Thursday, April 24, 2014

Toddler Travel: Keeping Your Toddler Entertained -- and Yourself Sane -- on a Long Trip

One of the great joys of parenthood is exploring the world with your toddler, but even the sweetest, most cherubic two year-old can turn into a demon on a long flight or road trip, causing you to wish you'd never left the house. Fortunately, my Facebook readers are full of good ideas for hassle-free (well, free-er) toddler travel, and after several long trips with Toddler X, I am too. Enjoy!

(Please note that this post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks!)

Toddler X's Personal Picks:

First off, I definitely recommend getting some toddler "luggage." We chose one of the Skip Hop Zoo backpacks (below, three right pictures), which are adorable and functional (easy for little hands to zip, nice front pocket, stretchy side pocket for drinks). It's really hard to find fault with these fun, lightweight bags -- I guess the only complaint could be that their capacity is pretty small, but if they were much larger, it would defeat the toddler-carrying purpose. We went with the dinosaur version, but Skip Hop offers a dozen other cute creatures as well (click any of the links to see the whole line).

We've packed ours on both plane and road trips, and Toddler X actually uses it at home too, carrying his "gear" from room to room. On our plane trips, yes, I actually ended up carrying the bag most of the time, but Toddler X was very proud of his backpack, enjoyed putting it through the metal detector and storing it under his seat, and even seemed to take a bit more responsibility than usual for the things kept inside it. Before our recent Disneyland road trip, he went through the house with his backpack, collecting the books and toys he wanted to take along, and the bag became a very convenient holding place for his goodies both in the car and in the hotel room.

Another popular toddler luggage option is one of the Melissa & Doug's Trunki ride-on cases(below, left), but I've heard positives and negatives about those -- read the reviews before you make a purchase.


Now that you've got luggage, what do you pack? Here are things that have entertained Toddler X on our trips (I'll note if they actually fit in the Skip Hop backpack or not):
  • Melissa & Doug Water Wow Books: What a find -- a small, inexpensive, reusable and NEAT "coloring" alternative for toddlers! The coloring tool is a little brush that screws onto a plastic tube; you fill the tube with water, and it's dispersed by the brush when your toddler "paints" the page, with the water causing colors to appear. As the water dries, the color disappears, and you can repeat, repeat, repeat! The tube is easy to fill, and unless your toddler figures out how to unscrew the cap, there's no risk of water going everywhere (not that there's much in the tube anyway). We have the animal one, the vehicles one and the alphabet one (which has a cool rainbow-tinted final page), and I keep them in the car for rides around town or restaurant distractions. The only downside is that they only have four or five pages each, but by the time your toddler does the fourth, the first should be dry, so he or she can start all over again! These are small enough to fit in toddler-sized luggage.

      • Melissa & Doug Reusable Sticker Pads: Another fantastic and inexpensive travel "toy", Toddler X has really enjoyed these on the road, and even more on planes, when we were able to sit next to him and actively play with him. We have the the Habitats, Vehicles and My Town sets and they are SO cool -- several different background scenes on the pages of the book, and then sheets of reusable stickers suited to the scenes. The "stickers" are clings, not adhesives, and they stick easily to the pages and remove just as easily. One downside for air travel is that the books are relatively large in their footprint -- they certainly won't fit in an average purse or kid-sized backpack -- but it fit fine in a backpack for us. Definitely worth the extra space. One tip: For each sticker page, take a moment to remove the outline/border/background sticker (whatever you want to call it -- the part that is not the actual stickers) before handing the sheet to your toddler, which will make it MUCH easier for him or her to get the stickers off the page, and later to put them back on.

