The 3 Ts of Family Travel – Toddlers, Toys, and Tantrums

Toddler flying on a suitcase

By Anna Fishman

As a mother of a very active, curious toddler, it’s my job to keep him engaged and happy while we travel as a family – and we try to do so as much as possible. He’s no stranger to long flights, new climates, different cuisines, and amazing new experiences. While no trip (so far, but fingers crossed) has been without its tantrums when he’s tired, cranky, or overstimulated – it helps to be prepared. In our case, that means bringing along toys to keep him busy. Distractions work very well at his age and we never leave the house without some go-to toys.

Here’s a short list of my favorite items to take along with us on vacation – this list is constantly updated as his interests change, but I hope that it can be a helpful starting point for some of you.

Seedling Activity Kits

If you need something to do on a rainy day when your other plans fell through, Seedling offers cool activity kits for kids of different ages and interests. The kits come with everything you need (including things like crayons or glue) and their fun projects are easy to make. Kids can take their creations (masks, capes, dolls, wings, you name it) and let their imaginations run wild. If you have a smaller kiddo, you can “help” them create something that they will love.

Magnetic “Books”

There are many variations of this popular toy, depending on where your child’s interests lie. Options range from putting different silly facial features and accessories together to making funny faces, to building cars, trains and even learning about different professions. What’s great about these toys is that they are light, portable, and can be reused in a number of ways. Throw in a couple of crayons and a few coloring book pages into the box and your toddler can use it as an easel to color or draw if they get bored.

Sticker Activity Sets

Like with anything else, there are tons of options for sticker activity sets. These come with sturdy pages and reusable stickers. You can select from a variety of themes and characters, and best of all – they can fit at the bottom of your suitcase or diaper bag, and don’t take up much space.

Coloring books, pencils, crayons and stickers

These items are go-to items for many moms – when you need to quickly distract a child in a café, or on a plane. You can pack coloring books, cool new pencils (we like double-sided pencils where each side has a different color), crayons (there are eco-friendly versions) and coloring books (our current favorite is Minions). I recently came across cool rainbow pencils, too! Makes coloring more fun and exciting, and you don’t have to worry about your toddler losing their “favorite color” in between seat cushions.

Child with a toy plane

AquaDoodle & Reusable Water-Reveal Activity Pads

Another favorite is AquaDoodle – a no mess, creative way for your kids to tap into their artistic side, without having to bring along paints, paper, or brushes. Easy to wipe, colorful and exciting for kids of any age. If you haven’t come across reusable water-reveal activity pads, these are a must for any parent’s travel repertoire. All you need is a tiny bit of water and the pen that’s included with the set. Portable, light and easy for the parent to carry – check!

VTech Go! Go! Smart Animals

This toy is probably better for younger kids but it was a hit with my son for many months. VTech Smart Animals make sounds, sing, and can be rolled across a table for a quick zoo race. I always carried 1-2 in his lunch bag and it is a good distraction in restaurants and other places where you need your toddler to sit still for more than 30 seconds at a time. They come in a variety of animal options and Vtech also has smart cars, construction vehicles and other cute little toys you can easily take with you on a trip.

Soft Activity Book

This one was a big help during a long flight – we brought along a soft activity book with tons of “peekaboo windows” and textured flaps and pages. Soft, durable and light, it’s a perfect way to “read” a story with your child and have them interact with the book to stay busy. It worked great on an airplane tray table (don’t worry, I sanitized the tray first ?) P.S. bring lots of wipes and hand sanitizer wherever you go!

Cardboard Pop-Out Playsets

If you toss the box, cardboard cutout pop-out figurines take up virtually no space and can provide tons of opportunities to play with your toddler, teach them about different animals, or create an elaborate prehistoric dinosaur world. They’re sturdy, don’t need a lot of complicated set up, and don’t have many loose (and potentially lost) pieces.

One final tip – it helps to pack toys and loose items like crayons and pencils in ziplock bags. They are less likely to get lost or damaged during travel. Original boxes and toy packaging can be very bulky and take up too much precious suitcase real estate. Happy travels!

PS – Lots of parents have been asking me what to do about car seats while traveling. I prefer to bring my own. Regardless of where you are going, Europe or the Caribbean, the transportation companies are not obligated to offer you car seats for transfers and if you request one, they will charge an arm and a leg to guarantee it. Here are a few recommended items that I bring on every trip with my toddler:

Lightweight car seat – we use this one just for airplane travel

Car seat cover, so it doesn’t get dirty when checked in (if your kids are big enough to sit on the airplane without the car seat, opt in for the 5 point harness)

Car seat wheels, so you don’t have to carry the heavy car seat and my son loves taking rides around the airport in it!

If you are checking in the stroller, put it in the bag so it doesn’t get dirty with all the luggage.

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