Toddler Travel Essentials: How to Make Family Adventures with a Toddler Full of Fun (and Not Stress!)

Traveling with a toddler can be a daunting task, as they have more varied needs than a baby but are still not able to fully communicate, leading to tantrums, tears and poorly-timed melt-downs. However, embarking on adventures with your toddler and seeing things through their eyes is one of the greatest joys of traveling as a family. With some careful planning and packing, every parent can help prepare their family for a trip full of more fun than stress. From keeping your little one comfortable and entertained during long flights or car rides, to ensuring they have everything they need for a good night's sleep in a new environment, this guide is here to help! Here's our recommendations for toddler travel essentials that every parent should consider packing.

Handling Your Gear:

  1. Traveling with Your Stroller: If you’ll be using your stroller through the airport to keep your toddler contained 😉 make sure you bring a bag to protect it from dirt, moisture and unwanted handling when you gate check it. The J.L. Childress Gate Check Travel Bag for Strollers fits most single and some double strollers, and folds compactly to bring along in your diaper bag/purse or underneath your stroller. If you would rather ditch your stroller and check it as luggage, make sure to use a bag like the J.L. Childress Standard & Dual Stroller Travel Bag to properly protect your stroller (or contact J.L. Childress to make a custom, padded bag!). If checking a stroller as luggage, we recommend considering ride-on luggage (like Trunki or this scooter luggage) that gives your toddler an easier way to traverse through the airport and fits in the overhead bin.
  2. Traveling with Your Car Seat: The safest way for your toddler to travel on a plane is strapped into their own car seat. Once your child is 2 years old, you’re required to buy them a seat on the flight anyway. Through all of our travels, we always felt our toddlers behaved best and were happiest on a flight when in their familiar car seat. A few ways to get your car seat onto the plane…the J.L. Childress Wheelie Car Seat Travel Bag that allows you to wheel your car seat through the airport, then folds compactly to store in the overhead bin. This car seat travel belt is another option if you’re bringing wheeled, carry-on luggage with you.

Sleep is Essential for a Toddler (and their moods!):

  1. Portable Toddler Bed: We are BIG fans of blow-up toddler beds like this one and this one. Your toddler will love having their own special bed that’s just the right size for them, and it’s nice and low to the ground so you don’t have to worry about bumpers for hotel beds, OR for ensuring that your room even has a bed for your toddler. Just don't forget to pack extra sheets and a blanket (and a small pillow if your destination won’t have one).
  2. Blackout Shades: Ensure restful sleep even in bright hotel rooms with reusable or disposable blackout shades. Time changes can really mess with a toddler’s sleep schedule, and blackout shades will definitely help keep them asleep as long as possible. Which kind to select? Depends on how frequent of a traveler you are, and how much space you have when packing.
  3. Portable Sound Machine: Even with toddlers, it’s still important to recreate the sleep environment they’re used to at home when you’re traveling. Help your toddler drift off to sleep with soothing sounds from a portable sound machine like this one, or if you have room pack your Hatch or other similar light/sound machine.
  4. Favorite Stuffy and Blanket: Comfort and security are super important for toddlers, especially as they explore new environments. Make sure their favorite blanket and cuddle buddy/stuffy are close by at all times. They’ll probably save you from a few tantrums along the way 😉
  5. Portable Baby Monitors: Ready to enjoy a little quiet time on your vacation? Toddler nap times are the few moments of relaxation for parents, so make sure you get in YOUR time especially when on vacation. A portable baby monitor like this one allows you to sit outside and get some rays while your toddler gets their z’s…and you can stay within ear shot just in case they wake up earlier than expected.
  6. Favorite (Compact & Light) Books: Again, maintaining your toddler’s routines even when on vacation can really help them feel comfortable in new environments. Pack a few of their favorite books for bedtime/naptime routines, as well as just entertainment throughout the day that are lightweight and compact. If they have a favorite character or movie, consider new books featuring their favorite character(s) for an element of surprise and delight!

Diaper Changes or (Gasp!) Potty Training On-the-Go:

  1. Changing Pad – Reusable and Disposable: We love the J.L. Childress 2-IN-1 Portable Changing Pad for its extra large surface, perfect for a toddler PLUS its pocket for disposable changing pads. When traveling, sometimes we just need a disposable changing pad for quick diaper changes on super-icky, public surfaces, and this Changing Pad gives us both options in one and is large enough for even a 2-3 year old toddler.
  2. Reusable Wet Bags and Disposable Bags: Blow-outs still happen to toddlers, and so do spills and general messiness 😉 Reusable Wet Bags like these are perfect for packing a second set of clothes for your toddler to keep in your diaper bag, and then containing the dirty/wet clothes after you change them. If your toddler is still in diapers, these disposable bags are essential for containing dirty diapers if an appropriate trash can isn’t accessible.
  3. All the Wipes: You can never have too many baby wipes when on the go, especially for curious and messy toddlers. We also recommend traveling with antibacterial wipes to limit spreading germs, as your toddler is bound to touch anything and everything as they explore.  
  4. Sleep Diapers or Pull-Ups: If your toddler is still in diapers or transitioning to potty training, bring along sleep diapers or pull-ups for overnight as well as daily protection. If you’re right in the middle of potty training, do what works best for you knowing the environment you’re adventuring into. Consider if there will be quick toilet access, as toddlers don’t always give much of a warning before they need to use the restroom.   
  5. Portable Potty and Accessories: Based on where you’re heading and how you’re getting there, we recommend a portable potty to help with potty training and make sure your toddler feels comfortable ‘going’ when on-the-go. This seat is super compact and turns any regular toilet into a toddler-sized seat, while this one has multiple usage occasions for all types of adventures. These can even be used at home too!

