A collage with toddlers holding their travel toys

The 14 Best Travel Toys For Toddlers

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by Ileana Morales Valentine

We’re living in a new golden age of road trips, and no matter where you’re headed, the road can feel long when your travel buddy is a toddler. A little prep can make all the difference. First, bring all the snacks. Then, don’t leave home without a slew of toys to entertain them for the haul. The best travel toys for toddlers keep them busy by engaging their senses — all while having fun. And don’t worry: I kept the noisier toys at grandma’s house and off of this list.

A solid travel toy for a toddler needs to have a certain busyness factor. Hands-on toys like puzzles or pads for coloring and drawing hold a little one’s attention. Tactile toys that may have buckles or buttons, pop-ups, or building designs tend to keep kiddos engaged longerand they'll also be great at helping them practice fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and/or problem-solving. Open-ended toys that can be played with in multiple ways will also go the distance in holding their interest over several hours or days on the road.

Lightweight toddler toys that don’t make a mess or come with fewer pieces are clear favorites when you’re on the go or traveling in tight quarters, and some portable toys come with storage bags or containers to hold multiple pieces. It’s worth noting that there can be big developmental differences between younger and older toddlers, so I've included a range of toys suited for toddlers of all ages. Just note: Small parts can be a choking hazard for children under three, so be sure to check the age recommendations for each toy.

Pro tip: Save the surprise! Don't dole out the toy until your trip has started — it only adds to the toy's appeal — and it'll buy you more entertainment time when you need it most.

1. This Mess-Free Tablet For Doodling

  • Age: 3 years old and up

For your upcoming trip and really every car ride, plane ride, or train trip to follow, you'll want to pack this toddler writing tablet. It's a much-loved travel toy with over 12,000 reviews on Amazon; kids love the endlessly reusable surface to draw and color on, and parents appreciate that it holds their attention without making any mess. The attached stylus creates thin or thicker colorful lines depending on the pressure applied, and there's a button to erase or lock what's on the screen. Your toddler will have fun using their imagination and using it for writing, drawing, counting, spelling, and more.

Plus, this tablet is so slim and lightweight, you can tuck it into any backpack. The tablet's built-in battery offers six months of battery life, so you don’t need to worry about charging it on your trip. I keep one in the backseat of my car at all times. If you have multiple kids traveling with you, color coordinate for each toddler: Choose from blue, orange, pink, or yellow.

A helpful review: “We bought this pad to take on a long car trip with our 4 yr old granddaughter. She is usually traveling with her nose stuck to an iPad, I was looking for something to get her out of watching iPad all trip. This did the trick! She drew all kinds of things, practiced her numbers and letters, and played games with me. It was great to have something that didn’t need to be charged.”

2. The Uber-Popular Cups That Parents Swear

  • Age: 6 months old and up

A set of stacking cups is so much more than it seems, and its versatility and small size make it an essential travel toy for toddlers. This particular cup toy set is wildly popular with a 4.8-star rating and over 56,000 reviews; plus, it's only $5.

The eight brightly colored cups are stackable but also nest within each other for minimal storage in a carry-on bag or anywhere else. The bottoms of the cups are numbered for practicing counting and number recognition. They'll also love knocking down a tall tower of cups. Each cup also has holes on the bottom, so they make fun bath toys anywhere. Headed on a beach vacation? Pack these lightweight cups for tons of playtime in the sand. Or scoop up fresh snow with them if you're headed north. Really, these are a fun toy anywhere you can stack them.

A helpful review: “If I had to pick one toy for a baby, this would be it. My 3-year-old still finds things to do with these cups that he has had since infancy. So simple and yet so versatile. They can [be] bath toys if needed. They are perfect for travel where your destination may not have many kid toys because they pack so easily and yet provide great entertainment and opportunities for development, creativity, etc. Everyone should have these.”

3. A Soft Toy With Buckles To Keep 'Em Busy

  • Age: 1 to 4 years old

You may have noticed your toddler is increasingly interested in things like seat belts and high chair buckles. This buckle toy square takes those non-toy things and turns them into a very appealing square toy for the toddler crowd, with six kid-friendly buckles in different clasp styles.

