Traveling anywhere with young kids can be stressful (and, let’s be real, sometimes downright dreadful), but don’t let the nay-sayers crush your adventurous soul — you can live your best traveling life, even with baby in tow. In fact, getting to your final destination is the trickiest part. Once you’re there, it’s all likely to fall into place, and you’ll make memories that will last a lifetime — whether you explore uncharted territories or return home to visit grandparents.
You can definitely do this, dear parents, you just have to prepare, prepare, prepare! One way to do that is to arm yourself with the right kind of kids travel accessories. We’re talking tablets, headphones and all the tech gear. Trust us, they will make your globetrotting life muuuuuch easier.
Here are our must-have travel accessories to help you survive that dreaded cross-country flight or stuffed-in-a-car-for-hours dream (or obligatory) road trip. Note: these items are better suited to the 2+ crowd; for the tiny ones, check out our eBook, Flying with Baby.
iPads, Amazon Fire and Other Tablets for Your Little Ones
For long trips, a tablet or DVD player is your best friend (outside of your flask, that is). If you’re looking for a kids tablet that is durable and won’t break the bank, we’ve got you covered. Assuming you don’t already have one, here is a quick and dirty list of our favorites for kids.
A quick reminder…
It’s true, you should limit screen time for young children (and all children, for that matter) in your normal day-to-day life. The American Academy for Pediatrics recommends avoiding digital media for kids under 18 months. And for little ones ages 2 to 5, the official AAP recommendation is one hour per day. But for travel? HA! All bets are off, people. So go crazy and watch Frozen 17 times if it keeps the peace. No one will blame you!
If you’re searching for your little one’s very first “smart” device, this children’s tablet is perfect. Affordable, educational, lightweight and operated with three AAA batteries, it’s aimed to entertain little ones (12 to 36 months). Though it is not a “screen” per se, it includes more than 100 songs, sounds, tunes, and phrases to keep your toddler entertained. What more could you ask for $20?
$ – onn. 8-Inch Tablet ~ $79
The onn. is a great budget tablet that is lightweight and portable. Although it has a shorter battery life (around 4 hours), reviewers rave about the sound and screen quality. It runs on the Android 9.0 operating system and has a headphone jack (yay!). Though not specifically for children, this tablet is comparable to the Amazon Fire and works well for basic tasks like reading ebooks, playing games and streaming videos.
$ – Amazon Fire Kids ~ $99
This is our top choice for kids because of the price tag, the kid-proof rubber case, and the 2-year no-questions-asked guarantee. The Fire for Kids has a simple interface, great parental controls, and 1 year of “FreeTime Unlimited,” which is essentially a bunch of free content for kids from PBS Kids, Nickelodeon, Disney, and the like.
See also: Best Tablets for School
$ – LeapPad Academy ~ $99
This LeapFrog children’s tablet is a great educational tablet that might make you feel good (or maybe… less bad) about sticking them in front of a screen while traveling. It comes pre-installed with more than 20 educational apps for kids, so your littles can work on reading, writing, coding, or math and have fun while doing it. You also get a 3-month free trial of LeapFrog’s learning program, LeapPad academy, which is chock full of other great content.
$$ – Verizon GizmoTab ~ $249
If the Android operating system is more your style, check out the Verizon GizmoTab, which is basically an Ellipsis 8 HD with a bright case and some child-friendly software optimizations. Also: it comes with cellular connectivity, which you don’t get with the Fire.
$$$ – Apple iPad Mini ~ $399
It’s easy to understand the love affair people have with Apple products. So sleek and sexy. The iPad is actually a powerful computer in a mini-sized package. There isn’t much you can’t do with it. But seriously, kids don’t need an iPad of their own. Get an iPad for you, then share it with them for travel. And be sure to protect it with a case!!
How to Choose a Kids Tablet
Choosing a tablet for your child can feel a little overwhelming, especially with so many great options out there. Ultimately, when it comes down to it, you’ll want to consider the following factors to choose the best children’s tablet for your littles:
- Who is using it: is the tablet just for your kids or will adults be using it too? Maybe you’re looking for something more versatile that will age well as they grow? If so, you may consider the Amazon Fire HD 10 or the mini iPad. Ideally, if you’re going to share a tablet, you’ll want to buy one that allows you to set up multiple user accounts (one for you and one for your toddler). This will prevent any issues with your child making unauthorized purchases or accidentally posting to your Instagram.
- Cost: for most parents, this is one of the primary factors. Fortunately, there’s a wide range of budget-friendly children’s tablet options. iPads are typically the most costly but Android and Amazon Fire tablets vary quite a bit in price. The cheapest tablets for kids are made by kids toy brands like LeapFrog, but it’s important to note that these typically have lower-quality graphics, a smaller screen size, and run slower than other options.
- Screen size: depending on how your child will be using the tablet, screen size might matter to you. A larger screen is better for watching movies while a smaller screen might be okay for playing games or reading.
