Two Little Pandas
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Amy Martin

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Looking to protect your car seat on your next big trip? We’ve found the best car seat bags out there to keep your car seat clean and safe while in luggage handlers’ control. Because no one wants to start their vacation with a dirty, wet, or broken car seat!

Checking vs Taking Car Seat on the Plane

Car seats are huge, heavy, and cumbersome. But they are part of the deal when it comes to traveling with babies, toddlers, and younger kids. So you gotta find some way to get them to your destination.

You can either rent them at your destination from a company like Baby’s Away (we wouldn’t recommend renting from the car rental company- quality is usually not great), bring them with you ON the airplane, or check them.

Why you'd want to bring the car seat ON the plane

For many families, having your kiddo in a car seat on the plane works out wonderfully. The FAA recommends small children ride in a car seat or CARES harness on the plane. It is the safest way for your child to fly. And it might be a comfortable and familiar resting place for your babe, making the flight easier for your AND your child.

Additionally, car seat experts recommend only checking the car seat in the box it came in to adequately protect it as car seats can be damaged in a way that is not visible.

And as a reminder, when bringing your car seat on the plane, first check to make sure your car seat is FAA approved (the sticker on the side will say that it is approved for use on airplanes), and make sure you have a seat in which to install it. In other words, you cannot bring a car seat for a lap baby, unless, for some reason, you have access to an open seat.

And also, don’t forget that you will need to lug said car seat through the airport. So you MIGHT still want a fantastic travel car seat bag, or this car seat travel cart to make that journey through the airport just a little bit easier!

Why you'd want to check your car seat

For some children, car seats are NOT a favorite (despite parent’s best attempts to make them fun and comfortable). So the idea of trying to get your baby or toddler to ride in this seat they hate on a flight full of strangers who are already giving you a judgmental eye waiting for the screams to begin does NOT sound like a lot of fun.

Additionally, bringing your car seat on the plane means GETTING your car seat through the airport. If you are traveling with multiple small children, and/or with only one adult, that might be impossible.

Airplanes are actually incredibly safe, when compared to car travel, so going without a car seat is a (small) risk many families (including mine) feel ok about.

Plus, for all US based airlines, baby items, such as car seats, actually check for FREE!

Options for Checking a car seat

If you’ve decided to check your car seat, you have a couple of options on HOW exactly you check it. No matter how you check it, make sure you let the airline know that it is a car seat. Most airlines will allow you to check your car seat for free, so it’s important that they know it is a car seat.

  1. At many major airports, your airline may offer a curbside check in service. They are usually free, but a tip is expected. Look for your airline’s kiosk outside of the airport, in the drop off area. You can drop your hefty car seat bag RIGHT there with extremely minimal lugging around. Curbside check in is a great option for families with kids who might have a TON of luggage, including huge, heavy car seats.
  2. Check your car seat at the counter. This is the most common way to check in any luggage. Once you are checked into your flight, head on over and drop off your car seat before you head through security. It’s so wonderful to lighten the load before waiting in line for security!
  3. Your last chance to check – gate checking. If you prefer to keep that car seat close through the airport, and pick it up RIGHT after your land, minimizing the time your seat is in the hands of luggage handlers, gate checking might be a good option for you. BUT that means carrying the car seat through the airport all the way to your gate. And waiting in the jetway, while everyone is de-boarding the plane, then hauling it back out through the airport.

Why you Need A Protective Bag

Luggage doesn't always get super gentle treatment

Checking your car seat can be super convenient, but there are some concerns. In fact, some of the car seat experts recommend that the car seat ONLY be packed in the box it came in for transport.

But because you probably don’t have the box it came in, and even if you did, putting all the little packing pieces back into place every time sounds like a puzzle I would NOT enjoy doing, a protective bag is the next best thing.

We all know how our luggage gets treated once it’s checked. And treatment of car seats is no different. They can get rained on, scratched, scuffed, or tossed. You definitely don’t want to find your car seat destroyed once you reach your destination. Protect it as best you can with an abrasion resistant, water resistant, padded bag.

What We Were Looking For

While evaluating the best travel car seat bags, we had a few criteria in mind. First, the bag needs to protect your car seat. Secondly, it needs to be easy to carry. Also, we like when the bag can be used for a variety of different car seats AND be budget-friendly (or at least worth the extra money, if the price is higher).

Protect Your Car Seat

Airplane luggage goes through a lot between when you check it, and when you pick it up. It’ll go down conveyer belts, tossed into the pile of luggage, left outside in the rain, dragged on the ground in the dirt, or who knows what else.

You’ll want a car seat bag that can provide as much protection as possible.

A sturdy bag that keeps the car seat covered, preventing snags and dirt is the minimum we’d want. We prefer a bag with a reasonable amount of padding as well. Perhaps even a bit of extra space you can sneak in a bit of extra padding for more protection.

(In fact, we often travel with this awesome Pack n Play Mattress topper, to use on rental or borrowed Pack n Plays- my boys won’t sleep on the regular Pack N Play Mattress. It fits perfectly in the back of our car seat travel bag and provides extra car seat protection for the journey).

Easy to Carry

A car seat is heavy, odd shaped, and overall awkward to carry. So when purchasing a travel car seat bag, we expect the bag to make things easier. The specifics on how that is done kinda depends on your specific situation (Do you already HAVE a backpack, or will you be rolling a suitcase? Do you have a lightweight car seat or a tank of a car seat?).

So we considered it all- backpack straps, wheels, big carry handle, or a combination- just as long as the bag made our lives easier when transporting a car seat.

Versatile

Very few families wind up using the same car seat from birth until they are done with car seats.

(But we LOVE that that is an option with this very cool Britax and this amazing Graco car seat).

So we love car seat bags that work for every car seat you’ll wind up purchasing. Travel items, like a travel car seat bag, just aren’t going to get a TON of use for most families. And they don’t expire like a car seat, so we prefer to just buy ONE and use it forever, even passing it on to younger children, or to a friend when you no longer need it.

Value

No one wants to overpay for their gear. So, though we always look for quality, we make sure we balance quality against price. We were looking for a bag that’ll last, keep your gear safe, but WON’T cost an arm and a leg.

Top Picks

This car seat has it all. It’s roomy, and has a huge zippered opening, so it easily fits tons of different styles and brands of car seats. It’s fully padded, and water resistant to protect your car seat. And the padded backpack straps make it easy to carry (or at least as easy as it CAN be when you are carrying a car seat). We’ve used this car seat bag for years and taken it on tons and tons of trips, and it’s still in great condition. It’s been a lifesaver for us. It’s worked for all the different car seats we’ve used over the years. For my family, the backpack style bag is the most convenient. It keeps our hands free for catching rogue kids, pushing a stroller, or pushing a roller bag. Plus, this bag is budget friendly, especially considering how durable this product is. And, if you are a Disney fan, check out their super cute Mickey Mouse Ultimate Backpack!
Our favorite car seat travel bag- JR Childress Ultimate Backpack

Pros

Cons

I love the JR Childress Backpack SO much, I had to include the wheelie version because it provides another amazing option for families.

It has many of the same features as the backpack version, including durable padded fabric, a wide opening and enough space for nearly all car seats. But for families with heavy car seats, back problems, or who just prefer not to lug a giant car seat on their backs, the Wheelie is a great way to safely transport your car seat.

The wheels are sturdy and durable, and roll smoothly and easily. It can be easily attached to other roller bags with a simple strap, like this making the airport manageable even for families with lots of luggage.

Pros

Cons

This fantastic car seat travel bag features an adjustable waist strap, adjustable, padded backpack straps, a strap to keep your car seat in place, and extra padding to keep the seat safe, and side mesh pockets. Construction quality is high, with a smooth, wide opening zipper and tough, durable fabric.

Neat freaks will love that it’s designed such that it can be folded down and strapped together small and neatly when not in use.

Pros

Cons

Brand-Specific Car Seat Bags

Some car seat brands manufacture car seat bags specific to their brand of car seats. While we do prefer versatility, sometimes a brand-specific car seat makes sense.

For example, some families are pretty loyal to their preferred car seat brand. So if you are ALWAYS going to buy Britax car seats, then you aren’t really limiting yourself by buying a Britax bag. Also, some brands, like Diono, have a pretty different design than the standard car seat. So you might be happier with the fit you’ll get with a Diono-specific car seat bag rather than a one-size-fits-all bag.

However, we haven’t found that all brand-specific car seats are worth purchasing. These are the ones we do recommend, if brand-specific is for you.

