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The Best Travel Toys and Tips for 2 Year Old Children

With a degree in biochemistry, Leah works for a small biotechnology company and enjoys writing about science.

This 2 year old is ready to fly off on an adventure!

This 2 year old is ready to fly off on an adventure!

The Best Travel Toys for 2 Year Olds

The very best travel “toy” we have used is our personal DVD player. For a two year old child, watching a favorite video can be very soothing on board a plane or in a car. We would sometimes bring a new movie, but our two year olds generally preferred to watch their old favorites, over and over again. For parents that own a tablet computer, there are many apps that keep little ones entertained on long trips!

The Best Travel Game: Hungry Hungry Hippos

One of our favorite toys for car or plane trips was a Hungry, Hungry Hippo travel game. The little balls are completely contained in the dome, so no pieces can get lost. Our younger son would spend quite a lot of time making the hippos “eat” the little balls.

This travel game offers two things that 2 year old children like: buttons to press and making things disappear. There are two hippos in the travel version of the game, so a sibling or parent could theoretically play a "real" game with the toy, but our children preferred playing with this toy on their own.

Hippo Travel Game

This travel Hungry Hungry Hippo game was a favorite  travel toy for our two year old.

This travel Hungry Hungry Hippo game was a favorite travel toy for our two year old.

Fisher Price Little People Playsets

We also found that Fisher Price Little People made excellent travel toys at this age, particularly the sets that came with a small vehicle and person. We would package a few of these toys into our sons’ backpacks, and bring them out one at a time. They are small enough to fit on an airplane tray, and playing with the little people in the cars kept our little guys entertained.

These small sets are quite inexpensive: we have found sets at our local Big Lots retailer for under $10, and each set includes a vehicle and a person. For car trips, we often carry a small plastic bin filled with various Little People and vehicles - our son will play with them in his car seat.

While it is a larger set, my son's favorite was a musical train set. The train cars snap apart to fit in a child's backpack, and my son would spend quite a bit of time disassembling and reassembling the train cars. He enjoyed putting the people and toy animals into the train cars and would run them over the airplane's tray table.

Little People Play Sets

Small play sets can be purchased for under $10, at retailers like Big Lots.

Small play sets can be purchased for under $10, at retailers like Big Lots.

Toy Cameras

Toy cameras are a favorite of 2 year olds. They can pretend to take pictures of things they see on their trip, and any toy that involves buttons is guaranteed to be a hit among this age set. On road trips, you can point to interesting things along the interstate and tell the child to “take a picture” of cows, buildings, and other objects.

Travel Art Supplies with 2 Year Olds

Keep art supplies to a minimum. Two year olds love art, but dozens of crayons can get scattered in an instant. We found the best solution was to invest in some Crayola stampers and a sketch pad, along with a few bright markers. Color Wonder makes some great kits, too, and these won’t leave any stains on little fingers. Painter’s tape is wonderful – kids can rip it and stick it to paper, and the tape comes off easily the trip is over. Aquadoodle makes great travel kits, too – the water-filled pens make scenes come to life over and over again – and the books can be reused indefinitely. If you are flying, be sure to fill the Aquadoodle pen up after going through airport security.

Books and Puzzles

Lift-the-flap style books and big, foam puzzles are another option for 2 year old travelers. Sturdy lift-the-flap style books will keep little ones occupied for a long time, especially if the books contain a large number of flaps to lift. The dollar store sells foam mats that interlock, often in favorite character designs. Our two year olds liked putting these together on airplanes or in the car, and the “puzzles” were simple enough for any two year old to put together. Usborne makes several high-quality interactive books that are fantastic for keeping toddlers engaged.

Earplanes Relieve Pressure

Flying with Two Year Olds

In the Airport: Security Screening When You Have a Runner

Going through security screening with a two year old can be a nightmare, especially if you have a “runner.” We have two small boys – one would take off in an instant at the age of two, and the other had a more sedate personality. We found that having slip-on shoes made the screening process easier, as we didn’t have to sit and tie or Velcro everyone’s shoes back on while our “runner” made a break for it.

