Items that helped us through the challenging toddler travel years
We’ve never denied that one of the most difficult phases we went through with our children was the toddler years. At home and travelling. The memories are still very fresh!
It never stopped us from travelling, but it certainly added to the amount of gear we needed to lug around the world with us (it’s kind of the same as babies, only it feels bigger, and heavier, AND you’re chasing a little one around too!)
This post is part of our Best Toddler Travel Advice series
Essential Gear for Moving Around With Toddlers
I bet if you’ve picked up this article, you already know toddlers have a mind of their own! Not all tactics for keeping toddlers nearby when you’re in busy places will work the same.
We’re going to suggest a few items here that have variously worked with our three children – but we know they won’t suit all!
Toddler harness / reins
Some will love ’em, some will despise them! Having a cute little character will definitely help your kids grow an attachment to this essential piece of toddler kit for a family trip. Perfect for crowded places, we haven’t left home without one of these for years.
Once you have outgrown a full-sized baby buggy that carries basically your whole life in, it’s time to downgrade to something more sensible, practical, and lightweight for your family vacation.
We love the brands that collapse small enough we can take them right up the plane door and onto the plane with us, fitting into the overhead bin with your carry-on bag.
The Babyzen Yoyo was the first brand to achieve this and is still a great option, but there are many brands that have now followed suit.
Just be conscious of your child’s height and weight; hopefully, this investment can last you all the way through to the preschool years. Try not to compromise too much when it comes to your tot still being able to comfortably recline and having a decent-sized shade covering and storage basket, features we would still look for even in a travel stroller.
We also review the best lightweight double strollers for twins and baby/toddler combinations here.
TIP: If you are still looking to travel with a larger stroller, we suggest you protect your gear when flying or stowing on transport by placing it inside a stroller gate check bag – our full review of your different stroller travel bag options here.
By now, I am guessing most of you freuent travelers have discovered the joys that a baby carrier brings. Many brands now see a child all the way through to their toddler years.
We have used our Ergo across the continents for many years – but with our youngest now 4 (and, to be fair, a happy walker/runner – unlike the first two!!) we are finally ready to say goodbye – one of our best pricier bits of toddler kit we’ve never regretted investing in.
Hiking Toddler Carrier
For those who do more heavy-duty walking and hiking, you can’t look past the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro. It is one of the most expensive on the market, so you could also look at the Deuter Kid Comfort II which is slightly lighter, but doesn’t include the built-in sunshade.
Car Seats for Toddlers
Outgrown their baby capsule that conveniently fits with their travel system but not ready yet for a simple collapsible booster? Yep, this is one phase of travelling with kids that I’m afraid will be with you for a long time, even well beyond the toddler years!
Depending on your child’s age and stage, there are a few options, but inevitably, accept it’s a continual upgrade process (and one of the bulkiest and most inconvenient parts of toddler travel – sorry!)
Where possible, we try to arrange for pick up services that include a seat or hire cars at a destination – but we know all too well, travelling home to Australia (where car seat laws are IMMENSELY STRICT) hiring is not financially viable after more than a few days x 3 children, so for years, we’ve kept a complete set of extra toddler seats at the grandparents.
Tip: If you have any intention of travelling with your car seat on the plane too (you need to buy a separate seat for the infant) then the car seat must be compliant for whichever airline you are flying with. FAA rules are a pretty good for international guidance – but note they apply specifically to US-based carriers, you need to check the rules for the country your carrier falls under.
Don’t forget if you are checking your car seats rather than using them on the plane, you will need to make sure they are adequately protected to prevent handling damage in the hold.
Toddler Neck Pillow
Another thing we noticed once our kids were out of their snug little capsules and into proper car seats is how much their heads seemed to wobble around when they were drowsy! We’ve researched and tried many a brand of head cushion to get the right fit:
Do note, if you want to use them in their car seat, as supposed to say on a train or plane, many of the cute toddler brand ones are too bulky. Microbead products like the BCozzyKids Travel Pillow we have found to be the most adaptable to different positions and modes of transport, even if they look thinner they still do the job well.