This car seat bag features both backpack straps AND wheels. So you can pick your favorite mode, or switch between as needed. It also has side carry handles for quick transfers. Britax car seats are pretty standard, and the bag is designed to carry all Britax models, so you can bet it’ll fit basically every other car seat out there. So if you are a Britax owner, but not SURE you’ll always buy Britax, this bag is still a great fit!

The bag has comfortable, padded backpack straps. The fabric is durable and water resistant, but doesn’t have a lot of padding to it.

Pros

Cons

Diono car seats are shaped and designed a bit differently than a ‘standard’ car seat. So the Diono-specific travel bag will give you a snugger, better fit than a standard bag.

We like that the Diono bag is a bit slimmer so it’s easier to move around when wearing it. Plus, it’s waterproof and has reinforced seams to make it super durable. It has adjustable, slightly padded shoulder straps, to make carrying your car seat as comfortable as possible. Or adjust the straps to carry as a duffle. There is an additional padded side carry handle for quick transports as well.

Pros

Cons

If you are looking for a super budget-friendly car seat, we’ve got you covered.  This bag will keep the dirt and rain off of your car seat, and prevent your car seat from catching on something that rips and road rash. This bag isn’t padded, but perhaps you are thinking that little bit of padding in the other bags won’t make a huge difference anyway (and maybe you are on to something). 

This bag has a simple, durable design.  Just a cinch-top bag with simple backpack straps, and a number of other carry straps all over the bag for alternate carry options.  The fabric is water resistant, and durable with reinforcements on all the handles.  

Pros

Cons

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When traveling with toddlers, you need excellent travel toys, and what feels like a mountain of toddler gear. So finding great, ultra-portable gear is key! And finding a super-portable but still-comfortable-for-your-toddler travel bed is a particularly tricky piece of travel gear. But luckily, there are some really great options out there that you AND your toddler will love!

What We Were Looking For

When looking for great options for a toddler, or even a kid, travel bed, we are looking for a UNICORN.  We wanted something small and portable, but also comfortable. Something high quality that can be used for a growing child (and even passed on to the next child!), but budget friendly.  

Portable

Toddler travel beds are tough because well.. beds are big!

Ideally, a travel bed should be small enough that it can be packed in a suitcase for a flight. Our top choices are beds that fold up small, and are lightweight- less than 10lbs. We figure that you’ll want a travel bed that works in ALL situations so you won’t have to buy more than one.

However, we recognize that the options are limited when it comes to super portable, small kid and toddler travel beds. So, we’ve also included some more road-trip friendly options. These still fold up small, but maybe not QUITE small enough to be stuffed into a suitcase.

Comfortable

Toddler sleep is tricky, so you want to find something that feels as comfortable and familiar as possible. Because no one wants to spend their vacation battling their toddler on sleep!

We selected beds that are comfortable, and won’t feel TOO foreign for your little guy or gal. It can be hard for anyone to fall asleep on vacation, but particularly hard for younger travelers. A comfortable bed that mimics their setup at home will make sleep come more easily for your picky sleeper. Although it’s impossible to make things really feel like home, we have found a few cozy sleep solutions that will be close enough to minimize the stress.

Durability/Size Range

We HATE spending hard-earned money on products that just break a week later. So we always recommend the most durable products we can find, especially when it comes to toddler gear. Because if your toddlers are anything like mine, they’ll put their gear through the wringer.

We also prefer items that a growing child can continue to use as long as possible. No one wants to buy a travel bed EVERY time they go on vacation because their child has outgrown the one from the last vacation. We love gear that lasts and lasts.

Value

We love finding great, low cost items for families because basically EVERY family would love to save a little money. However, sometimes we find that, for the right gear, spending a little extra can end up saving you in the long run. Perhaps because the gear lasts a little longer and you won’t end up buying a second item. Or perhaps because it’ll end up being something you love and use a ton!

We’ve selected items that we think are a good balance of quality and price.

One Strategy: Use What's Available

The easiest choice for travel beds for babies and toddlers is whatever you can find at your destination! If you can totally avoid hauling a travel-bed and pack a little lighter, you won’t regret it!

Hotels or Vacation Rentals

Hotels often have pack’n plays or cribs available to borrow during your stay. However, they typically operate on a first-come-first-served basis. So that can be a LITTLE scary if you really need somewhere for your child to sleep. I am not a risk taker, so I always call or email ahead and do anything I can to ensure that we will get one ahead of time.

Vacation rentals often have cribs or pack’n plays available as well. Check the listing, or ask the host. Certainly not EVERY vacation rental will have one, but it’s worth checking.

Friends and Family

If you are visiting friends or family, ask around. You might be surprised how many people have a pack’n play floating around. You MIGHT ask for a picture ahead of time just in case. My mom has one from 20+ years ago, and it looks VERY different from pack’n plays made more recently since safety regulations have changed substantially.

Renting Gear

Did you know you can RENT toddler gear? Companies like Baby’s Away rent out baby and kid gear for traveling families. They often have cribs, strollers, high chairs, and all the little things you miss when you are away from home. And often, you can get all these items delivered to your hotel!

One note- these services are typically only available in bigger cities or prime vacation locations. But they often have really reasonable prices and can be a huge space saver for families with kids!

Best Travel Beds for Babies and Young Toddlers

Finding sleep solutions for wild and crazy younger toddlers can be TOUGH. They are strong, opinionated, and have a hard time adjusting to big changes, like falling asleep in not exactly perfect situations (unless their parent DOESN’T want them to fall asleep, then they totally will).

We looked for travel beds that would feel like their crib at home, or could be used frequently enough that they start to feel comfortable.

This amazing tent-style travel bed pops open for a SUPER simple setup. It sets up in seconds! The mattress is self inflating- you just have to open the valve. The tent itself pops open in an instant. It also has a zip-in sheet that can be unzipped and easily machine washed.

Because it’s so easy to toss and go, we know you’ll end up using it all the time- visiting friends, at the park, or where ever your toddler needs a nap or a quiet moment. It works great indoors and outdoors. And the more you use it, the more familiar and comfortable it’ll feel for your toddler.

Gloo is safety tested for babies as young as 6 months. Joovy has designed this tent such that the mattress is actually in a pocket under the tent, so a baby or toddler never touches the mattress.

It comes in two sizes; regular and large. We prefer the large size because it’ll last longer. The large size is 51″ long and 28″ wide, making it right about the same length and width as a standard crib, though the oval shape will make it a bit smaller. Overall, they give your child plenty of space to grow. The regular is a bit smaller at 44″ long.

The Gloo is super lightweight at only 3.9 lbs for the regular and 5.5 lbs for the large. The regular folds up to about a 14″ circle x 5″ wide and the large folds up to about an 18″ circle and 4.5″ wide.

The air mattress on the bottom of this portable bed has enough padding for your little guy or gal to sleep comfortably. And the zip-on sheet set helps you keep everything clean.

Pros

Cons

The Peapod Plus is a LOT like the Gloo. Just like the Gloo, the Peapod pops open making setup a snap, and it works well for indoors and outdoors. And, like the Gloo, its so portable that we know you’ll end up taking it everywhere with you, so your toddler will become super comfortable and familiar with it, making sleep easier every time.

The Peapod comes in two sizes, the standard, and the Plus. The Plus model is bigger, and has more features. We’ll be focusing on the Plus because we prefer that model.

The Peapod Plus is 52.5″ in length, and 34″ wide when setup, making it wider at the widest point, than a standard crib, and about the same length. It’s also slightly longer and wider than the Gloo.

Additionally, the Peapod plus weights in at only 3.65 lbs, making it SUPER lightweight and portable, and 1.85 lbs lighter than the large Gloo. It folds up small to a 19″ circle about 3.5″ in height.

The Peapod features a lightweight mattress, which snaps into the exterior of the travel tent, so baby will not come in direct contact with the mattress. So you don’t need to worry about deflating and inflating. In fact, the mattress can remain clipped to the tent even when you fold it up. One problem is that the Peapod does not come with any kind of washable sheet, and you really can’t add one since there is nothing to tuck it around and the bottom is super slippery. So cleaning up this travel tent can be a bit difficult.

According to the manufacturer, this travel tent is safe for age 1 to 5, so you’ll definitely get a lot of use out of this product.

Pros

Cons

Comparing Gloo Large to Peapod Plus

Because the Joovy Gloo and the Peapod Plus are SO similar, we created this chart to help you understand the differences and determine which one is right for you.