Learning to buckle and then unbuckle these straps engages your toddler in fine motor skills, cognitive skills, problem-solving, and hand-eye coordination, so don't be surprised when this small toy holds their attention for longer than you thought possible. An easy-to-open zipper reveals a pocket, and on one side of the square are numbers and shapes that will appeal to your toddler, too. With over 3,000 reviews, this is another fan favorite. Several shoppers noted they clean this lightweight toy regularly in a washing machine.

A helpful review: “My son is obsessed with buckling things (set belts, high chair straps, etc) so this was perfect. The cover of the pillow is soft and the straps provide different challenges as they are different on each side. The zipper pocket allows for storage of other small items and is something else to play with it. Kept him busy enough on a plane ride.”

4. A Reusable Sticker Pad That’s Perfect For Road Trips

  • Age: 3 years old and up

Toddlers love stickers, and this reusable sticker pad comes with more than 150 stickers for hours of fun adhering and rearranging them on five colorful animal habitat pages. The sturdy stickers feature farm animals, dinosaurs, sea creatures, and more, and they can be reused again and again and even adhere to car windows if you're on a road trip.

This sticker pad is lightweight and slim enough to keep in the backseat of a car or in a carry-on bag. It's a little wider than a standard sheet of paper, so you'll want to double-check if it can fit in your backpack or bag. With a 4.7-star rating and over 3,000 reviews, you can't go wrong with this under-$10 pick. Choose from other themes, too, like vehicles, farm, under the sea, or stock up with a 3-pack of sticker pads or a princess bundle.

A helpful review: “This sticker book kept my three year old daughter busy for three hours on the way to New York and two and a half on the way home! Perfect for road trips. Working on figuring out how to keep the reusable stickers all together since I have now purchased every one of these sticker boards!”

5. A Beautiful Lacing Card Set Based On A Beloved Book

  • Age: 3 years old and up

Toddlers aren't tying shoelaces quite yet, but they can start to build the necessary patience and determination for the milestone using these lacing cards. With 10 beautiful cards featuring familiar characters from the classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar, little ones can work on strengthening their hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills while attempting to thread the lace in and out of the card's holes. This card set is lightweight and small enough to keep a few in a bag, backpack, or backseat.

A helpful review: “Kept the kids occupied off and on during an 8 hr road trip. Definitely recommended for ages listed.”

6. This Conveniently Machine-Washable Activity Book

  • Age: 3 years old and up

This smartly designed toddler activity book packs nine activities into a small, lightweight book with a convenient handle for toting it everywhere. The Montessori-inspired activities engage your kid's fine motor skills and include buckling a belt, learning how to snap and button, and telling time. This book is like a busy board your toddler may have at home, but it's soft, easily portable, and perhaps best of all, after a long time away from home: it's machine-washable. The toy comes with a garment bag for its turn in the spin cycle.

Each of the activities and pieces is tethered to the book so they won't get lost, and the book is available in red, green, or blue. This book is pricier than some others, but many parents noted in the over 1,500 reviews on Amazon that it is "totally worth it" to keep your toddler entertained during travel.

A helpful review: “[...] My daughter LOVES playing with this in the car, and it keeps her just as occupied as the annoying noisy battery-powered toys. And what a reprieve it has been!! [...] It grows well with them, which is a must considering the price tag. It is very well made and very durable. We’ve had it for just under a year and it’s held up excellently. [...] 100% worth the money for the peace and quiet!!!”

7. A Set Of Reusable Mess-Free Coloring Pads

  • Age: 3 and up

Coloring books are a family traveling staple, but here's another no-mess option you should also keep on hand. These Water Wow! books appeal to toddlers because the water pen “magically” fills in the themed pages, and you'll love that these lightweight books let your little one color without potentially marking up anything outside of the coloring book.

The provided water pen is wide so it’s easier for toddlers to grab, and it conveniently fits into a built-in storage spot on each book. I keep these travel-friendly books in my backseat or in my bag and love how easy it is to fill up the "pen" from my water bottle. I've never had any issues with leaks. I’ve used these a lot in restaurants and on car rides to keep my toddler entertained, and I love that they may help promote fine motor skills as well as early writing skills.

