My family and I are gearing up for an 11-day trip to Italy…
… with our 4-year old!
The logistics are mind-boggling. Where if I were traveling alone or just with my wife, we’d be winging it to a much higher degree, we’ve instead been planning out every detail and contingency.
And it’s led me to the question: What are the best toddler travel essentials you really need to have a successful trip with your kid?
Based on my opinion, research, and experience, the things you REALLY need (in no particular order) are:
- In-flight or car entertainment — mostly a tablet or something they can watch movies on, plus headphones!
- Whatever they can’t sleep without — whether it’s a special blankie, lovie, or a pacifier
- Some combination of a car or booster seat, a lightweight stroller, or a carrier to move from place to place
- A few emergency medical and toiletry items in case you can’t buy them while traveling
That’s a pretty solid list of the bare bones essentials you need to pack, no matter what. I’ll go into more detail below with plenty of other ideas for things you’ll probably need on your trip.
In-Flight or Car Entertainment
You know what sucks about traveling? The actual traveling part.
Kids or not, long drives and trips to the airport can be a headache at best, an absolute nightmare at worst.
Having a toddler with you only compounds the problems. So you better be prepared to keep them happy, especially if you’re in for a lot of travel time.
Here are a few things that might help:
iPad or other tablet
I don’t usually love the idea of propping an iPad in front of your kid to keep them occupied (say, at restaurants), but a long drive or flight is the one scenario where I feel this is one of the best solutions.
You can keep a toddler busy for a few hours, easily, with a combination of their favorite TV shows and a few clutch tablet games.
If you don’t already have one, just go for it and get an Apple iPad (Amazon link). I’ve tried the Kindles and Android and other knockoff tablets and nothing else really measures up in ease of use.
Pro Tip: If you’re a Netflix subscriber, you can download content (not everything, but a pretty good selection) onto your device for offline viewing.
Of course, if you don’t want the whole plane to hate you, you’ll need to get your child his or her own set of headphones.
You don’t need anything overly fancy here. Just go for wired, over the ear headphones (don’t let young kids use earbuds) that are made for kids… Children’s headphones will fit better and usually include a volume limiter to prevent accidental hearing damage.
Go with something like these children’s headphones over at Amazon.
Other games & activities:
Depending on your toddler’s demeanor, you may be able to squeeze some mileage out of other compact, quiet airplane activities for kids like:
- A small puzzle
- Activity books (my daughter LOVES these)
Oh, and if you want your kid to sleep on a plane or in the car, plan for this!
They might need a small pillow or blanket to get comfortable.
We’ve also heard absolutely rave reviews of melatonin tablets for kids to help them zonk out on long flights.. I’ll report back how it works for us!
Medical / Toiletry
So the great thing about toddlers is that they’re closer to full-grown kids than they are babies — in terms of what they need when they travel.
(Though a lot of that will depend on whether or not they’re potty-trained. If they’re not, you might need to bring more stuff like cream, more wipes, more diapers, diaper bags, etc.)
But for your average potty-trained toddler, you can keep things pretty simple when traveling. Just be sure to bring:
Tylenol & Band-Aids
No need to bring a full medical kit — it’ll take up way too much room and there’s a 99% chance you never use it.
But the two things I wouldn’t be caught without are Tylenol and Band-Aids.
If you do catch a bad break and find your toddler getting sick on vacation, some Tylenol (Amazon link) is probably all you need to keep them comfortable — at least until you can get to a real doctor, if you need one.
Band-aids are a no brainer. You don’t want to be stuck with your kid having a cut or scrape and no way to deal with it quickly.
Plus, neither of these will take up much room in your luggage.
Diapers & Wipes
You should be able to buy these almost anywhere, but I would make sure you bring at least a small stash for emergencies.
You almost never want to be caught without wipes handy; they’ll definitely be useful in the airport, in the car, or on the plane to clean up sticky hands, spills, etc.
