Traveling with a toddler can through up some unexpected challenges that have the potential to completely ruin large chunks of your travels. However, the wise parent will be ready to rise to any obstacle with the simple method of being prepared.
As I consider myself neither wise nor prepared when it comes to the parenting stakes, I decided to turn to my fellow family travel bloggers who also have toddlers to pack for. I asked them if they would be happy to share their key toddler travel essentials to keep trips with little ones as smooth as possible.
While I am almost certainly putting this post together for you, having recently celebrated the arrival of a new baby daughter to complement the little toddler already in my life, I’m hoping it will help me too!
I’m lucky enough that some of the best travel bloggers around agreed to contribute to this post so I truly hope that you not only find some really useful travel tips, but also some new travel blogs to follow and enjoy.
I’ve split the post into two sections, travel essentials and packing essentials.
Travel will be focussed on items that make the planes, trains, and automobiles a breeze. Packing will then focus on great things that you should take with you on day trips and just every time you head out really.
So let’s get going.
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Toddler Travel Essentials
1. Inflatable airplane bed
Recommended by Celine from Baby Can Travel
As parents, we always appreciate anything that can make traveling with kids a little easier. Like most parents, the idea of flying with a toddler can cause some anxiety. Thankfully, we have found just the thing to make it a little easier. We never fly a long haul flight with a toddler without our inflatable airplane bed. These inflatable cushions fill the space between your child’s seat and the seat in front of them, creating a bed that your toddler or child can lie down on.
We used one of these flying devices for the first time on a 10 hour flight from Canada to Japan. We loved how it gave our little one an area to play and sleep. The even bigger benefit was not having a child sleep across my lap for the duration of the flight. With plenty of space to spread out, our kids have successfully slept on almost every flight we’ve brought them on.
Without hesitation, we recommend bringing one of these for any overnight flights, just make sure your airline hasn’t banned them. Many airlines have either approved certain devices or leave it up to the discretion of the flight crew.
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2. A Lightweight Collapsible Stroller
Recommended by Keri from Our Globetrotters
A real game-changing piece of baby travel gear we invested in was a collapsible stroller. We went with the Mountain Buggy Nano, but there are plenty of similar products these days including the ever-popular Yoyo (pricey) and the GB Pockit – the smallest of its type. The beauty of these strollers is not only are they super lightweight compared to clunkier travel systems, they can fold up small enough they are permitted to be taken onboard a plane and stowed in the overhead locker – as well as any other form of transport.
There are a few compromises to be had with a collapsible stroller, the primary one being the size of your wheels as this is where the width of your product comes from, even when collapsed. We’ve found the ultra-micro products giveaway too much in wheel size making it hard to navigate on bumpy surfaces, and you also want the product to have a decent recline so nap times are still possible, which again can add a little necessary weight and cost. These are a few small sacrifices though to make your overall travel journey with your under 4’s much easier.
I have found the collapsible stroller of most use when flying solo with my three kids. It’s simply impossible for me to carry that many children, so even if I was using a sling or barrier for my youngest, I could still throw at least one tot (and on occasion two!) into the collapsible stroller from as soon as I got of the plane, not needing to wait for my baby gear to be returned from oversized baggage to easily navigate through the airport.
3. Inflatable Booster Seat
Recommended by Jo from Where Jo Goes
One of the challenges of travelling with young kids is how to take the booster seats. Taking a booster per child overseas soon becomes cumbersome and yet another thing to carry. If getting a taxi to the beach or through the city you don’t want to be carrying booster seats around all day, right?
Bubble bums are inflatable booster seats that roll up when not in use. You blow into them to inflate them and then you deflate them, roll them up and stick them in your backpack. We’ve used these on buses, taxis and hire cars all over the world and on planes so the kids can sit higher up, or theatres or cinemas at home for a seat boost. We used these for years until our kids no longer needed booster seats and they were a real travel game-changer. Bubble bums are award-winning and much safer for your child than a seat belt alone. My top travel tip for getting out and about with young kids, take a bubble bum!
4. Ride Safer Travel Vest
Recommended by Melissa from Travel Car Seat Mom
Our most essential travel gear for 3 and 4 year olds is the Ride Safer Travel Vest. It’s a fully tested and approved car seat alternative for American families. Unlike typical car seats that weigh at least 10 pounds and are a pain to lug around, the Ride Safer Travel Vest only weighs 2 pounds and rolls up to about the size of a soda bottle. It easily fits in the bottom of your daypack for unexpected taxi rides when you’re exploring a city and it’s also a great choice if you’re traveling by plane and then renting a car at your destination.
