Unplugged Adventures: Screen-Free Travel Toys for Little Explorers

When flying with babies, toddlers, or preschoolers, a great bag-of-fun can to keep your child entertained can make all the difference in the world! I’ve come up with a great, tried- and true a collection of travel toy ideas tailored for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Even better- these toys keep your kids off screens and instead will be engaged in hands-on, imagination-sparking play that will make every journey an exciting exploration.

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While my family is totally ok with screens in moderation, we love finding great toys that will give a break from screens.

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 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?).

Ogobolli 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 eye-catching!

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!

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.


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!


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.


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!).


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 she found it.
  • It’s the puppy’s birthday! What do you think he’ll ask for on his birthday? How will he want 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!). It’s amazing how long a kid can play with this toy too- my kids will play for hours and hours!

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 and your child thought!

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