My Favorite Screen-Free Travel Toys for Toddlers

Author: Celine Brewer

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First off, I’m not opposed to screen time for toddlers. I have taken many flights with toddlers and I have always included some screen time on flights to help entertain our toddlers on the airplane. But, I have found that too much screen time can make my toddlers grouchy and difficult to deal with. So, to mix up their travel activities, I always packed a bag of screen-free travel toys for toddlers to use on the flight and during our time traveling at our destination.

In my post on airplane activities for babies and toddlers, I explain how a toddler will cycle through all the toddler travel toys you pack in your toddler’s backpack for travel.

Based on my experience, my best advice for how to entertain a toddler on a plane is to have a variety of activities that you can present to your toddler throughout the flight.

In this post, I focus exclusively on screen-free activities for toddlers on planes and on road trips. If you are looking to include some screen time in your toddlers travel entertainment, I recommend several apps for toddlers in the post mentioned above. In addition, I give many more screen time ideas in my lists of the best 1 year old travel toys and 2 year old travel toys.

a photo of the snacks and screen-free toddler travel toys Celine Brewer (of packs to entertain her children while traveling.
An example of what I pack in my carry-on for toddlers.

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22 Best Screen-Free Travel Toys for Toddlers

Based largely on my real-life trials and errors traveling with my toddlers, here are my favorite screen-free toddler travel toys. I’ve also included some fun DIY toddler travel toys for variety later in this post.

a toddler from plays with a Crayola Color Wonder coloring book as a screen free travel toy on a flight with his family.
My son loves coloring books like the Crayola Color Wonder books (and I love that they are mess free!)

My Top Picks for the Best Screen-Free Toddler Travel Toys

I know you don’t always have time to read, especially when you are chasing a busy toddler! So here are my top picks for the best travel toys for toddlers without a screen:

Best Overall Screen-Free Toddler Toy for Travel:

LCD Drawing Tablets – I was always amazed at how long my kids would sit and draw on their LCD tablets. They’d make a new creation, show me, then hit the reset button to erase the tablet and start over.

Best Mess-Free Coloring Toys for Toddler Travel:

Melissa & Doug Water Wow & Crayola Color Wonder – these two ingenious travel toys allow toddlers to make colorful drawings, while making zero mess! My kids loved the Water Wow as younger toddlers, then graduated to the Color Wonder books as they got a little older.

Why isn’t Play-Doh on my List of Screen-Free Toddler Travel Toys?

Hey – I love Play-Doh as much as the next mom, but to be honest, I’m not a big fan of bringing Play-Doh to entertain toddlers on airplanes. My kitchen floor is always a big mess when the kids play with Play-Doh, and I’d hate to do that to an airplane, but that’s just my opinion.

a toddler from the family plays with a screen-free Water Wow coloring book while on an airplane during a family vacation.
My daughter especially loved the fashion themed Water Wow activity book during flights.

How to Choose the Best Screen-Free Toddler Travel Toys?

If you are racking your brain trying to think of screen-free ways to entertain toddlers on a flight or on a road trip, I have plenty of ideas for you.

For airplane travel toys for toddlers, look for small toys that are easy to pack and don’t have a lot of small pieces that you will be constantly picking up off the floor.

a real life example of the screen free travel toys for toddlers Celine Brewer (of packed in a suitcase for a family vacation.
Another example of screen-free travel toys, books and activity books I packed for a family trip.

If you have a long flight and, like me, also don’t like constantly picking up stuff, I recommend a Flyaway Designs inflatable toddler airplane bed. It’s the perfect solution for flying with a toddler, giving your toddler a place to play and sleep. And with the design of this airplane bed for toddlers covering the seat and floor space, all your toddlers screen-free airplane travel toys won’t end up on the floor.

a toddler from the Baby Can Travel website, sites on a Flyaway Designs inflatable airplane bed during an overnight flight.
My little guy looks so comfortable on his Flyaway Designs airplane bed.

For travel toys for toddlers in the car, you can go with travel toys that are a little bigger and heavier, since you don’t have to pack them in your carry on. I also like this travel tray to help keep your child’s activities together on a road trip with a toddler.

5 DIY Screen-Free Toddler Toys for Travel

If you don’t have time to order new toddler travel toys before your flight or you’d rather not spend extra money on travel toys for a flight, here are some fun DIY screen-free toddler travel toys:

a toddler from, plays with a screen free DIY toddler travel toy on a family vacation.
My toddler playing with pipe cleaners and spice jar – a screen-free DIY toddler travel toy.

1. Pipe Cleaners in a Spice Jar

This was one of my best mom travel hacks! This cute little screen-free toddler toy was so easy, yet it turned out to be one of the best toddler toys for travel I’ve ever had! Simply clean out an empty plastic spice jar and use it with cut pieces of pipe cleaners. Your toddler will have fun trying to fit the pipe cleaners back into the jar.

a toddler from, plays with a DIY toddler travel toy on a plane during a family vacation.
My toddler playing with this DIY toddler travel toy on the airplane.

2. Cheerios Strung on a Piece of Yarn

Another simple but fun toy I created as a screen-free DIY travel toys for toddlers is a piece of yarn (or those pipe cleaners from above!) that your toddler can string Cheerios onto. My son was such a fan of Cheerios that we always had plenty with us anyways! Don’t forget the snack cup so they don’t end up all over the floor.

a toddler playing with DIY travel toy made from pipe cleaners and Cheerios.
Stringing cheerios onto a pipe cleaner was fun for my toddler!

3. Use Painters Tape to Make Roads for your Matchbox Cars

It may sound funny, but one of my favorite things to pack while travelling with a toddler is painters tape. It comes in handy for so many reasons – taping curtains shut to keep room dark, making Hot Wheels race tracks on the floor of our Airbnb, etc.

Not only that, but with a little creativity, painters tape can be a great screen-free DIY toddler travel toy! Imagine all the ways to keep toddlers busy on a plane with it! You can use it to make a road across the food tray, use it as stickers, or make a ball out of it… Throw a roll of painters tape into your toddlers suitcase and you’re sure to make good use out of it!

4. Craft Pom Poms for Sorting and Counting

Our toddler LOVED pom poms! He would carry them around all the time and it became one of my favorite easy screen-free airplane activities for our 18 month old! You can have your child sort them into colors, count them or use the construction toys to pick them up! There are so many uses for them that are all non-screen time activities for toddlers on planes!

a toddler from plays with pom poms and tiny construction trucks while on a family trip.
My daughter picks up pom poms with little plastic construction trucks.
two toddlers from play with pom poms and construction trucks on a train trip during a family vacation.
Our toddlers playing with pom-poms and construction trucks on a train.

5. Small Toys from the Dollar Store

This is one of my favorite fast & easy screen-free toddler travel toys. If you have the time and energy, simply run to the dollar store and grab a bunch of small toys that you can wrap individually. These toys should all be small and easy to pack. You can keep your toddler entertained on the flight as you give them a steady stream new gifts to open throughout the flight.

Screen free toddler travel toys

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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, 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

Read more about Celine Brewer.

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