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9 best travel toys that’ll keep kids entertained no matter the journey

Wave goodbye to backseat boredom with these child-approved toys and games for your little ones

Rebecca Moore
Monday 31 July 2023 15:36 BST
<p>When you hit that 99th game of ‘I Spy’, it’s time to bring out the big guns</p>

When you hit that 99th game of ‘I Spy’, it’s time to bring out the big guns

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While family holidays are a great opportunity to create new memories together, the journey to your sunny destination can be stressful, sending even the most laidback parents into a spin.

Much like any daunting task – particularly where children are involved – preparation is key, and if games of eye-spy and singalong songs aren’t silencing the inevitable cries of “are we there yet?”, it could be time to pick up a reliable travel toy.

Whether you’re travelling by train, plane or automobile, the best travel toys are compact and easily packed away without faffing to find missing pieces. You want options that are quiet, so not to bother other travellers or you and something they can play with independently or in harmony with a sibling (one can dream, hey).

Although screen time may be the obvious answer, we tried to steer clear of typical technology in the hunt for simpler options, and gave bonus points to those that managed to be educational too.

No matter where or how you’re planning to venture with the kids this summer, these are our favourite travel toys to keep tantrums at bay.

How we tested

Our four- and six-year-old testers tried out an array of travel toys on long car journeys and trips on the train. We also gave them a thorough testing when out and about, including when we were grabbing lunch, during downtime on the beach or enjoying picnics in the park. However, it’s safe to say for the favourites toys, the playing continued at home too.

The best kids’ travel toys for 2023 are:

  • Best overall – Janod dinosaurs magneti’book: £18, Kidly.co.uk
  • Best value for money – Fiesta crafts airport stickabouts: £5.95, Dottyhippo.co.uk
  • Best for portability – Spirograph the original travel set: £10.99, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for learning a new skill – Galt travel learn to draw set: £15.99, Booghe.co.uk
  • Best for older kids – Nexcube 3x3 classic: £8, Smythstoys.com

Janod dinosaurs magneti’book

Janod
  • Best: Overall
  • Ages: 3+
  • Type: Magnetic book

It looks like a book, but it’s so much more. From traditional toymaker Janod, the portable magneti’books are boredom busters for three- to eight-year-olds, and they can fit in most handbags. There’s over 15 themes to choose from, but we tested the dinosaurs version, much to our mini testers’ pleasure.

Kids of all ages are fascinated by the magic of magnets, and this rather sturdy box is filled with 40 magnetic cardboard pieces to play with. The magnetic board features a tropical Jurassic scene, which our testers loved attaching their magnetic dinosaurs to while adding their own sound effects along the way and comically mixing and matching body parts.

We were also super impressed with the quality of the materials and the fact that it’s wipe-clean. It encourages imagination and is great for siblings playing together on the go.

  1. £18 from Kidly.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Fiesta crafts airport stickabouts

Fiesta crafts
  • Best: Value for money
  • Age: 3-7
  • Type: Stickers

We’ve all been there battling the stickers that get stuck to our children’s fingers or everywhere other than the sticker book… here’s where Stickabouts steps in. Reusable, washable and glue-free, Stickabouts stick to any flat surface, including aeroplane seats and train tables, but fortunately, our mini testers were more interested in filling the airport scene with the 42 pieces.

Perfect for airport delays or long journeys, the set is recommended for three to seven years and is a purse-friendly, portable and pleasurable option. Our testers even used the stickers in the bath at the hotel.

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Playfoam Go! squishy sandcastle

Playfoam
  • Best: For sensory play
  • Age: 3+
  • Type: Interactive toy

If you’ve yet to discover the wonders of Playfoam, with that long journey ahead, now’s the time. Playfoam is the squishy, squashy, sculpting toy that offers sensory and creative play by the bucket load, or in this case, by the sandcastle load. Because Playfoam only sticks to itself and never dries out, it’s great for on-the-go fun.

It comes in a portable case with a handle and is ready to use from the offset with built-in shell moulds to sculpt and squish the Playfoam into seashell shapes. However, our six-year-old tester’s favourite bit was squashing the perfectly formed shapes and starting all over again.

Kudos to those who can encourage players to keep the colours separate. Lightweight, no mess and self-contained, plus you’ll get five animal friends, Playfoam Go! Squishy Sandcastle is a fun on-the-go toy.

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Spirograph the original travel set

Spirograph
  • Best: For portability
  • Age: 5+
  • Type: Drawing

The humble Spirograph filled us with all the nostalgic feels, and this travel set has nailed on-the-go creativity. The Spirograph studio has a built-in design ring, work surface and storage compartment for holding all the implements: six wheels, two pens, a 2-page pad, a design guide and, of course, any finished artwork. It was too advanced for our four-year-old, but our six-year-old tester – with a bit of adult help – loved seeing her different designs take shape.

