22 Screen Free Travel Toys For Toddlers

travel toys for toddlers

Here’s a myth about family travel: you need a gazillion things that are all essential, so packing is a nightmare before the trip, and every morning on the trip when you get ready for the day. And another myth about travelling with toddlers: in addition to the gazillion things you already packed, you need to pack an endless number of toys, too. Because that’s what keeps them entertained.

No. And no! And you probably also don’t need a tablet for your toddler, not even on long car rides or flights. We’re telling this from experience. And we had our doubts before, as well.

Toddler travel is not about stuff, it’s about experiences

Danube Ipoly National Park, Hungary

Like any travel should be, really. I know I’m just ruining my affiliate sales here, but the most important things on your travels are not the toys you take, rather the joys and challenges you share as a family.

I’m serious about this. We usually take 4-5 different types of toys for Tomi when we take a trip, and he rarely even uses each of them. We spend our time on the trail or on the beach, in cities where there are exciting things all around, and he simply doesn’t need his toys. He mostly needs them in the morning while we’re getting prepared for the day, and he gets bored while waiting for us, and on long car rides or flights. Sandbox toys and toy cars are the only exception, they keep him occupied on the beach all day long.

Why screen free travel?

British Columbia, Canada

There are very few things that we decided to do in a certain way when expecting our baby, and then ended up doing in that same way when we actually got there. Keeping our son screen free for the first two years of his life (and still after that) is one of these things. Not counting the video calls with family which are the only exceptions we make.

Based on research, early childhood is the time to develop the foundation of many important skills – physical, cognitive and social -, and screens don’t help with this. Excessive screen time can even be harmful and can cause difficulty with focus and attention. We hope that by delaying Tomi’s introduction to screens, we help him develop many other interests, hobbies and a variety of skills that later he’ll be able to use screens to his benefit.

Surprisingly, it has never even been hard so far. We don’t have a TV, anyway, and even though we use our smartphones and laptops for lots of things every day (we work in IT), none of those things are interesting to Tomi. We don’t need to hold him back from the screen, because he doesn’t want it. So it was no question that we’ll also travel screen free.

Well, that’s not true. I packed a tablet for our first flight, with some videos for Tomi. We haven’t used it at all. And I never even thought about it ever since. He’s fine without the screen, and no, he’s not bored. Well, sometimes he is, but actually, it’s not such a bad thing…

Do you need to entertain your kid? (Hint: no.)

Lake Ohrid, North Macedonia

Being bored is not a terrible thing that should be avoided at any cost. Many articles give countless advice on how to entertain your kid, especially during road trips or long-haul flights, but our opinion is that this question is part of the problem.

Kids don’t need to be entertained by their parents, not even babies and toddlers. Especially not babies and toddlers. That’s the way they learn to entertain themselves, to observe their surroundings and to get creative. They can do it!

We’ve seen it with our son – and he’s just one example. We’ve never entertained him, and we’ve never felt the need either, even though we had 8+ hours car rides and several flights, including a 15+ hours one with him by the age of 2. Not entertaining him doesn’t mean we don’t pay attention to him or don’t help him channel his energy the right way, without disturbing others. But it means that we trust him to be creative enough to keep himself entertained – and he is.

Don’t take too many toys, rather choose them well

Falassarna Beach, Crete, Greece

Minimalism enhances creativity, and we use this principle with our son’s toys, too. We don’t want him to have too many toys that only make him distracted and frustrated (too many choices make us, adults, frustrated, as well). We prefer giving him the right toys that help develop necessary skills and are simple enough to be used creatively. That’s the same when we travel, only we take even less toys with us. And guess what, it has never been a problem!

Our son takes great delight in observing vehicles on the road or people on an airplane. Pebbles, sticks and leaves are all toys to him. He has three tiny toy cars that he takes everywhere and is capable of playing with them for a long time. And if he wants to stretch his legs during a long drive, we take a break. On a long flight, we take him walking in the aisle. We also have some well-chosen toys ready. But wait, wait makes a toy well-chosen?

