The 10 Best Travel Trays
This wiki has been updated 25 times since it was first published in October of 2015. It's always in those moments when you’re unable to devote your full attention to the kids that they find a way to wreak havoc — such as when they’re in the back seat of your car. Keep your little ones well-fed and entertained without making a mess using one of these travel trays. They provide a stable space for toys, crayons, coloring books, snacks and plenty of other activities. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 03, 2019:
We discovered that the Disney Playground Pals and Tranquil Traveler Lap Desk were no longer available, so we took them off the list. We also removed the FunCo Road Trip (reports of flimsy construction and a lack of stability made it unsuitable for use in vehicles) as well as the MayGree Snack Desk, which appears to break easily due to poor craftsmanship.
We added a few new models to the list, all of which can support and display a kid's tablet — which is close to a must-have feature these days. The Coolmum Smart Table, however, is the only option with an interactive playing surface, allowing young kids to maneuver toy vehicles around a miniature town.
Not only is the Urban Brahma Holder waterproof, it can be converted into a carrying bag when it’s not being used in the car, making it a nice option for those who often vacation with the kiddos. We noted its plethora of storage pockets that can house anything from coloring utensils to snacks.
Jackson Snap & Charge Who says travel trays are just for kids? This elegant leather platform eschews the traditional lap-focused design, with convenient snaps in each corner that can be used to raise the edges and keep its contents in place. Its ribbed rubber bottom will prevent sliding, whether you’re in the car or on an airplane. levenger.com
K4 Dynamics Activity This little table puts everything from sippy cups to colorful markers within a tiny arm’s reach. It comes with dry erase pens and a drawing surface to get the artistic juices flowing, and its zippered side pockets will accommodate mobile devices, snacks and miscellaneous trinkets. k4dynamics.com
J.L. Childress 3-in-1 You’ll love this creative model almost as much as your kids do; as a lap tray, tablet stand and convertible tote bag, this versatile accessory will prove useful for entertainment, dining and travel purposes alike. It holds plenty of gear, and it can be folded in half for easy storage. jlchildress.com
Keeping The Kids Happy On The Go
Smart travel also means bringing along items your child finds engaging and that, ideally, with which he or she can engage on their own and in relative quiet.
Childless adults may look askance at the parent who boards a plane with a bag overflowing with activities for their child, perhaps wondering if that plethora of books, the multiple boxes of crayons and pencils, and the many toys and snacks aren't perhaps excessive. But what the experienced parent knows is that when it comes to traveling with kids, the old maxim that "Peace at any price is no peace at all" goes right out the window. The savvy parent will go to extreme lengths to ensure a travel experience is calm and quiet, and those traveling near the family should appreciate the efforts of anyone so doing.
Long distance travel with small children can be a harrowing experience, and a bad travel experience can sour the entire vacation, the holidays or the visit with relatives. Whether you and your young child (or children) are traveling via automobile, rail, or airplane, if you are going to be underway for many hours, you will need to plan ahead to make the trip as stress free, and potentially even pleasant, as possible. For indeed if a child "decides" to throw a tantrum while you are traveling, there is no chance for you to take him or her out of the situation to calm down; you'll have to ride out the storm.
When planning for long distance travel with your little ones, you must first, of course, account for all the child's actual needs. That means ensuring you bring with you or have ready access to plenty of foods and beverages that your child will actually eat without protest. Smart travel also means bringing along items your child finds engaging and that, ideally, with which he or she can engage on their own and in relative quiet. (Examples of this are coloring books, lacing cards, and dolls or action figures.) And it means having any specialty items -- certainly including medicines -- such as a backup pair of glasses, a special toy or gift as a reward or incentive for good behavior, or a special comfort item close at hand.
One of the best ways to help a child stay calm and amused during travel goes beyond just providing them things with which to play and engage, but involves providing them their own personal play space. This can be achieved using a good travel tray.
Choosing A Travel Tray For Play And Learning
As you consider which travel tray will be right for your child, consider a few of his or her favorite activities, and use those as the starting point for your review. If you have a young artist in your family, then you should choose a travel tray with a firm, solid top that can stand up to the pressure of a pencil tip, a pen's nib, or a flurry of crayons bearing down onto it. Some travel trays -- particularly those that fold up the flattest -- have softer, flexible surfaces, and while these are fine for many purposes, they are not ideal for the graphic artist, as it were.
As you consider which travel tray will be right for your child, consider a few of his or her favorite activities, and use those as the starting point for your review.
On the other hand, many travel trays that do feature those softer, more pliant surfaces are a great idea for use with smaller kids who might tend to flail their arms about a bit more wildly.
Always consider features beyond the surface of the travel tray itself, looking for units with pockets that might accommodate the type of toy or size of book your child likes, for example, and for those with walls around their perimeters that can prevent objects from rolling off.
And don't forget about your own needs, too: some travel trays fold up for remarkably easy transport and storage, while others tend to be bulkier and less convenient for the parent or nanny who has to install, remove, and carry the units. And make sure to check airline, rail, and other travel policies before you assume it will be OK to use a travel tray en route.
Choosing A Travel Tray For Mess Free Dining
Children tend to be messy when they eat. This is especially true for infants and toddlers, and it remains true for children well into their preschool and elementary school years. The lack of refined dexterity when it comes to using utensils and the lack of a general interest in attempting to be a neat and clean diner combine to create plenty of spills, smears, and general disarray.
Many travel trays are made of plastic and can easily be wiped clean after a meal, which is another benefit when you are away from home.
Eating without making a mess can be all the more difficult for any of us when we are attempting to dine off of a tray folded down at a seat on an airplane or are eating off of our laps in a car, a bus, or on a train. This is especially true for a child predisposed to messiness in the first place.
A travel tray is a great way to serve your child his or her meal as it keeps the foods in easy reach of their hands and close to their mouths. Many travel trays also have attachments that feature multiple different sections, which can be perfect for dividing different foodstuffs up for easy eating and for preventing items like peas or berries from rolling away.
Many travel trays are made of plastic and can easily be wiped clean after a meal, which is another benefit when you are away from home. The easier the post meal cleanup process, the better. Using your family's own travel tray also helps to prevent your child from touching lots of potentially unsafe, unsanitary surfaces.
A travel tray is also a great "life hack" for a child's mealtime even at home or at a friend or relative's residence. On those occasions where your kid will be eating on the couch or when he or she is in a chair but can't quite reach the table, a travel tray provides them their very own dining spot even when you're not actually traveling.