Air travel of any kind is stressful all by itself. From keeping track of your luggage to triple checking you have everyone’s boarding passes, there’s a lot to remember before you even step foot on the plane. Throw a toddler or two into the mix, and it can be downright overwhelming. Luckily, there are a variety of thoughtful and engaging activities you can easily slide into your carry-on to occupy little hands and little minds. From travel sensory kits to stickers that can be used over and over again, these items are sure to give you (and your in-flight neighbors) a little peace of mind. Pair these well-reviewed toys with a snack or two, and you’ll have everything you need to satisfy the youngest of travelers.
Best Toys for a Toddler On An Airplane
1. My Quiet Book
(Easiest to fit into a backpack — $$)
Why it’s great: This collection of 9 Montessori-based activities is the perfect companion for little travelers. It can easily be stuffed into a suitcase or backpack, and the variety of activities to choose from means your toddlers can pick what suits their ability levels best. The velcro practice, pretend shoe tying, and buckle activities prepare your little one for real-life skills. When you get back home, throw the whole toy into the wash to sanitize.
Keep in mind: The activities vary in skill level, so don’t be alarmed if your two-year-old can’t yet tie shoes. Simply move onto a more accessible activity, such as the velcro or color-matching.
Good for: Parents looking for a quiet activity that doesn’t require a lot of space.
2. Reusable Sticker Pads
(Best for repeated use — $)
Why it’s great: With a myriad of categories to choose from, it’s easy to mix and match various sticker scenes to keep the interest level high for short attention spans. These pads take up little space and are easy to slip into your bag. Since the stickers can be used over and over again, your toddler will have hours of fun creating new and exciting settings.
Keep in mind: The stickers are all individual pieces, so be sure your toddler is no longer putting things in his or her mouth.
Good for: Those wanting to get the most bang for your buck. There are numerous ways to use these stickers, both on a pad or a window, plus there’s an endless variety to choose from.
3. Wooden Lacing Toy
(Best for fine motor skills — $)
Why it’s great: Made from non-toxic materials, these wooden lacing toys are the perfect addition to your travel toy set to encourage your toddler’s fine motor skills. The appealing wooden fruit shapes and little-finger-friendly laces prepare your child for tying shoes and drawstrings. The laces are easy to remove from the wooden pieces, so your child can redo the activity over and over again independently.
Keep in mind: As with any toy involving string, make sure you’re supervising this activity as the laces could pose a strangulation hazard.
Good for: Toddlers who want to advance their fine motor skills to prepare for essential real-life tasks.
4. Water Drawing Mat
(Best for mess-free play — $)
Why it’s great: This seemingly messy toy appeases kids and parents alike! Simply fill the pen with water ahead of time, and your little artists can practice their drawing and painting everywhere and anywhere with no mess. Consider purchasing two, and engage your tot with a game of tic tac toe, or creating various mazes to complete. The images disappear when the water dries, so the pad can be used again and again. This travel activity is fun for everyone!
Keep in mind: The pen needs water to work, so make sure you fill it before boarding your flight, or are able to request a cup of water once seated.
Good for: Kids who like messes, and parents who don’t want to clean up these messes.
5. Activity Tray
(Best for short-attention spans — $$)
Why it’s great: The toddler travel tray keeps all of your tot’s items within reach for the duration of the flight. The numerous pockets foster independence so your child can have access to snacks, activities, and a water bottle without asking you for something every 8 minutes. There are separate compartments for crayons, markers, snacks, water bottles, and even a tablet so your little ones have control of how they spend their flight.
Keep in mind: Most airlines don’t allow trays during take off and landing, so hold off on getting your toddler set up until you’re in the air.
Good for: Keeping your smallest travel companions organized, engaged, and independent for the duration of the flight.
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6. Playfoam Go!
(Best for sensory play — $)
Why it’s great: Playfoam is ideal for toddlers who love to explore with their hands. Contained in a small-sized carrying case, this playfoam set is ideal for all travel scenarios and caters to children who crave movement and sensory activities. The foam never dries out, and can be used repeatedly for new and exciting creations. Consider taking along a set of alphabet and number flashcards and having your tot practice creating the different shapes out of foam.
Keep in mind: Because this playfoam can be broken up into many pieces, this activity is best done on a travel tray to avoid an unnecessary mess.
Good for: Toddlers who crave sensory exploration and prefer to explore with their hands.
7. Fire Kids Tablet
(Best for long flights — $$$)
Why it’s great: When your toddler has grown tired of their selection of travel toys, a tablet is just the ticket for winding down during quiet parts of a flight. The Fire Kids tablet has numerous educational applications so your toddler can actively work on their letters and colors, rather than pass the hours away watching a movie. The infinite number of apps and shows that can be downloaded onto the Fire tablet means you can discover new activities to keep your child engaged on every flight. Pair with a comfortable set of headphones, and everyone can rest easy on those extra-long plane rides.
Keep in mind: The tablet only works when charged, so make sure you charge it ahead of time or have an outlet nearby.
Good for: Long flights when there is a time when most passengers are quiet or sleeping.
FAQs about Toys for a Toddler On An Airplane
1. What are the best ways to keep a child occupied on a flight?
Depending on your toddler’s age, the attention span can be as short as five to ten minutes. To keep up with your children’s never-ending need for new and exciting stimulation, pack a variety of the simple activities above and offer them one at a time at varying intervals throughout the flight. Be prepared with a stash of snacks, and you’re sure to have a smooth trip.
2. What do I do if my child goes into meltdown mode mid-flight?
If your child loses control of his or her emotions mid-flight, keep in mind the items or actions that bring comfort outside of an airplane. This may include a long hug, a cold juice box, or simply being wrapped up in a favorite blanket to soothe. Engage your child with a new activity, or bring out a favorite book to help calm big feelings.
3. How can I keep my busy-body child still for a long airplane ride?
Children crave movement, which makes buckling onto a plane all the more challenging. Luckily, many of these activities involve sensory tasks that fulfill your child’s need for action. Playfoam and painting are great options that require lots of creativity and can keep even the rowdiest of toddlers entertained.
4. What’s the easiest way to pack for a toddler’s plane ride?
Consider providing your little ones with their own child-sized backpack to hold all of their traveling activities. Not only will this free up your hands, but your toddler will feel ownership over the options he or she has for the flight. A bag with a compartment for water and snacks ensures all of your child’s needs are satisfied.
While flying can be overwhelming for both adults and children, preparing various activities ahead of time will not only occupy your toddlers but provide them with comforting toys and games to keep their minds and hands busy. These activities are geared toward working on essential life skills that foster independence and develop necessary talents. Whether your tots identify as little artists, engineers, or bookworms, the variety of options above gives them the opportunity to dabble in all sorts of engaging and creative tasks, while making sure their volume stays at an all-time low. The small and compact nature of these items means they’re easy to pack up for travel of all sorts, so you’ll never be empty-handed once the cabin door closes.