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This simple book has bold illustrations and a clear description of what planes do. Airplanes helps take the mystery out of flying for very young children. Reading it is a great way to prepare your toddler for flying and both of our kids loved reading it on board planes.
We always have some blue masking tape in our suitcase. (blue is less sticky than white). Toddlers love playing with masking tape. It can be stuck on noses, fingers, ears, tray tables, etc. and it's generally easy to clean up when you're done. You can use it to outline a hop-scotch court or a race track for hot-wheels. It's also great for babyproofing at your destination.
Finger Puppets are easy for small children to use and have lots of open-ended play possibilities. Even young babies will enjoy watching finger puppets play peek-a-boo. We find that non-theme-characters allow the most open ended play.
Young kids love to watch grownups do finger rhymes, and preschoolers and school age kids enjoy trying to do them themselves. Learn a few new rhymes before you leave on your trip, and you'll have literally hours of entertainment during your vacation. We especially like this finger rhymes book, it has a great mix of old favorites and rhymes you probably haven't seen before.
Gertie Balls are popular because they are soft, bouncy, and easy to inflate. They can be left soft enough for a young child to grip, or be inflated firm to bounce well. A Gertie ball packs flat in your luggage, and we've had a wonderful time kicking ours around in squares and courtyards all over the world.
We love Haba's cute clip on toys. They can be attached (using a pacifier clip) to a stroller or sling, and your child can play happily without risk of loosing the toy. These wooden toys are also durable and easy to wash.
Link-a-Doos are an engaging toy for open ended play. Loop several over a single link, and make a rattle. String them together to make a chain, or just let baby mouth the individual links and feel the different textures. When they're not in-service as a toy, you can also use them as clips to secure the blanket you almost forgot to the outside of your backpack, create a tent at the airport, or any number of other creative uses.
Nesting cups don't take much room in your suitcase or carryon, but they're very versatile. You can stack them, nest them, hide things under them, pretend they're a hat, and put things inside them. Plastic nesting cups are also great for bath play at your destination.
When E was little, we brought a play silk on almost every trip with us. He loved playing peek-a-boo, watching us throw it up and and letting it flutter to the ground, or letting it flutter over him as he lay on his back. Now that the kids are older, a play silk is a great dress-up toy. It makes an easy cape, silk skirt, or a blanket to wrap animals in.
Playmobil's 123 line is designed to let kids who still put things in their mouths safely participate in imaginary play. The sets work together (and the figures from the older kids Playmobil sets fit in the 123 vehicles) so you can combine different sets to make up new stories. The cars, airplane, and motorcycle are all small enough to fit easily in a purse or diaper bag.
This popular baby toy folds into a compact size, and then springs back to life when you remove it from your suitcase, making it a great choice as a travel toy for a young baby.
I bought our first Sophie on a whim on E's first trip to Paris. We had heard that Sophie is the most popular baby toy in France, and even though it looked simple I thought I would give it a try. It turns out that there is something magical about Sophie for babies of the "put-everything-in-the-mouth" age. E could sit through entire meals happily exploring Sophie, and when he got tired of putting it in his mouth we would squeeze it to make it squeak or have it pop out from behind a chair. Sophie is made of natural (phtalate-free) rubber.