Gloo

Peapod

The Lotus Travel crib is NOT your standard Pack’n Play. Weighing in at only 13 lbs, the Lotus is less than half the weight of many others and with tons of extra features. Plus, the Lotus packs in to a smaller backpack style case, making it much more portable than a standard play yard. In fact, the backpack case is only 24″ x 8″ x 12″ (whereas a Pack’n Play is about 40″ x 10″ x 10″ folded up).

Set up of the Lotus is quick and easy. Just pull out all 4 legs and snap to lock. The mattress is thin, but still a big improvement over the standard play yard mattress.

The Lotus also has a zippered side, which is SUCH a handy feature. No more breaking your back, or tipping over as you attempt to GENTLY place your sleeping child in the bottom of the play yard. Or, if you child has a hard time falling asleep, mom or dad can lie on the ground, or partially in the Lotus to help.

Plus, you can leave the Lotus zippered side open while just out playing so your baby or toddler can climb in and out as needed.

And the Lotus rests on the ground, so there IS no weight limit, unlike most play yards. Your child can continue to safely use this travel crib as long as they can fit! The mattress is 41″ long, so we don’t expect your 5 year old will be sleeping in there, but you’ll definitely get plenty of use in the baby and toddler years.

Pros

Cons

Older Toddlers and Kids

These great kid-sized air mattresses are perfect for little kids. They have bed rails to keep small kids who roll all over the place contained, and a way to tuck in the sheet so that it won’t constantly pop off, as they will on other air mattresses. And Shrunks includes an electric pump, inside the carrying bag, so you won’t ever forget the pump (eek- THAT is not fun).

 They come in two sizes; toddler, and twin/family. The toddler size has a total length of 60″ long when inflated, and the inner mattress is the same size as a standard crib mattress, so crib sheets will fit and tuck in perfectly. It is a bit heavy at 18.7 lbs, and 16″ x 7″ x 7″ folded up, making it more of a road trip travel bed, and not as well suited for trips where you’ll be taking a flight. Also, note that this bed has plenty of little cracks and crevasses, so it’s not suitable for children under about 2.

The Shrunks Family Travel Bed is quite a bit larger at 79″ long, but even heavier at 26 lbs. We love that it’s big enough for even big kids, while still having the bed rail to keep younger kids from falling onto the floor.  The manufacturer recommends 6 years and up for the family bed, but there are no safety concerns with allowing your smaller child to sleep in the bigger bed. 

Pros

Cons

This kids air mattress is simple and perfect. At 62″ long and about 4 lbs, they are light but large enough to work for kids as they grow. It comes in fun, bright colors, and the price is GREAT.

The manufacturer did not provide ‘official’ folded up dimensions, but I measured about 9″ x 12″ x 3.5″ folded.

Even though it doesn’t come with any kind of bumper or bed rail, we felt comfortable having our younger kids sleep on it because it’s so close to the ground that, even if they fell off, we weren’t worried about them getting hurt. In fact, one child has rolled off and didn’t even wake up.

We also love that it is sturdy enough for kids. Our kids have jumped on these mattresses a million times, even from high up, and not one leak yet!

This mattress also doesn’t come with it’s own pump. We have tons of those little pumps lying around, so it’s no big deal for us, BUT if you don’t, it can make this not QUITE as budget friendly.

Pros

Cons

Even if you have a bed available for your toddler, you may be hesitant to allow them to sleep on it after witnessing the wild nighttime gymnastics moves they are performing on the reg. Sometimes those hotel beds are HIGH, and you definitely don’t want your kiddo falling off.

But the Shrunks inflatlable bed rails really work! Place the bedrails under the sheet, then be sure to tuck the sheet (if you can’t tuck it securely, wrap it around the bed rail to keep it in place). They stay in place, and are high enough to keep your child in bed.

In fact, these bed rails are what my boys use MOST of the time when we travel. We LOVE them!

They fold up small to about 8″ x 5″ x 2.5in, and two weight only about 1.5 lbs. Shrunks provides a carrying bag, and a foot pump, but it’s really not necessary. They are small and can easily and quickly be blown up with only your breath.

Pros

Cons

A kid-sized cot can be a great option for many families. It comes in two sizes; toddler size is 48″ long, and the extra long size is about 54″ long. I prefer the the extra long because you’ll be able to use it longer, but it’s not so large that it’ll feel TOO big for your toddler.

It’s lightweight, at 7.7 lbs and super easy to set up- just pull the ends apart and the bed is ready to go! And it even comes with a custom fitted sheet.

I was concerned that a toddler would roll right off, but the middle dips down enough that it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Plus, it’s pretty low to the ground, so even if your toddler did roll off, it likely would be no big deal.

The canvas is thick and heavy duty, but could use a little extra padding. We’d recommend asking the hotel front desk for an extra blanket for a little padding underneath your child.

Pros

Cons

Wilkin makes the CUTEST high quality kids stuff (we love their backpacks!), and this nap mat is no exception. They have several super adorable prints, and the material is soft and plush, as advertised. Many of the nap mat prints even coordinate with lunch boxes, backpacks, pencil cases, and more!

This nap mat has a padded bottom mat, and a build-in blanket. Note that the pillow portion of the mat is really a sleeve for folding up the nap mat, so it doesn’t really function as a pillow on it’s own. So, if your toddler needs one, you will need to bring one separately. The nap mat is 57″ long and 20″ wide, so toddlers and younger children will be able to use this mat.

The nap mat folds up into the pillow portion, and weighs in at about 3.8 lbs. The manufacturer did not provide ‘official’ folded up dimensions but my measurement is about 20″ x 15″ x 5″. So even though it’s a bit large, it’s quite lightweight, and it is squishy and can be packed into a suitcase fairly easily.

Pros

Cons

When flying with babies, toddlers, or preschoolers, a great bag-of-fun can make all the difference in the world! No one wants a cranky, bored child on the plane, but picking the right activities and toys can be quite a challenge. We have tons of great ideas for toys so you’ll have a (mostly) tear-free flight with your 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5-year-old!

In our opinion, the best toys for the airplane are small enough to easily fit into your carry on bag, don’t have a ton of tiny pieces that will get lost, and require engagement and concentration (rather than passive play) so your child will get lost in play at least for a few moments.

Also, while we did group these items by the age we thought were BEST for each toy, we love toys that babies and kids can play with for years. Many of these toys are perfect for a number of different ages, and will get years of play. In fact, many are on year 2 or 3 of play in our family. So check out all these excellent travel toys for your baby, toddler, or preschooler. We know you’ll find a few your child will LOVE!

Babies

Babies are such a wildcard on the plane. They could sleep the whole time and not need a thing from their caregivers. OR the environment could be way too exciting for sleep, and want to play and engage with their parent the whole time.

The good news is babies aren’t as likely to get bored of a toy as quickly as toddlers or preschoolers. So you won’t necessarily have to bring a million toys, or buy a bunch of new toys just for the flight. But having a few great toys can really help keep them going on a rough day.

Toys for Infants

The tiniest babies don’t need many toys. But a few things can certainly make the flight a bit easier for both parent and baby.

Sarah’s Silks Playsilks: These simple silks are so wonderful! They are light, soft, and super colorful. Your infant can grip them, wave them around, use them for peek-a-boo, or whatever. And the best part about these silks is that your child will play with them for YEARS. They are still a huge hit for my 4.5-year-olds.

Taggies Crinkle Me: If your baby loves the silky tag of every toy, or loves things that make a sound, this toy is for them. It’s a simple, sweet toy perfect for even the youngest babies.

Fruit Teether: These little fruit teethers are cute, fun, and the perfect size and shape for babies who love putting everything in their mouth (or is that ALL babies?).

Bolli Rattle Ball: Your baby will love all the textures and colors of this fun toy. It gently rattles, stretches, squeezes, and moves, making it super interesting for your baby.

Banana toothbrush: The banana teether is always a favorite for babies and parents. It’s cute and funny, and babies seem to love the way it feels in their mouths.

Sophie the Giraffe: This toy is another favorite. All babies, and all parents love this adorable toy. The unique shapes on her ears and feet are extra fun for baby to chew, and the soft sound keeps baby interested as well.

Freddie the Firefly: This sensory toy has everything your baby loves, including mirrors, teethers, every kinds of gentle sounds, and tons of textures. It’s a bit large for the plane, but because it does SO much, we think it’s still a great choice for your baby.

Lamaze Captain Calamari: Similar to Freddie (above), the Captain Calamari toy has tons of features, including tons of textures, gentle noise makers, and a mirror. It’s sure to hold your baby’s attention.

