As exciting as travel itself is for young kids, we all know that toys are still an important part of your travel arsenal. Each age and stage is special so we have created a fully comprehensive list of all the toys we have loved over 10 years of flying long haul regularly with our three children.
Some golden rules when purchasing travel toys, especially for use on planes or public transport:
- Please parents – nothing too loud!
- Absolutely no tablets/electronics without headphones/mute option
- Nothing with lots of small parts that can get lost
- Avoid favourites that may be irreplaceable if lost
We will also point out that while some toys might be great for one age group, they may not be younger siblingly-friendly! You may need to take precautions when travelling with multiple age groups in confined spaces.
This post is part of our travel toys series – you can find more great travel with kids advice over here
Best baby travel toys
When you’re looking for small items to keep baby entertained on the plane, think of toys that work as stimulation and distraction. Soft and easy to pack over hard clunky plastic that you normally might have at home is a bonus – and of course chewable and washable!
Here are some of our favourite baby travel toys:
Finger puppets have been an absolute winner for us, fun, colourful and imaginative play. Baby can have a turn themselves or you can make up little stories, hide and seek – one of the best distractor games we’ve found!
Sorting shapes, they are brilliant for your baby’s cognitive development and provide an opportunity to challenge themselves
A soft activity book with peekaboo flaps is a great solo activity for your little one, or read along and ask questions. Keep their fingers and their minds busy.
Quiet books do exactly that! Stimulating but also because they are concentrating hard you may get a few blissful moments on the move! We love these type that come in a little carry bag they can grip, suitable through to toddler age too.
Chewing keys are probably already in your baby bag arsenal but they are perfect just about anywhere! We suggest the type that don’t rattle as well if you want to keep peace with your neighbours.
Another classic from our everyday baby toy collection that actually came everywhere with us too! The Manhattan Toy Winkel is primarily a teething toy but lots of squishy hand fun too. It does have a small rattle in it but we found it quiet enough you can’t hear it over the plane white noise.
Great for using anywhere on the move Buggy Buddies little books are fun for little fingers to flip through, and attachable too so you’re not constantly picking things off the ground! (Until they get old enough to learn how to undo them!!)
More on baby travel:
- Baby travel essentials – all the best items we have bought and actually used for our babies (includes a downloadable baby travel packing list)
- Flying with a newborn for the first time – practical pointers on how you actually go about flying with a baby and what to expect in the airport and onboard.
- Everything you need to know about securing and using the coveted airplane baby bassinet
- 13 Top Travel Toys to Try with your 1-year-old – a further selection of toy ideas for your babies approaching toddler years and more curious about the world.
- Best baby toys for the plane – our favourite baby toys that work especially well for air travel
- All the best baby travel advice on our website
Travel toys for toddlers
The trick with this age group it’s all about distraction for slightly longer periods and finding methods they can also self-entertain. Goes without saying toys still need to be large enough that there are no parts that can be swallowed, and also make sure nothing that can roll away or get trapped in seats.
We love Buckle Toy Buster as he keeps little hands busy and is so light and easy to store. There are 6 different clasps to play with and he’s easy to wash.
Learn how to dress kitty a cute and fun toy idea for 18 months plus to work on those fine motor skills. With 11 different snap, tie, zip and button activities. (Also comes in learn to Dress Monkey if your little one isn’t too keen on the pinks).
Water Wow books are nothing short of amazing! Such a simple concept, where a chunky paintbrush is filled with water and as they ‘paint’ the pages and the picture magically appears.
An absolute favourite that has come all over the world with us is Alphabet Water Painting! Very similar to the Water Wow-style books, but they come clipped in a little bundle together – we had both alphabet and numbers. You can fill up the little water pen anywhere. Honestly, you will get hours of fun with this one!
This one is a little dependent on the size of bag you want to take, but also works great when your child wants to carry around just one toy with them, highly educational and a lot of fun.
For more on toddler travel you can also read:
- Toddler travel essentials – big travel gear items that we actually used and loved with our toddlers
- What’s in my toddlers plane bag – we step you through one of our actual flight bags for Master J when he was 2.5 years old
- A detailed guide for 2-year-old toys – expanding on this list we give even more suggestions for travel toys that work well with the 2-year-olds
- Toddler headphones for travel – any sorts of electronic devices, in the car on the plane, what sort of headphones will keep little ears safe?
- 10 Toddler flying mistakes to avoid – There were plenty of times we haven’t gotten it completely right! A great guide to all the little things you might overlook as a new toddler travel family
- Terrific road trip toys for a three-year-old – keeping older toddlers engaged is not easy! Here are our top tips for travel toys 3-year-olds will enjoy
- All the best toddler travel advice on our website
Best travel toys for preschoolers
The great news about this age group, their hand-eye coordination is rapidly improving and things like inflight entertainment and tablets with headphones can start to come in handy, woohoo!
Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security though. It’s still a tough crowd to please and each activity won’t last long. This age group especially love the excitement of a “new” toy for the trip, as well as mixing in some favourites from home.