          • Tegu Pocket Pouches: Most of you know that I love Tegu blocks, and our pocket pouches are our go-to toddler distractor for any time we need to guarantee a few minutes of calm, quiet play (restaurants, great-grandma's nursing home, weddings). They are small felt pouches (just bigger than palm size) filled with Tegu blocks -- either 6 or 8, depending on the pouch -- and you and your toddler can have lots of fun making creatures and buildings and cool, pivoting shapes. (If you don't know much about Tegu blocks, check out my Top Toddler Toys post here -- they're #3.) The plain pocket pouches include four cubes and four of the short, flat, two magnet blocks (8 total blocks), while the pocket pouch prisms include four triangles and two parallelograms (6 blocks, but more interesting ones). Either set is available in a range of finishes, from natural and mahogany to Nelson, Tints and Jungle shades. (I'm partial to Jungle, Tints and mahogany, myself.)

            The nice thing about pocket pouches is that they have a very limited number of blocks, so it's easy to ensure that you have all of them, and they're far easier to spot than, say, Legos. Plus they're just so cool. :) People next to you on airplanes or at restaurants will constantly be asking about them. One caveat, though: Toddler X has large sets of Tegu blocks at home, and he is used to using his pocket pouch alongside those sets -- when he uses a pocket pouch alone on trips, he has a great time, but it may be because he's used to them already. If this were the only Tegu set he had, I'm not sure if it would be as big a hit, because there are obviously fewer building options with just 6 or 8 blocks. If possible I would recommend taking one of each set -- the normal pocket pouch and the prisms -- to really open up a lot more possibilities. These are definitely sized to fit inside a purse or toddler-sized luggage.

              • Books with LOTS to look at. Toddler X is a book lover like his mommy, and whenever we take a trip, I feel like we bring along a small library of his favorites. But for long car or plane trips, the books that are most useful in transit have been books with a lot to look at -- books that can hold his attention on one page for an extended period of time, and especially books that cause him to look for things. Our two perpetual favorites, at home and on the road, are Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go and Best First Book Ever -- every page is jam packed with interesting or funny stuff, and there's always something to look for (Goldbug in Cars and Trucks and Mr. Frumble and his hat in Best First Word Book, for example). The only negative about these two books is that they're too large to fit in toddler-sized luggage, but they fit fine in an adult backpack or larger purse.

                Another book that has worked well for us is Wacky Wednesday -- though Toddler X initially couldn't identify all the "wacky" elements himself (some involve mis-spelled words, for example), now that we've read it with him a zillion times, he really enjoys searching them out and counting them off. And finally, a perennial favorite, Go Dog, Go. It's a great early reader (or pre-reader) book because the words are totally descriptive of the pictures. Toddler X really enjoys flipping through and "reading" each page.

                  • The practical necessities. For us, it's Annie's fruit snacks and Nature Valley granola bars; when Toddler X was younger, it was definitely the Plum Organics pouches. For your kid, it might be lollipops or animal crackers or whatever it is that you maintain as a total treat in day-to-day life, but are willing to hand out like (proverbial or literal) candy to keep him or her happy on a plane or in the car. Stock up on it and have it readily accessible. Trust me on this one.

                    One other thing that we always have in the car, road trip or not, is Toddler X's awesome Travel Potty. With a little boy, most bathroom breaks on road trips can just be handled on the side of the road on an offramp, but there are some that require a potty, and we have set this handy-dandy thing up more times than I can count (I was actually joking that we should start a blog called "Places where Toddler X has pooped"). We use small trashcan bags, which we keep in one of the two side storage areas, along with wipes; when it's not in use, it folds into a little "briefcase". All you need is a garbage can to complete, transaction. This is another item we are often asked about at parks, and (as one of our readers can attest), when Toddler X sees another kid with one at the playground, he sometimes asks if he can use it.