Eating on the Go = Snacks are LIFE!

  1. Water Cup: Choose a spill-proof water cup to keep your toddler hydrated during your adventures, which is especially important to keep them ‘regular’ with changes in temperatures, altitudes, etc. We like this one, but there are tons of great options (insulated water bottles are great for warm weather destinations).
  2. Snack Cup and Snack-tainment Container: Pack snacks in spill-proof containers like these snack cups, and if your toddler still likes to throw things when in a stroller consider a strap like these to make sure that doesn’t happen. You’ve probably already heard of snackleboxes, i.e. the snack-and-entertainment trend that toddlers love, especially when traveling. This one is great for young toddlers, and this one gives you a little more space for treats. We also recommend bringing along an insulated bag with ice pack to try and keep some fresh, healthy food options available during your travels especially once you’ve reached your destination. However, during flights and long car rides we are firm believers in offering up those once-in-a-blue-moon snacks and treats your toddler loves, to give you a little more support during challenging moments 😉  
  3. Portable High Chair: Depending on how you’re traveling and what’s available at your final destination, we recommend packing a fabric or folding portable high chair to ensure your toddler is nicely contained for meals. Restaurants usually have high chairs but they’re not guaranteed. Hotel rooms and rented rooms (i.e. AirBnB’s and VRBO’s) don’t usually have high chairs unless you’ve rented one in advance. A small investment in something like this fabric high chair or this folding one are well worth the price.
  4. Disposable High Chair Covers and Placemats: For on-the-go meals at a restaurant, protecting from germs AND keeping your toddler entertained are essential. These J.L. Childress Disposable High Chair Covers fit all restaurant style high chairs and allow you to throw away messes after use. The ColorMe Disposable Placemats come in 3 different patterns (and Disney patterns too!) and offer a colorable, water-proof, tear-resistant surface for eating, playing and coloring that your toddler will LOVE!

Keeping Your Toddler Entertained = Stress-Free Travel! (well…almost)

  1. Travel Activity Tray & Tablet Holder: Keep your toddler entertained during both flights and car rides with the J.L. Childress 3-IN-1 Travel Tray & Tablet Holder (check out these Disney versions too…Princess, Toy Story, Cars and Stitch). This Tray is a life-saver for parents of toddlers! It offers a clean surface for your toddler to play and eat on when flying, instead of a germy seat tray. If your toddler is sitting in their car seat on a plane, they may not even be able to reach the seat tray so this Tray is even more essential. The raised edges keep snacks, toys, markers and more from falling onto the ground. During car rides, it’s the perfect tray for snacks and meals on-the-go. Flip it over and use the tablet side for movies or their favorite show. The Tray attaches to the back of an airplane seat or car headrest, keeping the tablet far enough away from little hands AND a nice distance for their eyes. We’ve been using this tray for travels with our kids from ages 1 to 9 and still consider it a must-have!
  2. Tablet and Earphones: Traveling with your toddler is the perfect time to give in to little more screen time than normal 😉 Make sure to download kid-friendly apps/games as well as movies and TV shows prior to leaving, and don't forget comfortable headphones as your seat neighbors or fellow car-passengers won’t all want to listen to CocoMelon or Bluey for hours (well, maybe Bluey).
  3. On-the-Go Activities Galore! We swear by the following list of portable activities for toddlers to little kids. These are compact to easily travel with, and double as activities when dining out as well. We recommend stocking up before every family adventure, then saving these for JUST when you travel so your toddler will look forward to their special travel activities.  
    1. Melissa & Doug Reusable Puffy Sticker Books
    2. Melissa & Doug Water Wow and Sticker Wow
    3. WikkiStix
    4. ColorWonder or Imagine Ink Coloring Activities
    5. Melissa & Doug Make-a-Face Reusable Stickers
    6. Doodleboard
    7. Magnetic Play Set 
    8. Dollar-Store Toy Wrapped in Lots of Layers of Wrapping Paper
    9. Learning-Style Activity Books: As your toddler gets older, introduce activity books like look-and-find, word search, more advanced sticker books and learning activity books.

Toddlers are full of wonder…and emotions 😊 The above list is meant to help and inspire you as you plan your family’s next adventure. Creating a list for your first adventure? We recommend saving that list to use on your second adventure to already be a step-ahead the next time you pack.

When traveling with your toddler, remember to plan ahead, stay flexible, and most importantly, cherish the precious moments spent exploring new destinations with your little one. Travel Happy!