For our family, the vest was most helpful for our family gap year trip around the world. We used the vest in 16 countries on 6 continents, and I don’t know how we would have survived without it! Even when we traveled in remote areas where car seats aren’t regularly used, as long as a car had a lap-shoulder seat belt we were able to keep our daughter safe on the go. It is a child safety device, so it’s extremely important to use it only within the manufacturer’s guidelines (since that’s how it’s been tested). You can learn more about the pros and cons of the Ride Safer Travel Vest here.
5. Toddler Pillow
Recommended by Diana from Travels in Poland
Traveling with kids is a fascinating journey. Many first time parents aren’t too sure what they need to bring when traveling with children under the age of 4. Many times, they overpack and usually forget an essential item. One item we have found that we never thought to be essential but that has been a lifesaver is a toddler pillow.
Typically, we are very light packers, usually traveling with kids with only carry-ons. However, our firstborn and now our second toddler, have found the toddler pillow to be very comforting. On planes, they can snuggle upright on top of it and feel safe. In cars, it is always being used as an additional way for them to get comfortable in their car seats, whether they use it to support their head or use it to just hold like a stuffed animal.
A 12-hour car ride with frequent stops was saved by the toddler pillow. It was a comforting item to our toddler particularly as she was getting grouching around naptime. After having a snack, she was wound up but very tired, and we reached over and got her pillow for her and she instantly started hugging it and fell asleep with her head resting on it. Sometimes bringing a pillow may not be the best way in terms of space, and we don’t always bring it. But when we do, it’s always been a winner and a great item for our travels.
6. Portable Blackout Blinds
Recommended by Marta from Learning Escapes
One of our favorite family travel items and one we always pack when traveling with our two kids are portable blackout blinds.
We learned how useful they were at home, where they helped up block out the light for afternoon naps but we never thought they would come handy while away, until we found ourselves in a bright hotel room with two overly tired toddlers and no proper curtains!
When you are new to traveling with kids, it is easy to overlook things like the type of curtain a hotel has however, this is just the type of detail that can make or break your vacation, especially in countries with very long daylight hours or if you have to overcome jet lag.
Blackout curtains are an easy and inexpensive solution: they fold small, fit easily into carry on luggage or even your baby bag and they use sucking cups to attach to windows, which means they leave no marks and can be used anywhere.
They are also easy to clean so you don’t need to worry too much if they get a little ruined and battered while moving around.
Now we travel with them regularly and I always also recommend them to overseas travellers asking me about advice on what to pack to come to visit Ireland with kids.
7. Trunki Suitcases
Recommended by Ania from The Travelling Twins
When we were living as expats in Oman with kids, trips home could be tough.
These involved ten-hour flight times plus transfers and changes – all with two four-year-olds in tow. They were too big for a pushchair but not big enough to walk the length of airports. Our saviour came in the form of Trunki – a suitcase designed for kids to use as a ride.
Trunki is a small plastic hard case with wheels. You can use the strap to tow it behind with kids sitting on it, or they can ride on it by pushing with their own legs. It’s great fun for kids, even to the level that when we were getting ready for a trip, the girls would be making suitcase-races around the house to practice. And they were handy too. I remember running late for a connection in Istanbul. They were zooming through the corridors on the Trunki faster than I was running.
The only minus of the Trunki is when you are boarding from a bus rather than across the airbridge. So now it can be a struggle on the aircraft steps, managing your own carry-on plus two little suitcases and perhaps carrying a tired child too. But on balance the benefits far outweighed the downsides. The girls have outgrown them now but our Trunkis remain with us as very happy memories.
8. Travel Kettle
Recommended by Martina from PlacesofJuma
One of our favorite items for a perfect road trip with kids is our car travel kettle. This travel gadget is particularly handy for long journeys and exhausting trips by car or camper. And we love the fact, that we don’t have to look for gas stations when driving somewhere.
Connected to the cigarette lighter, it boils water while driving in only 10-16 minutes. Perfect if you want to make yourself and your little ones some tea, some milk or cocoa on the go. But also instant noodles, soups and even boiled eggs can be cooked with a good travel kettle. That can be a live safer, especially when your kids need get something warm. It really made going on road trips with the little ones so much easier!