And here’s a pro tip on diapers: Diapers are GREAT for long plane rides, even for potty-trained toddlers, in case they fall asleep or have to pee frequently. It’s also good to have a few with you in case you’re driving and there’s nowhere to stop, or if you have to take a long shuttle somewhere with no bathroom.
You’ll typically want to bring your own toothpaste on most trips, though if you forget it’s almost always super easy to buy some wherever you are.
But don’t forget to bring a travel-sized portion of whatever toothpaste your toddler uses (our daughter likes Tom’s). It’ll probably be a little harder to find that in the resort gift shop!
It’s up to you if you think you’ll need to bring a travel crib or pack ‘n play along on your trip, but most older and potty-trained toddlers should be fine sleeping in a normal bed for a few nights.
However, you DEFINITELY don’t want to forget your child’s sleeping essentials…
… You know, the things they ABSOLUTELY can not sleep without?
Make sure you have these before you walk out the door (and keep them accessible in your bag) or you might be in for a rough trip.
I’m talking about comfort items like:
- Favorite blanket
- Stuffed animals
It’s a good idea to let your toddler pick the one or two sleep comfort items they want to bring and be in charge of packing them!
The plane ride is one thing, but if you’re going on a serious trip you may find yourself moving around a lot once you get there.
Definitely consider a few key toddler transportation accessories to make your life significantly easier!
Car seat or Booster Seat
Ideally, you wouldn’t bring a bulky car seat unless you absolutely can’t avoid it. Sometimes, that’s the case.
For our upcoming trip, we found this incredible folding booster seat at Amazon that packs away super easily. If your toddler is 4 years old and around 40 pounds, definitely consider this space-saver. (Read my full review of the Mifold booster seat here.)
When our daughter was smaller and we needed to travel with our full car seat, we had a lot of success with those car seat bags for air travel — this one over at Amazon is really durable and easy to use.
Lightweight Umbrella Stroller
If you’re traversing a city or hitting a major amusement park, you might get a lot of use out of a stroller.
It’s always tempting to save the space and not bring it, but when your toddler suddenly gets too tired of walking, you can find yourself in a pickle without one.
In some cases, it might be best to just strap your toddler to your torso and do the heavy lifting yourself. It’s probably a good idea to bring a child carrier on a nature-centered trip through the national parks, hiking trails, camping, etc.
It’ll be tricky to find something that works when your toddler is over 30 pounds, but you should be able to use a heavy-duty backpack-style toddler carrier like this one at Amazon that works up to 60 pounds!
Most of your toddler’s stuff (like clothes) will go in your suitcase — that just makes the most sense.
But it is a good idea to have them carry at least some of their own stuff. Plus they get excited about having their own bag to be in charge of!
I think it makes a lot of sense to get toddlers their own hard-shell suitcase for traveling, or at least a backpack they can use as a carry-on.
We got our daughter something like this suitcase for a previous trip and she absolutely loved it, and can roll it by herself no problem!
It’s hard to create a complete list here because there are so many different kinds of trips you could take!
Plus, there’s a big difference between staying at a resort in Jamaica vs a hotel in downtown Chicago.
For example, if you’re taking a warm weather trip or vacation, you’ll probably want kid-friendly sunscreen and bug spray. However, they’re a pain to travel with and you can usually buy them from a local store. On the other hand, in hot vacation spots, these items are marked up like crazy! So use your judgment.
However, don’t forget to bring a swim floatie or inflatable water wings for your toddler if you’re going to be using a beach or pool!
You know your kid better than I do, but that’s my basic list of must-haves for traveling with a toddler!
There are plenty of other things you’ll probably need like clothes, toys, and more — but you DEFINITELY don’t want to leave home without at least considering the things I’ve mentioned above. A few of them aren’t as obvious as you’d think and you don’t want to end up high and dry.
But let me know what I missed in the comments: What are your favorite toddler traveling hacks, products, or items that come in handy?
Hope this helps, parents, and good luck on your trip!