Just when you thought the terrible two’s were over, along comes your three-year-old! A fun yet still really challenging age to be travelling with your kids. Their attention spans are short and their need for interaction vital – be it with you or an activity to get engrossed in (before tossing that aside and professing their boredom and a need to wee).
Don’t panic parents, we’ve been there! This too shall pass….
In this post we’re going to talk you through all our favourite travel toys taking you from toddler to the pre-school years – the best travel toys for a 3-year old.
This post is part of our tried and tested travel gear series
If your child is slightly younger, don’t miss our post best travel toy ideas for a 2-year-old.
What to look for in travel toys for a three-year old
Interaction is the name of the game at this age group. Your child can start to take on toys with smaller parts and more involved activities that work on both cognitive skills and those fine motor skills.
What sort of toys to take depends a little bit on your modes of transport and luggage space. As a general rule, we insist that travel toys at all ages be as light and noise-free as possible – please, please do not disturb your fellow passengers and nothing with invaluable or integral parts that if they get lost will ruin the toy or game.
And variety is the name of the game too. Don’t overpack, but do have a variety of options available. Coloring was their favourite activity yesterday, now they can’t stand the sight of it, bring along several lightweight options in their own pack or slipped into your hand bag as back up.
Toys for 3-year-olds; Don’t forget siblings
The other factor that many parents need to consider for this age group is the interaction with siblings.
- Many 3-year-olds have younger siblings to consider too. If they are at the sitting upright stage, they will no doubt have a fascination in what big brother or sister is playing with, to the huge annoyance of your 3-year-old! Watch for anything with small parts or easily breakable still.
- Older siblings don’t want to be annoyed by the noise, mess and consistent needing to help their sibling if a game is too complicated. Equally, it’s an age where a younger child can learn a lot and enjoy this interaction with an older sibling so think about toys and games that can span age groups or be played in pairs.
Best travel toys for your three-year old
Without further ado, here’s our favourites that have lasted us through both boys and girls in the 3-year-old age group.
Let’s start with your Toddler Backpack. At this age, we started introducing backpacks for our children to wear and enjoy the responsibility of carrying themselves. The key is to keep it light. They may not fit all of their toys and snacks into this bag it’s a great start for them (just remember at some point you may end up carrying it too).
A good choice for the toddler age group is a backpack that can double as a harness – with a secure chest strap and tether or leash, your child can have some independence but still be kept close by.
Pull along suitcase? Now we know some travel parents will adamantly recommend a ride along suitcase at this age – but our own personal experience – just don’t! We never recovered from the trauma of using a Trunki too early. As a cautious estimate, I’d say wait until your child is at least 4-years-old, otherwise, it will end up being simply another novelty item you end up pulling or carrying along yourself.
You can check out our full guide to ride-on kids luggage here.
Large crayons (preferable triangular so they don’t roll away) are the perfect companion for this age group. Bring along their favourite colouring books, or ideal for meals out, anywhere you can grab some paper really. If you’re getting an accompanying coloring book for this age group, keep it small enough to fit in their little bags.
Three is a great age to introduce Wikki Stix. These are great for creativity and fine motorskills, they are inexpensive too so no fear if you losse some and they are super imaginative, quite easy to just grab a handful at a time for their day pack and pull them out for those short breaks.
Wipe Clean Dot to Dot is a great simple first activity book for pre-school aged kids developing fine motor skills and problem-solving. The pages are easy to wipe clean so you can use them again and again with a dry erase marker, and we love that its spiral bound at this age making them easy to use on the go.
Magentic story books make a great toy for on the go. Perfect for a little imagination time with and without some adult help. They can be used as a smaller book when you’re on the move, then when you have more space fold out the larger playmat. Parts can go missing but not integral to enjoying the game.
Schoolzy peg board is great for travel as it stores up into its own little carry pouch but contains hours of imaginative fun. A lacing and stacking learning game, you have plenty of different combinations to explore. Perfect for hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, an introduction to counting, maths and problem-solving.
Reusable stickers are an absolutely perfect travel companion for your three-year-old. It’s not the end of the world (famous last words!) if one or two go missing along the way and you can recreate pictures and stories over and over again, with no sticky mess left behind like normal stickers. (Top tip – look out for size when ordering re-usable sticker packs. We had a lovely Melissa & Doug collection but far too big to fit in any of the kid’s backpacks, or even ours!)
