Low-Cost Travel Toys for Baby: Surviving Road Trips on a Budget

baby wearing pink pretending to drive maroon truck

Sticking a baby into a car seat for an extended period of time can come with serious consequences!

Although babies can’t be reasoned with like some older kiddos when the full weight of their time spent in captivity comes down on them, there are some things you can prepare ahead of time to (try to) keep him or her distracted enough to make it through it!

During the first two years of our daughter’s life, we spent over 12,000 miles road tripping together. As a result, we’ve found some inexpensive ways of entertaining children from the baby stage on up.

The car activities and travel toys suggested in this post are geared towards babies up to about 1 year old.


Gathering Travel Toys for Baby

Packing a variety of toys, games, and entertainment before hitting the road is a great way to be prepared for traveling with babies. And it doesn't have to cost much or anything at all. Try these places:

  • Dig deep in that toy bin! A nice thing about littler ones is that they don’t tire of toys as quickly as older kids, so dig deep and they’ll be surprised with a “new” toy!

  • Do a temporary toy swap with a friend who has similar aged kids. Take a photo of all you are borrowing so you know what to return after the road trip.

  • Check out baby magazines (non-rippable pages) from the public library if you will be home before they are due or can renew them online.

  • Rummage through your kitchen, craft closet, recycling, etc to find some great DIY toys that babies often find even more interesting than their shiny store-bought ones!

  • Look for multipurpose objects: an empty wipes container with a pop-up lid can be used in a lot of ways (see below), while many large toys tend to be very single purpose and less engaging. If you are crunched on space, consider this as you search for things to bring.

After you gather up travel toys and activities for your baby, jot down a list of all you are bringing. You know your baby, and his or her moods, and what toys will be a hit when. So knowing what you have will help you better dig and provide, keeping everyone happy!

We recommend to avoid letting your baby play with the car seat entertainment stash during the vacation. Saving these things for the vehicle will help to keep the toys exciting and engaging while on the road.

Safety and DIY Toys

Many of the suggested travel toys you’ll find here are things you can make yourself for free, or find around your house or a friend’s house. When creating your own toys, always keep safety in the forefront of your mind. We all know that babies put pretty much everything right into their mouths! Some specifics to consider:

  • Size of the toy and size of any removable parts- choke hazard

  • Surface material- sharp areas, as well as possible toxic surfaces (paint, adhesives, etc)

  • Lids- if it is not intended to be opened (like a homemade shaker) you can apply glue around the rim before you tightly close the lid. Check it frequently.

  • Ribbons and strings- be sure they are attached securely and that baby isn’t independently playing with long pieces that could wrap around or cut off circulation.

  • Supervise! Even the most well made DIY toys could cause problems, so sit in the back with your baby as he or she plays with the things you’ve created. Save those store bought ones for the independent play time.

Okay! Now on to keeping that little one happy!

Some of the following travel toys and activities would be best used with an adult sitting right by the baby for some face-to-face entertainment, and many are things you could hand back for some solo time!

Consider loosely rotating how you are engaging your baby.

Rather than a constant flow of noise making plastic toys for an hour, mix in a toy that moves, or something that has a new texture, or something visually appealing, and then something that requires a little more active engagement from the baby.

Visually interesting:

glowing and interesting toys for baby to look at during road trip
  • Dimly glowing or light up toys (toys that flash red and blue WILL make you think you’re getting pulled over)

  • Small flashlight (parents’ hands only of course)

  • Tightly closed jars with water, food coloring, & soap to shake

  • Videos of him or herself

  • Blow bubbles above car seat

  • Toys with faces

  • Empty water bottle filled with a mix of rice, buttons, sequins, pom poms,  etc., and closed securely


diy rattles and shakers to entertain baby on road trip
  • Songs and rhymes from parents

  • Empty water bottle to crinkle

  • Toys that make noise

  • Add coins to tightly closed water bottle to shake

  • Make new “rattles” from empty containers filled with bells or buttons, then tightly sealed

  • New crinkly sounding toys

Gross Motor/Motion:

rolling and moving travel toys for baby to interact with in the car
  • Patty cake or other nursery rhymes paired with action

  • Peek-a-boo

  • Spinning/rolling/turning type of baby toys - something they can learn how to effect

Oral Motor Sensory:

teething toys to bring for baby on a road trip
  • Mesh feeder filled with ice

  • Eating solids? Snacks, snacks, snacks! Especially new and time consuming ones

  • Try a whole apple and enjoy monitoring

  • Teething toys

Entertaining Activities:

books suction cup toys puppets and games for baby to use as travel toys
  • Something that can suction to the window to look at and reach for (like suction cup balls or a small shower caddy)

  • Empty wipes container with a large object to hide inside and locate

  • Colored ribbon or fabric strips tied together and inside a wipes container to pull

  • Spool of wide ribbon (with supervision) to repeatedly unwind

  • Read books and baby magazines together or solo

  • Stacking or nesting toys with an object to hide underneath or inside

  • Puppets

And sometimes you just need to get out of the car, even if no one has to pee!

When you can tell that your baby has had just about enough, try to pull over before the full on meltdown happens in order to give a little reset!

Of course, this can quickly become impractical if your baby is especially unhappy in the car seat.

If that’s the case, have a few go-to ideas ready that don’t require a long stop. Distract them from the misery of the car seat long enough to engage them in something else!

From the tips above, giving ice or food, pulling out a new and unusual toy, or watching videos of herself have all been wins for us in moments like this. Switching drivers so your baby has a refreshed adult with a new face, new voice, and new ideas can also help!

And remember that sometimes, no matter your level of preparation, your little one is going to let you know how displeasing it is to be strapped into a car seat for such long lengths of time. Power through! It’ll be okay!

We hope some of these travel toys can help entertain your baby during a long car ride or road trip and that you feel encouraged to give it a try if you haven’t yet! Chances are, it won’t be as bad as you’re imagining.

And having that much uninterrupted time together really can be a nice bonding experience between family members!

Any other pro tips for entertaining babies during long car rides? Share them in the comments section!

As always, thanks for reading, and be sure to SUBSCRIBE for blog updates or to follow along on our journey!

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