Travelling with a toddler is challenging and exciting in almost equal measure - I find the challenging part a little heavier! - but after three return long-haul trips and a few more shorter jaunts with our son in the space of a year (aged 18 months to 2.5 years) we've definitely learned that being prepared and having a few of the best toddler travel essentials can go a long way to helping make journeys easier no matter how short or long. Here you'll find the ultimate packing list of travel gear and essential items for travel with a toddler, from what things to have on the plane through to some travel gadgets and essentials we would never be without for any journey!
Before I go any further if you're looking for some advice on how to survive long-haul travel with a toddler, this is the post for you. Alternatively, if your little one is still a baby, this is a great post to find out some tips for flying with a very young baby (under six months), and you may want to check out these packing tips (and a packing list) for travel with a baby. And if you're going to be travelling by car or road, here are some great road trip activities for kids.
Essential travel gear for travel with a toddler
Right now let's get stuck into this packing list of all the travel gear for toddlers you may find useful for your next journey as a family.
A changing bag/carry-on backpack (anyone can carry!)
If you're travelling with a partner or companion and they have strong feelings about design or carrying a bag that offends their gender (ahem) then do yourself a favour and get the most inoffensive, practical and useful backpack you can. Ours is a black backpack my partner used to use and with its multiple pockets and laptop slot for my laptop and the iPad it's the perfect carry-on changing bag. It's also the one we use every day on our travels and while it doesn't always go with a bikini it is comfortable and practical, two things that I happen to think are very stylish now I'm a mum! I love these backpack changing bags (if you want a specific one made for this purpose) but I also happen to think the ones you get for snowboarding or hiking are pretty cool too. This is very similar to the bag I/we use as our carry-on/changing bag.
If you've got the YoYo BabyZen or a similar pushchair (with a single handle rather than two) I highly recommend getting these wraparound velcro plastic hooks for the handle so you can hang bags or other items in a hurry or rush. They don't carry incredibly heavy things so be careful but I find them really useful when I pick up shopping or just need to put something somewhere while travelling!
If you have no idea what kind of curtains or blinds your accommodation will have and you know your toddler will only sleep well in the dark, this suction-mounted blackout curtain is a life- and sanity saver. It's not super light and does take up some space in your bag but what would you rather, a few more clothes in your bag or a few more hours of sleep!?!?
Best toddler travel items for your carry-on bag
Now before we go any further, have you weighed down that carry-on bag we talked about with baby-wipes? Nope? Well do it now. And throw some in your checked-in luggage too. While I know you can buy baby wipes in most destinations now, if your little one has sensitive skin or there's a certain brand you really like (because let's face it some are as useful as a soaked kitchen towel) then I think it's worth giving The Almighty Wipes a few kilograms of your luggage allowance. I always travel with more wipes than I think I could possibly need (and inevitably get through most of them) and don't think you can't use them for taking your smudged make-up off, having a quick "Irish shower" freshen up or removing that snot stain your son just wiped on your shirt when he gave you a cuddle... (If you're interested, these have been our favourite brand since our son's birth and I always bulk buy to save money.... and also because I always travel with at least four packs!)
While we're talking about keeping things clean (which is the irony of ironies when travelling with a toddler) I love wipe clean bibs. Now my son is older (and should know better) I just have a couple of plastic covered ones like this, but in the past I have used these neoprene ones which you can also rinse with water to get out stains and mess as they dry really quickly. ( I also just saw that there are neoprene ones in smaller sizes too, yay!)
First aid kit
Again I've got to be honest and say I was very late to the first aid kit party (as in, I only really thought about having one after I saw my friend produce the most well-equipped bag to give out a dose of Calpol to MY OWN CHILD) and now I have a little wash bag full of goodies that I take with me most places as well as when travelling (stocked up with extra Calpol and Nurofen). You can buy one already made up with everything you may possibly need, but these are the items I deem essential for first aid for a toddler; thermometer, colourful kids'plasters of varying sizes (for when they want one to show off), blister plasters (when they actually need a plaster because they're harder for a toddler to peel off!), Sudocrem (because it solves nearly every problem from nappy rash to grazes to itching mozzie bites), Paw Paw ointment (shipped in from Australia) because it's a bit more soothing and moisturising than Sudocrem), aforementioned Calpol and Nurofen, paracetamol suppositories (if they can't keep liquids down which thankfully doesn't happen often), a few sterile wipes for cleaning cuts, and very importantly PARACETAMOL AND IBUPROFEN FOR MUM AND DAD!!! And on a side note, if you're planning on having this with you in your carry-on bag, make sure there are no scissors in there, or liquids of more than 100ml.
