This article about the Best Travel Essentials for Toddlers was written by toddler travel gear expert Celine Brewer and may contain affiliate links.
I have traveled with toddlers around the world, and have learned a little something about traveling with toddlers along the way. Over our family travels, I’ve tried a lot of different toddler travel gear in hopes of making traveling with our toddlers a little bit easier. Through lots of family trips and plenty of trial and error, I’ve been able to come up with my list of recommended toddler travel essentials you shouldn’t leave home without!
There’s an awful lot of toddler travel gear on the market, but to make my list most useful for you, I’ve developed strict criteria. To make my list of travel essentials for toddlers, it must be something that I just can’t live without or can be used in a multitude of ways.
What You’ll Find in this Article on the Best Toddler Travel Essentials:
12 Best Travel Essentials for Toddlers
As mentioned, the following list of toddler travel must-haves comes from my real-life experience traveling with toddlers. Whether it was a short-haul flight to Sedona with a toddler, a flight to a Mexican all-inclusive resort with a toddler, or a very long flight to Kyoto with a toddler, I’ve been in your shoes before and am here to help.
Here is the must-have toddler travel gear I pack for every family trip:
1. Spill-Proof Snack Cup
You may find it funny that my #1 toddler travel essential is a simple snack cup, but this handy little snack cup goes everywhere with us. Seriously – it’s the most used toddler gear in our entire house.
I can tell you from experience that travel days are one of the hardest things about traveling with a toddler. I’ve discovered that snacks are an excellent distraction and time killer on travel days, making a travel snack cup one of my most valued toddler travel accessories.
Toddlers can hold their travel snacks themselves (from a young age) with minimal mess. I’ve tried regular snack containers and inevitably I end up on the floor picking up all the dropped Cheerios.
2. Spill-Proof Sippy Cup for Travel
Sticking with the highly functional travel essentials for toddlers, my # 2 recommendation is a simple toddler travel cup. Rather than getting up at night to give our kids water, I use hard spout, spill-proof water cups.
Both my kids use spill-proof Playtex spout cups at home in their bed/crib, so I just simply bring them with us on family trips. I love how they can have them right beside them in bed and they don’t spill!
See all my recommended travel sippy cups here!
3. Travel High Chair
Let’s face it, toddlers are messy eaters! While restaurants often have high chairs, packing your own travel high chair can be well worth it. I’ve learned the hard way that an uncontained toddler can make a huge mess while eating in an Airbnb or hotel room. This problem became much more manageable when I started traveling with a travel high chair for our toddlers.
Another thing I love about having a simple fabric high chair, is that they are easy to pack and carry around with us on our daily outings. But there are other styles of travel high chairs which may suit your family better:
The Inglesina portable high chair is another option for parents who are looking for a more robust travel high chair. It’s much larger than a fabric high chair, so you’ll need room in the bottom of your travel stroller or in a backpack to carry it around all day.
For a standalone travel high chair that can be used strapped to a regular chair or on the floor (perfect for camping or picnics), I highly recommend the hiccapop OmniBoost travel booster seat.
For a complete list of your options, check out my post on the best travel high chairs.
4. Volume-Limiting Toddler Headphones
My list of toddler flight essentials wouldn’t be complete without volume-limiting headphones.
At home, I limit the amount of screen time my kids get. I do this for many reasons, but a side-benefit is that it makes travel days a lot easier. For travel day entertainment, I make sure to have a bunch of Disney movies and Netflix cartoons downloaded onto our iPads along with a variety of toddler-friendly apps. Especially for toddlers, just skipping between the games is a good distraction during your family flight.
If your family travel plans include an airplane ride, be aware that typical volume-limited toddler headphones probably won’t be loud enough to hear over the noise of the plane. Look for airplane friendly headphones which have noise cancellation, or temporary louder volume settings for noisy environments.
My kids used Lil Connects+ headphones for travel for many years. I liked their sturdy construction and how they fold up to easily fit in the kids’ carry one bags. The passive noise cancellation works really well as my kids never complained about not being able to hear their show over the airplane noise.
Although I really liked the Lil Connects+ headphones, I list many other solid choices in my post on the Best Toddler Headphones for Plane Travel.
If you are looking for some iPad entertainment for toddlers, my Best Travel Toys & Airplane Activities for Babies & Toddlers has several of the best apps for toddlers we have used from when our daughter was 14 months old until now.
5. Inflatable Airplane Toddler Bed
Getting your toddler to sleep on a plane is a huge part of a successful travel day. I have enjoyed so much success using these inflatable plane beds, that they are on my list of must-have toddler plane travel essentials.
We own two Fly Tot airplane cushions and have enjoyed a nearly perfect track record with them – our toddlers have fallen asleep on every single international flight we’ve used them on.
