Best Travel Toys for Kids, from Babies to Teens

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The best travel toys can make the difference between a cherished family vacation and a long journey you'd rather forget. I have spent years searching for the best travel toys, activities, games and crafts to keep kids entertained during road trips, flights and train travel. Below I highlight some of my favorite distractions for family journeys by age, from babies and toddlers to preschoolers, grade school children, tweens and teens.

Best Travel Toys for Kids from Babies to Teens

Best Travel Toys for Babies and Toddlers

Modern Rattle

I have yet to meet a baby who isn't mesmerized by the Manhattan Toy's Skwish, a modern and innovative take on a standard rattle.

Play Phone

All little ones want to play with their parents' cell phones. Keep your smart phone safe from drops and drool. Give your baby or toddler this VTech play phone instead!

Make Believe Computer

Toddlers like to imitate mom and dad, which, for many families means typing away at a laptop computer. This V-tech play computer has lots of buttons, songs and lights—everything young children love. You can turn the volume down, so that you don't annoy other passengers on the train or airplane.

Stroller Toys

You'll want a stroller toy or two for your travels. Stroller toys easily attach to your stroller so babies and toddlers can keep busy and content wherever you go.

Bath Toys

Don't forget to bring a few bath toys, too. Young children will be excited to be reunited with their travel bath toys on each trip. A set of stacking cups are fun in the tub and during the journey. Buy a bath toy bag to store all of the goodies between trips and make packing up easy. Discuss all of the types of transportation used during your trip with your little one when they play with the Little Treasures Land Water Air Mania kit. Meanwhile, ALEX Toys Rub A Dub Bugs in the Tub helps little ones master hand-eye coordination during your family vacation.

 

Best Travel Toys for Preschoolers

Arts and Crafts for Travel

Most preschoolers love to keep their little fingers busy by creating arts and crafts projects. For starters, get some triangular, no-roll Crayola crayons. Add a coloring book or two to let your budding artist create on the go.


Sticker Scenes

Sticker scenes are also a big hit with the preschooler set. Peaceable Kingdom makes several options including an airport scene, animals, princesses, trucks and cars, and more. Melissa and Doug's town scenes are lots of fun, too.


Crayola's Color Wonder Kits

Parents like that Crayola's Color Wonder kits don't make hands messy. Children are amazed by Color Wonder's “magic” ink. The Color Wonder Stow & Go Studio is a carrying case and table surface in one, making it a great choice for travel. Choose from plain paper or character books. There's even neon options, glittery princess kits, and metallic paper.

Lacing Boards

Lacing boards provide a compact activity to take on the road. They help preschoolers work on their fine motor skills while having fun. The lace board below gets high ratings on Amazon and is the lightest option made by Melissa and Doug, weighing in at just half a pound (eight ounces).

LeapFrog LeapStart Interactive Learning System

The LeapFrog LeapStart Interactive Learning System provides a fun way for preschoolers to learn to count and read via educational games and e-books. A library of 16 books progress from level one for preschoolers to level four for first graders. Buy the headphones for a quieter ride.

Best Travel Toys for Grade School Children

Card Games

Games of all sorts are fun for grade school kids. Favorites like Old Maid, Go Fish, and Crazy Eights can be played with a regular ol' set of cards or with a colorful deck like these by ThinkFun.

Board Games

Many board games come in travel versions, like Checkers, Connect Four, Chess, Backgammon and more. These are fun not only for the journey but also for playing together as a family back at your hotel room or vacation rental home.

Bead Kits

Girls and boys alike will enjoy stringing beads to make jewelry for themselves or for mama with a Melissa and Doug wooden bead kit.

LEGO Sets

LEGO sets were a big hit with my nephews when they were in grade school and now both my son and daughter can spend hours building with these colorful toy bricks. Sets like these will buy you lots of whine-free time on your next flight. I especially like the three-in-one sets because kids can build multiple creations from one small kit. Be sure to get a LEGO plate, too, for easy building on the go.

Fashion Kits

Little traveling fashionistas will love creating their own imaginary clothing lines with any of the following creative kits.