We also dressed him in overalls, so that we could easily grab a strap if he started to run. We also used a stroller to keep him contained, though we found that he needed to run off energy during our layovers. If we wanted to (safely) let him run off some energy in a major airport, we would often use a child safety leash.

We didn’t use the child-safety leash during our everyday lives, but we would use one in the airport. Our local airport was small enough that he couldn’t really get lost, but traveling through Chicago O’Hare or Los Angeles International was another matter entirely: the crowds and scale of these airports made our son’s safety priority over any perceived “judging” from other parents or adults around us. We had a cute monkey-style backpack where the tail formed a leash, and used this to keep him safe in these environments.

It is a good idea to include contact information on your child. Some parents will place a piece of masking tape inside the child’s shirt with the child’s name, parent’s cell phone number, and other information in the event a child becomes separated during travel. There is a company that manufactures “safety tattoos” (temporary “stickers”) for use on travel days.

Some airports have designated play places for children. If you are flying to an airport with a play center, find it and let your child play there as long as possible during a layover. After flying numerous places with two small boys, I believe the creators of these play-places deserve some sort of glamorous prize – the play areas can be sanity savers in the middle of a hectic travel day.

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Traveling with a Two Year Old

Traveling with a two year old child can be challenging, as children of this age are full of energy and do not like sitting for long stretches of time. As difficult as traveling with this age group can be, it is possible to have a good road trip or airplane ride with the proper preparation.

In general, road trips will be easier than flights, since you can stop a car at any moment when a need strikes. Bathroom stops, a run to the pharmacy, and a needed break to run around can be easily arranged in a car. Young children on an airplane are generally confined to their car seats for the almost the entire flight – this is not a huge difficulty if the flight is 2 hours long, but everyone’s nerves will be frayed after a 6 hour flight.

Ear Pressure and Little Ears

Small children can sometimes experience ear pain with the pressure changes involved with take-off and landing in an aircraft. There are a few techniques that will help the smallest travelers clear their little ears:

  1. Take a sippy cup on board. Make sure the cup is filled with juice, water, or milk for take-off. Sucking on a sippy cup and swallowing the juice will provide the counter-pressure necessary to “pop” the ears, relieving the pressure. If your child still uses a pacifier, bring it and use it.
  2. Lollipops are another excellent choice – sucking on a lollipop will help clear the ears, as it induces swallowing.
  3. If your child has a head-cold, contact their pediatrician prior to flying. Our older son once had a cold, and I took him to the pediatrician the day before we flew. As it turns out, his ears were filled with fluid. He prescribed a decongestant to clear out our little one’s ears prior to the flight – without the medication, our son may have ruptured an eardrum during take-off. Fortunately, the pediatrician’s care and the decongestant worked to make the flight safe and enjoyable for everyone.
  4. Earplanes are another alternative, if your toddler will tolerate earplugs. Earplanes are earplugs that regulate and equalize pressure during take-off and landing, and will prevent painful pressure swings in the ears.

The CARES Travel Harness

Taking a Car Seat on the Plane

There are many options flying with toddlers: the parents can opt to take an FAA approved car seat on board, or the parents can opt to forgo the car seat on the plane and sit the child in a regular airplane seat.

It is safer to use an FAA approved car seat, as the child will be secured during any unexpected turbulence.

Besides safety, there is another point to consider with taking a car seat on board: two year old children are quite active, and are often impulsive. This means that a two year old in a regular airline seat belt may constantly slide under it, climb over it, and try to bounce on their seat for a great portion of the flight. The five point harness provided by a car seat keeps the child securely in their seat, which will make your job as “entertainer” easier, and will make the other passengers happier.

Bringing a car seat on board does present challenges, however, as the child safety seat will often bring the child closer in proximity to the aisle in front of you. We had an experience when traveling with our two year old where he kicked the seat in front of us constantly, since his little feet were resting against the seat-back. The woman in front of him was quite enraged, and we struggled to come up with a solution (reasoning with a 2 year old is seldom productive). In the end, we simply took his shoes off. It made the drumming of little feet less annoying, though didn’t stop the behavior entirely. Fortunately, he fell asleep shortly after take off.