Sleeping Away From Home
Just when you thought you had your nice little routine – then you up sticks and change time zone….. I won’t deny that some of the worst jet lag we have experienced actually happened during the toddler years.
We have a full guide to jet lag survival with kids you can read here, but the primary things I would worry about packing to conquer this are:
This has been my go-to bedtime tool for years (still IS!). OK, it works a charm for 2/3 kids at least! No matter where we are in the world, once you have a strict bedtime routine happening, the clock is a great first indicator to them whether they should be getting out of bed or not
Just be conscious of wattage if you are taking any electronic devices with you. We have lugged many an item halfway around the world to discover it doesn’t work at our destination. Particularly if you are flying US to a lot of other countries and vice versa, you will need to take not only international plugs but a wattage adaptor, like one of these:
Black Out Curtains
Another thing that helps with sleep patterns and time zone adjustment is having a dark room. If there’s no guarantee the hotel room at your destination will have blackouts, so this is a great BYO solution if you can afford the space in your luggage, as they are a little bit bulky.
Most portable blackouts stick up with suction cups.
Portable Toddler Cot
There’s also no guarantee your destination will have the best sleeping arrangements for your child either. During these toddler years, we did intentionally look for hotels or apartments that COULD provide us with a cot, but many times especially staying with friends and family this wasn’t an option. We invested early on in a good, lightweight, portable cot (don’t get confused into thinking a bulky pack-n-play pen is the same thing!).
We tested the Phil & Teds Traveller a while ago and haven’t looked back since. We still think its one of the lightest and best-priced models on the market, but does take little construction skills.
Toddler Meals on the Move
Portable high chair
You can’t always rely upon every restaurant or hotel having a high chair, so it’s great if you can BYO an easily portable option. They come in all sorts of designs, from clamp-ons to boosters or cloth wraparounds for restaurant chairs – each with its pros and cons.
You’ve no doubt moved on from purely boob and bottle to a sippy by the toddler stage. It’s perhaps not until you’re on the move you realise that these things leak so darn much! Or that your toddler terror will do anything to deliberately make them spill!
We have been through many different brands of leaf-proof sippy cups – just accept no matter which you try, they’re not fail-proof!
(Note if you are taking any sort of water bottle on a plane, they can pressurise. We have had many a bottle explode water everywhere over the plane when opened… you have been warned!)
Easy clean bibs
Neoprene-style bibs were by far one of our greatest baby-to toddler year discoveries! (Sorry to all our family and friends who received these as gifts from us!) But we truly love them!
They dry so quickly and can be strapped high on your toddler’s neck without choking them so there’s no seep through. We normally get several wears before they need to go in the wash, and they don’t take up much space, both of which are a good idea for travel.
No-spill snack cups
These spill-proof cups might seem like one of the easiest to pack, logical items, but seriously took us years to discover! Do yourself a favour and get one of these for your diaper bag as soon as your kids are onto finger foods.
They don’t necessarily stop all the crumbs but prevent major spillages and should come everywhere with you, ready to tackle those hangry moments.
Reusable food clips
For when they’re claiming they’re dying of hunger, take two mouthfuls then leave the rest. Yep, a handful of these cheap but essential clips are a lifesaver in your backpack diaper bag too.
Snacks, snacks, and more snacks
This is my overriding toddler years memory! OK, there were some classic meltdowns too… But the constant, I’m hungry, minutes after they just declared they were to full for lunch.
Keeping a good supply of things like rice cakes, carrot sticks, sultanas, cereal bars, and food pouches kept us going on countless day outings and long-haul flights – we have a great list of healthy toddler snack suggestions here.
Got a little one on the fussy end of the spectrum (aren’t they all?) You’ll want to check out our tips for travelling with picky eaters
Toddler Essentials for Flying
Before you read any further, make sure you’ve checked out flying with a toddler section!
