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Best Travel Toys for Babies and Kids

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the “love to travel, hate to pack” camp. It stresses me out to figure out how to fit everything in our luggage or car and it feels really stressful to think that I might forget something. Even though I always forget something, and it’s usually no big deal. 

So to make this process slightly less stressful, I’ve come up with a list of a few general things that I like to keep in mind when I’m packing. This is especially helpful when thinking about travel toys. 

Let’s not lie to ourselves, traveling with babies and kids is super rewarding, but it can also be really tough. 

I hope these tips for picking travel toys will help your stress level go down by giving you a few great ideas of what will entertain your little one without taking up ALL of the room in your luggage. 

Checklist for Great travel toys

Can be used for more than one activity or played with differently:
Toys that do more than one thing or serve more than one purpose really make a difference when traveling, so that you can maximize entertainment with the least amount of "stuff".  

A good example and something that is a good fit for almost all ages, is buckets. They can be used at the beach for sand and water play, but they also make great bath toys and are generally fun for carrying things around a hotel, collecting "treasures" if you are out on a hike and they even are fun for transporting stuffys. 

Can be used for different aged kiddos:
Items that can be used for your kiddos of different ages are also great to bring. Your kids may not use them at the same time or for the same thing, but it lessens the amount of things you need to bring. Some ideas: 

  • Basic paper and crayons or markers are great for little ones who are just scribbling, but can be used for bigger kiddos who may like to draw what they see on your trip. Bigger kids can also journal or write observations about where you are traveling. 
  • Think of a rattle ball that is fun for your baby, but you can also play toss with your toddler at the park or beach, so you don’t have to bring two different balls.

Doesn’t take a lot of space in your luggage:
I like toys that fold down, blow-up/deflate or nest into each other so you get the most out of your luggage space. 

Easy to clean:
Toys that can be washed when you are on vacation and also when you come home make all the difference in my book. Can you easily wash it out in a hotel shower or sink. Can you run it through the dishwasher or stick in the washing machine when you get home? Hard to clean toys don’t travel with our family. 

Lightweight and not too bulky:
Get in the habit of bringing smaller, lightweight toys that your kids can help carry. This will help save the weight in your luggage for things that really matter and give your older kiddos an opportunity to carry their own stuff without being totally weighted down. 

Are you interested in a baby play mat and activity gym that checks all of the above boxes? If so, check out our Lay and Play Adventure Mat. Since these were the things that were important to me as a mom when traveling, I incorporated them all into the design of our patent pending Lay and Play Adventure Mat

A few more of my favorite tips (in no particular order) for travel toys that will help reduce stress and increase enjoyment for everyone in the family:

Pack Something New or Different: 
Sometimes a new toy that your kiddo has not seen or played with before will really go a long way. This could also be 

Things that stick: 
Head to the dollar store or look through your junk drawer for things that stick and your baby can pull off and on. Sticking things on and off has kept my babies busy on many road trips and plane rides. Pulling off and putting on is great fine motor work for little ones as a bonus! 

  • Tape - I like colored painters tape or masking tape because they are easy to tear. Washi tape is also fun since you can get lots of different colors and designs. 
  • Adhesive strips - The ones that are colored or have characters are extra fun! 
  • Colored sticky notes - Easy, lightweight and can be used again and again. For slightly bigger kids, you can also write down site words or label things in your hotel or on the plane for some fun reading practice. 
  • Stickers - it's easy to find lots of different and exciting stickers at the Dollar Store. Kiddos can put them on paper and use them in drawings or stick them on different surfaces. Just make sure you get them off before you leave, so they don't do permanent damage. Pro tip: you can pull the outline part of the stickers off to make it easier for little fingers to pull the stickers off on their own. 

An Idea for Bigger Kids:
This idea has served me well for kids starting at about toddler age. Ask your child to pick some smaller plastic figures (my kids call them "guys") that they love and limit their toys to a certain number of "guys". Over the years, my kids have switched it up a lot, and we've had everything from Paw Patrol to My Little Pony's, to dinosaurs that came from party favor bags to fairies to lego people. The point here is that these are fairly small and it limits a wide variety of toys and still gives your kids lots of play options.

Why I love this idea: 

  • Really opens your kids up to imaginative play - their "guys" can jump on hotel beds, build forts from rocks and sticks while camping, go swimming, play in sand castles etc. 
  • Keeps packing simple since you are not bringing a bunch of different toys of different shapes and sizes
  • Easier to keep track of - count how many you have and check with your kiddos, often, "do you have all 6 of your guys?"
  • Easy to clean! 

Keep a Travel Toy Bag Packed: 

This serves two purposes, it takes some of your older or over-played toys out of your normal toy rotation, so when your kids find them in the travel bag they feel "new" and "exciting. Secondly, it helps speed up packing by already having some of your travel toys packed. This one has saved me a lot of time and will really help speed up the packing process, especially as your kids get older. 

Find a bag that you don't need for anything else and keep it stocked with travel items like I've listed above. We always keep it stocked with travel headphones, coloring books, markers/crayons, old coloring books that still have some pages to use, stickers, a deck of cards and some books. 

When we are getting ready to pack I ask my kids (they are older now) but you can do it yourself for babies and younger kiddos, to help me check the travel bag and add anything else that doesn't live in the bag. We often add "guys", maybe another game, check the books and add or switch out if we are reading something specific like a chapter book. If we are taking a road trip, we just put the bag in the car. If we are flying, we usually split up the items between everyone's carry on bag. 

What if you forget toys?
No need to go and buy something new. There are lots of objects that you can find at your hotel or vacation home to turn into fun toys for both babies and older kiddos.

Some ideas: 

  • Use plastic cups from hotel bathrooms for scooping, pouring, stacking. If you are staying at a vacation rental you can also use plastic food storage containers. 
  • You can use the small shampoo and conditioner bottles as little people for your kid to play with, if you have markers with you can draw on faces too. For babies, you can use the bottles and plastic cups or ice bucket for games of put in and take out. 
  • Draw on the pad and paper that they leave by the phone
  • For the beach or sand play - rinse out containers and plastic silverware from your meals. I find that small yogurt containers usually work really well for buckets and your kids can use spoons to dig. The best part? You don't have to take them home, just recycle them when you are done.
Don't forget to check out our Lay and Play Adventure Mat