We recommend the kettle by SPARDAR. Amazing is here the digital temperature display and the high-quality, scratch-resistant stainless steel that is used as the material for the inner and exterior walls.
9. Hydro Flask
Recommended by Marcie from Marcie and the Mouse
Both of my young boys prefer drinking milk over water. But, that can be hard to find everywhere we travel. So, we fill up Hydro Flasks with milk in the morning and it stays super cold all day long. Our trick is to keep the Hydro Flasks in the fridge overnight so that the metal bottle is super cold before we put the milk in. But, you can also put ice in it, if your kids don’t mind.
The Hydro Flask is especially useful for family vacations in warm climates like Disneyland with toddlers. Our 3-year-old gets really cranky just waiting in line for some of the Disneyland rides. Most of the time, he’s just hungry or thirsty. So, we bring our Hydro Flask with us in line to keep him fueled up and mellowed out. Plus, we save a lot of money not having to buy milk at restaurants all day long. In fact, we usually buy the largest size milk container that will fit in our fridge.
10. Pop-up Highchair
Recommended by Victoria from Tori Leigh
Lightweight, compact, and easily washable, a pop-up highchair is one of the most versatile items for families traveling with young children. Often overlooked, this inexpensive item will make any trip with toddlers easier and more convenient. Meals, snacks, and playtime can be enjoyed safely and conveniently with this family travel essential.
We’ve used our pop up high chair when visiting family who didn’t have a safe toddler seat, during camping trips, and when staying in hotels. Easily set the high chair up on a tent or hotel room floor to make meal times seamless when traveling. Stop at any restaurant without worrying about highchairs and booster seats – a pop-up highchair easily affixes to a typical dining chair. Pop up high chairs pack up easy, as well, making them perfect for road trips with toddlers, especially if you’re planning multiple stops.
11. Electrical Outlet Covers
Recommended by Catherine from To & Fro Fam
Family vacations are all about having fun and making memories with your kiddos. You’ll be much more able to let loose and enjoy yourself if you know your young children are as safe in your hotel room or vacation rental as they are at home!
To that end, I always packed a handful of electrical outlet covers when vacationing with my young kids.
When your baby begins to crawl, you meticulously plug every outlet throughout your home in order to prevent tiny fingers from getting shocked. But most parents never think to do the same when they’re in a hotel room or vacation home.
The good news: Electrical outlet covers are cheap, light and small. That means they’re super-easy to pack in your luggage. What’s more, since they’re inexpensive, it’s easy to buy an extra set and stash them with your suitcase. That way you don’t have to pull the covers from outlets at home, and you never forget to pack these baby safety supplies.
Then, when you arrive at your destination, spend 10 minutes ensuring that all outlets within your child’s reach are safely covered. You can even enlist a toddler’s help in finding them all!
If you’re looking for more travel tips for families with young children, check out Catherine’s post on successfully sleeping in a hotel room with kids.
12. Growbag Baby Sleep Bags
Recommended by Cath from Passports and Adventures
One essential item we always took with us when travelling with our son when be was a baby and toddler was his Grobag Baby Sleep Bag. Grobag Baby Sleeping Bags changed the way babies sleep and were something we were never without after a friend gifted one to us. There are no need for blankets or sheets with these and by using the right tog rating, your baby is kept safe and at the right temperature.
The reason these were essential when travelling with our son was, because it was a firm part of our bedtime routine, our son never had any problems sleeping in new and strange environments. By keeping to our routine and placing him in his Grobag right before putting him down, he knew exactly what was coming and what was expected of him. Plus, it also had the comforting smells of home on it. Along with his white noise machine, this baby item meant we never had a baby who didn’t sleep when we were away from home.
13. White Noise
Recommended by Nicolette from Semi-Budget Travel
When I consider the most essential items to pack when traveling with kids under 4, I think of two words: white noise. From a one-hour road trip to visit the grandparents, to jetlag adjustments in Malaysia, white noise can be the difference in kids (& parents) getting to sleep and staying asleep or…not.
While there are white noise machines you can purchase (Amazon alone has a ton), we found that a $0.99 track on iTunes entitled “Waterfall” works perfectly. Installed on all our devices, the waterfall track is always available when we need it. Just play the almost-10-minute track on repeat.