Here are some more ideas for a good first aid kit for travel with kids.
I also always have a spare foldable shopping bag or tote bag in my carry-on luggage and day bag when out and about (both at home or on my travels). You'd be surprised what your little one may find and want to keep when out and about, but this is also useful to just have in your bag at all times in case you need to do some shopping or for whatever reason you can't re-pack your hand luggage once it's exploded in the foot well of your plane seat (it happens!).
While you may be out of the explosive scrambled egg poo stage (you hope!) you never know when you're going to need a change of clothes. I try to have a new set of clothes for my son while travelling, and if there's enough room, I put in a clean top for me because there are only so many stains a baby wipe can get out. It's up to my partner to bring one for him because he is an adult himself!
While the iPad is King on long journeys, it's definitely worth having a few toys and books in your bag as well. These are some of the toys, books and activities we've used with great success with our toddler during long-haul travel either on a plane or at an airport: Sticker books like this, these mess free colouring pens and colouring book, a simple Duplo car or train (so he can build and race), a small variety of interactive(ish) books (on previous journeys my son loves these), a few crayons and paper, and a few of his favourite cars or trucks. I also recommend keeping these toys and books away from your little one for a week or two before a long journey so the novelty factor keeps them interested, and it doesn't hurt to have a new toy or two (possibly even wrapped up!) for when you are desperate!
Each child is different and you will know best what your little one will eat during a long journey, but there are some healthy(ish), long-lasting and durable snacks that I like to pack both in my carry-on bag and suitcase, just so I know there is something relatively nutritious to eat when we get to our destination. The snacks we like to bring are veggie and fruit pouches (which are also good for quenching a thirst and you're desperate!), some puffy vegetable things or crisps or rice crackers, snack bars like these or these (which I also like to snack on!), and a ton of sultanas!
Resealable plastic bags and clips
While I'm conscious of how much plastic and waste goes into parenting these days, I have found having a couple of resealable plastic bags (like the sandwich style ones) or plastic freezer bags with clips like these are very useful for saving abandoned snacks from the rubbish bin before they're finished or for containing messes that you just don't even want to think about until you've had your first pina colada by the pool.
Other useful items for travel with a toddler
The right travel gear for water fun
If you're heading somewhere warm, the chances are you'll already have packed some swimming stuff for your toddler to splash around in a pool or water fountain. We always pack our own armbands, life vest and/or rubber ring as we want to make sure we've got these. This is a great list of the best floaties and armbands for toddlers.
Kid-friendly mozzie spray
We bought this stuff for our little boy when we were heading to Australia, Singapore and Thailand and it worked a treat as in he didn't get any mozzie bites. In fact, I know for definite that it worked because we took him to France in the summer and didn't put it on and he got eaten alive!! He still has the scars and I still have the guilt.
Travel water bottle and (purification tablets)
We moved over to Dopper bottles about a year ago and it's opened up my eyes to how many places and airports have water fountains. In nearly any destination I trust it when there's a "drinking water" sign next to a tap but if you don't, then I've heard good things about these travel purification tablets. I also find when you travel with a little one and they have their bottle from home, it can encourage them to drink rather than a strange or unusual bottle. (I personally like Dopper bottles because they're colourful, small enough to squeeze in a side pocket, and also you can take the top half off and it acts like a little cup which fascinated my son... for about five seconds.)
Firstly, I'll be honest and say I regularly travel with this but I don't use it nearly as much as I should. Secondly, it does just make me feel better knowing I've got it in my bag. Thirdly, does this make me weird? When we do use it (on long-haul flights because there is nothing fun about washing a kiddo's hands in a plane bathroom) we like this one in this size for travel.
Insulated lunch bag
If you're packing homemade snacks or lunches for the journey (respect to you!) then I would recommend getting a small insulated lunch bag to keep things as fresh as possible for as long as possible. Our friends have this one and it's still going strong after nearly daily use for two years.
Inflatable booster seat
We've not actually invested in one of these for our son as he's quite short for his age so it's not really been needed, we've heard great things about these inflatable booster seats. Again they're light, can be folded up easily for travel and give your little a bit of help when sitting in a chair at a restaurant or even on the plane as they may struggle to see the in-flight entertainment screen.
And if you want to give your little one a travel related present that will also be useful on your travels, here are some great ideas for travel gifts for kids.
Frances M. Thompson
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.