Need a birthday or holiday gift for the little globetrotter in your life? Want to help get kids excited about the next big journey? Below are some of our picks for the best bargain travel gear for kids and best toys for travel, clocking in around the price of a Starbucks visit for the family. Keep scrolling for fun and functional choices. These are our road-tested favorites!
Functional – best bargain travel gear for kids
Wetbags – We learned about these from our experience using cloth diapers, but they are useful for so much more! Wet swimsuits and towels. Stuff with a sweatshirt to make a pillow. Put mucky boots inside so they don’t wreck the car. Transport a leaky milk carton. An extra laundry bag. Seashell collection. Makeup case. Storage for charging cables and extra memory or SIM cards. Art supplies. A change of clothes for the forever-potty-training toddler (plus storage for the wet stuff!). Ice pack. The list is endless, and so are the sizes, prints and brands.
-Large (for a whole family’s swim suits and pack towels) – Planet Wise Large, Logan and Lenora Daytripper (this clocks in at a hefty $38 MSRP, but it’s our favorite ever for swim gear)
Snack bags – Much like the wetbags above, the goal of snack bags is to contain messes. They’re especially awesome if you rent apartments and buy groceries, as you can pack any snacks or sandwiches for the day before you head out. Happy kids, less money wasted. There are thousands of reusable snack bags out there, but I prefer ones that can be machine washed and dried and that use a zipper for closure. These won’t be ideal for wet snacks, as liquid can always seep out through the zipper, but we’ve had success with all sorts of dry food plus blueberries, grapes, baby carrots and more.
–Logan and Lenora Petite Pouch – these are our favorites despite the steep price! They have classy prints that work for kids or grown-up and can go in the washer and dryer. They’re basically small versions of the wetbags listed above, so extra versatile. Check the sale section on the L+L website, as I’ve sometimes found them at half price. $11 each MSRP.
–Bumkins – two sizes and tons fun prints, including Disney and Marvel! These are a great value starting at two for $7 MSRP.
Nalgene Grip n Gulp – My opinion may be unpopular, but I’m not a fan of straw bottles. Either they seep liquid out the top despite being untouched, or they have a thousand tiny parts to clean and lose in a foreign country. We just need something simple to take water on the go. The Nalgene Grip n Gulp is essentially a sippy cup, though my kids don’t think of it that way. It has only three parts: bottle, top and (optional) removable valve. Throw it all in the dishwasher. We’ve never had a leak in several years of use provided the valve is in place. The kids take them to school every day and when we travel. At 12oz, the capacity is perfect for our preschoolers. These come in kid-friendly colors and designs at a great price. Customer service was extremely helpful when Jacob chewed one of the spouts beyond recognition as a young toddler, sending us a free replacement lid.
BooginHead SippiGrip – These are some smart people over at BooginHead. The realize that kids drop things all the time. At home, it’s just annoying. On the road it can be a huge headache — water bottle dropped in a nasty gutter at the beginning of a long day or even just into the footwell of a bike trailer where the strapped in toddler can’t reach it. Enter the SippiGrip. It works perfectly with our Nalgene Grip n Gulp bottles! You can attach the other end to the harness of your stroller/trailer or to a toy loop on the car seat. At home you can even attach it to the high chair. One size fits most bottles and there are lots of colors and patterns available.
Babiators Sunglasses – An essential for any cool kid, but more importantly for eye health and comfort. Babiators are made of rubber so that they’re kid-proof and (unlike most inexpensive “fashion” shades for kids) they have real UV protection.If they get lost or damaged within the first year, replacement only costs you shipping (we may have already taken advantage of that benefit). These come in three sizes: Junior (they say 0-2, but Shoshana will wear hers until at least 3), Classic (3-5) and Aces (6-10). You can choose between the original Aviator style or the newer Navigator style, which takes its cues from hot-again Wayfarers. Right now Junior and Classic sizes range from $16-$25 and the bigger Aces run $24-$30.
Backpacks – We have mixed feelings on kid luggage, but there are times with the little ones really want to carry their own activities, snacks and blankies. Just remember that no one should really be carrying more than 10% of his or her body weight — so your preschooler can probably only comfortably handle 3lbs. Here are two options that work great for our family:
–Everest Junior Slant: At 13” tall, this backpack has a capacity of roughly 12L. As an experiment, I once packed all of Jacob’s clothes for a 2 week trip in there (we didn’t travel that way, as it would have been too heavy for him). Great backpack for ages 4-6. The quality is surprisingly high considering the rock-bottom price tag, and there are a few color available to keep kids happy. There are a few other styles in the Junior line, but they have much lower capacity.
