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The Best Travel Gear for Toddlers
Updated on
April 5, 2024

The Best Travel Gear for Toddlers

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The Best Travel Gear for Toddlers.
The Best Travel Gear for Toddlers

Before I had kids, I was convinced I was going to be one of those carefree travel moms. A six-hour flight with a toddler in tow? No problem! My kids were going to go with the flow (iPad-free, no less), and there was no way I was going to let them get in the way of the many adventures I had planned.

Fast forward many years and two very spirited children later, my travel looks a little different than how I had imagined it in my head. We’ve endured our fair share of airport meltdowns and road trip disasters, and while our vacations are not quite as relaxing as they were before, we keep traveling with our kids because the ups far outweigh the downs. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way? The right gear can make everyone’s life a LOT easier—especially when there’s a temperamental toddler in the mix.

From long-haul cross-country flights to a quick road trip to visit the grandparents, the right gear for on-the-go, sleep and mealtime—plus lots of activities and snacks—can make a big difference when you’re away from home. As Babylist’s Gear Editor and a mom of two, here’s the travel gear I won’t leave home without.

On-the-Go Gear

If there’s one question I hear again and again from parents of toddlers who are planning a trip, it’s this, always asked in a frantic tone: But what do we do about a car seat? And I understand why. Your toddler is out of their infant car seat and into a convertible, but convertible car seats weigh approximately four thousand pounds and don’t exactly scream “easily transport me wherever you need to go!”

The Costco Scenera Next, one of our top rated convertible car seats, is your answer. This travel-friendly convertible clocks in at just about 11 pounds, so while it doesn’t attach to a stroller (but oh, a girl can dream), you can sling it easily over your shoulder when you’re on the go or bungee cord it onto a rolling suitcase if you’re walking through the airport. It’s extremely affordable, easy to install (although I do recommend watching the video first) and one of my most-used toddler travel items ever.

A lightweight stroller is the next must-have item to consider when traveling with a toddler. This one from Joolz rises above the rest in almost every single way. It weighs in at just 13 pounds, so carrying it when your toddler isn’t riding in it is a breeze. The fold—both when you’re opening and closing it—is quick and seamless. It handles like a dream, maneuvering easily in tight spaces and with a good amount of suspension for such a small stroller. And it’s small enough to fit in an overhead bin on an airplane when folded. I’ve tried a LOT of travel strollers, and this is the one I go back to again and again.

Toddler backpacks can be tricky. They’re either too large and unwieldy for your little one to carry, or they’re too small to hold much of anything at all. The backpacks from Pottery Barn Kids strike a perfect balance. They come in several sizes, so you can choose what works best based on your child’s size. (The Mini is great for younger toddlers who are carrying their first-ever backpack, while the Small size is ideal for kids around 43 inches and taller.) There are plenty of pockets and compartments to hold things like books, small toys and a tablet and tons of fun designs.

The other thing I love about PBK backpacks is their durability. Toddlers are tough on their stuff, but they’re no match for these backpacks. I’ve had ours for well over five years and there’s minimal wear and tear; it looks almost as good as the first day I bought it.

Full disclosure: I’ve never used the JetKids Bedbox on a flight myself, but I know many parents who have, which is why it’s earned a spot on my list. If you’re a family who flies frequently with young children in tow, this product is a lifesaver. First and foremost it’s a suitcase, so you can use it for hauling all of your toddler’s stuff. But you can also use it for hauling your actual toddler! It features a ride-on seat where your little one can perch while you pull them along through the airport or train station. And if you’re flying with the Bedbox, that’s where the innovation really kicks in. The suitcase transforms the airplane seat into a kid-sized bed in five easy steps.

One important thing to note here is that you can’t use the Bedbox on all airlines. Some have specific policies against it, while with others it seems to be dependent on the whims of the flight attendant on any given day. Is this ideal? Definitely not. But overall I think it’s a product worth knowing about if you’re a family that flies a lot with your toddler, especially on long-haul trips.