Lovey: A soft lovey, like this adorable Jellycat one, might help your baby relax and rest (or maybe even finally fall asleep!). This one is so soft, you and baby will love holding it!

Soft Baby Book: This sweet book has lots of little flaps and textures for your baby to touch and grab, and the bold colors are totally eyecatching!

Toys for 1 year old

As your baby grows a little bigger, a little stronger, and a little more opinionated, keeping them entertained on the plan becomes a LITTLE bit tougher. But the good news is your bigger baby will have the coordination and motor skills to play with a LOT more fun toys. Here are a few of our favorite airplane-friendly toys for your 1-year-old.

pipSquigz: These toys are amazing. The are bright and colorful, big enough for tiny hands to manipulate. They stick together and pull apart with a fun popping sound, and they even have a rattle inside. The suction will stick to the window or a screen if there is one onboard. And it’ll be a great toy at your destination!

pipSquigz Ringlets: The pipsquigz Ringlets are similar to the pipSquigz, with the suction that stick together and POP apart, but these are shaped very differently and can be popped into rings and ring chains. Each has a different texture and bright color. We love them!

Whirly Squigz: Ok I have to admit I love every kind of Squigz. But the Whirly Squigz are particularly amazing. The suction works great on the airplane window (and of course on a window at your destination), and the spinning is smooth and easy, and SO fun for your little guy.

Textured Books: We love the “That’s Not My..” Books because they have a fun texture on each page, plus they are super silly and a huge hit for babies and toddlers.

Rattle & Sing Puppy: This adorable little rattle sings songs, makes puppy noises, lights up, rattles, and has moveable rings. It’s a totally mesmerizing, fun toy your baby will love!

HABA Rainbow Balls Toy: This beautiful, brightly colored toy will grab your baby’s attention and keep it. We love simple toys that your child will continue to come up with new ways to play with as they grow, and this one is perfect!

Post-its: This one MIGHT seem like an odd recommendation, but hear us out. Your older baby will be able to peel off a zillion little sheets and stick them all around them on the window, seatback, and tray table and will have a BLAST. And they are relatively easy to clean up, especially compared to the entertainment level for your baby.

Soft Cars: These cars are soft enough to squish into your carry on, and fun to drive and push around the airport, the tray table, and the airplane windows.

Toddlers

Flying with toddlers is no joke. Many are not yet able to understand the purpose of the flight (to go somewhere fun), or the length of time they can expect to be on the plane, making the whole process frustrating for them. But, with a superb carry-on, they’ll be able to distract themselves from the small space and loud noise with some creative play. And a distracted toddler makes the flight SO much more tolerable for your toddler AND yourself!

2-Year-Old

Terrible two’s don’t have to be so terrible on the airplane with some of these super fun toys. Your young toddler will certainly struggle with boredom on the plane, but will love having a special time to play with you. We know these toys will help keep your 2-year-old happy and occupied on the airplane.

Triangle Crayons: These crayons won’t roll off the tray table, so no frustration over lost crayons. We love the Crayola brand because they are the brightest, most brilliant colors.

Coloring Books: Use your triangular crayons on a brand new coloring book filled with images your child will be excited to color. And don’t forget a few blank sheets of paper for creative drawing as well!

Buckle Toy: These toys are so great for toddlers. My kids loved them SO much- they’d work on the buckles and zipper for 30+ minutes at a time. Buckle toys make a ton of different plush toys, so you’ll be able to find one your toddler will love! They will take up a bit of space, but it’ll squish in, and we think it’s worth the space required.

Slide Open Books: Toddlers love books with something they can DO, and these slide-and-find books deliver. The slides are tricky enough to be a challenge for little hands, but not so hard to be frustrating. Plus, there are little clues for things to find on each page, which will keep your toddler engaged and excited.

Squigz: These fun toys are really great for all ages (including adults). They stick together and pop apart, and can be used to build and create, or just to pop and enjoy the sound. They’ll stick to the window or to a screen, or even a book. And, of course, they’ll be a huge hit at your destination (or just at home!).

Finger Puppets: Use them for silly songs, pretend play, or tickle attacks. No matter how you play, your toddler will think these cute little puppets are hilariously adorable.

Stringy Ball: These balls can be tossed, stretched, squeezed, or whatever. Because they don’t bounce or anything, your child will enjoy playing with them on the plane without them bouncing away. Ask your flight attendant for an extra water cup to catch this ball, or for any game you can invent.

Sticker Books: These National Geographic Sticker books are the best out there, in our opinion. They have over 1000 really fun stickers, and tons of brightly colored, informational pages IF your child is interested. They will last hours, EVEN for your sticker-obsessed toddler. And peeling those stickers is great for your toddler’s fine motor skills.

Monster Trucks: It seems like there wouldn’t be enough space on the airplane to play with a monster truck, but my toddlers love them and always found a way. Monster trucks are a favorite for many toddlers, and definitely a toy to consider for the airplane ride.

Window Clings: Your toddler will love decorating the window with these fun window clings. They are easy to move around, and reusable- plus they are totally cute!

3 Year Old

By age 3, you may be able to trust your child with slightly messier, slightly more complex toys finally! These toys are sure to be a hit for the airplane ride with your 3-year-old!

WaterWow: These little books are perfect for no-mess fun on the go! They are totally reusable and quite satisfying for your toddler. You will need some water to fill the little water pen every once in a while, so make sure you are prepared.

Magnatab: Draw pictures, geometric shapes, or just click the little silver balls up and down using the stylus for some relaxing entertainment. The Magnatab is magnificent in it’s simplicity and it’ll be a top choice for your toddler.

Cheese Toy: Toddlers love testing out their fine motor skills, and this toy is perfect to help them do that. Plus, figuring out how to un-lace the cheese is quite a puzzle.

Tegu Blocks: These wooden, magnetic blocks are amazing. They are SO beautiful, and tons of fun. Kids will learn about magnets and physics as they build and experiment. And, because they all stick together, it’s easy to keep track of them. Buy a bigger set and pick out a few to bring along with you on the plane or check out the travel set with it’s own carrying case.

Pom Poms with Kids Tweezers: Use kid’s tweezers to pick up craft pom poms, little toys, or whatever for an inexpensive and fun entertainment idea. You can bring some plastic easter eggs, or use an airplane plastic cup for sorting or moving pom poms from place to place.

A great book or two: The airplane is a great time to sit and read a favorite book with your child. A few of our favorites are the Narwhal and Jelly Books (HILARIOUS for kids, and funnier every time you read them), Do Not Open This Book (another super silly book), and the Mighty Mighty Construction Site (for construction vehicle-loving kids).

Play-Doh mini set:Play-Doh with just one or two little cookie cutters (and one color of Play Doh), or one small Play-Doh construction vehicle work great on the plane for older toddlers. Keeping the Play Doh colors and accessories to a minimum actually enhances their creativity, so they’ll create ALL KINDS of amazing things. Play-Doh has provided an hour at a time, or more, of entertainment for my kids on the plane.

HABA Magnet Game: The car maze game has lots of fun elements and challenges for your brilliant toddler. Another great quiet activity to keep a toddler’s brain busy and working.

Color Wonder Books and Paper: Color wonder pens won’t mark anywhere but the special paper, which means you won’t have to worry about messes on the plane or clothing. The pens work magically and are a fun surprise for toddlers, as well.

Fruit Loops and Elastic: Let your toddler practice their lacing skills and make an edible necklace with this fun little project. Just cut an elastic to the right length, and tie a bead or something on the end. Then your child can snack and string to their little heart’s content.

Magnetic Dolls: These fun dolls make for hours of free play for toddlers and preschoolers. The set includes lots of fun outfits and accessories in a great travel storage container.

Tape Book: If your child loves stickers or tape, this book is for you. Comes with 4 colors of tape and tons of ideas to test their tape skills. It’s a weird concept, but it totally works for toddlers!

Figurines: A few little figurines can help initiate some really fantastic free play for your toddler, and lots of airplane fun and creative thinking. We love the Little People because they work well with our Little People sets at home. But there are lots of great options like these cute Daniel Tiger sets, this Mickey Mouse set, or these wild animals.

Preschoolers

As your child reaches preschool age, they’ll begin to understand that the destination makes the journey worthwhile. They’ll even begin to understand how long the flight will be, or how much longer you’ll need to stay on the flight. BUT, it can also be tougher to distract them, if they don’t want to be distracted. And the brain fog your normally super-capable preschooler will experience on the flight and at the airport is for REAL.

