As a mom of two under three and about to embark on a vacation that included planes and automobiles, I needed an ultimate packing list. Nothing’s worse than being trapped with kiddos without travel essentials and activities. This began my search for the best working mom’s travel packing list for toddlers.
Knowing what to pack and what to leave behind is always challenging when traveling. For my first road trip with kids, I brought everything but the kitchen sink. Now I wanted only toddler essential items and everything else I could pick up along the way.
But what to bring? Below are some suggestions from some savvy moms who have taken domestic and international flights with toddlers.
1 | Create Busy Bags for Toddlers
Unpreparented recommends putting together busy bags for each kid. Fill up your bag with cheap but fun goodies like pipe cleaners, stickers, and small toys. Give your toddler a new bag at key points in travel to buy time or give you 15 to 30 minutes of peace.
The Lean Green Bean suggests “busy boxes” instead of bags for restaurants. The idea is the same -- fill them with fun and small goodies like playdoh, stickers, cars, dinosaurs, and crayons to keep little hands busy.
Simple Agape has amazing busy bags for toddlers. I sometimes don’t like stuff with lots of moving parts because I end up cleaning it all up, but these busy bags definitely tempt me.
Create Your Own
I ended up going to the Dollar Store and Amazon. Below is my toddler busy bag creation. It was actually a lot of fun.
2 | Purchase Only What You Need
3 | Bring a Tablet & Headphones
We purchased a tablet and headphones for both toddlers.
Or bring along an iPad or any kind of electronic device to keep your toddlers occupied. I know this will be must-have for my toddler carry-on bag.
4 | Bring Lots of Snacks
Growing the Givens says to not forget the snacks. Of course, this will depend on TSA regulations but snacks are a must. I’m thinking a balance of healthy and desirable toddler snacks like:
Annie’s Organic Snacks
Working Mom Problems gives snacks-on-the-go suggestions that I’m going to explore. My toddlers love trail mix.
Stylish Cravings has an in-depth list of delicious trail mix recipes.
5 | Think About Food Utensils
I’m in the mindset that your accommodation will have most things for toddler eating but thinking about whether you want to bring bibs, bowls, and utensils is a good idea. I adore Baby Bjorn Soft Bibs and The Munchkin Miracle 360 Sippy Cups. These will make my bag. Ikea also has cheap but durable kid plates and bowls.
6 | Plan Fun Activities
Tear Free Travel recommends simple items like reusable stickers, Duplo Legos and Nuts and Bolts. Think of smaller items that require tactile coordination and concentration for traveling with toddlers.
Full Suitcase gives some awesome recommendations for twistable crayons.
7 | Pack Small Items
Kids Play Space takes size to a new level by giving suggestions for making small toddler busy bags. I was amazed by the size. Other tips include allowing time for boredom so kids will sleep. If you have too many toys and activities toddler brains have a hard time shutting off.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot suggests bringing plastic Easter eggs and putting a small toy in each one. Toddlers get one egg per hour. I thought this a cute and smart suggestion.
8 | Add Some Educational Apps
My Bored Toddler gives some great suggestions for educational apps. For me, this will cut down on the screen time guilt and makes monitoring quality easier. You can add this to your toddler’s electronic device or iPad before travel. Also, download movies and shows to keep the little one’s occupied.
You can get a 30-day trial of Amazon FreeTime Unlimited. Endless educational entertainment.
9 | Light & Cheap Car Seat
When it comes to car seats, there are plenty to choose from but the one recommended by a lot of traveling moms is the Cosco car seat. I purchased it for 50 bucks from Amazon.
Renting a car seat costs about 10-15 per day. For a five day trip this as much as buying one and now you have a seat for all your travels. This made sense for us because we have two toddlers to get from point a to point b. We decided to lug one seat and rent the other.
10 | Pack a Light Stroller
We decided to bring one light umbrella stroller for the trip. But bringing a stroller will depend on where you’re going and what kind of walking you’ll be doing. For example, Europe has lots of cobblestoned streets, not great for strollers.
