like a kong. but for toddlers.
October 26, 2017 5:55 PM   Subscribe

Best travel toys for young toddlers?

We have a 17 month old, and want to accumulate a bag of high value, non-iPhone toys that get parceled out while traveling or at restaurants.

Things we have already acquired/will be acquiring: Travel magnadoodle, Nuts and Bolts set, magnet play set, all the goddamn miniature construction equipment figurines in the world because he is obsessed.

Crayons are for down the road when the kid's first instinct won't be shoving them in this mouth. I would prefer something that isn't 10,000 tiny pieces I pick off the floor, but have nothing against cheap plastic. In fact, I swear to God that I am seriously considering bidding on some Fisher-Price Happy Meal McDonald's toys from the 90's because we have some already from a family friend, and they're freaking awesome, but please tell me if this is the worst, most lead-filled idea ever.
posted by joyceanmachine to Shopping (12 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
You want stacking cups! They are invincible, can be used to build, and satisfy the urge to put things into things and take them out. You instantly know whether one is missing, there are only 8 total, they are lightweight, and they take up very little space. When traveling to a different house or a hotel you can use them in the bath as both toys and for scooping and pouring water to clean messy children. They are fun to use at the beach. They coordinate well with other toys. On long airplane rides, pack other toys into the cups and wrap them in paper -- produce one bundle every time the last bundle becomes boring, and after all are unwrapped assemble the cups into their stack for another "new" game. At a restaurant, place bits of unwanted food in the cups and suddenly eating is fun! They can nest into one another or be used to stack up a tower, and your child can knock that tower down!

Basically, these cups are a miracle and will make everyone's lives better in every way imaginable.*

*Results may very. Positive outcomes not guaranteed.
posted by cubby at 6:16 PM on October 26, 2017 [9 favorites]

We got a lot more traction than I ever expected out of a Cheerios playbook (BYOCheerios)

This fidget toy still gets played with almost 7 years later

We also got a lot of years out of an old calculator. He could push buttons and things happened, it was solar so no batteries, and when he knew his numbers he could play pushing them in order or on demand to show off.
posted by Mchelly at 6:17 PM on October 26, 2017

My kid liked reusable stickers and sticky notes. She even liked the colorful dot stickers you can find in the office stationery aisles of stores. We placed them in patterns to make things like faces, flowers, and cars. Basically, anything from my office was funtimes.

Also, any cup or box with a small opening (like an empty tissue box) was fun when she had stuff to stick inside it and take them back out--like cotton balls, cotton swabs, etc.

Oh, and we had that buckle toy that snickerdoodle linked above. That was also a hit!
posted by zerbinetta at 6:23 PM on October 26, 2017

Munchkin flash cards for baby
posted by tristeza at 7:08 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I second (or third) the buckles and stickers post. But just get cheap paper stickers. The reusables were always an impossible mess after one use. Also, you can get a lot of mileage out of a mini notebook and a pen by drawing little pictures, hiding wadded up balls of paper under napkins, tiny paper hats, etc. Add a handful of magnatiles, and you could possibly have minutes (precious minutes!) of restaurant playtime. My 20 month old can build simple box houses for the little critters I've drawn on my mini notebook pages.

But the real reason I'm answering this question is to recommend this seemingly nightmarish, but actually brilliant, cupcake game. As far as I know, no one has ever played the game as indended, but it comes with tiny, irresistible cupcakes that come apart into four teeny pieces each that are somehow designed to be easy for a toddler to reassemble into a dazzling array of combinations. All three of my children ranging from 7.5 to almost 2 have spent HOURS fiddling with these cupcakes and telling me incomprehensible stories about their various flavors and origins. Sure, you might lose some pieces along the way, but there are tons of pieces so it doesn't matter. Get some sort of a small reusable box to hold them all and you're golden. (Assuming your child won't eat the teeny, tiny pieces. In which case you should stick with the buckle toy.)
posted by defreckled at 7:20 PM on October 26, 2017

At about that age, shoelaces were a big hit with my daughter. Seriously. We got a basket of big beads and brightly colored laces for stringing at a yard sale and she wasn't quite old enough to string the beads but she fell in love with the laces. She would run around holding them and letting them stream out behind her, she would carefully hang them over a railing, and she would happily spend a lot of time fiddling with one, especially if she had another small toy that she could use with it, wrapping the lace around it in various ways. When she was 20 months old we went on a long trip and shoelaces were the best travel toy we brought.

The buckle toy snickerdoodle recommended looks like something she would really have liked at that age, too.
posted by Redstart at 7:24 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

A friend of mine who traveled quite a lot by plane due to family obligation with her toddlers would always bring a bag of plain M&Ms along. She referred to them as "shut-em-ups" and would dole them out, one by one, on an as needed basis for distraction when necessary on airplanes. I grabbed this idea with both hands and never let go, as we traveled with our toddlers not as often as she did, but several times a year when they were tiny and it was more than enough. Since most people aren't handing candy to their toddlers on the daily, it is really an amazing way to shock a baby who is about to lose their shit into a state of "everything is amazing as long as this thing is in my mouth" and gives you time to distract them into something else.

We had a few go-to toys for plane trips and long car rides and when you figure yours out I would heartily recommend to keep them aside for ONLY those events so they don't become stupid and boring and incapable of doing their entertainment job. We had the same rule for a few TV shows and movies that our kids were particularly enchanted by: they became mesmerizing travel-only events, deployed when everything else was exhausted and parents were ready to not actively engage for a little while.

When we traveled to visit family or stay some place long term we tried to get access to the local libraries, where we would usually find new and exciting books we didn't have at our home library. There was a book called something like "MOMMY NO!" that was a perennial favorite every summer for like, four years, between my two kids whenever we visited a certain family home, despite the M&Ms that got us all there alive in the first place. Worth it.
posted by padraigin at 7:45 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

A Clover retractable tape measure (the tape part is flexible, not hard) is a great toy for travel or otherwise -- our daughter got hours and hours and hours and HOURS of entertainment out of hers at that age. It's nice if at least some of the time you have it available is also time when the kid can walk around a little, because one of its charms is holding the end of the measure and letting the case drag behind you like a pet on a leash, but there are many other more sedentary ways to enjoy it, too.
posted by redfoxtail at 9:38 PM on October 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tiny post it notes, I swear to god, my kid can spend hours taking post-its off the pad and sticking them to things. The bookmark size are the best.
posted by john_snow at 6:46 AM on October 27, 2017 [2 favorites]

A roll of scotch tape.
posted by jimmereeno at 9:34 AM on October 27, 2017

Giant bag of pompoms and some kind of container with a hole in it which is just big enough to squash the pompom in if you try moderately hard (we used an old baby bottle with the nipple off, and later a toy camper van that had an opening door). Spray bottle filled with water (not so much for restaurants, but endlessly amusing in the car). Interesting rocks that can be loudly thrown into a metal container. A length of flexible plastic Hot Wheels track (3 or 4 pieces stuck together) to roll a little car down. My child hated the car, so I had an actual hockey bag full of entertainment, and these were the things that seemed to provide the most relief.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 2:40 PM on October 27, 2017

posted by speakeasy at 4:50 AM on October 28, 2017

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