What are the best toddler toys like?

Screen Free Travel Toys For Toddlers

No, we won’t tell you which of the below toys are the very best. We have a collection of them to give you choices, but we can’t tell you what your kid prefers. Every toddler is different, and a 1-year-old and a 2.5-year-old are two different worlds. You choose, because you know them the best. However, there are some general rules to keep in mind when looking for toys:

They are colorful

Babies and toddlers like vibrant colors, and they enjoy colorful things. That’s how they can learn about colors, too.

They develop fine motor skills

Toddlers like to touch things, pack them, take them apart. Good toys enhance their fine motor skills, great toys do it in several ways.

They offer versatile usage

A complicated toy which does one or two things when you push a button is the most boring thing ever. Okay, it might be interesting first. But after a few times, your kid just doesn’t know what to do with it. Kids need toys that they can play with in different ways. The simpler, the better. (Think of Lego and achieving anything with simple blocks.) And no flashing or constant annoying music to overstimulate the little ones (and to irritate other passengers on the plane).

They are unbreakable

Well, almost. The harder it is to break them, the better. They will fall down. They might be beaten to the ground – or to other toys. They might be thrown into water or mud. That’s how toddlers experiment. Their toys need to be massive.

So let’s get to that list of toys, because that’s what this post is supposed to be about. (No, actually, we think everything else that we’ve just written is more important. But these toy ideas have their importance, too.)

The best screen free travel toys for 1-year-olds

I thought about the best way to break down this long list, and finally, I did it based on age. However, keep in mind that kids can be very different even if they’re the same age, so while there’s a recommendation for each toy, you know your kid the best. But in general these are great toys to start with from age 1:

Munchkin stacking and straining cups

Though advertised as bath toys, Tomi used them other times just as much. Babies love putting things into each other and taking them out. Tomi also often built a tower with these cups. The only thing he was never interested in is creating the caterpillar – which is difficult to actually link together, anyway.

It’s not a good toy because of the caterpillar, but because of the colorful cups that can be used in many ways. They’re also easy to clean and are compact to pack away when stacked into each other – an ideal travel toy.

Check current price here!

Melissa & Doug Shape Sorter

A shape sorter is one of the basic toys for 1-year-olds, and even later, depending on the complexity of the one in question. This piece is recommended from the 9th month, but it can still be interesting to a 2-year-old. It helps sensory, fine motor and communication skills.

Even though it has pieces which could drop (and will drop), they’re large enough so that you can relatively easily find them. We like that the box has two activity sides, one for the shapes and one with colorful textured blocks. The little bag is just the size that a toddler can carry around.

Check current price here!

Sassy Ring Links

Another basic toy which can be used from infant age, but some 1-1.5-year-olds still like them. They’re sturdy, brightly colored and easy to use, and they can even be used as a rattle. You can chain them up and hook them to a stroller, car seat or baby carrier so that it doesn’t fall off which makes it great both for long drives and flights. (And they need such a tiny space!)

Check current price here!

Melissa & Doug Twisting Crab Wooden Grasping Toy

A perfectly simple, cute and fun toy made of quality material (paint doesn’t chip). Babies can already use it to bend the little claws (or chew on them), and toddlers figure out even more ways to play with it, like spinning it (on its back) on the hardwood floor or on the tray at the back of an airplane seat. It’s one piece, so no little parts that can be lost during the journey.

Check current price here!

Soft baby books

Tomi has had books since infant age, and the first ones were soft books like this one. It’s interactive, your kid can touch and feel it, and it draws attention with bright colors. It’s also quite sturdy and machine washable – two essential features for any baby toy.

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Hand puppets or finger puppets

This enhances your creativity, too, not just your kid’s imagination. Children love listening to stories from a very young age, and as they get older, they can play their own stories with the puppets. You can find lots of cute hand puppets or finger puppets both online and in local toy stores.

Check current price for hand puppets here and finger puppets here!

