I just got back from a trip to Portugal with my twin 2-year-old boys. It featured an eight-hour plane ride I never would have survived if it weren’t for that glorious bag of toys I had packed for the boys. While long flights and car rides can be torture with toddlers—picture hours-long stretches of kids screaming and fighting and parents desperately hushing—the right mix of gizmos and gadgets will do wonders for keeping kids entertained and well-behaved.
The best travel toys for toddlers are lightweight, mess-free and easily packed into a carry on bag or the backseat. Need some suggestions? Tested on two international flights and several cross-country road trips, these 10 toddler travel toys are practically guaranteed to get your next vacation started on the right note.
1. Crayola Color Wonder Metallic Color Pad and Markers
My kids started to get really into coloring when they turned 2. With a regular coloring book or paint, things got messy quickly and we’d have to interrupt the fun before they were done to clean up. That’s never an issue with these Crayola pads and markers. The pens only work on the special coloring paper, so kids can color over and over without any chance of ruining a seat back or car seat. Plus, the set fits easily into a bag for the plane and is perfect for entertaining kids during takeoff and landing, when they need to be in seats. Coloring with these metallic markers kept my boys busy for over an hour on our flight!
2. Janod Happy Fish Magneto Puzzle
I bought this magnetic puzzle just before our trip and saved it in case of emergency. And good thing I did! I broke it out mid-flight and watched as my boys pulled out each animal and tried to match them to the corresponding pictures—an activity that kept them occupied for a good part of the plane ride. The kids had a blast not only solving the puzzle, but also making the noises of each animal as they went—even if I did have to make up what an octopus sounds like. The large puzzle pieces are great for small toddler hands, and while the pieces are removable, they’re also magnetic, making them less likely to get lost in the car or on a plane.
3. Melissa and Doug Pull-Back Vehicle Set
These big, soft pull-back cars are perfect for younger kids who lack the fine motor skills to handle smaller cars—they’re easy to hold and much less likely to get lost beneath a seat. During our flight, my boys loved pulling them back and sending them skidding across the seat back tray table and rolling them along the floor. The soft covering also makes them less of a liability if launched (or thrown) across a plane aisle. Plus, the cover is removable, so it was easy to wash off the questionable plane gunk once we landed.
Buy it: $22 for four, Jet.com
4. Dr. Seuss’s Second Beginner Book Collection
Books in general make for great toddler travel toys, since they fit…