Alex Toys Little Hands Picture Mosaics are great for keeping hands and minds busy, with a masterpiece to keep! Best suited to your 3-year-old + crowd. The box includes 5 pictures and over 900 separate stickers so plenty of hours of fun from each box, and they are super light to pack (though you may want a ziplock bag to keep the half-completed pieces, and careful if you are travelling with an infant as well as small parts are involved).
Any budding artists in the family? Most kids love to colour, it’s keeping all their bits and pieces together when they’re on the move that can be tough. The Art Desk to Go is a great solution as it also has pockets to keep their crayons – read on!
The best type of drawing tools for kids is chunky crayons. It’s important to get them that they don’t roll – the best type we’ve found are triangular because you can also use them as a stacking toy!
I absolutely love the felt craft activities as there’s plenty of creativeness without the normal crafting mess! On-the-go felt friends is suitable from 4 plus, but my kids have enjoyed it even younger, though skills do improve!!
What kid doesn’t love stickers! Even better though for travel if they are the reusable stickers so they won’t be left stuck on unexpected surfaces. It took us a while to find one that was just the right size for their backpacks though, just watch for overall size with a lot of the reusable sticker book products. This one comes with 22 pages to play with and is 7.5″ (important to consider the size if they’ll be carrying their own backpack).
Drawing and letter stencils are another great hand-eye coordination activity that involves some concentration so keeps them quiet, in a handy case for keeping all your pieces together.
Without a doubt, one of our best investments that will span age groups is the Kindle Fire for Kids. It already comes in the colorful casing (that they now even have a built-in stand for). They currently come in pink, purple and blue (we wish there was a little more range).
Don’t forget to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited for the best value and get things downloaded in advance if you’ll have no wifi (And be mindful whether these will work in your destination too).
For preschoolers, you can also read more
- Getting comfy on planes – using leg pillows or sleep devices, which airlines allow them and how exactly do they work?
- Kids travel pillows – the best neck pillow and seat belt comforters for helping kids sleep on the move
- Best travel toys for 4-year-olds – perfect for younger preschoolers improving their fine motor skills
- Best travel toys for 5-year-olds – ideal for those approaching school age
Best plane toys for primary/grade school-aged kids
You have no idea how great this age group is until you’ve gotten through those toddler and pre-schooler years of flying! Welcome to ‘the golden age’ parents!
Kids from around 5 years + really look forward to things like the inflight entertainment systems on the plane and can be kept busy for much longer periods of time with an engaging activity. You will still be dealing with copious rounds of “are we there yet?” but you can at least distract and occupy.
We’ve split this group into boys and girls as we found interests really started to diverge at this age – but of course many are unisex!
Best plane toys for girls
We love that a lot of the fun Melissa & Doug travel toys have expanded now to the older age group and a higher skill level. This stained glass activity kit has proven to be one of my daughters favourties and the work can be displayed when they get home. Suitable from 5+
What better than an on-the-go art table that you can actually decorate yourself too!
My daughter has a slight Mandalay obsession (don’t know where she gets it from!) so the classic spirograph set has been great for perfecting her technique. It comes in a great carry set but is slightly chunkier – so careful just how many crafty sets you pack altogether. The smaller parts also aren’t great for siblings.
Where would we be without good old Uno, right? A favourite we have found is the Splash version because they are waterproof, so perfect on the plane and next to the pool!
Best plane toys for boys
I’ve tried to resist putty for years! I have similar feelings for it as I do play-doh! But alas, I have relented and kids really do love playing with “thinking putty“. At your peril – it’s not nearly as sticky as play-doh in toddler fingernails but it has gotten stuck in hair before!!
To be fair Wikki Stix are pretty unisex but they have definitely been one of my son’s favourites since we discovered them in a restaurant busy bag one night! Plenty of creativity involved and completely reusable. They do fall into the lots of small parts category sadly, yes, but pack enough of them it doesn’t matter if a few escape.
Search and find books are a real hit with our Globetrotters. They often work in teams for the harder ones, or the challenge is on who can find things first! They get progressively harder as they get older, plenty of variety to choose from topics to suit your kid’s interests. My boy is Lego & Star Wars mad!!
The classic colouring book! Always a new one for every trip along with a new set of pencils based on whatever the character of the year is!
And never forget printable colouring and activity pages, perfect for any type of trip I always keep a new set of travel printables in my paperwork folder ready for those “I’m bored” moments, along with a mini pencil set in my purse – an unbelievable lifesaver on many occasions!
Further reading for grade school-aged kids
- Best non-electronics toys – looking to avoid screen time, try these toys and tips for long-haul
- Gear to get your outdoor-loving kids – more for camping trips and little explorers
- Action cameras for kids – the perfect cameras for your kids to capture some of the holiday action
- Great kids education gifts – when you can’t always be travelling, educational travel-related gifts to inspire their wanderlust
- Road trips games & activities – great boredom-busting games that can be played anywhere on the go
- Terrific travel toys for tweens – perfect for your older kids to keep hands and minds busy
- Great Gifts for Adventurous Tween Girls – what sort of travel gifts can you get your little girls who are transitioning into tweens?
Final thoughts on flying with kids and airplane entertainment
You can find plenty more tips on our flying with kids home page. We also have detailed guides to entertaining kids on planes – taking you beyond just toys to other ways to keep kids calm and placated in the air (or when stuck on the tarmac!)
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