Preschoolers are the perfect age for TONS of amazing toys you’ll both enjoy! Check out these amazing picks for your preschooler (and maybe for their parent as well!).

4-Year-Old

Many 4-year-olds love to learn, build, and explore. Help them build their curious brains with these amazing toys!

Plus plus set: These funny little blocks are sort of shaped like puzzle pieces, and are great for creative 3-dimensional building. Plus Plus makes a variety of different kits, or just basic building blocks, and we love all of them, as long as they have some color variability. They come in a great little carrying tube, and are tiny enough to even toss in your handbag. And yes, some of the pieces may get lost on the airplane, but they are cheap enough that you won’t mind buying a new set every once in a while.

Water Wow Deluxe: For slightly older kids who may have begun to outgrow the regular Water Wow books, these deluxe books kick things up a notch. The book includes hidden pictures and a special secret decoder

Seek and Find books or sheets: Find the difference and find the hidden pictures books and sheets are a big hit for kids around 4 years old. Find free or low-cost sheets on Pinterest and create your own book, or check out this amazing wipe-clean/reusable book.

Fishing Game: This little fishing game is quite a challenge for busy fingers. Have your child attempt to ‘catch’ the fish without touching the fishing line, then see who can move the most fish from the box to the lid, and back again.

Joke Books: Your 4-year-old likely won’t understand all the jokes in this book, but they’ll love the shared laughter, and will have tons of fun figuring them out. Many kids this age will never tire of the jokes, so the joke book can be a huge time killer on the airplane!

Superhero Mask Activity: Have your child make their own superhero mask on the airplane with this simple craft. Before you leave, use this template to cut a mask out of cardstock. Use a hole punch to make holes for the string, and cut a piece of elastic to length. Bring your child’s favorite crayons, colored pencils (we love these erasable ones for activity books, drawing, whatever), or markers (in a little pencil case so they won’t get lost) and let them decorate it themselves. They’ll enjoy MAKING the mask, and then wearing it and pretending to be a superhero!

Mask activity while already wearing his dragon mask!

Story Prompts: To promote creative thinking, and for a low-cost activity, put a tiny figurine in a little plastic egg, and write out a few story prompts. Or, skip the egg and the figurine and just bring some story prompts for the child to tell about anything they can imagine. Then give your child the opportunity to make up a story about the figurine, with the help of the prompt. For extra fun, take turns telling parts of the story, making it a little sillier every time you get a turn.

Story Prompt ideas:

  • Make up a story about what it would be like if this dinosaur lived in our house.
  • This little girl has a superpower! Make up a story about what her superpower is and how she uses it.
  • There is a mystery on the farm! Make up a story about what the cow is missing, and how he found it.
  • It’s the puppy’s birthday! What do you think she’ll ask for his birthday? What will she want to do to celebrate?
  • One day, you woke up and noticed you have wings! What would you do next?
  • Tell me a story about the best day imaginable. Think of as many details as you can.

Book: A great book is a great airplane distraction for any age. For a 4-year-old, we love Quakenstein Hatches a Family, the Cyclops Witch and the Heebie-Jeebies, and Interstellar Cinderella.

Simpl Dimpl: This little keychain toy is really less of a toy, and more of a fidget/stress-relieving tool. When things start to get overwhelming, the Simpl Dimpl can help them calm down and refocus.

Wikki Stix: We love the Wikki Stix kits because they give some great ideas on what and how to build. The wax sticks are mostly reusable, easy to build with, and lots of fun!

5 Year Old

At age 5, your child will likely have a longer attention span. Just a few really great toys will be enough to keep them happy and occupied for any flight.

Mini Squigz: For bigger kids, the Mini Squigz allow more building potential than the bigger regular Squigz. Plus sticking these together, and pulling them apart can be a great stress reliever for kids who are maybe a little nervous and off schedule on the airplane. They are a great toy for the plane, the hotel, and everyday play.

Crankity Brainteaser: The goal of this puzzle is to connect preset gears, using other various sizes of gears, such that all the gears spin. It’s challenging and fun! And, if you child prefers, you can just free play with the gears on the surface. It has Easy through Extra Hard challenges so your child will play with it for years to come.

Paint by Sticker book: Is your sticker-loving kiddo ready to try something new? These books are great because they make stickers a bit more challenging, but JUST as fun! And they can fill some serious time on the airplane!

Scratch Art: Scratch paper is so fun! But because the paper is a bit expensive, it’s not something we normally keep in our craft set at home. But taking an airplane ride is perfect excuse for splurging on this fun activity! We love the Melissa and Doug set for free drawing, and the Scratch and Scribble kit for kids who like to like follow a plan.

DIY Book Kit: Help your creative kid write their own book. Bring a blank book, like this or this, or make your own by folding some white or colored paper in half and stapling in the middle. Bring some colored pencils, and help them write and illustrate their own story, or two.

Shashibo: This weird and amazing toy is really for everyone. BUT your 5 year old will definitely enjoy it as well (especially if she knows how much you like it!).

Travel Memory Game: Melissa and Doug did a great job designing this game, as they always do. It’s travel-friendly without being too easy or simple. It is designed to be a 2 player game but your child can easily play alone, if they are willing.

Maze books: The nice thing about the airplane vs the car is that MOST of the time you can expect a fairly smooth ride (though you want to make sure you pick some toys that are bumpy-ride friendly). So maze books, or other activity books that require bump-free ride are ON the table. For us, they are something we don’t think to do every day, and so they are fun and exciting for the kids!

There you have it- our favorite travel toys for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Let us know in the comments which you picked, and what you your child thought!

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I’m a huge believer in the mantra ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’, and after years of living that for myself, I thought I’d know how to dress my kids for rain and cold.

But news flash: it’s totally NOT the same. First, the brands I know and trust for adult gear often don’t make kids gear, especially not for toddlers and preschoolers, and if they do, the kid-sized gear is often not the best stuff out there.

And the second issue is that kids don’t need the same type of gear as adults.

Let me explain my second point here, and this one is HUGE! Kids don’t need the same type of gear as adults because kids do a million things that adults would just NEVER do. For example, when is the last time you sat in a puddle? Or took off your mittens and stuck your arm, elbow-deep in the mud? Or even ran through a blackberry bush without stopping even as your hear your jacket tearing?

Would you stand in a 3 inch deep puddle?

So, you can spend your days asking your kids not to… well.. be kids. Or you can accept that they are learning and growing through these experiences, and buy the gear they REALLY need.

As outdoor enthusiasts in the Pacific Northwest, and parents of two forest nature school attending, puddle splash loving kids, we’ve had to search high and low to find the BEST rain and cold weather gear for kids out there. And we think we’ve found it!

We hope we can make it easier for YOU to find the gear you need to keep your kids dry, warm, and happy outdoors! And if you are in a climate like the Pacific Northwest, where it’s wet and cold, we’ve definitely got you covered.

So here it is, in no particular order, the best kids rain and cold weather gear.

Waterproof Outer Layer

Because kids will not make the same choices as adults, it’s important to shift priorities when choosing rain gear. For adults, we often chose breathable and comfortable over COMPLETELY waterproof. Rain gear for adults doesn’t need to be able to keep us dry while swimming, so we can prioritize breathability features.

For kids, jumping in puddles, sliding down wet slides, and sitting on wet grass or puddles are part of life. So they need an outer layer that is truly waterproof. Yes, breathability will suffer. But we think it’s well worth the compromise. Getting a little bit sweaty is no big deal compared to completely saturating bottom layers after sitting in a puddle.

Thankfully, there are TONS of great options for kids rain gear out there, for all different preferences or budgets. We’ll walk you through the options, and which items we LOVE.

Coveralls

Probably the EASIEST way to waterproof your child is a one-piece waterproof suit. Just zip your child into a single item and voila – rainproof! But before you click ‘buy it now’, there are a number of things to consider with this type of rain suit.

Pros

Cons

We love these suits for babies and toddlers. They are easy to put on over anything and keep the child dry and (mostly) clean even if they are climbing in the mud. And we find the fit works well for most babies and toddlers.

As your little person grows a little bit bigger, the coverall style might not work as well. The one piece just doesn’t seem to fit as well on older kids. Trying to get the rain suit off for every potty break can be frustrating as well (especially for kids who are having SO much fun playing that they forget to go potty until it’s an emergency).

Best Coverall-Style Rain Suit

So which one do you pick?