We’ve been using it to help our kids get to sleep since birth. It’s also helped in the car, when an overtired child needed a nap. And, halfway around the world, it’s helped our whole family get to sleep, covering over a multitude of things, including street noise, a too-quiet room, and jetlag wakefulness.
Packing for Toddlers
So we have covered some awesome ideas fo things to make travelling with toddlers a bit easier. I love the idea of a pop-up high chair and electrical outlet covers, i’ll be honest and say I had not thought about that. I hope you have found a few good ideas so far too.
Now I want to shift a little to packing ideas. So ideas for what to pack for toddlers when you actually head out for the day, so keep on reading for some more excellent nuggets of advice.
14. Children’s Eating Utensils & Collapsible Water Bottles
Recommended by Nick from Spiritual Travels
On our recent trip to Prague with kids, one of the items we found the most useful was the set of eating utensils we brought for our 4- and 5-year old. This saved us in multiple situations. When dining out, restaurants often didn’t provide children’s sized cutlery. Having our own avoided the awkwardness (and possible dangers) of the kids trying to use adult-sized ones. What’s more, our kids were born and raised in Taiwan, so they are accustomed to eating pasta with children’s chopsticks, not a fork.
As anyone who has traveled in Europe knows, dining out for every meal on a trip can add up to a lot of money, so we also enjoyed meals on-the-go from supermarkets, both in public and in our hotel rooms. This is when having little bowls and utensils for the kids became especially useful, saving us not only money but also a big mess.
Last but not least, we highly recommend collapsible water bottles. We had one for each member of our family. Ours were the pouch type that can be rolled up when empty and takes up almost no space when packed in luggage. For full days outside, we would fill all four with drinking water at the hotel, but for shorter ventures outside we might only share one. They easily fit into our day packs and helped us to minimize our family’s footprint while traveling.
15. Spare Set of Clothes
Recommended by Melissa from Queensland Camping
When we took our daughter on her very first overseas trip at the age of around 18 months, we learnt that one of the most essential items to pack is a spare set of clothes for baby!
We had flown halfway around the world without any dramas whatsoever and yet upon the plane landing; our daughter decided to vomit absolutely everywhere! And not only all over herself but also all over my husband too. While we had some wipes etc to clean them both up and a spare set of clothes for her, we did not have spare clothes for my husband. It was dreadful having to be on that plane waiting to get off and I’m sure all the passengers around us couldn’t wait to get off either.
To make things even worse, this was not our final destination. We had a few hours to wait for our flight and then another short flight to our destination. It was also late in the evening and while we looked around for a store that sold shirts, nothing was opened. My husband had to make to with washing his shirt out in the bathroom.
We were so grateful though that we had spare clothes for our daughter to change into, that was an absolute lifesaver for us. However, we realised that we should also pack spare clothes for ourselves too, as you never know when your child is going to vomit all over you.
16. Ergobaby carrier
Recommended by Emily from Kids & Compass
The Ergobaby carrier is without a doubt my go-to piece of travel equipment when travelling with babies and toddlers. It’s a flexible sling which allows you to carry your child either on your back or on your front (very handy if you’re breastfeeding your baby).
Using a carrier means that you never have to take a pushchair away with you and it leaves both your arms free so you’re able to deal with any older children, or bags, which makes travelling much easier. You can also take your kids on long days out hiking where a pushchair isn’t suitable.
The Ergobaby carrier was especially useful on our family trip to Jordan, where I was able to hike up to the Monastery with my 15 month old son in it – something I’d have missed out on if he had been in a pushchair. When we visited Iceland with our small kids a year later we were able able to visit all sorts of natural sights where a pushchair wouldn’t have been practical, such as the lava flows at Lake Myvatn.
Plus, keeping young kids close to mum usually keeps them happy (and quiet!), so it’s a win-win. You can use the Ergobaby from around the age of 4 months, until your child weighs 20 kilos.
17. Hand sanitiser
Recommended by Clara from Petite Capsule
Hand sanitiser is one of the most essential items I pack when travelling with my little one. It is particularly important when your little one is on the move – crawling or walking.
Babies and toddlers are full of energy, love to explore, and touch everything. They will touch the escalators in the airport, sit on the ground, crawl under seats, play on equipment, press the lift buttons, hang off rails, hide under tables, roll on the ground, pick up ‘interesting’ items off the ground, play with dirt, play with sand, play with the wheels on your suitcase, touch the soles of their shoes.
