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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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'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.
These cute cardboard puzzles with pieces attached by ribbon are lightweight, easy to pack, and won't come home with missing pieces. They're designed to be engaging and challenging to kids about one year and up.
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.