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Tyler Lund

The Best Travel Toys for Keeping Toddlers Entertained

Being stuck in a car or plane with a bored, fidgety toddler is no one’s idea of fun. The key to a happy trip? These tried-and-true travel toys.

I just got back from a trip to Portugal with my twin 2-year-old boys. It featured an eight-hour plane ride I never would have survived if it weren’t for that glorious bag of toys I had packed for the boys. While long flights and car rides can be torture with toddlers—picture hours-long stretches of kids screaming and fighting and parents desperately hushing—the right mix of gizmos and gadgets will do wonders for keeping kids entertained and well-behaved.

The best travel toys for toddlers are lightweight, mess-free and easily packed into a carry on bag or the backseat. Need some suggestions? Tested on two international flights and several cross-country road trips, these 10 toddler travel toys are practically guaranteed to get your next vacation started on the right note.

Photo: Courtesy Crayola

1. Crayola Color Wonder Metallic Color Pad and Markers

My kids started to get really into coloring when they turned 2. With a regular coloring book or paint, things got messy quickly and we’d have to interrupt the fun before they were done to clean up. That’s never an issue with these Crayola pads and markers. The pens only work on the special coloring paper, so kids can color over and over without any chance of ruining a seat back or car seat. Plus, the set fits easily into a bag for the plane and is perfect for entertaining kids during takeoff and landing, when they need to be in seats. Coloring with these metallic markers kept my boys busy for over an hour on our flight!

Buy it: $14, Jet.com

Photo: Courtesy Janod

2. Janod Happy Fish Magneto Puzzle

I bought this magnetic puzzle just before our trip and saved it in case of emergency. And good thing I did! I broke it out mid-flight and watched as my boys pulled out each animal and tried to match them to the corresponding pictures—an activity that kept them occupied for a good part of the plane ride. The kids had a blast not only solving the puzzle, but also making the noises of each animal as they went—even if I did have to make up what an octopus sounds like. The large puzzle pieces are great for small toddler hands, and while the pieces are removable, they’re also magnetic, making them less likely to get lost in the car or on a plane.

Buy it: $17, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy Melissa and Doug

3. Melissa and Doug Pull-Back Vehicle Set

These big, soft pull-back cars are perfect for younger kids who lack the fine motor skills to handle smaller cars—they’re easy to hold and much less likely to get lost beneath a seat. During our flight, my boys loved pulling them back and sending them skidding across the seat back tray table and rolling them along the floor. The soft covering also makes them less of a liability if launched (or thrown) across a plane aisle. Plus, the cover is removable, so it was easy to wash off the questionable plane gunk once we landed.

Buy it: $22 for four, Jet.com

Photo: Courtesy Random House

4. Dr. Seuss’s Second Beginner Book Collection

Books in general make for great toddler travel toys, since they fit easily in a bag. And every child needs a few Dr. Seuss books, especially for a trip—they’re the perfect blend of great illustrations and engaging stories that keep kids calm when traveling. On car rides my boys like reading to themselves and turning the pages to see the pictures. On planes they love to sit and read together with us, which helps to keep them in our laps during takeoff and landing or when the seatbelt sign is on and they can’t explore the bulkhead areas. You can bet your fellow passengers won’t object to overhearing a good Dr. Seuss book, either—unless it’s Aunt Annie’s Alligator for the 12th time.

Buy it: $34, Jet.com

Photo: Courtesy Eyelike

5. Eyelike Reusable Stickers

Stickers are the perfect way for toddlers to express their creativity and develop their imaginations—but trying to peel them off every surface of the car or plane isn’t much fun for parents. Substitute these reusable stickers for the perfect travel toys for toddlers. Kids can enjoy slapping stickers onto the various scenes included in the book, then remove them and start all over again. Plus, with 400 stickers to a pack, there’s little chance they’ll run out mid-trip, even if your toddlers misplace a few.

Buy it: $7, Jet.com

Photo: Courtesy Playskool

6. Playskool Dressy Kids Doll

Around 2 years old, children start to develop better fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination and love to practice their new skills—which means buttons, shoelaces and snaps provide endless fascination for toddlers. One of our favorite toddler travel toys, this doll has all those and more, providing a ton of different activities for kids to interact with, all in one plaything. Available as boy or girl dolls, it makes for a great car seat companion, is easy to todd in a bag and won’t cause much damage if it gets bounced off the back of a parent’s head while driving. I know this from personal experience.

Buy it: $20, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy Hape

7. Hape Magnetic Fish Puzzle

For toddlers with a bit more hand-eye coordination, this magnetic puzzle adds a new challenge: successfully navigating the beads through the maze. Dragging the pieces around with the magnet wand is a bit harder than assembling your average puzzle, but it’s way more interesting and rewarding. This toy makes for a great travel companion: It’s durable, thanks to its sturdy wooden construction, but light enough that parents won’t have to wind up paying for overweight bags.

But it: $10, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy Tuddler

8. Stackable Pegs and Pegboard

While they’re a bit easier to misplace than some of the other travel toys for toddlers on this list, these building pieces provide lots of opportunity for creativity. On a long flight, just flip down the tray table and start stacking—it can occupy toddlers for a good long while, especially if parents are willing to join in on the fun. While turbulence can dismantle a magnificent castle in seconds and send parents scrambling for pieces, we discovered that the hunt can be a fun game in and of itself. In the car, it works well as a lap toy and keeps kids playing on their own, so parents can actually focus on driving.

Buy it: $18, Amazon.com

Photo: Courtesy Melissa and Doug

9. Melissa and Doug Wooden Vehicles Maze Puzzle

Maybe it’s just my kids, but I believe every toddler goes through a phase of love for vehicles. When it comes to gathering up travel toys for toddlers, however, rather than schlepping along dozens of little toy cars, which would get lost or broken, swap in this wooden board puzzle. Kids can push the various vehicles around the board without constantly losing the pieces under a seat. This travel toy was a lifesaver on my family’s cross-country road trip, since it’s big enough for the kids to easily hold in their laps and not bounce around the car.

Buy it: $28, FoxandGrapes.com

Photo: Courtesy Travel In Sanity

10. Kids Dinosaur Travel Tray

This tray is a must-have accessory to bring on a lengthy flight or car ride: It easily straps onto any tray table or car seat, creating a fun surface for kids to play with all their great toddler travel toys. The side walls prevent playthings from constantly falling on the floor and provides a setting for imaginary games with cars or animal figurines. It even works as a snack table that’s easily cleanable. I wish I had this on our first flight, when one of our boys used a plastic spoon to catapult a carrot into my wine glass, which fell off my tray and directly into their bag of toys. I was better prepared for our second trip.

But it: $22, Amazon.com

Published June 2018

Plus, more from The Bump:

Tips for Navigating Disney World with a Toddler in Tow

Best STEM Toys for Babies and Toddlers

7 Weird Toddler Behaviors That Are Actually Normal

PHOTO: Jessica Peterson