- Parental controls: this is a biggie. You can always choose to buy a children’s tablet with no Wi-Fi or internet access, but that will also limit what activities your child can do (yes internet access does come in handy when on the go). Many kids tablets offer parental controls and protective features like time management tools, kid-safe browsers, limited in-app purchases, and more. You’ll want to do your research before buying.
- Current devices you already own: if you’ll want to use the tablet to share content with your other devices, such as your phone, you may want to consider buying the same type of tablet. For example, if you have an iPhone, you may want to go for the Apple iPad Mini. Or, if you have an Android phone, getting an Android tablet will allow you to use anything you’ve already purchased from the Google Playstore on the tablet too.
- Storage: we recommend buying a tablet with as much storage as your budget will allow! Although you can delete and re-download apps, let’s face it…that’s never convenient.
- Included case: some tablets for kids come with a case, which is a huge perk (and a must)! A tablet can’t withstand your little one’s rough impulses and moves without the help of a trusty case… so you may as well save some money and get yourself… err, your little one a tablet that comes with protection.
Popular Headphones Including LilGadgets, Cozy Phones and More
Toddler headphones are my #1 travel accessory. Adult headphones are too big for kids’ tiny ears, plus… they enjoy having their own “phones.” Plus, they usually come in peppy colors, so you know they’ll get excited about wearing them. You can plug them into mobile phones, tablets, and even the entertainment screens found on all airlines.
Pro tip: be cognizant of the relationship between watching screens and motion sickness. As you know, watching or reading anything in the hills or while making a lot of turns is a recipe for barfing; this is especially true for rear-facing kids!! Some kids (and adults, ahem) even get sick on an airplane! Dramamine for Kids is a parent’s fourth best friend (flask, tablet, headphones, Dramamine, are you keeping track??). Give this chewable, grape flavored pill to your little one an hour before travel to help ward off motion sickness. It’s non-drowsy (my apologies!! LOL).
For entertaining two kids with the same screen, a headphone splitter is a must. Some toddler headphones have a built-in splitter, but if yours doesn’t… get these. And do not lose them!
LilGadgets Toddler Headphones ~ $14 — Editor’s Choice
These foldable, high quality toddler headphones are our top pick for kids. No need for a splitter with these; one side plugs into your device and the other daisy-chains to a 2nd set of headphones for shared audio. Bonus: a portion of each purchase goes towards bullying prevention in schools. Available in five cool colors.
Does your toddler love to chew on things? (Let’s face it, what toddler doesn’t?) Well, these toddler headphones are made with food-grade material (BPA-free), they include a tangle-free cord, and they feature volume-limiting hearing protection. Cute designs include pink and blue cats, a huggable brown bear, or a googly-eyed ladybug. Are you sold yet?
These toddler headphones by Cozy Phones are essentially speakers built into a headband. They are super comfortable, soft, and washable (remove the speakers!). These are a smart alternative for kids who hate earbuds, struggle with bulky headphones, or have sensory issues like SPD.
If you have a child who’s about three, these foldable and adjustable toddler headphones are a great purchase. They have a very long battery life, wireless, and ultra-comfortable for little, sensitive ears. They also have a limited volume of 93 decibels and come with a cord that you can use if Bluetooth is not available or if the battery dies.
With a detachable cord, safe volume-limiting capabilities and a budget price, these toddler headphones are hard to beat. They even fold up for convenience and come with a carrying bag and decals so kids can decorate their own pair.
Puro Sound Labs BT2200s ~ $90
Sure, these are pretty pricey for toddler headphones, but the volume-limiting feature on these babies is a real selling point for lots of parents. With a limit of 85 decibels, you can entertain your child without sacrificing his or her eardrums at the same time. An easy Bluetooth connection, adjustable headband, and a soft, cushioned headband and ear cups only seal the deal.
How to Use Toddler Headphones Safely
If you’re just now entering the world of toddler headphones, welcome! We’ve all been there… confused and a little worried about destroying our kid’s eardrums. Fortunately, it’s totally safe for toddlers to use headphones. You just have to be aware of the volume, how long your little one is listening, and his or her ear canal size (it grows with age).
In a nutshell, here’s what you need to know:
- The younger your child, the smaller his or her ear canals will be. Younger kids can’t handle loud sounds as well as older ones, so pay extra attention to the volume settings on headphones for younger toddlers.
- Strongly consider choosing toddler headphones with volume-limiting capabilities. Many will keep the sound levels below 85 decibels, which is better and safer for the younger crowd.
- Listening at high volumes over a long period of time can be harmful. Consider taking short breaks to give your kid’s ears a break. Make sure to pack other types of entertainment with you so you can do that without much fuss.
- If you can hear the sounds coming from your child’s headphones, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too loud. Generally, keeping the volume around 50% is a good rule of thumb, but you can always test the headphones out yourself to make sure the volume remains at a good level.