Lugging a car seat through an airport (in addition to the luggage and stroller) can be quite a chore. There is another option available, called the CARES child restraint system. This set of belts creates an FAA approved five-point harness for use on airplanes. The system is easy to tote around, since it consists of a few belts. This option is a wonderful alternative for families who would like to travel without the added hassle of carrying a large chid safety seat through the airport. Do remember, however, that a car seat will still be required if you intend to use a car at your final destination. Car seats can be rented from car rental facilities, if needed.

Changing Diapers in Tiny Airplane Bathrooms

While some children are toilet trained at the age of two, the majority are still in diapers. If you are planning to fly, it would be a good idea to post-pone toilet training until after the trip is over: with current security regulations, there is a great deal of time in-flight where a child cannot get up to go to the bathroom. For this reason, we always put our two year olds in pull-ups when flying, even after they were toilet trained. We frequently flew betweenNew York andLos Angeles, and the length of the flight almost guaranteed an accident.

Of course, changing a toddler’s diaper on an airplane presents its own challenges. The airplane bathrooms are minuscule, and the “changing table” provided in most airplane lavatories is suitable for the tiniest of infants – not 30 pound toddlers. Wet diapers are easy to change while the child is standing, but dirty diapers can cause difficult moments for both the parent and child in flight.

Depending on the size of the child and airplane bathroom, we often simply laid the child on the closed toilet and did the diaper change on top of the toilet – the surface area was slightly larger than the changing table provided by the airline. We always brought extra plastic bags to contain the smelly diaper after the changing was done. The diaper would be sealed inside the plastic bag, and then discarded into the garbage.

Keep the Final Destination in Mind!

Whether you travel by car or plane, traveling with a two year old will be easier with these tips. Keep the final destination in mind: no matter how difficult (and long) the actual day of travel is, you will eventually get to where your destination!

© 2011 Leah Lefler


Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on February 12, 2015:

Aesta1, we always focus on keeping our kids happy on flights - when they were in the toddler stage, it was a lot of hard work! We are flying again this year, but my boys are now ages 7 and 9, and it is much easier now!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on February 12, 2015:

I got interested in your hub because in planes, I often find kids' crying disturbing. I feel bad for the child and for the parents as well trying hard to stop it. Sharing this with friends who have children will give them ideas on what to do.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on November 12, 2013:

We often take long car trips, as we cannot afford to fly most places (and my younger son has medical equipment that is difficult to fly with). We are taking a 21 hour road trip to Florida this spring, Cassidydt, and hopefully our preparation will pay off! My boys are not 2 years old anymore, but that age is difficult with long trips. We took a 16 hour road trip to Brian Head, Utah when my older son was 2 and it was an exhausting trip (successful, but exhausting)!

Cassidy Dawson-Tobich on November 12, 2013:

When I worked in Germany as an Au Pair for a year I looked after a one and a half year old. I remember long car trips were always interesting, having to come up with different ways to entertain her haha

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on August 04, 2012:

Good luck on your trip, iValbona! We drove to Utah from California (a 13 hour drive) when we had a 2 year old and a 4 month old. That DVD player saved us, as did frequent stops (for the 4 month old)!

iValbona on August 03, 2012:

My husband will be traveling with our two-year-old son in a 10-hour long ride so these tips are WONDERFUL! THANK YOU!

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 12, 2011:

We're just past that travel age, thank goodness. My youngest just turned four, and it is MUCH easier to travel with a four year old! We used to take long flights to California and we had a 2 year old for quite some time (I think we took at least 6 flights when one of our two boys was 2 years old, and at least one 13 hour car trip)!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 12, 2011:

It is unlikely that I will ever be traveling with 2 year olds, but your travel tips are great ones. This should make it to Google's first page! Voted up, useful and interesting.

Leah Lefler (author) from Western New York on October 11, 2011:

The game is still around, and my kids love it! The travel-sized edition is very different, though - two hippos, and the balls are encased in the plastic bubble (they cannot escape). This makes it perfect for little two year olds, and perfect for use in the car! My kids still love our travel version of the game.

Brian L. Powell from Dallas, Texas (Oak Cliff) on October 11, 2011:

I am amazed that Hungry Hungry Hippos is still around.

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