                    And here's what my brilliant readers had to say:

                    • Last summer we had a two day car trip with two kids under 5. I made both the kids memory books of pictures of the past year. And they looked at their own and each others often during the trip and many times since. Kids love looking at pictures of themselves. I put them on construction paper then laminated but I'm sure a small photo album would be just as fun!! Happy travels!! -- Jessica P.
                    • My girls love their Melissa & Doug Trunki! On our trip to japan, i wrapped 10 small presents (activity kits) and let them open one each hour. the time they took to unwrap and then play with their new thing/project got us through the plane trip very nicely. on taking off and landing each of them had a small lollipop to help with the cabin pressure/ear plugging. -- Jeanette H.
                    • Here are my best tips after flying internationally with babies MANY times, and making some mistakes: pack a change of clothes for you and your kid in your carry on (vomit happens), pack big plastic bags or gallon Ziplocs in case of airsickness, get those packets of formula if you have a bottle drinker, anything with an erasable marker (books/flashcards), roll of tape (you can stick all kinds of stuff to the walls and tray table), iPad, portable DVD player, small pillow, no toys with parts (disaster, as are puzzles). Save the iPad for when you get desperate.

                      Driving is no big deal. You can always climb in the back make as much noise as you want, and if your kid flips out no one is going to give you the evil eye. -- Marisa M.
                    • Put some favorite books away for a while before travelling so they are novel - we like the ones with lots of pictures like Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go and the My First Things That Go board book. I also second the stickers - check out Little Sticker Books on Amazon - they are cheap and very small and convenient for travel. It does depend on the age of your toddler what will be appropriate. I kept everything in a bag under the seat in front so I could get them without using the overhead locker which proved to be very helpful because we had someone sleeping on the aisle seat and couldn't get out easily. -- Jenny P.
                    • Tablet computers with videos, apps, photos and headphones. Plane headphones often don't fit. They especially love watching videos of themselves so make sure to save a few on there. Blue painter's tape has been great for friends but not for my boy. Snacks. Small toys. -- Jenny P.
                    • I try to avoid layovers at all cost. Some airports have little indoor play areas. Most europeans airports, us not so much. Coloring, favorite toys. Busy box type of things. New to them. iPad with favorite shows. Loveys. Blankets from home. Snack and more snacks. -- Carrie W.
                      • Snacks, small toys, the ipad, and then MORE snacks. In the $1 bins at target they often have these little activity packs that come ziplocked together with small coloring books, crayons, and stickers. I always keep one in the diaper bag for restaurants, but whenever I see new ones (or characters she loves) I pick a few up and stash them for trips.

                        Also, for long trips we often have one of us ride in the back with her. It makes it a little less adult friendly, but it's easier to reach dropped items, and she doesn't feel like she's just looking at the backs of our heads. -- Sara H.
                      • Airlines with in-seat entertainment (Virgin, JetBlue). The Melissa & Doug Trunki slowed us down a bit, but was really fun to have and helped when little legs got tired walking through airport corridors. -- Liza R.
                      • Read airplane books before you go - we like 'Amazing Airplanes' ($4, amazon). It explains what will happen at the airport (very simple, good for 1-2 year old). -- Kimberly P.
                      • iPad with the accessibility feature "guided access" turned on to block pressing the home button to back out of apps as well as blocking the touch screen if needed. ...and toddler friendly apps like Tot Games, and plenty of videos. -- Stephanie C.
                      • Snacks, small new toys, and if all else fails the ipad. -- Bria P.
                      • Sticker books, Melissa & Doug animals magnetic puzzle book, anything that comes in a container they can take things out of and put back, we even brought a little daughter is very tidy. We haven't given our daughter candy yet, but have heard several recommendations to bring anything that takes a long time to eat, such as suckers/lollipops... -- Amanda S. 
                      • My kids both love "me readers." They are sets of books with an electronic reader. Each page has a corresponding picture that matches a button on the reader. In fact we're sitting outside "reading" the stories right now. We have a Thomas the Train set and 2 or 3 Disney sets. They'd be great in the car or the airport but maybe a little loud for a plane since they don't have headphone jacks. -- Hillarie C.
                      • I got toys at the dollar store (or dollar section at target) that she could open and play with. Also making Cheerios necklace ahead of time for her to munch on, bringing paper and a couple washable crayons and "drawing" out a story. We try to take red eyes if possible as there are less chances of layovers and the kids are more likely to sleep. Now that she is older it's an iPad with noise canceling headphones.