I can even recall one amazing flight where we got 6 continuous hours of sleep out of our very active 23-month old on a flight (thanks to an extra seat and our Fly Tot).
Fly Tots are a premium inflatable airplane bed, but based on their functionality and durability I believe they are worth every penny. Having that extra space for your little one on a flight is truly worth it. You can read all about my experiences using a Fly Tot inflatable airplane cushion to get a toddler to sleep on a plane.
After years of using the Fly Tot cushions, I was lucky enough to let my kids try out the Flyaway Kids bed and also had great success. I thought the Flyaway Kids bed had some noticeable design improvements over the Fly Tot, which I elaborate on in my Flyaway Kids Bed review.
Although I used the Fly Tot and Flyaway kids airplane beds for my kids, there are a lot of choices out there. Check them out in my post on the best toddler travel beds for airplanes.
If a Fly Tot or Flyaway Kids bed isn’t in your budget, check out these budget inflatable airplane cushions instead.
Read more on Flying with a Toddler.
6. White Noise Machine
I’ve used white noise as a sleep aid since our kids were babies; with two kids and two dogs at home, I like that it helps block out noise.
In my travels with kids, I’ve found a white noise machine to be particularly versatile and effective toddler travel gear. Staying in hotel rooms or Airbnb apartments often results in toddlers needing to share a room with their parents. Additionally, if you are staying in a big city there might be noise from outside or other apartments that your kids won’t be used to and may keep them awake.
Using a white noise machine while traveling with a toddler gives your child a familiar feeling to sleeping at home.
I used to use a white noise app on my iPhone, but that meant I had to give up my iPhone while my toddler slept – which, ironically, is exactly when I wanted my phone! After trying the SoundBub white noise machine, it quickly became one of my must have travel items for toddlers. For proof of how much we used it, you’ll see the SoundBub in many pictures for other toddler travel gear several times throughout this blog post.
The SoundBub is not only cute, it pulls double duty as a white noise machine and a wireless Bluetooth speaker.
On family trips, we use the Bluetooth speaker for family dance parties, playing story-time or relaxation podcasts and it’s even good for a distraction on a road trip or hiking with toddlers.
We all really liked the SoundBub, but you can explore all your options in my post about the Best White Noise Machines for Travel.
7. KidCo PeaPod Plus Toddler Travel Bed
Even though many kid-friendly Airbnb rentals and hotels often offer travel cots for toddlers to sleep in, I still prefer to pack my own toddler travel bed.
Replicating a toddlers at-home sleep routine is one the keys to getting your toddler to sleep on vacation. Giving them the same toddler travel bed every single place you travel will help keep things familiar for them, which in turn, will help them sleep soundly.
Based on my years of experience with it, I believe the KidCo PeaPod Plus is one of the best travel beds for toddlers. My son likes his KidCo PeaPod Plus so much, he even asks to sleep in his “tent” when we get back home. As a bonus, despite its comfortable size, it packs down small enough to fit in a medium-sized suitcase.
If your family enjoys camping with a baby or toddler, a proper travel bed is essential camping gear for babies, and eventually toddler camping gear. The PeaPod can be used for naps or even sleeping in the tent to give your toddler her own space.
As you can see, I like using a Halo sleepsack with the PeaPod Plus as it helps replicate their sleep experience at home and reduces the number of times you need to open the zipper to fix blankets.
If you are looking for a toddler travel bed that is not a tent, the Lotus Travel Crib has backpack straps, fits as a carry-on and is one of the best reviewed travel cribs on Amazon.
Once your toddler outgrows the PeaPod Plus toddler travel tent or a toddler travel crib, an inflatable toddler travel bed is another great alternative. For example, I eventually replaced our PeaPod tent with a Shrunks Toddler Travel Bed, which I also got years of use out of.
Alternately, if you know you’ll have a bed for your toddler, you can pack inflatable bed rails for toddlers to help keep your child from rolling out.
8. Travel Stroller and Toddler Carrier
The question of traveling with a stroller vs. a carrier is an age-old one, which many parents, struggle with. There is no single answer which works for all families – a lot depends on your type of trip and your toddler’s favorite way of being carried.
I used travel strollers for my kids when they were babies, but the last time I used a travel stroller was when our youngest was 9 months old. Why? Toddler travel strollers are great for many situations, but let’s be honest, they are also a bit of a pain to travel with. We transitioned to a toddler carrier for travel instead of a stroller as soon as we were able.
We made the switch to a baby carrier for travel when our youngest was 9 months old. At this stage, we started using a backpack carrier for travel. We own two Deuter Kid Comfort 3 backpack carriers and found them to be great for carrying toddlers while traveling. They were comfortable enough that our kids sat contently for several hours, allowing us to be more active on our family trips.