This set of highly rated coloring pads, with over 7,000 reviews, comes with three themed books (farm, safari, and under the sea), each with four reusable pages in a spiral-bound pad, and fun facts to go with each page. These mess-free coloring books are also available in other themes: dinosaurs, vehicles, and an affordable fairy tale bundle. No matter which theme you choose, these are a must for traveling toddlers.

A helpful review: "We recently used these on a trip for 2 toddlers, they were quiet and content with these while on the plane. We love all Melissa and Doug products but this one was truly a life saver on a flight."

8. A Small Magnetic Wooden Block Set

  • Age: 1 year and up

An ordinary set of blocks might be tricky to keep track of with a toddler on a train or plane, but this magnetic wooden block set has just six pieces that stick to each other with magnets hidden inside each chunky block. The colorful and patterned blocks can be arranged into a hummingbird design, as well as over 60 other creations, like a rocket ship or other animals. The small set is lightweight enough to bring on any trip, whether you're traveling on the road or in the air.

If you find your toddler loves building with this on-the-go set — which also comes in a jet plane, cat, tugboat, and whale — you can add on to the Tegu block collection at home, since it's compatible with the brand's other blocks, too. The wooden pieces are made of FSC-certified (aka sustainable hardwood) so while pricier than other wooden blocks, they're responsibly made and are designed with durability in mind.

A helpful review: "Purchased this toy for our 2-year-old to play during our flights. He really enjoyed it. Once taken out of the packaging, it’s compact enough so you can easily throw into your backpack or bag."

9. A Set Of Moldable Sticks To Spark Your Toddler’s Imagination

  • Age: 3 years old and up

For a toy that weighs next to nothing but brings the potential for hours of open-ended play, add these reusable sculpting sticks to your bag. One box brings 24 eight-inch colorful sticks made of food-grade, non-sticky wax and yarn that can be molded into all kinds of shapes; a guide is included with ideas for getting started. They're designed not to break, tear apart, or leave behind residue, but a grown-up can easily cut them with scissors to shorten the sticks.

With over 1,800 reviews, this educational toy allows them to create their own forms using their imagination and is a favorite for painlessly taking arts and crafts time on the road.

A helpful review: “An amazing amount of fun for a 4 yr-old out of what are simply pieces of waxed yarn. Great for travel because there's no mess and they can quickly be packed away and the end of the flight or road trip.”

10. A Portable All-In-One Maze

  • Age: 2 years old and up

Change it up for your puzzle-loving toddler with this magnetic wooden maze. Using a magnetic wand, they'll guide colorful beads through the fish-themed maze to reach the end. It's ideal for travel with a built-in carrying handle on the hand-held puzzle and sturdy pieces that are all enclosed and attached for safety and convenience.

Playing with this maze engages kids in problem-solving, fine motor skills, and logic skills to keep them entertained. This toy is also available as a train maze puzzle.

A helpful review: “We purchased this for a recent Disneyland trip with our 2 y/o grandson. It was small and light enough to stuff into our backpacks for him to play with in long lines. It was also very handy for the 6 hour car ride. It was a simple, self-contained toy that was perfect for him!”

11. This Shape Sorter With Its Own Storage Bag

  • Age: 9 months old to 3 years old

As your toddler begins to name shapes and colors, keep the fun going on your trip with this portable shape sorter. They'll enjoy pushing the nine textured blocks in different colors and shapes through their corresponding slots in the padded case that also functions as a storage bag for the toys. This lightweight toy engages your toddler's senses, as well as their fine motor and communication skills.

The case has a carrying handle and a bonus activity side with crinkly flaps that reveal pictures of familiar items for a matching game. This pick with a 4.8-star rating and over 2,500 reviews is lightweight and soft, so it's easy to pack for a road trip or in a carry-on bag. You can even fit a couple of extra small toys inside the case along with the blocks.

A helpful review: “My kiddo loved this toy. I got it for a plane ride to Hawaii for my 12 month old, and she enjoyed taking the shapes in and out and looking at the pictures, and picture flaps. We used it on an off the plane for that trip, and kept playing with it when we got home. At 18 months she was able to fit the shapes in on her own, and just loved playing with the shapes on her own. [...]”