A baby carrier is always something I throw in my bag whenever I’m traveling with my toddler. I’m mostly a stroller mom in real life, but when I’m in travel-mom mode, a baby carrier is the way to go. I’ve carried my toddlers through airports and train stations. They’ve napped in carriers when they are too overstimulated to fall asleep for a nap or when we can’t get back to our hotel or rental house to hit the crib. I’ve even used a carrier at the beach when I simply need a break from wrangling a toddler in the sand.

The Tula is my go-to carrier for older babies and toddlers because of its ergonomic design. It makes carrying a heavier child comfortable thanks to the wide, padded waistband, padded shoulder straps and different seat settings. It fits lots of body types (my husband and I both find it comfy and easy to wear), and I like that I have the option of a front or back carry position.

I truly cannot count how many times this travel potty saved us while we were away from home during the throes of potty training (and for a few years afterward). It occupied a permanent spot in my trunk for years when my older son was potty training, and is soon to make a reappearance now that my younger son will soon begin using the toilet. It’s compact, easy to wipe down and has flaps that hold disposable bags in place. (You can buy bags from OXO that are designed specifically for the potty, or use standard plastic bags.) I’ve also folded up the legs and used it as a potty seat on a regular toilet.

Sleep

Figuring out where your toddler is going to sleep is another stressor for many parents planning a trip. This was a tough category for me to choose a favorite because I have a few go-to travel cribs I recommend often (and love), but ultimately I decided on the Newton because I think it’s the best toddler option out there if you’re traveling with a little one who still sleeps in a crib at home.

The Newton has three things going for it: the mattress, the weight and the size. Made with the same Wovenaire technology used in the brand’s much-loved crib mattress, this travel crib mattress is 100 percent breathable and washable. (It’s also super comfy and GREENGAURD Gold Certified.) The playard weighs in at about 17 pounds, so while it’s not the lightest on the market, it’s still fairly easy to travel with and the weight is for a good cause—which leads me to size, this playard’s third big pro. It’s about two times larger than most other travel cribs, making it ideal for an older toddler who may be sized out of a smaller playard.

And even though you didn’t ask, I’ll share my other two favorite travel cribs: Babybjorn’s Travel Crib Light and the Guava Family Lotus. (I’ve even reviewed the two head-to-head.) Both are smaller than the Newton, but are significantly lighter at about eleven pounds, making them ideal for car, train or airplane travel.

File this one under, “Why didn’t I think of that?” Gone are the days of setting up your travel crib in the hotel bathroom in an attempt to create any semblance of a dark(ish), private(ish) sleep space for your toddler. The Slumber Pod has made sharing a hotel room with my toddler almost enjoyable. This ingenious cover slips right over your playard or travel crib to create a dark, private space so your little one can sleep comfortably—and so you don’t have to “pretend” to go to bed at 7:30. (Though truthfully, that doesn’t sound all that bad.)

The Slumber Pod fits over all standard-size playards and travel cribs. It’s easy to travel with, weighing less than five pounds, and compact when it’s folded down. I also love the fan, which stashes into a built-in zip pocket, and the air vents throughout. And dare I say my toddler sleeps even better with the Slumber Pod than he does at home?

Much like traveling with a kiddo who no longer uses an infant car seat, hitting the road with a toddler who is no longer sleeping in a crib is another head-scratcher for many parents, including myself. This inflatable travel bed is the perfect solution, whether I need it for a night at grandma’s or a week at a rental house where we’re short on extra bedrooms. (Lots of parents report it’s also great for camping. Those parents do not include me, however, so I can’t speak to that.)

The bed is lightweight, super portable and inflates in seconds with the included pump. It’s also perfectly toddler-sized and toddler-friendly—four bumpers surround the mattress and ensure your little one can’t roll off. The mattress fits standard crib sheets and the whole package rolls up into the included travel bag so you can stow it away with the rest of your luggage.

I’m a huge fan of white noise at home and an even bigger fan when we’re away and my kids are sleeping in unfamiliar environments. This portable sound machine is the best of the best. It’s tiny, but it packs a big punch sound-wise. I love clipping it to my stroller for naps on the go or stashing it in any room where my kids are sleeping to drown out outside noise during overnight sleep. The sound machine lasts about eight hours on a full charge, so I usually leave it plugged in overnight so it won’t conk out.

