Most parents dread a plane ride with a toddler.
Family travel with littles is not easy.
The challenge of keeping toddlers happy, content, seated, and well behaved throughout the flight is enough to stress anyone out.
There are so many problems you have to contend with.
Beginning with the long wait to board the plane to managing the discomfort from ear popping due to changing cabin pressure – and the most dreaded, changing diapers in the congested plane toilet – none of it is easy!
“Wow! I’m so looking forward to spending hours together with my toddler in a close confined space with lots of people to judge my parenting” said no mom or dad ever!
And still, we continue doing that!
We have flown domestically as well as on international long haul flights with our toddlers to several countries and US states.
I have taken them on trips by myself without their dad and the game changer has always been our vast and interesting collection of travel toys!
We always carry a good stash of travel toys for toddlers on airplanes and highly recommend it for a relaxed trip.
From reusable sticker book to triangular crayons, and from finger puppets to shape sorter and quiet book, find the best travel toys to take on your next trip.
These travel toys for toddlers can also be used for car travel and on road trips. They are also perfect for camping or beach trips.
You will also find best toys for an airplane for babies on this list.
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Best Travel toys for toddlers on airplanes
Flying with a toddler on your next trip?
Looking for a toddler travel toy or airplane activities that will keep your young child entertained during air travel?
Find the best toys for toddlers on airplanes to bring along with a snack or two in this epic post!
Buckle Toys, Busy Boards, and Activity Boards
A buckle toy or busy board or activity board is definitely our favorite travel toy.
They are amazing when it comes entertaining young kids – from a baby or lap toddler to kindergartners – on the plane.
The Plush Buckle 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 always have 1 each in the diaper bag, in the car, and in my toddler’s backpack.
The Buckle Toy captures your toddler’s fascination with its many buckles, snaps, zippers, Velcro’s, and ties.
It keeps their little fingers and minds busy for a long time as they try to close the different buckles.
The buckle toy also teaches other skills such as colors, numbers, and letters. It also comes in various sizes and forms – from small to large backpack buckle toys.
Parents can easily strap it anywhere – to the stroller, car seats, bags, and purses.
The Buckle Toy can easily entertain older toddlers for up to half an hour, making it one of the best toddler toys for airplane vacations.
It is one of the best toys for airplane travel with 2 year old or 3 year old.
The Buckle Toy also makes a great gift for traveling parents.
A great alternative to the Buckle Toy is the Buckle Toy Busyboard.
Similar to Buckle Toy, the Busyboard has all types of buckles, zippers, velcros on a flat soft foam board.
It also has shoelaces!
Tying and untying the shoelaces is fun for active toddlers.
The Busyboard can be stored flat like a book and stays well in backpacks, diaper bags, purses, and carry-ons.
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.
Quiet books are a great way to keep kids entertained during long trips.
They’re also perfect for the car, library or waiting room.
Kids love to touch and feel different textures with in the quiet books.
The quiet books are easy to pack into a backpack or carry-on or in your child’s car seat.
Magnetic Drawing boards and Water drawing pads
All toddlers love doodling, drawing, and even scratching anything that resembles a drawable surface with a pen, pencil or a crayon!
Toddlers can sit for hours when they are engrossed in coloring or drawing, which makes any kind of drawing or coloring sets great for travel.
Our favorite is the Magnetic Doodle Board. It has different color zones.
Toddlers love that they can draw as well as color on these boards.
The boards come in different sizes but the smaller ones are more suited to travel.
The smaller size is also 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, coloring book, and a few crayons in my purse.
If you are looking for travel friendly crayons, then we highly recommend the triangular Crayola crayons that don’t roll over.
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.
LCD Writing Tablets
LCD Writing tablets are the newest toys on the market.
These cool gadgets provide hours of doodling and creative fun while also teaching kids how to draw and write.
They’re small, lightweight and easy-to-use; it is a great idea to use them as travel toys.
Plus, they are not limited from baby to toddler stage. Any young kid will love using the LCD tablet as they grow up – and an older kid can play a variety of games like Tic Tac Toe, Pictionary, and more!
The Boogie Board writing tablet is another great choice.
It is the perfect small toy to use for a variety of toddler airplane activities like writing, counting, alphabets, and drawing.
While more expensive than non branded LCD tablets, the boogie board is much more durable.
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 and aren’t reusable vinyl but paper ones.
But for their awesome price of a cent per sticker and plus the variety of dinosaur stickers – they are great hits!
Okay so how do I explain the wonderful invention called WikkiStix?
They are like thick threads that stick together. They have a waxy feel and you can create many wonderful shapes with them.
Toddlers can make flat two dimensional objects or even large 3D projects with the WikkiStix.
Our toddlers absolutely love them and they are among 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 that you get out of these make it perfect to include among toys to take on plane for toddlers.
Activity Books and Kits
The latest trend in children’s books are activity books for kids.
These books come in a large variety and they’re perfect for keeping your child entertained.
Some of the popular activity books are Tape Books, Craft Kits, Lacing Kits, Puzzle books, Dot to Dot books, and Maze books.
The best activity books for kids are the ones that engage them in a fun and creative way.