The list goes on. Their hands get so grubby from touching everything. Then, your little one wants to put their hands in their mouth, or use their hands to eat something. Of course, washing their little hands with clean water and soap is the best way to remove germs. But when you are travelling, you don’t always have ready access to clean water and soap. The next best thing is hand sanitiser. Hand sanitiser kills germs and viruses, helping your family to stay well when travelling.
18. Baby Wipes
Recommended by Priyadarshini from Glorious Sunshine
Baby wipes come in super handy for keeping things clean for your young kids especially when you are traveling. There are plenty of situations you face like the little ones puking in the air, or in need of bottom-cleaning.
The one time I forgot to pack my wipes and was feeling that I could just wing it because my baby bag had so many extra towels, I got into a serious inconvenience. I was traveling with my two young kids under five and the 9-month-old continuously threw up. I ran out of towels pretty quick and the baby was still gooey. A pack of baby wipes would have lasted me the whole trip to clean the baby. After this trip, I always make a point of packing at least one new pack of baby wipes in my diaper bag and it saved me getting into sticky situations many times.
Wipes also help you quickly clean up the kids’ toys which inevitably land on the plane floor at some point of time. Cleaning the food tray, seat handles and the diaper change table in the bathroom all can be done with your baby wipes and keep it clean for the kids.
19. Swaddle Wrap
Recommended by Sharee from Inspire Family travel
Travelling with children is an exciting time, but not everyone loves the packing stage, as it can be an overwhelming process to know what essential travel items to pack for kids. One of the biggest tips I can offer is to take what you always use at home, and for us, that item was a muslin swaddle wrap or blanket.
A muslin wrap is a handy accessory, as it can be used for a variety of reasons when you are travelling. We have used our baby wraps as a shade cover for the pram and car seat when exploring. It has been rolled out as a rug or playmat for when we wanted to relax on the grass. It is a brilliant shawl or cover-up when nursing or if the weather turns cold. Made from lightweight material that can be easily folded into a compact size, a muslin wrap is easy to store in carry-on luggage or a tote bag.
While on a flight, our swaddle has been useful as a comforter and even a change mat. Once the adventures are over, a muslin wrap can be thrown into a washing machine for the next time it is needed. Travelling with children is an exciting time, but not everyone loves the packing stage, as it can be an overwhelming process to know what essential travel items to pack for kids. One of the biggest tips I can offer is to take what you always use at home, and for us, that item was a muslin swaddle wrap or blanket. A muslin wrap is a handy accessory, as it can be used for a variety of reasons when you are travelling.
We have used our baby wraps as a shade cover for the pram and car seat when exploring. It has been rolled out as a rug or playmat for when we wanted to relax on the grass. It is a brilliant shawl or cover-up when nursing or if the weather turns cold. Made from lightweight material that can be easily folded into a compact size, a muslin wrap is easy to store in carry-on luggage or a tote bag. While on a flight, our swaddle has been useful as a comforter and even a change mat. Once the adventures are over, a muslin wrap can be thrown into a washing machine for the next time it is needed.
Recommended by Marissa from Postcards to Seattle
The item that has saved me on family trips with my 18-month-old is flashcards. We have a brand of Seasame Street flashcards, so he gets excited to recognize the characters as we go through each card. He also gets to practice simple words and numbers that he’s learning, and he often wants to go through the entire batch multiple times.
These have been great to pass the time on the airplane and in the car during road trips, as he forgets his boredom and is quickly entertained. There is nothing better than being able to pass even 30 minutes when you’re stuck on a plane! They’re small enough to put in his diaper bag or my purse so I can pull them out anytime I need them. We have several different ones stored in different places for emergencies.
Wrapping it all up
I hope you have found some inspiration and some helpful bits of advice in my roundup of 20 toddler travel essentials, I now know of a few cool things I want to buy for my little man now.
Travelling with a toddler is daunting, even though it doesn’t need to be. With a few of these items and a bit of helpful advice from any of the top family travel bloggers that have made this piece possible, you’ll have no problems at all.
If you have anything else you’d love to recommend, please let me know in the comments, why stop at 20, let’s keep this list growing!
Until next time, happy travels to you and your littlies.