Soft toy cars

These soft toy cars are probably the best set to start with! They’re vibrantly colored and easy to push, and they’ll survive if your little one decides to throw them away – moreover, they won’t really hurt anyone since they’re soft. Well, I know, a kid is not supposed to throw things around, but there were a few months before Tomi’s first birthday when that was his favorite thing to do with any toy. Even a vigilant parent can’t prevent every attempt.

Check current price here!

Toy car keys

So the advantage is: you don’t need to give up (and lose) your real set of keys, yet your little one will be thrilled to finally get what they want. Yes, kids love keys, and they want to get them, that’s one general rule of parenting we learned early.

The disadvantage? These toy car keys come with four different car sounds that are said to be fun, but I’m sure no one sitting near you on an 8-hours airplane ride would agree. So it’s best to keep it for car rides (if you can tolerate it while driving) – or, the old magic trick, remove the batteries.

Check current price here!

The best screen free travel toys for 2-year-olds

2-year-olds often still enjoy the toys that I just showed you, but you can add some more to the selection as their mental and physical skills improve.

Caterpillar Buckle Toy

 A cute, brightly colored caterpillar with five buckles that help toddlers develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. And I tell you they can get obsessed with buckles! You can clip it on a stroller, shopping cart or car seat, so this is another toy that you don’t need to search for under the seats. 😀

The best time for buckle toys is after your toddler turns 1, and they can enjoy it until the end of the toddler age.

Check current price here!

Busy boards

An advanced version of buckle toys, they’re to keep those tiny hands busy while helping develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and creativity. This one is pretty amazing with colorful buckles, a shoe lace, a snap pocket, velcros, zippers, an adjustment buckle and buttons. It can be used from age 1 for years, and it teaches your kid to dress up in a fun way. It’s also compact, and you can’t lose any of its parts which is a huge plus for travel usage.

Check current price here!

Though not a board, but a doll, this is the same concept, and some kids might like it better, because it can be “a friend”, too.

Find the Duck – and other pieces of the book series

Best for 2-year-olds and older toddlers, this vivid and eye-catching book keeps the kid’s attention with lots of things to spot on each page and short texts. A classic. There are versions with a puppy and a kitten, too.

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Mudpuppy traveler board book set

This set of four sturdy, colorful mini travel books are specifically made for babies and toddlers. Each book is only 8 pages long, so even a 2-year-old can have the patience to fully “read” it, and it’s a great intro to other countries and cultures – which will possibly come up during your trip, anyway.

Check current price here!

Toy cars

Tomi is obsessed with vehicles, and we take a few toy cars everywhere we go. Out of all toys he can play with these for the longest time. If we take them on a road trip or to the plane, we make sure to give him only 3-4 pieces at a time, and possibly not the tiniest models, so they won’t get lost that easily. We like the simple ones like these, but a set of different cars, police cars and buses like this one also has a huge popularity. Well, and garbage trucks (without the small pieces during the journey).

Magnetic drawing board

The ultimate mess free drawing option: a magnetic drawing board. It’s also erasable, so you can use it many times. This piece from AiTuiTui comes with four color zones and three stamps to make it even more exciting. The board is available in both green and pink colors.

It’s a good travel size, and though the stamps are easy to lose, the other parts stick together, so it’s a great choice both for flights or long drives.

Check current price here!

Activity boards

There are zillions of them out there. The concept? There’s a theme (like animals, cars, dinosaurs or whatever kids are typically interested in), and there are small figures with a board – possibly magnetic if you’d like to use it while travelling, so that the small pieces won’t get lost so easily. They keep kids’ hands and imagination busy.

This Melissa & Doug “Hide and Seek” activity board is also a puzzle with 9 cute doors that can be opened and closed. It’s available in a farm version, as well.

Check current price here!

This one is a simpler magnetic playboard that comes in many themes: vehicles, zoo, construction site, family or farm.

Magnetic puzzle

Puzzles are fun! Though they’re recommended from age 3, I think many younger kids enjoy playing with them. This magnetic type is the best for traveling, though it’s still easy to drop and lose the pieces. Melissa & Doug offers them in two themes, combined with a fishing game, and I like how brightly colored they are. They’re made of wood, and the brand is a guarantee for good quality, their toys are popular for a reason.

