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

Whether traveling by car or in an airplane, traveling with a one year old child is a challenge for any parent. 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 plane 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 one year olds want to move their bodies a lot!

Finding travel toys for one year olds is a real difficulty: the travel toys must be robust enough to withstand some abuse, safe, interesting, and entertain the child for more than a 2 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: One year olds love to dump things out of containers and put them back in again.
  • Stacking and nesting: One year olds love stacking cups.
  • Gross motor play: Crawling, toddling, walking, and other large motor skill activities
  • Cause-and-effect: One year olds love to push buttons and see what results from their action.
  • Music: One year olds 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.

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

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 are a viable option, lap-seating a one year old child is more difficult (particularly for long flights). One year old children are active, and will struggle to get down and crawl around on a frequent basis: lap sitting is more difficult once a baby is mobile.

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 one year olds love.

Munchkin Caterpillar Spillers Stacking Cups
Munchkin Caterpillar Spillers Stacking Cups

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


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 a one year old 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 simply be torn off by one year old children. 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. K’s kids school buss.

DVD player: Nothing beats a DVD player for entertaining a one year old. Whether you are playing videos on a laptop, smart phone, or portable DVD player, this is probably the easiest, most entertaining option for one year olds. 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 one year olds. 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.

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.


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Comments 6 comments

camdjohnston12 profile image

camdjohnston12 5 years ago

What a happy trip.

leahlefler profile image

leahlefler 5 years ago from Western New York Author

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!

dommcg profile image

dommcg 3 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

leahlefler 3 years ago from Western New York Author

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!

Vel 2 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

leahlefler 2 years ago from Western New York Author

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.

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