Feeding

Like many things, eating on the go with a toddler can be tricky—and not just because you don’t enjoy having french fries thrown at your head. Toddlers can be fussy about where they sit, and most aren’t ready for an adult quite yet. And lots of booster seats are bulky and not ideal for travel.

The OmniBoost is my on-the-go favorite for a few reasons. It’s versatile and works both on the ground (think beach, pool or camping) or on top of a chair (think dining at the grandparents’ house or out at a restaurant). It folds quickly and compactly into a small drawstring nylon bag. It includes a tray, which I like for easy clean up and outdoor use. And speaking of clean up, the entire seat cover pops off and can be tossed into the washing machine, a must if you’re dealing with a toddler + mealtime.

If you want to check out some other travel-friendly booster options, I also love the Bombol Pop-Up Booster (but it’s expensive) and the Fisher-Price Portable Toddler Booster (but it doesn’t fold).

I can’t remember the last time I left home without this brush and drying rack set. When my kids were younger, I used it for cleaning and drying bottles, nipples and pump parts. And now that they’re a bit older it’s my go-to for scrubbing water bottles and other small items like snack containers and keeping them all contained on the counter while they’re drip drying. It’s affordable, compact and one of the first things I reach for when packing for a trip.

There are two things I look for in a travel-friendly water bottle: no leaks and easy cleaning. This one meets both of those requirements, plus it’s affordable, easy for even younger toddlers to sip from and lightweight.

The Contigo Kids is unique from other toddler water bottles because the valve and straw pop open on the underside of the lid for easy access cleaning. Everything is tethered to the lid so you’ll never lose anything while you’re scrubbing—a beneficial feature when you’re away from home and don’t want to worry about losing small bottle parts. Most importantly, the bottle is completely leakproof, even when the spout is up and it’s flipped upside down.

I don’t always pack dishware when I’m traveling with my toddler, but whenever I remember to toss it in my suitcase, I’m grateful that I did. For a young eater who hasn’t mastered table manners quite yet, a suction plate like this one can make your life a lot easier (and a lot neater) when you’re away from home. Lalo’s plate sticks to almost any surface, which isn’t the case with many other suction plates. The divided sections aren’t too overwhelming for a younger toddler but still hold plenty of food for an older one. And the plate is dishwasher and microwave safe.

If I remember, I also like to pack toddler utensils like the On-The-Go Fork and Spoon Set from Oxo Tot. They’re perfectly sized for little hands and I like that they have their own dedicated carrying case.

I’m a big fan of silicone bigs when I’m at home with my kids, but when we’re on the go, I usually opt for these SuperBibs from Bumpkins since they take up a bit less space. I keep a few rolled up and ready to go in my diaper bag at all times. I love that they’re large and easy to get on and off. They’re also wipeable, so you don’t have to wash them after every use; simply wipe them down or run them under water to clean them off and let them hang dry.

Even if you’re not a germaphobe (which I am most definitely not), it’s worth tossing a few of these disposable placemats into your diaper bag before your next trip. You can use them on airplane trays, extra yucky restaurant tables or wherever else you need a clean surface for your toddler to eat or play. And they’re just as great for keeping germs away as they are for protecting the surface from your toddler (think eating at a rental house where you don’t want to damage or stain a surface). I love that they’re extra sticky—I’ve never had an issue with them coming loose and they can even make cleanup a little easier.

Entertainment

If you’re anything like me, the thought of entertaining your toddler on a trip—especially during a long flight—is the stuff that parenting nightmares are made of. There are lots of tips to keep in mind, but sometimes the best plan of action is simple: a big old bag of stuff filled with all the things. (And all the snacks. Never, ever forget the snacks.) Here are a few of my toddler’s favorites.


Jen LaBracio

Senior Gear Editor

Jen LaBracio is Babylist’s Senior Gear Editor, a role that perfectly combines her love of all things baby gear with her love of (obsessive) research. When she’s not testing out a new high chair or pushing the latest stroller model around her neighborhood, she likes to run, spin, listen to podcasts, read and spend time at the beach. In her past life, she worked for over a decade in children’s publishing. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and their two boys, Will and Ben.

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