Or your three-year-old is done with being contained, so a stroller is useless. But if you need a stroller and will be taking a few trips invest in a Maclaren Super Light Umbrella Stroller or go super cheap and get a Cosco Umbrella Stroller.
Better yet, borrow one from a friend, if you only go on a few trips a year.
11 | Optional Toddler Bed
Flip Flop Globetrotters has a serious list of toddler beds to choose from on their website. In the past, we’ve used the Peapod Toddler Bed but you’ll have to consider where you’ll be staying and whether your accommodation will provide a Pack N Play or crib before lugging a bed around.
12 | Include Two Sets of Clothes
This tip is a hard one for me because I like to be prepared for anything. But really four outfits and two sets of pajamas will do the trick. Of course, the “kind” of outfits depends on the weather and excursions.
And whether or not you’ll have access to a washer and dryer. Also, throw in socks, shoes, hat, jacket. I like to bring two jackets; one lightweight and one warmer for cool nights.
13 | Bring Along a First Aid Kit
Meraki Lane reminds you to bring along a first-aid kit in case you have a boo-boo to mend. Another great tip is to limit playing with their favorite toys prior to the trip, so that during the trip they’ll play more.
Also, to arrive at the airport early, check flight times, and get a good night’s sleep before to help avoid toddler meltdowns.
Stock up on meds is another savvy tip to remember.
Other Travel Packing Considerations
Need to get organized?
Taylor-Made Mama recommends EZ Packing Cubes for organization and space-saving. Another tip is to bring non-perishable milk.
Going to Disneyland? Disney By Age has a great packing list for zipping around the theme park.
Going to the beach? Pick Any Two provides a smart packing list with good travel tips for beach days with littles.
Going hiking or backpacking with toddlers? Our Life, Our Travel has an awesome list of toddler carriers for outdoors and city walks.
Anyone backpacking with twins deserves a mention. Check out This is All Going On for a travel backpacking list.
Going camping with toddlers? The Importance of Being Reese outlines some basic camping tips to get you started.
Going to Europe? Where’s Sharon seems to have a toddler packing list for Europe down.
Going away for spring break? Check out these travel tips for spring break.
Going away for the holidays? Discover some holiday travel tips to make your journey a success.
Going to southeast Asia? Families Go Travel did just that and wants to share some cool tips on how to accomplish traveling with toddlers in southeast Asia.
14 | Remember It’s a Mindset
One of my favorite moments from Modern Family is this scene between Claire and Cliff.
Cliff: “Come on, let’s turn this vacation into a honeymoon.”
Claire: “Sweet pea, I’m a mom traveling with her kids. This is not a vacation. For me, this a business trip.”
For further inspiration check out 50 Working Mom Quotes for Support and Inspiration.
15 | Plan Your Family Photo
One last tip for the road (yes, pun intended), think about your family travel photo. I knew that I wanted to take a picture for the Christmas card so I purchased matching puffy jackets on sale from Old Navy and Santa hats. You’ll probably be unable to get your toddler to look at the camera, but if you do score, you’ll at least be in matching outfits.
With Kids and Coffee and the Barefoot Nomad have some good photography tips you can check out.
Grab your FREE printable -- Travel Packing Essential List
Traveling with toddlers will never be perfect and most of the time it will be about preventing meltdowns and getting through it. But hopefully, with these tips and the ultimate working mom’s travel packing list for toddlers, you’ll have a strong chance of catching a few beautiful mom moments that make it all worth it.
What’s in your travel packing list? I’d love to know in the comments below.
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Co-Founder Pen and Parent
Amber Roshay is an instructor, writer, and instructional designer who founded Pen and Parent with her college best friend. She's written two novels and co-wrote How to Make a Living as a Writer. When she's not chasing after kiddos and indulging in baby snacks, you can find her writing with a cup of coffee in hand. Join her on Pinterest.