Leg cushions for the plane
Guessing you’ve heard these are the latest craze right? But are they even allowed on planes? Are they worth the investment? Will my kids actually sleep better on a long flight? What age are they designed for?
We have tested many of these products on behalf of the manufacturers and have a detailed review including which airlines allow them here.
My verdict: With one child, set up in the correct position, on a plane that will allow them, yes, they make for a more comfortable flight. But I recommend you read the above article with all the factors to consider before deciding if it’s the right thing for you. There might be other ways you can get your toddler comfortable without the need for yet more gear (I can see your eyes boggling already how much you have to pack!)
As an alternative to taking a full car seat on a plane, but once your tot is simply too big and heavy to take as a lap child, try the FAA-approved CARES Harness. Ideal for 22-44lbs children – note you do need to have booked the seat to use this.
Toddler Plane Bags
You can also see what items we are packing in our toddlers plane bag here, and read below about toddler entertainment throughout your travels.
Just remember, don’t go over the top when it comes to packing toys for young kids – here are 5 things we definitely recommend do NOT make it into your toddlers plane bag!
Tip: Until they are old enough to carry their own bag for the entire journey, do your self a favour and skip the cute novelty rolling bag until they are really ready or you are simply making additional luggage for yourself. Fine with one kid, but when you have multiple children to consider….
Toddler Entertainment on the Move
We recommend these only for your older toddlers verging on preschool age. I don’t recommend them for younger toddlers because I know how frustrated mine got when they couldn’t raise the sound, and I’m a strict headphones-only mamma when it comes to electronic devices being used in public places.
And you reckon you can make a small toddler keep headphones on?
We have snapped our way through too many pairs (yes, even those claiming to be best ‘unbreakable’ on the market) through to your cheapest Walmart ones. NOTHING works on a wiggly toddler, so tablets are a no-go until they can sit still or survive on mute.
When you’re tot is ready to try – here are the best toddler headphone brands we recommend you start with.
For years we gave our kids our hand-me-down ipads but as they are starting to get outdated, we have discovered Amazon Kindle Fire, with its super sturdy case and ability to connect via Google Play and the Android system, as well as subscribe to FreeTime Unlimited for kids.
We talk more about Amazon Prime and why it can be a traveller’s best friend here.
Other favourite portable toddler toys:
For more travel toy ideas, pop on over to these detailed buying guides:
- Best travel toys for one-year-olds
- Best travel toys for two-year-olds
- Terrific toys to pack for a 3-year-old
- More toddler plane bag ideas
- Engaging road trip toys for toddlers
- Is it worth getting a travel tray for your toddler to play?
Other Essential Toddler Items Not to Forget
- A spare change of clothes
- Beach and water safety wear
- Wet bags for spares or dirty items
- Hand sanitiser
- Small detergent bottle for washing bottles and cups at your accommodation – don’t forget to check out our complete guide to travelling with bottles & sterilising here.
- A good first aid kit/medicine bag – you can see our complete family first aid packing guide here.
Potty training stage?
We talk about potty training on the move in a lot more detail here, but for anything around toileting don’t forget:
- Wet Wipes! Not just for clean bums, you’ll want these little gems with you for YEARS!
- Pull-ups, even if they are relatively newly trained, you will want to consider this fall back for long journeys
- Piddle pads for the seat, a great back up to prevent leakage
Never forget a thing next time you’re packing by downloading our Family Travel Checklist
Now we never said travelling with toddlers was light, right? But it is still rewarding. With the right gear and right frame of mind, it really is a magical age to start opening children up to the world around them and creating wonderful happy memories.
Further reading on the toddler years:
- That time we took 3 under 5 on a 16-hour flight
- Taking your toddler hiking; how to make it fun!
- Surviving a road trip with a toddler
- 5 travelling lessons my 3-year-old has taught me
- Our Best Toddler Travel Advice Home Page
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Are your kids a little older? See what gadgets we recommended for older families on the go, or pop back here if you’re still at the baby age and need our Ultimate Baby Travel Checklist
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