Travel involves so many unknowns, from delays and cancellations to missed or oversold flights. But one thing I can control is what we pack to stay entertained in the meantime. My son and I have been traveling together since he was only a few weeks old, with over 200 flights under our belts, so I’ve had to get really creative over the years to keep him entertained not only in-flight, but around the airport too. While we don’t usually bring each of these with us for every trip, here’s our 10 must-have toys for traveling, in no particular order:
1. Nintendo Switch
I will never forget the first time I made it almost all the way through an entire in-flight movie without interruption. After three years of traveling with my son, I finally found the foolproof method of being able to catnap or watch a movie (mostly) uninterrupted: the Nintendo Switch. My younger brother recommended the console to us last year and I’m so glad he did. Not only does this provide a way for us to bond as a family at home, the device is a portable and compact travel companion that has games for all ages.
I’ll be adding a follow-up post for a look at the Nintendo Switch games that are my family’s favorites.
2. Pop It
My son really enjoys “popping” the bubbles on drive-thru sodas, so this toy was a no-brainer for us. We have the travel size and the regular size, but both are very travel-friendly sizes. We make patterns with the bubbles or have a race to see who can pop all the bubbles the fastest.
3. Crocodile Dentist
… or any game that doesn’t have lots of tiny parts for me to keep track of while we’re on-the-go. Crocodile Dentist is a travel-sized game full of surprises. You and your opponent take turns “pulling teeth” from the toy crocodile, but beware, one of those teeth will send him chomping at your fingers! Don’t worry, you’re not actually pulling any teeth out; they press down into the croc’s gums, like a keyboard button, which means no small pieces to lose in transit.
These are for use in the airport when you have a long layover, delay, or cancellation. Bubbles are magical when you’ve had a long day (and doubles as a way for your child to take a break from wearing his mask). To be TSA-liquid-compliant, the bubbles must be less than 3.4 ounces. I bought a pack of party-favor bubbles from Target and bring two or three with us when we travel. When we get back home, I refill the bottles and store them in our travel closet.
I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t love stickers. They’re the best! Michael’s craft stores have great sticker books for only $1, you can’t pass that up. I remove the backing around the stickers ahead of time so my son can remove the stickers on his own. Game changer. I bring a small notepad for him to put stickers, or use the airline’s provided sick bag as our canvas too.
If you have a really crafty kid, Crayola makes mess-free coloring books, blank pages, and companion markers. You never have to worry about your kids coloring on themselves, their clothes, the airplane seats, tray tables, or strangers! The markers only color on the mess-free paper. MAGIC.
6. Inflatable beach ball or balloons
Just like the aforementioned bubbles, you can’t be unhappy when you’re playing with a colorful beach ball or balloon. And also, please don’t use them in-flight. The beach ball is packable, durable, lightweight, and reusable. Balloons are packable, lightweight, and easier to inflate than the beach ball, so I prefer to bring two or three balloons.
I always bring one book for my son, making sure it’s about more than just a good story. I look for books with added features like textured paper, pop-up features, and pull-tabs to keep his attention.
8. Amazon Fire Kids Tablet and/or iPad
We bought the Fire Tablet on Prime Day years ago for $50. For that price? Worth it. I’m an avid Apple fan and prefer the iPad because it operates so fast. My only complaint with the Fire is how slowww it is, but that doesn’t seem to phase my son that much.
For the Fire, I recommend paying for the add-on Amazon Freetime. The small monthly surcharge for child-appropriate content and games is well worth $3/month.
For any devices you bring along, don’t forget to download TV shows and movies for offline use before taking your trip.
9. Dealer’s choice
I always let my son pick out up to three toys for his carry-on bag. My only rule here is that they fit in his backpack easily and that they aren’t sentimental (you never know what you might lose). He always picks toys from his endless airplane and car collection.
10. One surprise toy of your choice
This is a toy we already own, but I pack it without my son noticing. When we’re traveling and I see that he’s getting antsy or bored with what he’d picked out, I reach in to the hidden pocket and surprise him with… drumroll… another car or airplane that somehow makes everything better.
One important reminder before your trip…
Every child is unique, that’s what makes them so fun! Remember that you know your child the best, so pack with their likes and interests in mind. Worst case scenario, you may have to buy an overpriced distraction in the airport gift shop. No biggie. Don’t forget that there are plenty of “toys” on the airplane you can play with too.