For super wet conditions, we LOVE the Tuffo Muddy Buddy Coveralls! They are thick and sturdy (so you will be able to pass them on to the next kid), TOTALLY waterproof, and budget-friendly. We love that the fabric is tough enough to handle abrasion so you won’t have to worry about the knees wearing through for a crawling baby, or tears for your tree climbing toddler.

Runner Up- Coverall-Style Rain Suit

The CeLaVi One Piece rainsuit is 100% waterproof, machine washable, and gives plenty of space for your child to grow (without compromising fit while your child is small). They come in tons of great colors, and have a cuff on the ankles and wrists to ensure water stays out, as well as a removable hood.

They are a little more expensive than the Muddy Buddy, and a little less abrasion resistant, but this is still a really great rain suit.

Rain Jackets and Rain Pants

Opting for a jacket and rain pants is the other option for staying dry and warm.  Again, when choosing the best option for your kids, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.  

Pros

Cons

What We Were Looking for

When picking a rain jacket and rain pants for your kids, we recommend picking something with a roomier fit so that you can layer for very cold weather, or just wear it under regular clothing for wet but not so cold days.

We like polyurthane because it’s soft and totally waterproof. Make sure the seams are fully taped or welded. A waterproof rating of 5,000 mm of pressure or greater is fantastic and will easily keep your child dry.

Rain Jackets

In addition to the details we like for both pieces, we also really like pockets for a rain jacket. The rain jacket will always be the outer layer, and my kids are constantly wanting to keep little rocks or any kind of treasure they find out in the forest. If they don’t have a pocket (or a backpack), they end up looking for one in their interior layers, getting everything wet. For some reason, most rain jackets don’t have pockets, but we’ll keep wishing for them 🙂

We look for a roomy fit because the rain jacket will always be the outer layer, and it needs to work under a variety of layers comfortably, depending on the outside temperature.

Since rain hats aren’t really a thing, we check to make sure rain jackets come with a hood that is functional and will stay on even when your child is running around. However, we can usually get by without a hood, so it’s nice if the hood is removable.

Rain Pants

For rain pants, we look for elastic to keep the bottoms of the pants snug over the top of your child’s rain boots to keep water out of boots and socks. BUT, elastic can cause the rain pants to ride up a bit, so we really like an elastic stirrup on the bottom. The elastic does wear out, but often they are super easy to replace (just cut a piece of elastic to size, and cut button holes for each side).

One other thing to remember is that you don’t need a matching set. If you find a deal on pants in one brand, or one color, and a deal on a jacket in another, go for it! 95% chance your kids won’t care, plus crazy color combinations usually end up being cute on kids!

BEST Rain Jacket and Rain Pants

The rain set we adore, and landed on for our kids is the Polarn O. Pyret Classic Rain Jacket and Polarn O Pyret Waterproof Suspender Rain Pants. Both are SO waterproof, we’ve never had a drop of water get through. They are thick enough to withstand climbing trees, sliding down hills, and whatever else your child decides to do. The fit is roomy, but adjustable enough to ensure you’ll get years of wear.

These are machine washable, line dry. But they really don’t need to be washed very often at all. They are designed to just wipe clean, making them totally low maintenance.

Though the prices on the Polarn O. Pyret are a bit high, be sure to do some searching. We have found some great deals on Amazon. And, if your child attends a nature school, ask about discounts. The company has a discount program for outdoor schools!

The rain jacket has a soft, fleece lined collar to make the jacket comfortable, even when worn without layers underneath. The hood is removable, and the wrists have elastic to keep the jacket snug on wrists or mittens (if your child will wear them!). This jacket is great to throw on top of any combination of warm layers underneath, or just wear on its own. When I originally purchased this jacket for my kids, it was HUGE on them. But the elastic wrists help keep the sleeves in the right place, so it was no issue whatsoever.

Unfortunately, the jacket has no pockets. We would certainly prefer that feature (even if it means pockets full of water), but we can live without.

I really do love these rain pants. The suspenders make these adjustable so you can buy them QUITE large and still get a good fit. Then continue to wear them as your child grows. Also, the suspender allows a bib-style design so pants won’t slip down allowing water in.

The suspenders are a LITTLE bit difficult to manage for potty breaks, but still totally doable. We recommend keeping the straps on top of all layers except the rain jacket, so you can easily unclip and reclip as needed.

We also love the elastic stirrup on the bottom of the pants. These keep the pants snug on the outside of the kids’ boots, and prevents pants from riding up on boots. The elastic stirrup can be easily replaced as well.

Budget Pick - Rain Jacket and Pants

The CeLaVi Rain Suit was designed with forest school in mind, making them perfect for kids who LOVE to be outside, even in the rain. For a totally reasonable price, you get a high quality, super waterproof rain jacket AND pants. This means you don’t get to mix and match colors or sizes, BUT with a roomy fit, these will likely work well for your child.

The jacket has a soft, fleece lined collar, and adjustable elastic wrist cuff so you can always get a perfect fit. The hood is elastic and removable. Plus it has a reflective stripe for nighttime safety.

The pants come in an overall/bib style for younger kids (4T and smaller), and just regular elastic pants for bigger sizes. They have elastic around the ankle for a snug fit on the outside of your child’s boots.

Rain Boots

For rainy weather, rain boots are SOO important. If you buy no other rain gear, at least buy the boots. Wet feet are so uncomfortable, and drying wet shoes is a real pain. Boots are a huge lifesaver for rainy, wet days!

When buying rain boots, there are a few things to consider. The biggest is: do you need boots for cold, wet conditions, or just wet conditions?

Rubber rain boots that are unlined can feel super cold in lower temperatures. Even though your feet are dry, the boots seem to suck the warmth right out of your feet. But, if you live in a climate where rain doesn’t necessarily mean cold, unlined rubber boots might be just the thing you need.

If you live in a climate like the Pacific Northwest, rain is constant, and temperatures are low, but not QUITE low enough to freeze, great rain boots with lots of insulation is a necessity.

Uninsulated Rain Boots

Insulated Rain Boots

Our Rain Boot Picks

Best Insulated Rain Boots

The Bogs Classic Winter Boots are AMAZING. They are super warm- they claim to be good down to -30°F. We’ve never tested them THAT low, but they’ve been plenty warm for negative temperatures in Montana winters. They are completely waterproof, even if you are standing in water for extended periods.

And they seem to be comfortable- my kids are willing to wear them basically every day. Both my kids and I love how easy they are to pull on, so even younger toddlers can get these on without help.

Perhaps the BEST thing about these boots is how durable they are. They last season after season without any noticeable wear. Sure the price is high, but if you can keep passing these on, we think it’s well worth the price.

One downside is that the waterproofing only goes up to just above the ankle. If your kids insist on walking THROUGH lakes or whatever, they will eventually get wet.

Insulated Rain Boots- Budget Pick

The Oaki Neoprene Boots are almost identical to the Bogs, but for about half the price. They are warm, and waterproof, easy to pull on and super cute.

However, in our experience, you can expect to see significant wear on these boots by the end of the season. So if you want an affordable pair of rain and cold boots and don’t need to pass them on, go for the Oakis. But if durability is a necessity, go for the Bogs.

Best Uninsulated Rain boots

Crocs Handle It Rain Boots are truly amazing rain boots. While many rain boots are heavy and unmanageable, the Crocs are ultra lightweight. And just like the summer version, they are squishy, roomy, and totally comfortable. The handle makes them super easy to put on, and the bright colors will ensure your toddler, or even your older child, really love them.

Like all Crocs, these things will survive anything, and the simple design means you can just hose them off inside AND out, or wash them in the sink. And the price is totally reasonable as well!

Best Uninsulated Rain Boots- Budget Pick

We are going with Oaki again for the best budget rain boot. Their uninsulated rain boots are even more affordable than the insulated ones. We love that they make great kids outdoor gear for really great prices. And even though their quality isn’t QUITE as high as some of the premium brands, they are still a really great company with really great gear.

The rain boots are no exception. They are completely waterproof, all the way to the top, have handles to make pulling on boots easier for toddlers, and, well, all kids, and they have TONS of fun designs.

Rain Mittens and Gloves

When it comes to rain, almost no mittens or gloves will keep the water out. To further complicate the issue, kids, especially toddler and preschool-aged kids, are constantly taking mittens off to check out a cool rock, or feel an interesting stick. Putting their wet hands back IN the mitten means there is NO chance the mitten will last more than 15 minutes.

But we have found one secret weapon for keeping hands warm in the rain:

The Polarn O. Pyret Rain Mitten!