12. A Puzzle In A Bag That Fits In Any Backpack Or Carry-On

  • Age: 3 years old and up

This puzzle for toddlers is designed for on-the-go puzzling with its small size and drawstring storage bag that holds all 36 pieces. The finished puzzle measures just 12 by 9 inches, so you don’t need much space to work on it; it's a great toy to keep in your suitcase for play once you arrive at your destination, but know that it also fits on a standard airplane tray.

Figuring out which pieces and patterns fit together will keep your toddler’s focus for stretches at a time. This highly rated puzzle, with an ocean theme, will appeal to many toddlers, but it also comes in 10 other themes, including dogs, planes, and space. Each bag takes up such little space in a suitcase, it wouldn't hurt to have some options once you're are your hotel or rental.

A helpful review: “These are THE BEST puzzles. My 2.5 year old loves them. He does them over and over again. They clean up/store easy with the travel pouch & will be nice for restaurants (instead of phones and tablets) because of their size & portability. We love these & have purchased several. Now, I’m buying them for gifts. Cannot recommend enough!”

13. This Retro Toy That Will Entertain Toddlers & Their Grown-Ups

  • Age: 3 years old and up

Maybe this brings back memories of your own childhood, and it's just as fun as you remember. This pocket-sized Etch A Sketch is a drawing toy that's lightweight and mess-free, so you can take it pretty much anywhere. It has kid-friendly knobs that are easy to adjust to create different pictures, is small enough to fit in your pocket, and weighs less than 1 pound for effortless portability — and honestly, I enjoyed playing with this travel-friendly toy while my toddler napped.

A helpful review: “Perfect travel game for little kids on road trips or airplane rides. Looks just like the original but smaller.”

14. Some Unique Puzzle Sticks For Older Toddlers

  • Age: 3 to 6 years old

Older toddlers will be delighted and surprised by the totally different shape of this set of puzzle sticks. Instead of the traditional jigsaw pieces, these long sticks offer a new challenge while also requiring putting together just eight pieces per image. The whole transportation-themed set comes with 24 double-sided sticks that create six finished pictures. They'll love building a train engine, boat, rocket ship, fire truck, dump truck, and hot air balloon.

A puzzle tray is included to contain the pieces as they're put together, and this much-loved puzzle is the winner of an Oppenheim Platinum Best Toy Award for superior children’s products. It's also available in five other themes, including robotics, animals, ballerinas, and under the sea.

A helpful review: “These are absolutely great for traveling! They don’t take up a lot of space, fit on an airplane tray perfectly, and are a great alternative to screen time.”

Nice To Have: A Set Of Backseat Organizers With Tablet Holders

A backseat car organizer is essential for road trips and any car rides in between, and this set of two is highly rated with over 2,400 reviews. With six storage pockets and a clear tablet holder in the center, you can keep every travel toy tucked away but at arm's reach when needed. Some of the long pockets are also great for holding water bottles or snacks.

The center tablet holder is a game-changer for setting up your toddler's favorite show without worrying about them accidentally switching the screen to something else. Unlike some other organizers, these have holes for headphones and USB cords, so you can charge your little one's tablet as they watch, too.

A helpful review: "I ordered this item thinking it would, at very least, be a cute cup holder. [...] I was so pleasantly surprised by its quality, durability, and craftsmanship that I immediately ordered a second set. The organizers really do hold all their road trip necessities--pockets galore for books, toys, and anything they need. The kids really like them and that means I LOVE them."

Also Great: A Board Book All About Space

  • Age: 0 to 3 years old

This space board book stands out for completely gripping my toddler's attention compared to other board books we've recently checked out. It's a colorful book with just enough information about the solar system to engage toddlers. My almost 3-year-old is obsessed with this book and we’ve read it so much he has memorized some of the fun facts, and we’ve picked up other books in the series, too. It's small, lightweight, and maintains an impressive 4.8-star rating with over 5,000 reviews. This book is also available as part of a boxed set with four books that will entertain your traveling toddler.

A helpful review: “My 2 year old has recently become obsessed with planets and the moon, but I was having a hard time finding a board book that it seemed like she would like (everything I was finding was designed for older kids). This is absolutely perfect for her though, and she’s completely obsessed with it. It’s simple, but great for small kids, and is still educational too.”