Although many people think of toddler backpack carriers are just great toddler hiking gear, I can tell you they are also awesome for toddler travel. We’ve brought our backpack carriers on the airplane for several city trips including San Diego with a baby and toddler, visiting Tokyo with toddlers, Kyoto with toddlers, Rome with a toddler, Florence and Oslo.
Click here for latest prices for the Deuter Kid Comfort Pro (the latest model) or get all my recommendations for the best hiking backpack carriers for toddlers here.
We preferred to travel with the Deuter as we did a lot of city walking and hiking with our toddlers. But for many travelers, a soft structured toddler carrier is a better choice for travel than a backpack carrier.
Eventually I traded in our baby carriers for toddlers to a toddler-specific carrier. Structured toddler carriers are smaller, making them great for carrying toddlers in the airport, touring cities and for attractions where you can’t bring a backpack carrier.
I love our LILLEbaby 3-in-1 CarryOn Toddler Carrier as it allows us to comfortably carry either of our kids depending on their energy levels. It has a wider and taller torso than most toddler carriers and has a weight range of 20 – 60 lbs, so it works really well for even our 4-year old. The back lumbar support is a huge benefit too.
See my recommendations for the Best Toddler Carriers for Travel.
9. EPIC! Reading app
Reading to my kids is super important to me for so many reasons. On our early family trips, we used to lug several of the kids favorite paper books along with us. Having books to read to them was important, but I really disliked how heavy the books were and how much space they took up in our carry-on bags. It also bothered me that the kids would get bored of the small selection of books before the family trip was done.
Discovering the Epic! Digital Library was a huge game changer for us! There were so many benefits of switching to using the Epic! app. With thousands of children’s books, my kids never complained about being bored with their travel books ever again. Plus, I loved not having to pack physical books anymore. It’s amazing how much space and weight it freed up in our travel bags!
To entertain my toddlers on flights, I download tons of “Read To Me” stories onto the iPad prior to a flight. The app reads these stories out loud, while highlighting the words on the page in real time. Having my kids listen to these stories using their headphones was a nice alternative to simply letting them mindlessly watch Netflix cartoons.
With such a large selection of books, the Epic reading app is also great for bedtimes while traveling. My kids used to quickly get bored with the limited selection of books we brought for bedtime reading, but with the large selection of books available on Epic!, they don’t complain anymore.
I can’t overstate how much I valued having the Epic app for our family travels. Bringing along our own books was so heavy and they’d get bored of the same titles so fast. Having a huge selection of books to read to our kids while traveling quickly made Epic! one of my favorite toddler travel essentials.
10. Aden & Anais Swaddle Blankets
Most parents associate Aden & Anais swaddle blankets with newborn babies. It’s true that I’ve been raving about these swaddle blankets since our daughter was a baby and you’ll find them in my list of baby travel essentials too.
But don’t give them away too quickly as they are also a excellent toddler travel gear. Swaddle blankets are light, compact and versatile. There’s no end to the uses I’ve come up with for them on our travels, but they are especially good for blankets, creating shade and warmth.
Read my post about the many travel uses for swaddle blankets.
11. Thermometer and Tylenol
A thermometer and Infants Tylenol are two more toddler travel essentials that I bring with us on every international trip. I can tell you from experience that it’s often hard to find specific medical items in a new country, and even if you do, it’s nerve-wracking to try and understand the dosage in a different language.
So I always bring these toddler essentials with me in my carry-on. You just never know when you’ll need them.
12. Toddler Travel Toys
While I don’t recommend filling your toddlers travel backpack with heavy toddler travel toys, there are so many easy options to bring to entertain a toddler on the plane or on a road trip with a toddler.
I’ve included plenty of screen free toddler travel toys that are easy to pack in this list, which also includes some fun DIY toddler travel toys. For even more ideas, check out my favorite 1 year old travel toys and 2 year old travel toys.
More Toddler Travel Resources
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This post was written & edited by:
Celine Brewer is the owner of Baby Can Travel. Not only does she have years of experience traveling with babies & toddlers, but she's helped millions of new parents travel with their babies and toddlers for over a decade. In addition to writing on her baby travel blog, she has shared her expertise on traveling with a baby or toddler by contributing to articles about traveling with a baby with the Washington Post, USA Today, the Lonely Planet magazine and Pregnancy & Newborn magazine.
Celine also writes about family travel on the site FamilyCanTravel.com, which she co-owns with her husband. Being from the Canadian Rockies, she shares her passion about her home and travel to Banff National Park and area on their site TravelBanffCanada.com.