The 4 best travel toys to bring for your toddler

Deciding which travel toys to take for your toddler  - and which will fit in your suitcase - can be tricky, so here's a quick guide!

By Grace Koelma | Dare List Mama

Planning which travel toys, books and games you'll take for your toddler has to be one of the most simultaneously fun and stressful things you'll do before you jet off. 

It's fun because you get to put a lot of thought into why and how the toy will be used, and it's a chance to cull the huge pile of existing toys (all part of our quest to simplify our life).

It was a little stressful as well, because as our big day drew closer I started to worry that I'd forget something, that Leo wouldn't have enough.

Remember, every spot in your suitcase is hot real estate. You only have 23 kgs each.

It may sound like a lot, but once your bags are packed and you're at the check-in desk, it's really not that much room.

When choosing toys we'd take with us, we selected based on:

  • The item's weight (sadly this meant we couldn't justify bringing Leo's handmade wooden blocks)
  • The item's size and ability to fold-down inside a suitcase
  • How long the item would last with toddler-grade wear and tear, based on the brand reputability
  • Whether Leo had liked the toy for a while (because chances are it would remain a firm favourite for a while longer)
  • Whether that item could be replaced around the world, or added to our collection later (when Leo was more developmentally ready - hence why we left LEGO behind.)

(Something to pin for later...)

Travel toys; How to pick good travel toys Pinterest Infographic

By the end we still had a pretty large collection. It was time to whittle it down... be ruthless, as Eric would say.

How to cull the toys

The rule here is to find travel toys that have more than one purpose or design. These are called open-ended toys. 

Then there's the question of how much variety you should bring? It really depends on how long you're travelling for and what your toddler's interests are.

If you're going on a 2-week holiday and will be spending lots of time together as a family, you won't need as many travel toys (just enough to get you through the flight, I imagine!)

But if you're travelling long term and working as digital nomadsyou'll need to stock up.

Here was our thought process... If Leo is in the care of one parent while the other is working, or with an au pair, we need materials and toys that we (they) can use in play, the same as if we were at home. We just have less choice.

So, what travel toys did we bring?

I chose around 8 books (the tiny ones I count as one book), one sticker book, some flat-pack art kits, a selection of basic art supplies, 2 sets of flashcards, some Play Doh tubs, toy cars, planes and helicopters (Leo's obsession), spinning tops, small soft balls, small 'fiddly' toys and two stuffed animals. Here's the breakdown in a bit more detail.

1. Picture books

I brought a mix of books (mostly small, with the exception of ​our one big 'A is for Australia' book.)

I chose themes based on Leo's interests (planes, trains, cars, rockets, animals), developmental stage (counting, colours, alphabet, opposites) and of course, making sure he still has an understanding of his home and culture.

Books I packed:

  • Busy Airport is an obvious one for plane travel, it's a pop up, pull tab board book that Leo loves. (Thanks Aunty Laura!)
  • The inclusion of the A is for Australia book took a bit of convincing due to its larger size (directed at Eric, the official packing officer! haha) but with its gorgeous illustrations and step-by-step guide through the beauty and famous sites of our home country, including little facts that Leo would grow into, I knew we had to bring it.
  • The mini board books 'Aircraft' and 'Emergency' came as a set of 9, with 7 other plane, train and automobile themes, from our local post office of all places! We love them because they fit inside a small purse or handbag, or Daddy's back pocket.
  • Leo's family and friends is a little photo book I created with Blurb, filled with photos of Leo's favourite people. It's one of his favourite books, and helps pass the time as we slowly go through and identify everyone by name.
  • I absolutely love Play School's book series, their images are so aesthetic and link perfectly with the songs and characters in the TV show, so this Alphabet book (or their colours or numbers version) appears often on our flights. 
Flying book flat lay

Busy Airport

Playschool books flat lay

Play School books

Australia book flat lay

A is for Australia

Australia book flat lay

A is for Australia


2. Art and craft supplies

I took my time selecting a few good-quality supplies that I hoped would last the first year at least. 

Art supplies I packed:

  • Paintbrushes and watercolour paints (I got a set in a tray where each coloured palette was removable, making them easier to store and transport).
  • Crayons and coloured pencils, with some novelty toolkit erasers.
  • Two art pads, a small one for flights and a larger colouring book we were gifted. Leo can colour in the pages and turn them over for a blank page to paint on.
  • A plastic red art smock which doubles as a bib if necessary, and can be turned into a cape for imaginative play.
  • 4 x mini tubs of Play Doh.
  • 4 x assorted sticker sheets.
  • 3 bouncy balls (in all honesty, three is probably too many, but I was banking on us losing one by now!)
  • A stack of coloured nesting containers (far left) - we bought these in Bali and they are actually mini jelly moulds, which Leo uses for stacking, arranging objects, scooping water, sand and rice and - errrr - throwing around the room when he's tired!
  • A little water funnel, cheaply bought and you can throw and re-buy if you need.
  • Some flat-pack DIY craft kits, a cactus kit and a paper plate masks kit. For rainy days!
  • Scarves for making cubbies, dress-ups and imaginative play (Leo uses my sarong and scarf).
  • Also in this photo, an empty tissue box, which is a great versatile toy and art material, and which we usually have everywhere we go and chuck before we fly.
  • The plastic orange basket acts as a handy divider in our suitcases, and a toy box when we're unpacked. We have some collapsable wardrobe boxes too.


3. Flashcards

I love flashcards as a option alongside books. They are a bit more open-ended, and loose parts means they're able to be manipulated to create impromptu sorting, recognition and memory games - great for toddler cognitive development! 

Flashcards I packed:


4. Things that move, spin and drive

Most of the toys below were firm favourites before we left. I stocked up on good quality Hot Wheels Match Box cars thinking he'd lose them rapidly with all the moving we'd be doing, but our collection is still going strong!

Toys I packed:

  • 5 x matchbox cars, 2 x helicopters and 2 x aeroplanes
  • 3 x mechanical toys (the beetles and the monkey - wind-up or battery powered)
  • 3 x spinning tops (probably too many in hindsight - again, I thought we'd lose them.)
  • Plastic beads strung on a shoelace
  • 3 x felt finger puppets and a little Guide Dog (gift from his grandfather)
  • 1 x Duplo figurine 
  • 2 x block puzzles 
  • 1 x old mobile phone for imaginative play (Leo loves talking on it, and has conversations with Nanna, Mummy and sometimes with 'Leo' - himself!)
  • A handful of little weighted beads, good for sorting and stacking
  • An iPad with TV shows (Play School, Chuggington, Postman Pat), interactive apps (Play School Playtime, sorting and counting apps and the collection of 100 planes, trains, trucks apps)

Phew! As I'm documenting all this it sounds like a lot, so I think we'll have to do another sweep and cull some more. (I can hear Eric cheering somewhere at the idea of that!)

Doing the 6-week test 

We're just past the 6-week mark in our travels now, visited a few countries, and I feel it's been a decent amount of time to see which toys Leo uses lots and what he hasn't even touched. 

I hope this article has been helpful for you, and if you have any questions at all (believe me, I had hundreds before we left!) then don't hesitate to email: darelistfamily@gmail.com

Grace Koelma

Grace is a writer, designer, digital nomad, mum (otherwise known as toddler chaser), slow traveller, wild things appreciator, culture immerser, coffee opportunist... She frequently uses big words (some of which are definitely made up), likes long walks and even longer books, and her focus on wellness in 2017 means she is learning to obey her FitBit. Except when she's glued to her computer!

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