- Consider purchasing headphones that give you the ability to control the volume via Bluetooth from your own device. Many toddler headphones also feature child-safe volume controls (so your toddler can’t adjust the volume without your assistance).
Portable DVD Players
Do you still own (and buy) DVDs? Adorable. If you’re looking for portable DVD players for kids (you know, to entertain them on the go), we have a few great recommendations that are functional, highly reviewed, and well made.
$ – Cinematix 9-inch Portable DVD Player ~ $50
This portable DVD player for kids has a 9-inch display and great resolution. The six-hour battery life makes it easy to watch (and re-watch) plenty of your little one’s favorite movies and it even comes with accessories for added convenience, including over-the-ear headphones and a carrying case that can mount to a car headrest for backseat movie-watching (yes!!).
$ – DBPower 9-inch Portable DVD Player ~ $60
This multimedia portable DVD player for kids offers about 5 hours of battery life and comes in black, blue, and red. The screen swivels around and easily attaches to the back of a car’s headrest for easy viewing. Parents also love this one for its durability and its ability to withstand accidental drops. You guessed it, this one also has a remote (because who wants to pretzel their way into reaching over the back seats).
$$ – ZESTYI 9-inch Portable DVD Player ~ $69
Loved by parents for its durability, relatively low cost, and ease of use for young children, the ZESTYI portable DVD player is a great option for travel. It comes with a free headrest mount holder, remote control, and the rechargeable battery lasts up to four hours, making it a good option for car rides with little ones.
$$$ – Boifun 15.6-inch Portable DVD Player ~ $130
If you’re looking for something with a bigger screen that might be great for camping or long car rides, this is it. This DVD player has great sound, so it can drown out any road noise in the car, includes a remote control, and the screen rotates and flips for convenient movie-watching on the go.
Mobile Apps and Games
Educational, inspirational, creative and fun — don’t leave home without some awesome new apps and games to try out.
Toca Boca Vacation ~ $2.99 ~ Top Pick
Toca Boca apps are the #1 mobile-first kid’s brand in the app store. And for good reason: they design their products from a child’s perspective and offer learning through play. They have no advertising in their apps, so you don’t have to worry about any funny business.
ABC Mouse ~ $10/month
This app is one of the top picks by parents everywhere (including some of our own parents on our team!). It offers so many different engaging activities that help kids learn how to read, do math, learn science, and more. Aside from just keeping your kid entertained, ABC Mouse helps with kindergarten and 3rd grade readiness with 10 different levels, more than 850 lessons, and thousands of individual learning activities. It was created by teachers and educational experts and is great for kids ages 2 to 8.
Sago Mini Travel Pack ~ $14
We like the Sago Mini “Travel Pack,” which includes six great kids’ apps.
Puzzingo ~ Free
For kiddos who love puzzles, this app is not only FREE but also packed with fun interactive puzzles with animations and sounds that make learning fun. It also supports several languages including Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese, so it’s well-suited for bilingual children whose parents want to reinforce a second language.
Thinkrolls ~ $3
This app is perfect for science lovers ages 3+ and helps little ones develop reasoning and problem-solving skills. As they solve puzzles to get to the next level, they’ll develop patience and perseverance and enjoy hands-on physics lessons. It even comes with an easy mode for younger players (ages 3 to 5) and a hard mode (for ages 5 to 8).
Drawing Pad ~ $1
To be honest, this app is fun for all ages. Kids can create their own art using realistic-looking crayons, pencils, stickers, pens, etc. All their masterpieces are automatically saved in an artwork album and great features include downloadable coloring books and advanced features that grow with them as their artistic abilities improve.
- Bugs and Buttons ($4) – Count buttons, learn letters, recycle, play tic tac toe
- Hoopa City ($4) – Build your own world with roads, houses, stores, etc.
- Sesame Street Makes Music ($4) – Just make sure to purchase a headphone set (above)
Quick Tips for Child App Safety
If you decide to let your toddler have access to kids apps on a tablet or smartphone, here are a few quick tips on how to do so safely.
- Try the app out before handing it over to your kid. Age recommendations come from the developer, but you’re the ultimate judge. Try it out yourself to make sure it’s appropriate for your child.
- Use the built-in parental controls. These are typically available on your phone or tablet, but you’ll likely need to create a password and set up some preferences. Just don’t skip these important steps before giving your phone or tablet to your child. Use the Guided Access features for iPhones or iPads or use the “Family Link” mode for Android phones and tablets. The Lenovo Smart Tab M10 HD Gen 2 tablet also offers a built-in safe mode called “Kids Space,” which is very helpful. It’s supposed to be available for other devices soon.
Pick apps that are educational and fun. Mindless gaming isn’t great for toddlers (or kids of any age… or anyone of any age, really). Stimulate their brain by choosing educational apps. That way, you’ll also probably feel a little better about allowing all that screen time while traveling too.
Now go forth and see the world!