Travel Toys for Preschoolers

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Airport by Byron Barton

This simple paperback book is a great choice for kids past the board book stage. The illustrations show almost everything that happens in the on a plane trip, from getting to the airport, to checking bags, to takeoff. My kids love the illustrations of areas they would not otherwise see, like the cockpit and the control tower.

Aquadoodle Travel N Doodle

I have yet to meet a toddler or preschooler who isn't entertained by the Aquadoodle. Fill the included "pen" with water, and your child can use it to draw on the special mat. As the water dries, their drawing disappears meaning that they can continue drawing for as long as they like without needing to change paper. This travel Aquadoodle includes one pen and a stiff foldable drawing surface that is about the size of a manila folder (and thinner than a coloring book).

Audio Books

Audio books are a great way to break up the time on an airplane or road trip. They enable your child to "read" independently, or just listen to a story.

Blue Painter's Tape

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.

Buki Activity Books

Buki Activity books are great for travel both because of the small size, but also because the pages rip out easily, making it easy to dole out the activities 1-by-1. Instead of having your toddler or preschooler tear through a book in a matter of minutes, scribbling on each page and then declaring himself or herself "done" you can help them spend a little longer on each one. Books are themed by activity, and options include Dot-to-Dots, Coloring Books, Color by Number, and Mazes.

Calico Critters

Like Playmobil sets, Calico Critters offer an almost endless selection of characters, furniture, cars, and other accessories. While my daughter never tires of either the Playmobil sets or her Calico Critters, I think the sweet animals and the ability to dress and undress them appeal more to her sense of fantasy while her play is more grounded in reality when she's manipulating tiny firefighters and human families. Select one of the smallest sets for travel.

Card Deck

A deck of cards is a great toy for a wide range of ages. You can teach your child to count and play simple games, and they'll love watching you shuffle (and trying to do it themselves).


Most toddlers have discovered the joy of stickers, but parents worry about bringing stickers on a plane because they end up on tray tables, windows or seats. Colorforms (and other reusable stickers) make great travel toys because your child can stick them anywhere, and they can be reused for later trips. If you have a window seat, your child can stick them on the window.

Crayons and Coloring Books

It's nice to have a small crayon box in your purse. You can bring along a coloring book, or get paper on the road. We like the crayon sets that restaurants give away for free… all packaged up in a nice little box & easy to slip in the diaper bag.

Find It Games

This sealed capsule holds hidden treasure. Spin, twist and shake it to reveal zoo animals and even a hidden penny amongst the beads. Though this game is recommended for ages 8 and up, if you ignore the game-play rules, even a young toddler will enjoy it on a long car ride (the weight and size make it a road trip toy rather than an airplane toy).

Finger Puppets

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.

Finger Rhymes

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 Ball (Inflatable)

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.

Haba Mini-Tin Games

package a popular game in a neat little tin box, perfect for travel. There's a huge variety of choices for ages as young as three. I picked up a Mini Memory Game and a Crazy Cats Card Game (this one is rated for older kids, but I think we can simplify the game play to work for my 2 1/2 year old.) I also love the Caterpillar Game

Klutz Activity Books

Klutz makes a complete line of activity books that have everything you need to complete a craft or activity. Some (like the pipe cleaner activity book pictured) work well on a plane, while others would be a great way to keep kids busy in a hotel room.

Lauri Toys Toddler Tote

This sturdy tote is packed with activity for a toddler once they're safely at their destination (it's a few too many pieces for the airplane or car). The tote is surprisingly sturdy and makes it easy to clean everything up.

Mad Libs

You probably remember Mad Libs, the game where you fill in the blanks to create silly stories, from your own childhood. Not only are Mad Libs still around (and a great activity for a plane ride or road trip) but they also make a Junior version for ages 4 and up!

Mini 45X Brass Microscope w/ Illuminator

This mini microscope is small enough to fit in a four year old's front pocket. Carry it around to inspect leaves, fabric, and anything else you might find as you explore your destination

MP3 Player

An MP3 player (or music stored on a laptop) loaded with familiar music can help soothe a child to sleep. Our kids suprised us by being able to sit still enough to keep earbuds in at age 1. Any MP3 player you have will work well, but we've noticed that our IPod shuffle is easy enough for a toddler to manipulate.

Pipe Cleaners

Pipe cleaners are fascinating to twist into different shapes and attach together. If you also have Cheerios, your young toddler will be engrossed with trying to slip them onto the pipe cleaner to make bracelets, necklaces, and birdfeeders. Best of all, they take up almost no space in your carryon.


Play-Doh is a little to messy for a car ride, and it's not allowed in your carry-on baggage, but it is a great toy once you arrive at your destination. We especially like the mini containers because they don't take much room and enable us to bring several different colors. Once the dough is gone, the containers are fun to play with too (stack them, practice removing the lids, put beans in them, etc)

Playmobil 123

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.

Playmobil Sets

Playmobil makes lots of different activity sets geared to kids with different interests, some beginning as low as $3. The figures are interchangeable, making it easy to combine different sets or use them with larger vehicles and buildings at home. These are great for open-ended imaginary play.

Polly Pocket Dolls

These small dolls and their accessories will fit neatly inside a ziplock bag or small tupperware box. The variety of clothing and accessories make the play last and last. No one accessory is so valuable that it cannot be lost, and you can add additional accessories or sets on each trip if you like.

Reusable Sticker Books

Reusable Sticker Books are engaging and you won't be worried about peeling stickers off the airplane seats and window. Our favorite is this Airport Sticker Book, but there are a wide range of subjects, and the company also makes great coloring books, maze books and other small activity books. At under $3, you won't be too upset if it gets left behind.

Shae by Air DVD Toolkit

We're not big DVD watchers in my family, so I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical when I was offered a review copy of the Shae by Air DVD Toolkit. I sat down to watch it with my 3 year old son, and he loved it. I was impressed too. The DVD does a great job of showing kids, step-by-step, what they will experience at the airport and onboard the plane. It has some good tips for parents too.

If you have a toddler who has never flown before, this is a great way for both the child and the parents to get comfortable with the process before leaving home. Sit down and watch the video with your child and then play act what will happen (either by packing bags and walking through the steps yourself or with dolls). Reading a few airport related books helps too, and you'll be able to bring them with you on the plane.

Note that this is not a high-budget production, you are supporting a small business when you purchase this product.

The Little Travelers DVDs (Japan, Bali and British Isles)

My kids and I both love these beautiful DVDs. Each one is told entirely in the voices of the two sisters, and you follow their journey as they explore a new land. Instead of cartoons or jingles, the kids focus on showing the details my kids always seem to be interested in when they travel. For example, what are the rituals around slippers in Japan, and where do you sleep? These DVDs would be a great way to introduce kids to local culture if you are planning to visit Japan, the British Isles or Bali, but they are also great for armchair travel.

Wikki Stix

Wikki Stix are bendable pieces of wax coated string. That might not sound very exciting, but the compact stix can be shaped into letter, people, animals and other figures. They stick together to form more complex shapes, and they're endless fun for toddlers and older kids. Best of all, they don't take up much space and they're inexpensive enough to replace at the end of your trip. There are several different kit options, or if you are creative you can buy the stix alone and use your imagination to shape them.