Planning for your upcoming trip, and hoping to find some screen-free alternatives to keep your toddler busy on the plane? Looking for airplane-friendly activities that will keep them occupied for an entire flight?

We aren’t a completely screen-free household, but we do try to minimize it as much as possible, as there are many benefits to avoiding screens. Because this is so important to our family, I set out to find the best screen-free activities to keep my toddler busy on our last trip. We had two successful screen-free flights!

Flying with a busy toddler can be a daunting task. And, trying to keep them quiet without a screen can be even more daunting. But, it can be done, and I’d love to share my tips with you.

In this post, we’ll talk about the benefits of going screen free, give you some crucial tips for flying without a screen, and cover 9 screen-free activities that will help keep your toddler busy for an entire flight.

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Why Screen-Free? 

Even if you do allow screens in your house, flying without one could be really beneficial for your toddler, yourself, and your entire family (source). Here’s why:

1.) Disconnect and reconnect: Flying without a screen will give you and your family a chance to disconnect from technology and really reconnect with each other. It will give you all a chance to refocus your energy on the people that truly matter.

2.) Gives their brain a break: The toddler brain is going through an explosion in development, and too much screen time can disrupt this crucial learning period. Research has shown too much screen time to delay cognitive and language development, decrease attention span, and lower critical thinking skills. Their brains will thank you for this break.

3.) Explore other interests: Leaving the screen at home will give your toddler a chance to learn new skills, gain knowledge from books, and just have uninterrupted time to play, think, and daydream.

4.) Improves behavior: Screen use releases dopamine and adrenaline, which can have a major effect on the toddler brain. Thus, an effect on their behavior. Overuse of screen time has been associated with hyperactivity, insensitivity, fear, and aggression. Now, we aren’t a completely screen-free house, but I do notice a dramatic increase in meltdowns and tantrums when we’ve allowed more screen-time than usual.

5.) You can leave your tablet at home: If you plan to fly screen-free, then you won’t have to worry about your expensive tablet or laptop getting lost or ruined on your trip.

Tips for Flying Without a Screen 

  • Wait to get out the toys. Your toddler might be perfectly content with just looking out the window for awhile, or they may even take a nap. 
  • Make all the activities and toys brand new. Don’t let them see them until you get on the plane. 
  • Wrap each toy in wrapping paper, so your toddler is occupied for even longer!
  • Don’t force it. If your toddler isn’t interested in an activity (or finding a certain activity too challenging) , just move on to the next one. This will help prevent frustration and meltdowns on the plane. 

9 Screen-Free Airplane Activities for Toddlers 

Listed below, are 9 screen-free activities that will help keep your toddler busy for an entire flight:

1.) Gel Window Clings

These gel window clings were a sure fire hit with my toddler. She loved placing and rearranging them over and over again. And, there’s no damage to the airplane windows.

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2.) Lacing Toy

This fine motor toy is sure to be challenging enough to keep your toddler occupied for quite some time. I know it kept my 2.5 year old busy for at least a half an hour. However, it’s probably too challenging for younger toddlers.  I like this particular lacing toy, because it’s super thin, and barely takes up any room in your carry on bag.

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3.) Buckle Toy

This buckle toy kept my toddler busy for almost an entire 3 hour flight. No joke. She loved unbuckling and buckling the buckles back together again and playing with the zipper. There’s also numbers and shapes on the sides for bonus learning. What I really liked was that you can use the buckles to attach it to the outside of your carry on bag, that way it won’t be taking up any room in your luggage.

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4.) Water Wows

If you’re worried about your toddler drawing all over the aircraft, then these Water Wows are probably the way to go. Your toddler can color their little heart away without any mess. You’ll just have to remember to fill up the “pens” with water after you go through security.

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5.) Travel Doodle Board

Another mess free art option is this travel magnetic doodle pad. It comes with two stamps and a pen that is tethered, so it can’t get lost. This is perfect if you have a little Picasso on your hands. like I do. 

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6.) Reusable Stickers

These puffy stickers are fun to use over and over again. This set comes with 52 stickers and the background board folds open, so there are multiple barnyard scenes for your toddler to create. There are a few stickers that are pretty tiny though, so maybe leave those ones at home if you’re toddler still tends to stick things in their mouth.

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7.) New Books

Hit up your local library, Barnes & Nobel, or Amazon, for some new books for your little. Interactive books, like lift-the-flap and touchy-and-feel, are more likely to keep your toddler engaged. Try to gauge your child’s interests and get books related to those. My little girl was really into sharks and vehicles at the time of our trip, so I got her this shark book and construction book.  I also got her an airplane book to help prepare her for her first flight.

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8.) Play-Doh & Tools

This particular Play-Doh set is perfect for on-the-go. It comes with 4 different colors, 9 tools, and a carrying case. If your toddler is sitting forward-facing already, they could easily use the pull-down tray for the Play-Doh, otherwise this is also a great activity to pull out while you’re waiting in the terminal.  

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9.) Snacks

You can’t forget the snacks. Seriously, bring ALL the snacks. Ron Swanson style! 

Some airlines do provide you with snacks, such as pretzel and crackers, but I think it’s best to bring some snacks that you know your toddler will love. And, maybe some that they don’t get very often, like fruit snacks. You can find several other airplane snack ideas over at the Red Tricycle

Safe Travels 

Flying screen-free with your toddler can be challenging, but it can be done. And, it can even be beneficial. It can be a great chance for you to really connect with your toddler, give their brain a break, and help them explore other interests. Give them a chance to dig into their creative side, work on their fine motor skills, and just have a deep conversation with you.

What About You? 

What screen-free activities have kept your toddler busy on flights? Share your tips for flying without a screen in the comments section below and be sure to share this post with other toddler moms.


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  1. JR on February 26, 2019 at 10:19 am

    Great suggestions, thanks! Every other similar list starts with “break out the iPad”, as if no-one ever travelled with a toddler before 2010.

    • Messy Mom Nicolle on February 26, 2019 at 12:05 pm

      I’m so glad you found these helpful! 🙂 Definitely agree that people rely too much on electronics now. We don’t even own a tablet, and I’ve recently ditched my smartphone. It’s quite a relief.

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