Toddler Travel Essentials
Are you planning a vacation with a toddler and wondering what to bring? We traveled to China for 10 days when our oldest daughter was 2.5 years old and learned A LOT about what works for traveling with a toddler and what doesn’t.
In China, we visited four cities in nine days and used all sorts of transportation to get around, including airplanes, subway, trains, private car, and our own two feet. We needed items that would allow us to get around easily, pack lightly, and keep our kid entertained. From transportation essentials to entertainment musts, read on to see the greatest hits of our trip.
Hauling a car seat around China wasn’t an option for us since we decided to mostly use public transportation to get around. We needed an alternative to a car seat for the plane, so we used this airplane safety harness and it worked great. You slip it over the airplane seat and run the airplane’s seat belt through the bottom loops. Once your kid is strapped in, the harness looks exactly like one on a car seat. You can buy a CARES harness if you will be traveling a lot, but you can also rent it from RentCARES.com.
This stroller is awesome! It only weighs 13 pounds and folds down to be 12.5” x 7.8” x 14.8”, and it easily fits in overhead bins and underneath seats on planes, trains, and buses. It has a reclining function, which made for easy naps on the go with our stroller shade (see below). We pushed this stroller over A LOT of ancient cobblestone streets with no problem, which we were happy to find defied some reviewers’ complaints of its pushability on uneven terrain. Of all the items we bought for this trip, I think this stroller is the gold medal winner!
This stroller strade was essential for naps on the go in the stroller. When it was time for a nap, we popped this on over the stroller and our daughter was able to fall asleep because the shade blocked out visual distractions. The shade also blocks out 99% of UV rays and is made from air-permeable polyester mesh, so your little one won’t get sunburned and will be able to breathe while she’s snoozing. It fits on any type of stroller, too.
When Fiona wasn’t in the stroller, we folded it up and used this strap to sling it over our shoulders to carry it around. Originally for carrying kids’ bikes, it worked pretty well as a carrying strap for our stroller.
Sometimes the stroller wasn’t right for our location, like the Great Wall or on the public bus in Suzhou. During those times, we used the LILLEbaby 3 in 1 CarryOn All Seasons Toddler Carrier. You can position your child in a front, side, or back position, but we just did the front position.
This is not made specifically to be a diaper bag, but it sure worked for us. We were able to fit diapers, wipes, a changing pad, toys, coloring books, snacks, water bottles, a wallet, a toddler rain jacket, and a roll of toilet paper (#travelinginChina) in this bad boy. It has two locking zippers to reduce potential theft, the sides have slash-resistant mesh panels, and the interior pockets are RFID blocking. Thanks to Lisa at Extra Black Olives for writing about this tote in one of her travel posts and leading me to this purchase.
This is the regular changing pad we’ve used since the day Fiona was born, and worked well on our trip. It doesn’t take up a lot of room, but still holds diapers and wipes and has a removable waterproof changing pad.
This is amazing. Basically, it’s a reusable painting book. Add water to the included brush and paint the water onto the pages. Magically, color appears where the pad is wet. Eventually, when the page dries, the color disappears. You can reuse the same page over and over and over again. The Water WOW! was an awesome quiet activity for the plane and while waiting for food at restaurants.
What kid doesn’t love stickers? We brought a few different coloring/sticker books with us (Hello Kitty and My First Early-Learning Sticker Books). Like the Water WOW!, they were a nice quiet activity for the plane and restaurants.
I saw these on Pinterest and these are genius! Triangular crayons don’t roll around like regular circular crayons, so they aren’t going to roll off the seat-back tray and down to the last row on the airplane.
We brought along a simple memo pad for Fiona to put dot stickers on (see below) and to free draw or color. It’s slim and doesn’t take up a lot of room, but it sure can be used for a variety of activities.
I snagged some dot stickers from my classroom before we left. These are the kind you find in the office supply section of a big box store or drugstore. Fiona peeled off the stickers with a little help and then stuck them on the memo pad. This is yet another great plane or restaurant activity.
Yes, sticky notes! I grabbed some Post-Its from my desk at work and Fi had a ball taking them off and sticking them on the memo pad, or sticking them back together, or sticking them to the seat-back tray.
I got an inexpensive magnetic drawing board at Target similar to the one linked and it served us well, both on the plane, in restaurants, on the subway, and in the car.
This quiet book is another wonderful time filler full of fun activities for little hands, including a dress-up doll and an empty plate with food to stick on it.
We actually bought this for Fiona six months after our trip for her 3rd birthday, which goes to show that it is possible to travel with a toddler without a device. That being said, we will definitely be taking this with us on upcoming trips that include long flights. Fiona was engaged with all the entertainment we brought with us, but she never did them long enough on her own for us to read a book or watch a movie. That’s where the tablet comes to the parents’ rescue to give them a break on an eleven hour flight.
We didn’t spring for an expensive tablet for a toddler for a reason. If she breaks it, it’s not as big of a deal as it would be if it were an iPad. Still, we got this case and this screen protector to protect the tablet, and it is still in good condition six months after our purchase.
Our daughter LOVES milk, but we were not sure how much we could trust the milk in China. We had read a lot online about counterfeit food and beverage items unwittingly being sold in reputable stores (we’re talking everything from beer to water being counterfeited – I mean, really, water?!), so we decided not to take our chances and we brought our own milk along. This can of powdered milk lasted us the entire trip. Each day, we’d put a day’s worth of powdered milk into a Ziploc bag and haul it around as we were out and about. Admittedly, it probably wouldn’t look good to have a baggie of white powder in our bag if we were ever detained for some reason, but luckily we did not have that problem! This powdered milk would also work well for backpacking or camping trips.
We brought one sippy cup with us and managed not to lose it. We like The First Years sippy cups because they don’t leak if they tip over.
I brought A LOT of snacks, because we weren’t sure what we’d find in China in terms of snack food. I learned the key to bringing snack food while traveling is to choose snacks that do not crumble. The winners for us in this category were fruit leather and raisins. Portable, don’t crumble into a billion pieces, and a hit with little ones. (We did find a lot of options for snack food in China. Fiona’s favorite were cucumber Lay’s potato chips!)
If you are going to be traveling light but don’t want to wear dirty clothes while on vacation, check out these Tide Travel Sink Packets. You can wash your clothes in your hotel sink and hang them dry. Thanks to Kait at CommuniKait for recommending this laundry detergent.
To aid the drying process, we brought polyester clothes on our trip. We bought these shirts for Fiona: Amazon Essentials swim tee, Coolibar rash guard, Spotted Zebra active t-shirts, and Under Armour t-shirt. We bought these pants for Fiona: The Children’s Place denim leggings, Puma leggings, and Delia*s basic active leggings.
Every time we got to a new hotel, we’d wash our clothes in the sink, roll them in a towel to get them mostly dry, and then hang them in the bathroom or room for the next few days until they were completely dry.
Traveling with a toddler is challenging, but not impossible! These items really made our trip to China a success. Now that our youngest daughter has arrived, we can’t wait to take more adventurous trips when she gets a little older and we can pack everything we need in backpacks. Seeing the world with your children is an amazing experience, and I hope this list of our essentials helps you get out there and explore beyond your front door.