Traveling With a One-Year-Old: The Best Travel Tips and Toys

Updated on February 23, 2018
We have flown many times with very young children, and simple toys like stacking cups keep one-year-old toddlers busy throughout the flight!
We have flown many times with very young children, and simple toys like stacking cups keep one-year-old toddlers busy throughout the flight! | Source

Whether traveling by car or in an airplane, traveling with a one-year-old child is a challenge. As safety is paramount, babies of this age are generally strapped into a car seat for long periods of time—a rather uncomfortable way to spend a large block of time. Most flights require passengers to remain in their seats with seat belts fastened for the bulk of the flight. In addition, one-year-olds are not developmentally ready to spend large amounts of time with sedentary activities; coloring, drawing, and reading are simply not options for this age group.

One-year-olds have generally mastered the "pinching grasp" developmental skill, and are beginning to work on their gross motor skills. To the uninitiated, this means they want to move their bodies a lot!

Finding travel toys for toddlers this age can be very difficult; the travel toys must be robust enough to withstand some abuse, but they must also be safe, interesting, and able to entertain the child for more than a two-second period of time.

It is best to find a large assortment of small, age-appropriate toys, as a one-year-old will quickly become bored with any one toy.

What sort of play do one-year-olds enjoy?

  • Fill-and-dump: they love to dump things out of containers and put them back in again.
  • Stacking and nesting: they love stacking cups.
  • Gross motor play: crawling, toddling, walking, and other large motor skill activities are all favorites.
  • Cause-and-effect: they love to push buttons and see what results from their action.
  • Music: they love songs.
  • Pulling and ripping: Much to their parents' dismay, one-year-old children love to pull kleenex out of a box, pull toilet paper off the roll, and rip paper into shreds.

Tips for Traveling by Plane

When traveling by plane, take advantage of the pre-boarding time. If at all possible, purchase the baby his or her own seat. While lap-seating infants is a viable option because they aren't mobile yet, lap-seating a one-year-old child is more difficult (particularly for long flights). This is because one-year-old children are active, and will struggle to get down and crawl around on a frequent basis.

If your traveling one-year-old has a ticketed seat, bring the car seat on board. A great tip is to ask for a blanket from a flight attendant: take the blanket and place it under the car seat. Then take the other end of the blanket and tuck it into the pocket of the seat in front of you. This creates a sling and prevents toys and snacks from falling all the way to the floor. This keeps dropped toys and snacks cleaner and makes picking up dropped toys easier. When traveling with a one-year-old child, you will be picking up a lot of dropped toys!

The supplied “air sickness bag” is another great, free toy. It is likely that you won’t need this bag for its intended purpose: you can use the barf bag to create a puppet, to hide snacks and toys in, and to play the favorite “fill and dump” style games that kids this age love.

Use an airline blanket to create a "sling" under the child's car seat. This will prevent toys from falling to the floor.
Use an airline blanket to create a "sling" under the child's car seat. This will prevent toys from falling to the floor. | Source
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Three Little Pigs Play Set Soft Baby Toy
Melissa & Doug Deluxe Three Little Pigs Play Set Soft Baby Toy

This may be the best travel toy ever designed. It is a little more expensive than most, but it combines so many elements into one: stacking, nesting, stuffing, story telling, and more.


Toys for Traveling by Car or Plane

Stacking cups: one-year-olds love to stack and nest, so stacking cups make an excellent travel toy. The “nesting” factor also makes them easy to pack into a carry-on. The Munchkin caterpillar stacking cups are billed as a “bath toy,” but they make an excellent travel toy. These cups can be stacked, nested, and clipped together to form a long caterpillar. As an added feature, these cups can be used as a bath toy when you arrive at your destination.

Sunglasses: Find a pair of small children’s sunglasses. One-year-olds love trying to put them on their face and will play with these for quite some time. Don’t spend a lot of money on the sunglasses, however, because the hinges will likely be ruined by the end of the trip!

Post-it notes: It might sound strange, but an office supply store is a wonderful travel toy shopping spot for one-year-olds! A large pad of post-it notes will entertain them for quite some time. The adhesive is just sticky enough to adhere to the plane window and car seat sides, but won’t leave any residue behind. One-year-olds love pulling each sheet off the post-it pad; it satisfies a need to pull-apart and tear! For an 18-month-old, stickers can be added to make pretty patterns on the post-it note sheets. This activity will require a lot of monitoring by the parent, to be sure the child doesn’t put the papers into his or her mouth, and to clean up the post-it notes when the play is complete.

Books: “Activity” books such as touch-and-feel books, lift-the-flap books, and soft, cloth travel books may entertain a one-year-old for a certain period of time. Be aware, however, that the tabs of most lift-the-flap books will be torn off sooner or later. Find sturdy, board book style books and enjoy the flight!

Finger puppets: Finger puppets are a great travel toy for one-year-olds. Parents can put on a little puppet show, sing songs, and tell stories with the finger puppets. One-year-olds also like putting them on their fingers.

DVD player: Nothing beats a DVD player for entertaining a one-year-old. Whether you are playing videos on a laptop, smartphone, or portable DVD player, this is probably the easiest, most entertaining option for toddlers. Pick a child’s favorite movie and take it along. One-year-olds like repetition, and will watch an old favorite with more interest than a new, unproven movie.

Toy cell phone: Pushing buttons and seeing things light up is a great activity for most toddlers. Add a toy cell phone to your travel toy menagerie: they are small and have a good play value for the plane or car ride. Be sure the toy phone is not too loud or obnoxious, though: you don’t want complaints from other passengers!

Snacks: While snacks are not exactly “travel toys,” they can be entertaining and will keep any one year old happy for a period of time. Animal crackers in a box are a wonderful travel snack: the animal crackers are fun to eat, and the box doubles as a play item when the snack is finished. Small snacks that can be slowly parceled out over time are better than a large snack item: consider bringing dried blueberries, Gerber puffs, and cheerios in the travel bag.

Soft nesting toys: One-year-olds will love stuffing little toys into a bigger toy: these toys are wonderful in a car or on a plane. Melissa and Doug manufactures a wonderful Three Little Pigs soft baby toy: the pigs can be pushed through the chimney, stuffed into the house, and the three houses can be pulled apart and stuffed back together.

Munchkin Caterpillar Spillers Stacking Cups - Colors May Vary
Munchkin Caterpillar Spillers Stacking Cups - Colors May Vary

These stacking cups work in so many ways: They stack, nest, clip together, and can be used as a bath toy!



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    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 4 years ago from Western New York

      We absolutely loved that toy when my boys were little, Vel. One year olds love to put toys into containers and take them out again - the Three Little Pigs set lets you combine that type of play with a good story.

    • profile image

      Vel 4 years ago

      Thanks for the very helpful tips! I will start to look for three little pigs as I myself thought of it a very useful one.. :-)

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 5 years ago from Western New York

      I am glad my kids are no longer one year old - it is a challenging age for long trips! My kids loved the "take-in, take-out" style toys (like the Melissa and Doug 3 pigs set) when they were one and it made trips much easier!

    • dommcg profile image

      dommcg 5 years ago

      many thanks for the excellent tips, i've been on many planes and with some of the families had read you notes before they got on the plane. Voted up ffor useful.

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 6 years ago from Western New York

      Keeping little ones happy on the road is a vital skill! We picked up a lot of tips for traveling with a one year old, since we took ours back and forth to California several times per year!

    • camdjohnston12 profile image

      camdjohnston12 6 years ago

      What a happy trip.