These polyurethane mittens are ACTULLY waterproof. Plus they are easy to slip on and off for those kids who don’t love the lack of dexterity when wearing gloves.

Because these mittens are just a waterproof covering, you’ll want some regular gloves or mittens underneath for warmth.

But because you have the waterproofing covered, we recommend just a cheap pair of knit gloves or mittens. We love these knit mittens, sold in a 15 pack. With 15 pairs, you can bring a ton with you for every rainy day outing, and just change them out each time a pair gets wet.

Cold AND Rainy Gear?

Playing in the Pacific Northwest Snow- SO slushy and wet

For Pacific Northwest families, or anyone else in a wet, cold climate, just rain gear won’t cut it. You’ll also need some quality gear to keep your child warm and comfortable.

Base Layer

Even for kids, a good base layer is important. A base layer makes layering easy, and keeps them toasty warm even if they get a bit wet (for example, kids who are running around like crazy and get sweaty, then want to sit down for an outdoor lunch and begin to cool off).

The BIGGEST thing to remember with a base layer is to avoid cotton. Cotton is not a great insulator, dries slowly, and performs terribly when wet.

When choosing a base layer, go for either merino wool or synthetic. Check out this helpful post to understand the pros and cons of each. Which is better? Neither- both are great choices, so it really just comes down to personal preference.

I really love the merino wool. They are soft and comfortable, and with many machine washable options now, the high maintenance stigma of wool is gone.

Our favorite kids thermals?

We recommend Wee Woolies because they are comfortable enough to sleep in (and then maybe wear the WHOLE next day), machine washable, super durable, and come in fun, bright colors (plus we LOVE the contrast butt color for toddlers and younger kids).

Wee Woolies- so cute and comfortable

This Etsy shop also makes some amazingly high quality, totally warm, and super comfortable base layers for kids. Plus, the price is much better than most, when it comes to organic wool.

Beautiful base layer set from Etsy

Warm and Durable Mid Layer

The last layer you need for cold and wet weather is a mid layer. What SORT of mid layer you need depends on temperatures, how long you plan to stay outside, what your child will be doing etc. And the BEST part about a mid layer, especially when you have a quality base layer and waterproof rain gear, is that you can basically use anything you already have!

Got a warm hoodie? That’ll work. A fleece jacket? Yes. A nice down coat. Perfect.

But if you still need a little inspiration, here are a few mid layers we have tried and love!

Columbia Fleece jackets are versatile and affordable.

The L.L. Bean Down jacket is super warm, durable, and SO bright and colorful.

Polarn O. Pyret Pull ON Pants are a great mid layer pant. They are wool and add a ton of warmth and slip easily over thermals. Plus they are machine washable!

With this amazing kids gear, your kids will be able to handle any weather! Bring on the year-round nature exploring!

For many parents (myself included), taking a road trip with toddler or preschool-aged kids can be a LITTLE bit terrifying. With everyone strapped in safely, kids kinda need to be able to function on their own. And for younger kids, that’s just not gonna happen most of the time. Add in sibling squabbles, spilled drinks, bad driving conditions, and it can feel totally overwhelming.

But with a little preparation, a solid plan (but not too solid just in case things don’t go your way and you need to adjust), and a big bag of car-friendly activities, you and your toddler or preschooler will handle any road trip like a pro. Or at least… survive it!

Planning Your Trip: Stops and Food

When road-tripping with a toddler or a preschooler, planning your route, stops, and meals become MUCH more of a necessity. No on-a-whim road trips like your college days. These road trips take WORK. But your work will definitely pay off after a successful, minimal-screaming, and not terrible road trip with your kiddos. And most importantly, you’ll get where you are going, which is HOPEFULLY a fantastic vacation!

Road trip views

How Far Can You Drive?

This question, perhaps the MOST important when planning a road trip, is also the toughest. It kinda depends on you.

Some families are willing to drive all night while their kids are sleeping and deal with the consequences of no sleep later on. My family is not one of those families. Sleep for parents is precious around here.

Some kids are tolerant of car rides, and others are NOT. But generally, kids can handle more as they get older. Throughout the toddler and preschooler years, you might see a DRAMATIC improvement in your kids tolerance for road trips as they begin to understand that the destination makes the journey worthwhile.

In the baby and early toddler years, 6 hours of driving in a day might be all they can handle. But by age 4 or 5, 10+ hours of driving might be possible (though admittedly still quite difficult).

Preparing your vehicle

Do you know what’s worse than having a flat on a road trip? Having a flat on a road trip with a toddler. No one wants to be stranded on the side of the road with young kids. So before you head out on your trip, make sure you schedule any maintenance for your car and take a quick peek at your tires. Generally, just make sure everything is in good shape. Even though you aren’t GUARANTEED any car trouble, it’ll reduce your chances. And you won’t be stuck on the side of the road thinking ‘how did I forget to take care of this?!’

And, while you’re at it, give your car a quick interior cleaning. Road trips can mean lots of messes and extra garbage, and you won’t want to start with garbage already IN the car.

Stops

Movement is SO important for little toddlers and preschoolers. So planning stops that allow your kids to get out and move will make the trips 100X more pleasant for everyone!

Rather than wasting our stops on meal breaks, we plan to eat in the car so we have more time to get out and run.

Running on our road trip break

Plan Your Stops!

Before our trip, I like to map out a number of rest stops, playgrounds (with a public bathroom), or any outdoor public space we can get outside. Sometimes, you might get lucky and find a totally unique and fun place to stop. We’ve done a quick berry picking session (for an excellent car snack), explored waterfalls, and quick snowy hikes on stops.

When planning, I like to even have a couple of backup stops in mind just in case things don’t go as planned, kids need a stop earlier than expected, or even if the kids are asleep or don’t need a break for some other reason. Having these stops mapped out ahead of time is super helpful just in case I have no cell service, or things in the car get too chaotic for me to think.

We plan to make a stop every 2-3 hours. Sometimes, we just take 15 minutes to run around and play. But, for longer road trips, we do make sure to take at least once extended break with LOTS of physical activity.

Berry picking pit stop

Physical Activity Ideas

And during these breaks, you’ll want to make sure you kids are really getting some exercise. Here are some of our favorite active activities for our road trip breaks:

  • Tag
  • Simon Says
  • Burpees
  • Dance party
  • Race/run laps
  • Throw a bouncy ball and see who can get to it first. Whoever gets it gets to throw the ball next.

Even if the weather is bad, just 15 minutes in it will make everyone in the family feel refreshed, a bit tired, and more able to sit still.

Food

Our DIY happy meal. A couple fun touches are all it takes for my kids!

My kids love fast food stops just as much as the next kid, but here’s a little secret. They don’t ACTUALLY like it. They like the idea of it. They like the cute kids packaging. And they like the $0.39 toy most of all.

My Secret Weapon – DIY Happy Meals

So I started making DIY happy meals. And the kids TOTALLY love it. Here’s what I do:

I pack a lunch box for them with a variety of healthy, and sometimes not super healthy snacks. Things they like and will actually eat. We love our Pottery Barn lunch box because it’s big enough to hold all the snacks a toddler or preschooler needs for the day, easy to clean, easy to manage in the car, and CUTE.

I pack their food in cute little containers, like these Rubermaid LunchBlox that we use and love, and use adorable reusable bags that are begging to be opened. I include a treat that they are allowed to eat whenever they want (even BEFORE their meal), and a small toy. The toy can be something special and new for a particularly long road trip. But honestly, I usually pick out a Hot Wheels car from their bin of a million of them and hide it somewhere in their lunch box.

If Hot Wheels are as well-loved at your house as they are at mine, buy a package of them ahead of time and hide them away. Then you’ll have one new, fun car your child can have for each road trip. Or perhaps one Daniel Tiger Figurine, or a tiny construction vehicle.

My kids love these special road trip lunches. It’s SUCH a hit, they now ask for it over fast food.

Snack Ideas

Snacking in the car

For a toddler or a preschooler, or let’s be honest, even for an adult, snacking can be solution to the boredom of road tripping. So there are really NEVER enough snacks.

But, to prevent upset stomachs or WORSE, we recommend keeping the snacks somewhat healthy, and not TOO exciting so your child won’t be tempted to overeat. We pack balanced, nutritious snacks so they can work as a meal as well.

Here are some road trip snacks that work well for us:

What to Bring and How to Organize

A good organizational plan goes a long way towards a drama free trip! I am typically the passenger/navigator/retriever of kids things from the floor for my family’s road trips, and I have to say- if things are messy, or I don’t know where things are, it is NOT my favorite. I hate spending hours reaching around the backseat and trying to figure out where everything is, or what I can use since I forgot the thing I really NEED.

