for his train themed second birthday party – it is perfect for train crazy kids!
If you are a frequent reader of the blog, you probably know – my son loves trains! We have all types of train toys from ride-on trains to push-pull trains to wooden train track sets to battery operated trains and even train books! Needless to say, we also have a lot of travel train toys for use on aeroplanes. He got some of them as birthday gifts, while I bought him the Thomas & Friends minis instead of Hot Wheels Cars one Christmas. I find the train in a tin set quite convenient – it has tracks and everything. Another great option for train lovers is the Thomas & Friends pop-up track set. It works with the minis and keeps all Thomas fans happy.
We must have bought and lost about a dozen Hot Wheel cars. These are seriously the Best travel toys for 3-year-olds and preschoolers because they can be played with anywhere and no toddler can resist them. I carry at least 2 cars in my purse on any given day and they have been lifesavers on every trip. The Hot Wheels 50 pack set is absolutely the best, because then you needn’t buy Hot Wheels ever again. They also come in a 20 pack and a 9 pack, both are great with many different cars including race cars, classic cars and even emergency vehicles. Another brand we love apart from Hot Wheels is Matchbox by Mattel.
To say that I take at least one book for my son everywhere is an understatement. Even our car has books and my son wants to read them on our way to the grocery – 2 miles away! He is an avid reader and I always pack 2-3 small books that have a good storyline, lots of pages and are lightweight. Our favorites are the ‘If you give a mouse a cookie’ set, The Hungry Caterpillar, and The Little Engine that Could. But seriously you can never go much wrong with books! Just develop the habit of reading and you have a given your child the best start possible.
My whole purpose in taking travel toys for my toddler on flights is to avoid screen time. However, there are days when nothing works and all he wants is a screen. Like that time when we were flying back from Santiago, Chile and I and the hubby slept the entire time while my son was watching Jungle Book by himself! And then rather than have a screaming kid, I’m quite content to let him watch movies or cartoons or play games on the tablet. I love my Kindle Fire for this – I bought it on sale at Thanksgiving for a cool 25 bucks! This tablet also comes in a cool Kid’s edition but it is more expensive than the regular! Go figure.
Some other things I like bringing along: lots of paper to fold, tear, write and do crafts. I also bring along quite a few straws: my toddler likes to play with them a lot. Other things I have brought as toys on flights include plush balls, cheerios, and beads. That’s it – that’s our list of best airplane travel toys for toddlers. Also, check this article for awesome tips about planning family travel around school schedules and jobs – you’ll definitely learn a lot!
Tips for selecting Travel toys for 3-year-old
Off course this is not an exhaustive list of toys for 3-year-old on an airplane. You may find something else suits your kid better or may want to take something that you have at home. So how do you decide whether something is appropriate to take as toddler toy for a plane ride? Just check that a toy follows the below criteria and you are good to go!
Here’s a tip: Did you know that travel toys make great Christmas gifts for children? I especially love buying them as stocking stuffers!
Lightweight and small toys
Great travel toys for toddlers have to be lightweight! You are already carrying an energetic toddler, his clothes bag, diaper bag if he isn’t potty-trained, car seat, stroller, and what-not. The last thing you want is a bulky toy to drag you down. It should be something that you can easily stuff into a purse or backpack when you need to board the flight.
Even the best travel toys can get lost when you are running to catch flights and throwing bags around haphazardly during TSA security check. I’m pretty sure you don’t want a handcrafted or customized travel toy to get lost and then deal with a teary-eyed toddler who wants it replaced. That’s why I avoid taking plush toys or toys that have sentimental value while traveling. It is so much easier to order another toy similar to the one you lost if it is mass-produced.
No fuss, no mess toys
You definitely want to pack toddler travel toys that don’t spill or get wet or tear or otherwise create any kind of a mess. That means no watercolors unless you have a water brush pen, no playdough, and definitely no markers, even if they are washable – you don’t want your toddler to color the airplane seat! No fuss part also means no distracting lights and noises. I once sat next to a toddler who had a ball that lit up and started chiming loudly when thrown and it was super annoying to all fellow passengers who wanted to sleep on the red eye! You definitely want to choose travel toys for toddlers that don’t irritate adults.
Toys without loose, small parts
Toys with loose, small parts like screws or lego pieces are bound to lose something when the airplane hits turbulence or you have to pack in a hurry because the meal service is beginning. That’s why I prefer no loose parts. Think magnetic slates with attached tied pencils that loose crayons or magnetic playsets that building blocks. There’s a reason these are absolutely the best toys for flying with a toddler.
Our go-to best travel toys for 3-year-olds
Our son is currently 3 years old and while all the above toys are best for toddlers of all ages, are you wondering which are the favorites with my 3-year-old? Do you want a peek inside my toddler’s backpack and know what are our musts or the things I refuse to set foot outside without?
Tada! Here are our absolute best toddler toys for airplane and we have taken them literally everywhere from the grocery and the doctor to international flights.
1. Mini Magnetic Doodle
2. Three Books
3. Two Cars
4. Plush Buckle Toy
5. Brain Quest!
I also keep a blank notepad, a couple of crayons (mostly the ones we got for free in restaurants), straws, and lots of Ziplocs in his backpack. You never know what you need to use as toys for plane journeys.
Did you find this post useful? What are some of your favorite travel toys for airplane travel?