Check current price here!

The best screen free travel toys for 3-year-olds

They might be suitable even for some 2-year-olds, but they’re generally recommended from age 3:

Wikki Stix sensory fidget toy

This is also a great example of a simple toy with endless creative opportunities. And the best thing for you as a parent? No preparation and clean up is needed, because it’s made of wax and yarn. For the same reason, it’s suitable on the plane or in the car. (Do you know adults who play with their fidget toys during meetings? Same concept. They keep restless hands busy and help reduce stress and anxiety.)

Check current price here!

Wooden lacing cheese threading toys

It’s pocket sized, it’s great for developing fine motor skills, it has no small parts which are easy to lose, it’s a quiet toy. All great reasons to choose it as a travel toy. Oh, it’s also available in a bunch of different fruit shapes (apple, strawberry, pear, peach…).

Check current price here!

Window gel clings

Another mess free toy: window gel clings in fun shapes that are reusable and leave no residue on the glass, so they’re a great fit both for the car or if you seat by the window on the plane. You can choose different sets of clings, ranging from sea animals to cars, jungle animals, winter or Christmas themed sets.

They’re just as fun to use at home, by the way. Stick them onto the fridge, in the bathroom or decorate your kid’s room with them.

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Crayola Color Wonder mess free coloring kit

This is like a classic coloring book, but the markers you get with it only show up on the special Color Wonder paper. A perfect coloring starter kit for a toddler, with a peace of mind for the parents. (Of course, sometimes it can frustrate them that they can only draw on the special paper with these markers.)

Check current price here!

Melissa & Doug Water Wow! water coloring book

These water coloring pages are available in different themes and are another great opportunity for mess free coloring on a flight. The picture appears when you color the pages with the water pen. Then it disappears as it dries out, so if you wait about 30 minutes, you can color the pages again.

Since pages are reusable and the pens are refillable, it can be used many times when traveling. Just make sure to add them to your clear bag of liquids before airport security check. Though it’s officially recommended from age 3, many 2-year-olds would enjoy using it, too.

Check current price here!

Paper dolls

I remember myself playing with paper dolls for days! My grandmother drew them, and also the dresses, and we cut them out together. (Yes, you can make them yourself for free, if you have the time and patience.)

These ones from Melissa & Doug are magnetic, and the set offers two dolls and 55 clothes and accessories, so they’re great to keep a kid busy for a long time. The only problem is that this set doesn’t have a good storage box, but that could be solved easily. Just spare the metal box of the next tea biscuit assortments you buy, and it’ll be travel ready. 😀

Check current price here!

If you think it’s expensive, go to a local $ store, you might find a simpler(and much cheaper!) version there.

Life is a playground – but let them rest, too

That was a long list. Some kid will be obsessed with one toy, while another won’t show any interest. It’s a trial and error process (khm… like so many things in parenting), but no matter which toy you choose, you’ll always have your own creativity and the world around you. And the world is a playground for your toddler!

They’re interested in everything: people, other kids and things around them on an airplane, cars, trucks and traffic signs they see on the road. Our problem on planes and airports is usually not that Tomi is bored, but that he’s overstimulated, and we can’t make him sleep even though he’s very tired. So if neither of the toys are helping, maybe the problem is not the lack of entertainment, rather it’s nap time, and your toddler needs your help to calm down and rest a bit.

So what do you think? What are your tricks to a stress free, enjoyable journey?

Disclosure: Please note that affiliate links are used in this post, and at no additional cost to you, we earn a commission if you make a purchase. If you are ready to buy and would like to support this website in some way, here’s your chance. Thank you! 🙂

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By Beata Urmos

Bea is the co-founder of Our Wanders. She’s the writer and the trip organizer, and she’d love to help you plan your own amazing trips! She likes hiking, good novels and chocolate, as well. Her motto is: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” (John A. Shedd)

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