                        Also, flight attendants are there to help. Sometimes they can bring and extra cup to play or pretend with. In those rare occasions they will let the toddlers see the cockpit before they take off so feel free to ask. They will not let the adult in so you need to be ok with the attendant and pilot handling your child while you look on. -- Rachel B.
                      • Who needs a playground when you have moving walkways, elevators, plane watching and empty seating areas to run around and climb thru?! Take a back pack, stroller & one of those back pack leashes for your child. Also give yourself plenty of time to let them run around so that they ideally conk out during the flight.

                        I also let my 4yr old pick smtg small from Target and pack his own back pack of toys/activities. iPad was a life saver last flight so I get a couple new apps on there too to keep it interesting. Oh and fill up a couple baggies of treats for the passengers in front and behind you - an advance apology. If you have the option to take Virgin they have a harnessed car seat - bonus! -- Yashmi M.
                      • This was a surprising hit maybe because he had never seen or used them before the trip but there are plenty of them in each pack that if a few get lost it's no big deal. They easily cling to windows inside the plane and in terminals and cars. Melissa & Doug Vehicles Reusable Sticker Pad -- Lisa S.
                      • We wrapped a ton of little presents that they could open during the trip. We used them to our advantage and bribed them to take a nap and would give them after they took a nap. We had enough to last the whole trip because my 4 year old didn't want to nap at an unfamiliar place so we promised a present if he napped. Color Wonder coloring books are great - I got the clipboard one so they could color in the car seat. -- Casey A.
                      • I was told a few weeks ago that I could bring a 24 hour supply of milk with me on board. Also, we've traveled 2x 3hr+ flights in the last 3 weeks and let your child get up and walk always helps. -- Tonantzin M.
                      • Agree with all the above - lots of snacks, iPad with movies, games, coloring books, stickers, etc. -- Sherri G.
                      • I bring my Kindle loaded up with toddler-friendly books, games and movies. Also a Crayola Color Wonder kit is great they can color and you don't have to worry about the plane getting colored. Stickers are great too he will color a picture and then put stickers all over it. -- Mary M.
                      • When I know a trip is coming up, I try to start "training" my son to sleep during that time. Also I let him run and burn his energy before we board a flight. I have travelled internationally and many times domestically with him. Singing songs with him and keeping him engaged with ipad games have worked great. My son also liked to do puzzles and loves his LeapFrog dog. So they go with us every where. My son is also very still when he is eating, so snack help too. -- Suruchi B.
                      • Agree with the above, and a special luvie to comfort them during take off and landing, and nap times. Lollipops also help with that. Also, I sat my toddler by the window so that for the take off and landing, that was their entertainment. -- Melissa W.
                      • Shea & Cindi allow Reid to watch Tommy the Train Videos. He is totally happy for at least 1 1/2 hrs. He also has other game on the Ipod. Also we spent a lot of time counting trucks. Don't know if this will work with a girl...but he was really excited! -- Kathy J.

                      And last, but not least, this gem from reader David K.:
                      • Ambien with a little applesauce and a Valium chaser... -- David K. [Silicon Valley Toddler would like to state for the record that we don't endorse drugging children for travel. :) ]

                      Wishing you safe and hassle-free travels with your toddler!

                      (Got any more ideas? Post them in the comments or message me on Facebook, and I will add them to the list.)

                      (A note about the links in this post: Where a reader suggested a specific product, I linked to that product. Where a reader made a more general suggestion -- crayons, dry erase markers, stickers, etc. -- I searched for the highest-rated products in that category, then linked to the ones I thought would most appeal to toddlers. As always, I really appreciate you shopping via the links on my page. See the right sidebar of the blog for further information. And sorry about the white boxes -- I have no idea how to make them go away.) 

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