The Tape Activity Book allows for lots of tape art, creativity, and hours of reusable fun.
Look and Find books such as I spy / Look and Find / Spot / Where’s Waldo books are also great activity books.
They challenge the naturally inquisitive toddler mind and keep them occupied for a long time as they search 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.
I love keeping a variety of fidget toys on hand as I can use them to direct my kids’ 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 – even adults.
You can open, twist, reshape the tangle in any way – great for developing fine motor skills.
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!
Another favorite of ours is the Pop It Bubble Push Pull Toy.
It’s like a giant reusable bubble wrap! Kids can enjoy popping the bubbles with their little hands for hours.
Plus the popping sound is not loud enough to annoy others on the airplane.
The Liquid Motion Bubbler is another great sensory fidget toy that keeps kids engrossed and occupied for a long time.
These toys have a colored liquid bubble that creates mesmerizing and calming effect.
It is very soothing and perfect for flights and car rides.
Brain Quest Decks are a cross between activity kits and quiz books.
We started with the My First Brain Quest book and loved it.
It’s a great tool to learn new words and concepts.
The questions are presented thematically so you can read by topic.
The set contains 2 decks for variety.
I always keep it in my kids Dinosaur backpack when we go out and love whipping it out when they get bored.
Small Toys – Dinosaurs / Plastic Animals
Our kids are Dinosaur crazy (show me a toddler who isn’t!) and so I always keep a few plastic dinosaurs in their travel backpack.
They are perfect for pretend play, make-believe stories, dinosaur fights, and pretty much everything!
You can also buy plastic animals as airplane toy – barnyard or farm animals, wild animals, marine animals, even dragons, as per your kids choices.
Magnetic Games and Playsets
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!
Trains and Cars
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.
Hot Wheels Cars are also one of the best travel toys for toddlers.
Little ones love playing with cars – over luggage bags, on tray table, and on the floor.
I always have hot wheels 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.
Another brand we love apart from Hot Wheels is Matchbox by Mattel.
We love books and always carry some on trips.
But seriously you can never go much wrong with any book!
Just develop the habit of reading and you have given your child the best start possible.
Tablets for Toddlers
While the whole purpose of taking travel toys for toddlers is to avoid screen time; having a tablet in your bag is definitely handy on those days when they want nothing else!
There’s a reason these are absolutely the best toys for flying with a toddler.
Also, kids have limited patience and no travel toy is going to keep them happy during unexpected travel delays like a cartoon or animated film can.
In such situations, rather than deal with cranky kids, I’m quite content to let them watch movies or cartoons or play games on the tablet.
Our kids share a regular Kindle Fire tablet and while it is not best in terms of weight, performance, or apps – it works for the kids!
The tablet also comes in a cool Kid’s edition that has a sleeve and Kids video subscription.
Assorted Knick Knacks
Some other things I like bringing along: lots of plain white 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.
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
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of toys for 3-year-olds 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 a 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 and small!
You do not want to carry something bulky or heavy while also carrying kids travel gear like child seat, stroller, booster seat, baby carrier, and diaper bag.
You should be easily able to stuff the toy into a purse or backpack when you need to board the flight.
Even the best travel toys often get lost when you are running to catch flights and throwing bags around haphazardly during airport security checks.
We have often had to replace our travel toys with an exactly similar item to pacify our kids.
That’s why we avoid taking unique, valuable toys while traveling; anything mass produced works best!
Toys without sounds, lights, and mess
Travel toys should be easy to use and pack.
They should not spill or tear or stain or create a mess or have distracting lights or emit noisy sounds.
That means – no watercolors, no playdough, no markers, and definitely no glue. Also no barking puppies, musical toys, or the like.
You do not want the flight attendant to single you out for disrupting your fellow passengers on a red eye flight!
Toys without loose or small parts
Toys with loose, small parts like screws or stackable pieces are bound to loose some pieces when the airplane hits turbulence or you have to pack in a hurry because the meal service is beginning.
That’s why we recommend toys with no loose parts. Think magnetic slates with attached pencils or triangular crayons than loose rolling crayons or magnetic playsets than Lego sets.
DIY Set of best travel toys for toddlers
While all the above toys are best for toddlers of all ages, are you wondering which ones should you get?
We recommend getting something from each category below to create your own mix and match sets:
One Drawing solution
Pack anything from above recommended LCD tablets, slates, coloring books, or water coloring pads.
One Busy Toy
Pack anything from buckle toy, busy board, activity book, wikki stix, stickers, etc.
One Fidget Toy
Carry some soothing sensory toy like Pop it or liquid bubble toy or tangle toy.
Few Small Toys
Animals, dinosaurs, hot wheels – add a couple of favorites per kid to the set.
Books, Paper, and Pen/Pencils, and Knick Knacks
Throw in a couple of books that they like.
Also keep blank paper, a couple of crayons (mostly the ones we get for free in restaurants), straws, and lots of Ziplocs in the kids travel backpack.
You never know what you need to use as toys for plane journeys.
And that wraps our ultimate list of best airplane travel toys for toddlers.
Did you find this post useful? What are some of your favorite travel toys for airplane travel?