Sand Toys

This sturdy, compact sand toy set comes with its own carrying case for easy clean up and packing. They double as a bath toys too!

Best Travel Toys for Tweens and Teens

Rubik's Cube

Scramble up the colors of an old school Rubik's Cube before giving it to your tween or teen. If they solve the puzzle, they can earn a privilege, like time to text their friends or a pit stop at Starbucks for a Frappuccino. Challenge them by setting time limits to solve the puzzle for more fun on the road.

Magnetic Puzzles

Kids who like puzzles will love 3D Magna's magnetic puzzles that come with their own case and solving surface.

Kindle Fire

Kindle Fire is wonderful for travel because it is compact and you can load it up with all sorts of books and games to entertain kids on long trips.

Markers for Tweens and Teens

Think coloring is just for little kids? Think again! Tweens and teens can while away hours spent in a car or airplane while coloring, too. My artistic tween absolutely loves her Ohuhu markers. They even come with their own handy carrying case!

Best Travel Toys for Kids of All Ages

Kid-Proof Kindle Fire

Watching movies on a smart phone or tablet, like this kid-proof Kindle Fire, makes the miles zoom by, no matter the mode of transportation. (It also comes in pink or yellow.) Often, I'll climb into the backseat to watch a movie with my kids on long road trips while my husband listens along from the driver's seat.

Books for Traveling Kids

Of course, you'll want to bring along some books for travelers of any age. Get kids excited about the trip by purchasing a travel-themed book, like those in the This Is series, which highlight such destinations as London, Texas,  New York, Ireland and beyond. This Is the World includes abridged versions of the most popular books in the travel series. For more ideas, read Best Travel Books for Children According to Travel Experts and their Kids.

Pit Stop Toys

If you'll be traveling by car, think about bringing along some travel toys to use during pit stops. For little ones, bubbles are a must. A beach ball is great for all ages and is a compact item for play at the hotel pool or beach. A flying disc makes a good distraction, too, especially a light-up version like one of those shown below.

Travel Toy Tips

I advise parents to keep a separate stash of toys, books, and games specifically for travel. This way, you don't have to run all over the house pulling these items together for every trip. Plus, as we all know, children tire of their toys quickly. Hiding these toys makes them seem new again.

For lengthy trips you will want to splurge on a few new toys to be unveiled on the go. You can wrap these gifts to buy extra time and add to their magic. If you don't have time to get fancy, use tin foil instead of wrapping paper.

Be sure to spend some time during your journey focusing your attention on your offspring. If road-tripping with more than one adult, things will go smoothest if one grown-up gets in the backseat to help make crafts and play games for a bit. For airplane travel, plan to forego thumbing through your favorite magazine in favor of reading books to your young child or working on a puzzle with an older kid.

Most parents (including me!) at some point give in to the lure of happiness and silence that can be induced by electronic doo-dads. If you allow video games and television at home, I suggest “starving” the kids of these treats for a week or so before departure. This ensures your children will be sufficiently enthralled by electronic entertainment when you need it most.

For more travel toy ideas, check out Super Cool Toys for Traveling Kids for Play on the Go or At Home now!

What do you think are the best travel toys, activities or games for kids? Let us know in the comments!

(This story originally posted in 2009 and is updated regularly to include the latest and best travel toys for kids.)

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About Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of TravelMamas.com. As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show, NBCNews.com, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

Comments

  1. I love this article!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I like to go to Thinker Things in San Diego to load up on travel toys. They have an excellent selection of travel toys.

  3. Great article. There are now a bunch of iPhone apps made by parents for parents. Here’s a few travel apps I use:

    For the planning stage: By encouraging free choice and independent thinking, kids can participate in the planning process
    My Little Suitcase, $1.99 http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/my-little-suitcase/id323273261?mt=8

    For traveling: picture books on the iPhone:
    PicPocket Books $.99-$3.99 (17 titles available and more coming soon) http://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/picpocket-books/id321206790

    For arrival: child friendly destinations in San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Los Angeles Area, and Orange County. Adding more cities daily…
    Mom Maps $2.99 http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/mom-maps/id309570382?mt=8

  4. A well researched site, I’ll link to it from my site thanks

  5. nice

  6. Silas Weather says:

    Interesting blog. My colleagues and I were just talking about this the other day. Also your site looks great on my old laptop. And thats rare. Keep it up.