Getting organized is KEY!

Set Your Child Up for Success!

Rear-facing and set up for success!

It can be really hard for kids in car seats to reach ANYTHING, which means someone is always reaching in the backseat to help them get a water bottle/toy/book/snack. It can be a pain in the neck, literally, and can feel frustrating for the parent AND the child. So before you head out on your road trip, take a minute to figure out if there is anything you can do to make it easier for your child to manage independently.

Things to consider:

  • Does your child have a cupholder within reach? If not, try something like this for easy water access.
  • Can they reach their activities or snacks? A back seat car organizer, or a car seat tray may really help them out. Or just a hook to hang up a tote or a backpack (and check out our post here if you toddler or preschooler is ready for a new backpack!), plus the hook doubles as a tablet holder, if your tablet case has a carry handle.
  • Consider adding a sunshade, if you don’t have one. Your toddler may really be bothered by having the sun in her eyes. We like these universal sun shades.
  • Will you need to place items on the floor under their feet? If so, dropped items might get more easily lost down there. Think about how to keep the area clean-ish so you won’t be constantly searching for dropped toys. And consider all the little things you’ll want accessible for the car ride that might need to be placed in the backseat as well!
  • Will your child be using crayons or pencils? A pencil case can help them keep track of these loose items so they are less likely to get lost
  • Do you have a way to easily charge any devices they will use frequently? Look for your charging ports and make sure you have a cord long enough to go from the port to your child.

What to Bring

You’ll definitely want to bring a few things to keep your toddler or preschooler happy and occupied for your road trip. Here are our recommendations:

  • A bag of activities. See our discussion below for ideas!
  • A lunch box filled with meals and snacks. LOTS of snacks!
  • A water bottle. We also like to bring our insulated growler so we can refill water bottles with icy cold water.
  • Baby wipes for sticky fingers, spills, potty accidents or whatever
  • Napkins, paper towels, or a dishtowel for wet spills
  • A little potty (we like this compact one) with a plastic bag – we use a small garbage bag JUST IN CASE your child needs to GO on the road.
  • Some kind of garbage bag so any garbage won’t pile up on the floor
  • Sunglasses. My kids always want their sunglasses in the car when the sun gets in their eyes
  • Extra clothing somewhat accessible just in CASE.
  • A clip-on book light, head lamp, or a flashlight for evening driving (the book light is BEST to avoid bright lights in your eyes while driving)
  • A blanket if your car can easily heat/cool your preschoolers spot to his/her preference

Activities

The activity book is a hit!

So what will your toddler do all day in the car? That’s the toughest part of road tripping with younger kids. But luckily, there are TONS of great toddler and preschooler -friendly activities. Get creative- the ONLY thing we watch out for is activities that have a bunch of loose pieces. Inevitably, all loose pieces will end up somewhere under the seat and will only show up sometime around the time your child begins high school.

Here are some of our FAVORITE kid-tested car activities for toddlers and preschoolers.

Things Kids Can Do withOUT Help

Tablet

We are not a screen-free family. But we definitely have strict limits on screen time and what our kids are allowed to watch. During travel, a lot of those limits go out the window. Of course, I still control what goes on the tablet (and without wifi, they are stuck with ONLY what I pick for them), but they are allowed to use their tablet as much as they want. We load up tons of their favorite shows, and toddler-friendly games on there before we leave, and let them go crazy.

We love:

  • The Disney+ app. We love Moana, Mickey Mouse Roadsters, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, and Doc McStuffins. Our preschoolers can easily manage the app, and have no trouble playing their downloaded shows without help.
  • The Netflix app. We love Chico Bon Bon and Octonauts
  • Bugs and buttons game– cute and educational, perfect for preschoolers
  • Anything Sago Mini– fun, open-ended games, great for toddlers and preschoolers
  • Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – another open-ended, and delightful app great for toddlers and preschoolers

Activity Books and Sheets

Many older toddlers and preschoolers are excited to have activity books or sheets they can do on their own. Get them set up for the car, and it’s a great way to pass the time.

If you have the time and energy, look around on Pinterest and the internet to find free spot-the-difference sheets, hidden object sheets, coloring sheets, or anything else your child might like to do in the car. We don’t recommend too many practice writing sheets because they can be frustratingly difficult in the car.

Or, save the effort and just buy one of these great activity books:

More ideas

There are a million little things that might work really well for you and your child. Here are some of our favorites:

Activity binder with a fun map on the front

Activities for Everyone In the Car

Car rides are also a great time to bond with the whole family. Plus, your child will likely crave some together time after lots of independent play, and not being able to sit WITH you. Here are some fun whole-car activities we love:

  • Songs- nursery rhymes, lullabies, Baby Shark, Disney songs, sound tracks from their favorite shows (we listen to a LOT of Paw Patrol), or just anything you and your child enjoy.
  • Dance party. This kinda goes along with the songs, but as my son says, not all songs are danceable!
  • I-Spy – my kids LOVE this one
  • What-is-an-animal-that-is game (i.e. What is an animal that has really big ears, and like carrots? A rabbit!)
  • Podcasts- try What if World, But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids, Smash Boom Best, or Brains On
  • Audiobooks like Winnie the Pooh and the Gruffalo
  • Make up a story. You can let each member of the family make up a story, OR make it up as a group – everyone gets to add their own little part to the story (these get SILLY!)
  • Catch up on chatting. Sometimes the car is the best place to get a little extra chatting out of your child. I know my kids are WAY more likely to tell me about how their week went, or what’s been the most interesting to them lately while we are in the car.

Sleep Schedule

Road trips can really mess up a toddler or preschoolers sleep schedule. It is almost impossible to keep them on their regular schedule, and regular routines will, of course, go out the window.

One BIG problem is that you really can’t control the ambient light. At home, we’ll close the blinds, and make things as dark as possible for naptime or bedtime. Low light is HUGE for signaling that it’s time to sleep. And lights are generally left ON when it’s time to be awake.

Naps

Napping happens on road trips, even for kids who don’t normally nap.

Road trip naps for a toddler or preschooler can be tricky. If your nap schedule is not rock solid, there is a pretty good chance a road trip will shift the nap schedule. My kids were never big on naps, and gave them up well before their 2nd birthday. But, they do tend to get a little sleepy in the late afternoon. If we are in the car, they WILL fall asleep. And it WILL totally mess up bedtime, sometimes delaying it for 3+ hours.

So if you have a toddler that absolutely needs to nap, just try to give yourself some flexibility. Make sure your schedule doesn’t require them to nap at their regular time, or fall asleep at their regular time. That will just cause a lot of necessary stress.

If you preschooler doesn’t really NEED a nap, but, like mine, gets sleepy late in the afternoon, try taking an active car break. Plan it for the time you expect they’ll get sleepy, and get him up and run around just for a few minutes to get the blood flowing. If you miss your window, and they have already fallen asleep, or it doesn’t work, you’ll just have to accept the later bedtime. It’s tough, but accepting it and leaving flexibility in your plans is MUCH easier than fighting it.

Evening Driving

Winter Considerations

Seasonal changes in sunset time can be tough for road tripping toddlers or preschoolers as well. We live way up north, so in the winter, it’s dark by 4:30 pm. Younger kids can find this frustrating because it feels like they are being put to bed even though they are not yet tired. Take a minute to explain to your toddler that they don’t need to go to sleep yet to help with frustration. A tablet or a book light will also help.

Alternatively, your child might just fall asleep HOURS before bedtime. A bit of peace and quiet in the car is nice, but it might mean they also WAKE UP hours before their normal wake up time. Again, we don’t find that there is much you can do about sleep schedule for younger children. But if you know you’ll be waking up pre-5:00am, we wouldn’t recommend driving until midnight. Make sure you don’t forget about your OWN sleep for these situations as well.

Summer Considerations

In the summer, we have the opposite problem. Up north, it’s not dark until 10:00 pm, which is way after my kids’ bedtime. But with sunlight streaming in, they just aren’t tired. For multi-day road trips, this actually works out just fine for us. They might not get enough sleep during the day, but they’ll likely end up taking a nap the next day on a road trip, if needed. Plus, we, the parents, still get adequate sleep and aren’t woken up way too early.

These are our best tips for road trips with toddlers or preschoolers. Let us know if they’ve helped you, or if you have any questions or comments on road tripping.

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