Traveling with a toddler on a plane or road trip? Take a look at these toddler travel essentials and gear recommended by a well-traveled mom of four! by Rachael Robison
Some might think I’m crazy. After all, in the span of just four years, I’ve taken a:
- Thirty-two-hour drive to Florida with a three- and a one-year-old
- Twenty-six-hour drive to Ohio with kids aged four, two, and three-months
- Twenty-hour drive to Texas with three kids while pregnant
And my favorite: a 7,000 mile, five-week road trip with a seven-, five-, three-, and one-year-old.
After thinking, She’s crazy, most people start wondering what my secret is. How do I manage to travel with kids without losing my mind? Am I some kind of superwoman?
No, I’m far from a superwoman. I’m just like you (assuming you also love to read!). I’m just a mom who loves to travel, so my kids are along for the ride. Since they’re all two years apart, traveling with a toddler is basically all I know.
Toddler travel essentials for a fuss-free trip
To improve your chances of having a successful trip, you need to be prepared with a few toddler travel essentials.
I can’t promise every trip with a toddler will be a roaring success. Actually, I can almost guarantee that something will go wrong on every trip. However, by being prepared, you can keep these mishaps from ruining the fun.
From for road trips to airplane flights, take a look at my list of toddler travel essentials:
1. “Backpack” diaper bag
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At the top of your toddler travel essentials list, you’ve got your trusty diaper bag. You know, your go-to bag for trips to the library or park.
But should you bring it when you travel?
It all depends on what kind of diaper bag you usually carry. Is it a massive bag that fits everything and the moon? Then, please, leave it at home.
You will want a designated diaper bag when you travel, but you want something that won’t kill you if you carry it around all day at the zoo.
I always opt for a backpack. You don’t need to go very big—just a small day pack. You simply need to be able to carry around the essentials: diaper changing supplies, a sippy cup, hand sanitizer wipes, snacks and a change of clothes.
Here are a few options:
Speaking of diaper changes, don’t bring an entire trips’ worth of diapers with you unless absolutely necessary. Every gas station and grocery store carries disposable diapers. Save space and pack a small bag of diapers and then buy more when you need them.
2. Toddler stroller
Another of the basic toddler travel essentials to consider is the stroller. Whether you’re flying or driving, you want to keep your supplies lightweight and to a minimum.
Then, ask yourself: how badly do you need a stroller? Can you rent one at your destination? Would a hiking backpack be more appropriate? If you’re flying with a toddler, strollers can also be handy when you travel through an airport and can be gate checked.
Personally, I love my Summer Infant 3D Lite stroller, a perfect mid-price stroller. It has a basket for storage while still folding compactly. It’s lightweight to carry, tall enough for my husband to comfortably push, and can even recline all the way.
3. Portable crib
Once you’ve gotten your toddler into a sleep routine, not even a trip to Disneyland seems worth breaking it. The real question is: where is your toddler going to sleep? Will she have a bed ready at grandma’s house or do you need to bring something for her to sleep on?
If your toddler still sleeps in a crib, the Graco pack ‘n Play is the way to go. Every parent should have one—they are so handy. I love how easy they are to set up and take down. That said, they are a bit bulkier, so they could be problematic if you fly.
My in-laws also had the Regalo My Cot, which I quickly convinced them to gift to us. They’re affordable, compact, and the perfect size for a toddler (actually, they can fit up to a six-year-old). Plus, they tuck in between the beds in a double queen hotel room.
If your toddler sleeps in a bed, the Regalo My Cot is the perfect choice.
If space is at a premium or if you fly a lot, I would definitely check out the KidCo Peapod. It’s a small travel bed that folds up into a small bag. Just remember, it’s only sized for toddlers, so they could quickly outgrow it.
4. Entertainment for your toddler
No one wants to be that mom with the screaming toddler on an airplane, or travel 14 hours in the car with a screaming one-year-old. Trust me, I’ve been both.
Unfortunately, there isn’t one magical item that will entertain all toddlers—each child is different. You’ll have to figure out what works with your toddler, but here are some of the toddler travel essentials that have helped me keep my toddlers entertained:
You can try songs and games, but when traveling with a toddler, I go straight to the electronics. I know I said there is no magical item to keep toddlers entertained, but the closest I have found are Disney movies. My children become enraptured when a movie is playing, and I milk it for all it’s worth.
When my oldest was two, I bought some digital copies of movies, and they were worth the investment. Now, five years later, we still watch those same movies, plus a few I’ve added over the years.
Just make sure you only get movies that you can stand to watch over and over again. Also, if you have Netflix or Amazon Prime, take advantage of the free downloads.
And one of my best purchases ever was a TFY headrest mount for my tablet. If you don’t have a DVD player in your vehicle, just strap the mount on a car headrest and suddenly your tablet is a movie screen. (Plus, it keeps your tablet out of your toddler’s sticky little hands!)
5. Miscellaneous toddler travel essentials
- Crayola Twistables. No more broken crayons or colored pencils you have to sharpen.
- Reusable Sticker books. Let your toddler go wild placing stickers everywhere. Just plan on pulling a few out of her hair at the end of the day.
- Look and Find books. With plenty to find on every page, these books keep toddlers entertained longer than a regular story book.
What about young toddlers? They can’t watch a movie in a rear-facing car seat, and they’re too little for Look and Find books and Crayola Twistables.
In that case, try new toys from the dollar store, electronics, stickers, and snacks. I’ve found that a Dixie cup full of goldfish or a whole apple will keep my one-year-old occupied for a while.
Do you need identification for your toddler to travel by plane?
Nina’s note: Call or check your airline’s website, but most don’t require identification for your toddler to travel within the United States. After a certain age, kids will need an ID to board a plane even domestically, but typically this isn’t until they reach the teen or tween years.
Still, if you’d like to be extra-cautious, a passport works best. If you don’t have that, some parents bring copies of their kids’ birth certificates, social security cards, or even school IDs. Personally, I was able to usher all my kids through the airport without being asked for their IDs.
I could probably go on and on talking about toddler travel essentials, but these are the most important items you’ll want to have. Just remember to plan ahead, and enjoy the journey. Even though traveling with a toddler can be a hassle, you’re making memories that will last a lifetime.
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Get more tips:
- 7 Smart Ways to Maintain Your Child’s Sleep Schedule on Vacation
- How to Cope with Feeling Depressed After Moving
- (Realistic) Things to Do in Los Angeles with Kids
- Things to Do in San Francisco with Kids
Rachael Robison is a stay-at-home mom of four children in Utah. She recently started the blog Pingel Sisters with her sister Jaclyn. They share advice for both stay-at-home and working moms on life, work, travel and books.
Tell me in the comments: What would you say are your toddler travel essentials?