–The North Face Sprout: The MSRP on this backpack is much higher at $35, but we’ve found previous season’s prints for around $20. The height of this bag is only 11”, making it ideal as a first backpack for 2-4 year olds. The total capacity is only 10L, so mostly your kids can put their airplane activities and a change of clothes inside. This is the backpack that both kids chose for themselves when they started preschool and still use daily! The appearance is kid-friendly and the manageable size makes it very comfortable.
–CamelBak Mini M.U.L.E.: This is another backpack option with a higher price tag, but the kids absolutely love it (and fight over it). It’s perfect extra motivation to get them going on hikes or bike rides. The bladder holds 1.5L of water and there are two smaller zipper compartments for snacks. There’s even an open expandable section in the middle where we stuff a light jacket or other spare clothes.
Related: Looking for the best travel backpack for women? Check out the best womens backpacks for travel here.
If you’d rather bring a rolling suitcase for your child, check out these best bets.
Fun – best travel toys
Binoculars – We picked up an inexpensive pair at the zoo a few years ago and are still using them! They make every outing feel like an adventure and we find ourselves bringing them out more often as Jacob gets older. Even our bargain model scratches the itch and they’re fun for us parents too.
Kidz Gear headphones – We’ve been known to “borrow” these from the kids when they’re not looking. We’ve had Kidz Gear headphones for almost four years and they’re still going strong. There’s a volume limiter built into the headphone cable, but inconspicuous enough that our kids have never messed with it (and it offers enough resistance that a casual graze of the hand won’t move it). The ear pieces are nicely cushioned for comfort and the kids never complain about wearing them. The band sizes down perfectly for a 2yo.
Uno – I loved playing Uno as a kid and it turns out Jacob loves it too! The original game requires that kids be able to recognize both colors and numbers, so we’d say it’s great for age 4-5 and up depending on your child. But Mattel has something for the little ones too — if you purchase one of the themed sets (we have Thomas & Friends), each card has its usual number and a character unique to that number. These sets will work for your 2 or 3 year old if she’s familiar with the characters. Choices include classic, Disney/Pixar movies, super heroes and many more. And in case you thought Uno was a one-trick pony, check out these other games and activities to do with a deck.
Play Pack Grab & Go – These little activity packs are lifesavers for restaurants or plane rides! When your kid needs a quiet distraction or a mid-meltdown pick-me-up, this is a great option. If you’re lucky, you can find them in The Dollar Spot Bullseye’s Playground at Target for $1 each. I always stock up when I can. They’re almost all Disney movie or character tie-ins, ranging from Mickey Mouse to The Little Mermaid to Star Wars.
Crayola Color Wonder Stow and Go Travel Studio – Jacob received this set for his birthday and it’s been great for roadtrips! The markers only show up on special Color Wonder paper but that has never seemed to bother either kid. This particular set comes with one coloring book and four mini-markers, but you can expand that with more markers, more coloring books or even blank drawing paper. I bought eight more mini-markers and two more coloring books, so now we can take the whole kit with us to entertain both kids. At $10 from Target this makes a great gift for kids who take a lot of road trips! We don’t take it when we fly, as we prefer more compact options that can do double-duty (though I just found out they make a mini version!).
Melissa & Doug Water Wow! – Clean, reusable, compact and inexpensive. These are all the things I typically look for in on-the-go activities and the Water Wow line checks all the boxes. You fill the little brush with water, then your child “paints” whatever page of the book he wants and the color appears. Eventually the color completely disappears. There are even hidden pictures and activities revealed when they paint the whole picture! Great for ages 2-4.
Miniatures (dinosaurs, animals etc) – Whatever your child’s interest, Animal Planet has great little toys to take with you for imaginative play. My kids love the dinosaurs – we purchased the “big bucket” that has volcanoes, trees and two sizes dinos, but we just bring a few of the baby dinos with us when we travel. Depending on your destination, maybe pick a set that fits the trip theme!
Cars – For 99 cents each you can pick up a few new race cars and have some fun! We try to bring one per family member so that we can have races. Fun for all ages and easy to pack! These also make great souvenirs to pick up at your destination (we got some great ones from the BMW Museum in Germany and the kids love playing with the shamrock green bus we got in Ireland). If you want to get fancy, you can spring for the Disney/Pixar Cars or Star Wars themed cars!