  7. Thanks for the useful content. Came across you folks on Yahoo and am subscribing to your blog 😀

  8. Cary Fugo says:

    Awesome site, I will be adding your feed to my google reader.

  9. Fantastic ideas – i like the broad range of ages. Will be referring back to this often!

  10. I swear by triangle crayons and we had that Fisher Price phone way back when and loved it!

  11. We have quite a few of these. And my kids LOVE the triangle crayons. Have you seen the twist up ones? Those are now my son’s favorite.

  12. Duncan Faber says:

    We travel with our 5 kids all the time, and believe me, keeping them occupied is a priority. Not having more kids is another priority. We make sure we have lots of audiobooks on their ipods. It’s so much better than having them watch a dvd. There are lots of great sites to download them.

  13. I’m not sure about beads for traveling. Too much of chance of having to collect them from car seats or plane floors! But I love the Peacable Kingdom reusable stickers. We also rely a lot on small tubs of play-do, sticker books and blocks that stick together (like Tegu). Wax sticks like wiki sticks are very age versatile.

  14. Ellen Lanin says:

    I think this might provide some good ideas for birthday party gifts and help for grandparents looking for gift ideas, too.

  15. Confession: We bought a surprise set of Polly Pockets for a 10 hour flight to Europe when our boys were young (5 and 7 years old). These were the days before iPads and e-devices (it wasn’t that long ago, seriously). They had HOURS of fun and they couldn’t have cared less that the PPs are ‘girls’ toys. The wee dolls fought well against the bag of toy soldiers and LEGO figures that also made the trip.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Claudia – I love it! It’s so nice when kids are young enough not to care if a toy is supposedly for a girl or a boy.

  16. Great list to look at for Christmas and Hanukkah ideas!

  17. I added a couple of ideas to my list from this! Thanks!

  18. These are all great ideas. I wish we were traveling more this holiday, but I think your suggestions also apply to non-travelers too. My son would love that little laptop. He’s always trying to get to mine.

  19. Lovely article on toys from kids to teens.

  20. Because Lego won’t make a mess on a flight. -_- beads, really? Like it couldn’t make more mess. -_- common sence please

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Hi Human – Your parents gave you a weird name. I wonder if you act like a jerk in real life too or if it’s only when you’re hiding behind a computer. Next time leave your real name.

  21. I think this is a great article. I now have a two year old granddaughter. I am going to have to get some of these for her.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Lynn – Your granddaughter is lucky to have such a thoughtful grandma. Hope she enjoys the toys!

  22. This past spring we went on a road trip from NY-VA-NC-GA.. My best gadget was my tablet with frozen & Rio downloaded. We left late so the 1 year old & 4 year old would sleep through most of the trip! I’d love for you to check our my HANGit on etsy for your next road trip!

  23. Great List! Some of those really classic toys will never go out of style.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Thank you, Troy! So true. I try to keep updating this list to keep the toys relevant and current but some of these will never go out of style!

  24. kristal says:

    Large magnet toys and a travel size Simon game. Also a ziploc bag of snack for each child w their name on it. Twizzlers are the perfect traveling junk food. We have 6 school-aged kids. No way to beads or legos or anything else with tiny pieces. Kanoodle is good and intellectual but they might lose the pieces. Take things that they don’t get to do. I save the big magnet toys for trips only. We also have dvd in van. They like Yogi Bear, etc.

  25. Callum Wallis says:

    I have a one year old boy and I am sort of dismayed by the extent to which the cars and trucks thing is immediately impressed upon them. But not so for girls whatsoever. It’s like they are being groomed to enter the transportation industry from birth. It’s no wonder we have such big gender disparities in these fields.

    • Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

      Interesting take, Callum! My kids had access to toys typically geared toward both genders and they both loved playing with the kitchen, the stuffed animals, the toy trains, etc. I did find, though, that my son was much more drawn to cars and trucks than my daughter.

  26. These suggestions are really nice. These toys keep kids engaging.

  27. Great list! Thank you!

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