Our kids absolutely love hidden picture games, they’ve been a savour in many a queue or waiting for meals to arrive! 3 is a great age to start kids on the hidden picture journey. Some will find them easier than others so do base the books on the appropriate age group or you can lose their interest fast. Highlights have an incredible collection to choose from.
Aqua Doodle Colour Doodle Bag, a no-mess coloring and drawing game that folds up ultra-small in this travel edition that can easily be used on a child lap while on the move.
And equally awesome for this age group are Water Wow water color books. A perfect bring-along size, they only need a few drops of water to work, no need for whole packs of crayons and pretty mess-free. Once the water dries out, they can be coloured in again and again.
Pocket Etch a Sketch are a great take-along toy that can last from the toddler years through to pre-school age, with the “better” quality products being introduced as their fine motor skills improve. They are great and lightweight, but don’t go too cheap or they break fast, nothing beats the original Etch a Sketch!
Stacking robots are getting on the larger end of travel toys, but so much fun for the 3-year old group (and I bet a few grown-ups will join in!) The box is quite large but they do easily fit into a bag when you take them out of the packing, and pieces are large enough tots will enjoy playing with them as individual toys as well as for stacking games.
PlayTape Road has been a favourite with our youngest. Not ideal for on the move but when you get to your destination this is a super toy for the pre-school to toddler age group. The tape leaves no residue so stick it around your room on any flat surface and you have an instant portable play space for your tot. 30 foot of tape is just 7 oz so an easy one to throw in the bag for lots of imaginative fun, BYO cars!
Brio Labyrinth Take-Along would be at the top end of the age group as it definitely takes more skill and dexterity, but is a good one for occupying time, developing that all-important hand eye coordination and fine motor skills. There are no parts to lose and it’s a hard quality toy manufacturer (we have tonnes of their train set gear too)
We did our best to stay screen-free with this young age group, but I won’t deny that this was around the age we started introducing the Kindle to our arsenal of travelling entertainment.
We would recommend only starting with electornic devices from age 3, primarily as before this age younger kids really struggle to keep headphones on – I hate it when others loudly play their electronic devices so I expect the same from my own children’s toys.
This brings us to our final 3-year-old essential, headphones! I’d be lying if I said there was a brand that works really well with toddlers and preschoolers.
Don’t go too cheap as they’ll break on the first go, but equally accept that you may only get one trip out a pair of headphones – pre-schoolers can be inadvertently pretty tough! The important thing to look for in toddler headphones is volume limiting to protect their ears.
Other ways to entertain your toddler while travelling
Whilst it’s great to have an arsenal of toys and entertainment to hand, the most important thing they want as this age is YOU! A few more ideas to help kids entertained on long trips:
Audiobooks – a great way to pass the hours on a long car journey. A summer road trip is a great time to give something like Audible a try, there’s a great range of kids storybooks to choose from – as well as adults (yes, one day you may get to read again!), or you can even try free podcasts suitable for toddlers & preschoolers.
Snacks – oh we cannot emphasise this enough! Any travelling with kids, snacks are your best friend. Use them strategically, keep the sugar levels under control and keep them coming! Even if you have no toys to hand, have snacks!
Songs – a singalong in the car to their favourite nursery fits is bound to put a smile on your little ones face. Allow yourself to have fun and be goofy!
Imagination games – I know I find them hard to get into too, but making up tall stories is a great way to entertain little ones and make the hours go by. Take turns adding to a sensible story and see how far you get. Or why not try to invent your own animal, a theme park, or create your dream house?
More travel tips for your 3-year-old
As we mentioned at the outset, it’s an age we really did love and hate travelling with our three kids.
It’s a real in-between age, not quite a toddler, not quite a pre-schooler. They are incredibly curious as to what is happening around them; many at this age are verbalising well and clearly expressing their thoughts and feelings which makes it such a fun time. However, we know napping is still incredibly important, getting them to walk independently and getting them washed and fed on the move while asserting their will – often very vocally! There’s nothing you can’t tackle though with a little careful planning.
You may want to check out these guides relevant for 3-year-olds.
- 15 Tips for Conquering Jet Lag in Kids
- Entertaining road trip toys for toddlers
- Best sunshades for toddlers at the beach
- Best lightweight strollers for travel (that can even fit on the plane)
- The best toddler beds and cots on the go
- Do sleep devices for airplanes really work?
- How to fly with two or more kids
- All our very best toddler travel advice
As challenging as travel was at 3-years-old with all of our children, it’s also made for some of the fondest memories as you watch your baby transform into a worldly (and often strong-willed!) little person.
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