  1. £10 from Amazon.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Bigjigs toys holiday kit

BigJigs
  • Best: For holiday role-play
  • Age: 3+
  • Type: Interactive toys

This nine-piece set from BigJigs is holiday vibes in a case and sure to get any jet-setter excited about an upcoming trip. Our four- and six-year-old testers loved discovering what was inside this pretend travel suitcase.

There are wooden role play toys such as sun tan lotion with a fun working pump, a pretend camera, a comb, toothbrush and toothpaste and some play spending money. Our testers saved the postcards to send while on holiday and enjoyed playing “holidays” with the passport and map. You’ll also get a handy red cap, stickers – which never fail to entertain – and four colouring pencils.

This set is perfect for drumming excitement but also when on the move. The testers temporarily argued over who got to carry the case, but we also managed to fit a few more, colouring books and small toys in too.

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Galt travel learn to draw set

Galt
  • Best: For learning a new skill
  • Age: 4+
  • Type: Drawing

Time on your hands? Fill the void and learn a skill with this activity set from Galt. It is designed for on-the-go-drawing, and budding artists aged four+ can learn to draw in three easy steps using the 10 step-by-step drawings. Simply slide through the three discs that start with the drawing’s outline and progress through to the finishing touches using the pen provided (which handily slots in the back of the board).

The pen is a child-friendly size, and the eraser on the end means each drawing can simply be wiped off when your little ones are ready to move on to their next masterpiece. This toy is brilliantly portable and great for car or train journeys. It kept both our testers entertained and stimulated – sharing, however, was questionable.

  1. £15 from Booghe.co.uk
Prices may vary
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Tonies starter set

Tonies
  • Best: For story lovers
  • Age: 3+
  • Type: Audiobook

If you’re trying to steer your young ones away from screen time this holiday, we believe we’ve found the answer with Tonies. The device is a child-friendly audio player that is geared towards independent play for children as young as three years old – just the ticket for a long journey.

While it’s not specifically designed to be a travel toy, add a set of foldable headphones (£24.99, Tonies.com), and you’ll hear no mutterings of “Are we nearly there yet?” or “I’m bored.” It’s worth bearing in mind, though, that you will need to connect to wifi initially, but once you’ve placed on the Tonie, the story is downloaded.

Encouraging a love of audio learning and reading, our little testers enjoyed adjusting the volume using the rubber ears and swapping stories by placing the Tonie figurines on top of the cube. There’s a vast offering of stories to choose from, including the hugely popular Peppa Pig and The Gruffalo, and even Disney classics, but at £14.99 a pop, we’d suggest going for their favourite character.

In the starter set you’ll get a Toniebox, a Creative-Tonie, which has 90 minutes of space for you to upload online audiobooks, music or even recordings of your own stories and messages, and a charging dock. We can’t deny it’s a considered purchase, but can you put a price on a peaceful journey? Plus, it’ll be your child’s companion way beyond the end of the holiday.

  1. £79 from Tonies.com
Prices may vary
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Aquabeads deluxe carry case

Aquabeads
  • Best: For craft lovers
  • Age: 3+
  • Type: Crafts

If you have a child that’s pleaded with you to take their Aquabeads on holiday, your prayers have been answered. The newly released Aquabeads Deluxe Carry Case allows creative play to continue wherever on the horizon. New to the phenomenon, our six-year-old tester’s eyes lit up when she saw this – quite possibly due to the shiny buckle – but the excitement continued as she opened the case.

The portable carry case comes with more than 1,400 solid, star and jewel beads in 4 colours. There’s a built-in tray to make creations on the move and a double-sided Aquabeads pen for execution – we found this worked well on a train table where there’s a little more room. If you’re familiar with the craze, you’ll know water is required to stick the creations together.

There’s a spray water bottle provided, but you’ll need to fill it up, and it’s worth remembering that creations take an hour to dry. It’s certainly something craftspeople will enjoy beyond the journey, and the carry case design makes it transportable, even if you do require a still space for smooth work.

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Nexcube 3x3 classic

Nexcube
  • Best: For older kids
  • Age: 8+
  • Type: Puzzle

A fidget toy is the ultimate distraction, just what kids need on tedious journeys. You’ve probably heard of a Rubik’s cube, but let us introduce Nexcube, the world record-setting speedcube. They may look similar, but we found this brand less abrasive on the hands, and the movement has been ergonomically designed with a unique mechanism for smooth turns.

While our testers were below the recommended age for the Nexcube (eight years plus), they did enjoy twisting and turning it, and it’s a toy that’ll undoubtedly hold the attention of slightly older kids and, dare we say it, adults too!

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The verdict: Kids’ travel toys

We love the portably playing possibilities that the Janod Magneti’books provide. We found it fun, suitably silly, great for siblings and affordable. Plus, there’s a great selection of themes to choose from to suit different interests.

From Star Wars to Harry Potter, we’ve found the best kids’ Lego sets

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