Keep your car organized and kids entertained on long road trips
One of the best lessons we’ve learned in all of our trips with toddlers and young children is the importance of keeping them entertained. If you’re currently in the throes of toddlerhood, I’m sure you can relate! This is easier said than done, however.
When you’re planning on travelling with little ones for any length of time, you can expect to hear endless rounds of “Are we there yet?” coupled with “I’m bored!” I’m afraid that toddler attention spans only seem to shorten when they’re confined to their seats.
One of the best ways to preserve your sanity in these situations is with car trays for kids. They’re genius in their simplicity, and they solve many of the maddening aspects of travelling with toddlers. So, why buy a travel tray for your bub?
Having a car seat tray for your toddler or older child eliminates the need for frequent stops to grab a tablet, administer snacks, and the like. Your child has a smooth lap surface to play with toys, draw or color, and eat their snacks. Most trays have multiple storage areas for your bub’s favorite things, which reduces the chances they’ll be crying boredom after five minutes on the road. Depending on the size, travel trays for cars can also work well on trains and airplanes.
This post is part of our best travel products series & our family road trip advice series
What To Look For In a Good Car Tray
There are a few essential factors to consider when looking for the Best Car Seat Trays for your children.
Secured vs. Over-the-Seat
The two most common types of car trays for kids are ones that you can secure to your child’s car seat and over-the-seat trays that attach to the seat in front of them. By and large, the most popular type is the secured car seat tray, although there are a few options in the latter category that could work well.
For Older vs. Younger Children
Most travel car seat trays work well for a wide range of ages. You could purchase a tray for your toddler and reasonably expect to get several years’ use out of it. However, there are some features that you may prefer for an older child as opposed to a younger one.
For example, not all parents want their toddlers to use tablets, so travel trays with tablet holders aren’t as necessary. Toddlers are also notorious for drawing on everything except what they’re supposed to, so a tray with a built-in whiteboard may not be the best idea for your sanity (erasable pen does not easily erase from leather seats….)
Some key features and add ons to look for (or avoid!)
In-built cup holderDry erase boardTablet holder or pocket (some of the pockets don’t open wide enough to fit a tablet with a case, or you may not be able to then easily reach the headphone socket and volume buttons)The size of the storage pockets – when they can fold ultra-flat you might be giving up on storage pocket size
Most of the travel trays in our review are a similar price between about $23 to $35 USD, but some will include pens and little extras within the price worth considering.
The most important feature to look for in car trays for kids is how portable they are. You’ll want a tray that folds quickly and easily for both transportation and storage. Travel trays that come with their own carrying bags are always a plus – though most have the options to fold flat into themselves for carrying – just be mindful of where do you put all the items that were in the tray if it then needs folding flat.
All of the trays we have looked at are over 15″ wide which should fit over the width of your average toddler car seat. If you have exceptionally wide seats, or for older children who’d like a larger work surface, you may need to look for slightly larger brands. Conversely, if you want the tray to fit inside other luggage once your journey is over, or you have a narrower vehicle and several kids to accommodate, you may choose something slightly more compact.
Best Car Seat Trays For Kids
We compare all the best car seat travel trays here, or read on for more details on when each of them might be appropriae to use below:
Best Overall Car Seat Tray: Lusso Gear Kids Travel Tray
Why We Love It: The Lusso Travel Tray is jam-packed with features for kids of all ages, making it a versatile option for any family. We like that the included tablet holder is detachable, so if you don’t want or need it, you can leave it behind. There are also multiple storage areas for all of your child’s essentials, and everything is kept in place with a safety strap that fits around the car seat.
Built-in dry erase board for hours of doodling funSturdy side and back walls keep toys and drawing utensils from rolling offMultiple storage compartmentsDetachable cup holder and storage compartments Oxford material Folds flat for storageAvailable Colors: Black Dimensions: 16.5 x 1.97 x 13.39 inches Item Weight: 2.82 lbs
Possible Drawbacks: The tray does not come with a carrying case or bag, meaning that it will need to be stored in carry-on luggage if you’re taking it on an airplane. Not a deal-breaker, but it may be tricky to juggle in the aisle before you sit down.
Best Car Seat Tray for Toddlers: ecoZen Lifestyle Toddler Travel Tray
Why We Love It: If you’re looking for a simple, sturdy car seat tray for toddlers, the ecoZen Toddler Travel Tray is the answer. The tray’s durable, extra-long straps allow you to use it with any car seat, and it’s made from waterproof nylon fabric. This is a blessing when it comes to messy toddlers!
Built-in side cup holder Side storage pockets for convenient accessUnique strap design keeps tray levelPadded front barrier and sturdy sidewallsEasy-to-clean waterproof fabricFolds flat for transportation and storage Available Colors: Pink and blue Dimensions: 15 x 11 x 5 inchesItem Weight: 1.5 lbs
Possible Drawbacks: While sturdy, the sidewalls of the travel tray can tend to bend inward if nothing is sitting on top.
Also Consider: Tomser Upgraded Kids Travel Tray
Why We Love It: If your toddler loves to doodle, the Tomser Kids Travel Tray offers an upgraded transparent dry erase top for hours of drawing fun. The tray even comes with its own set of dry erase markers! You won’t have to worry about the tray bending or collapsing while your child is using it either–the base support and sides have been upgraded for optimal stability while travelling.
Dry-erase surface is easy to wipe clean Universal car seat fit Reinforced base and sidesComes with board pens and an educational drawing set 14 mesh pockets and 2 zipper pockets for toys and utensilsCollapses flat for storage and transportationAvailable Colors: Pink and Blue Dimensions: 15.6 x 13 x 1.4 inchesItem Weight: 2.29 lbs
Possible Drawbacks: The tray does not have a specified cupholder, which is a downside as it covers up any existing car seat cupholders as well. The storage pockets are also relatively small, making it difficult to fit larger toys in them.
Best for Older Children: Kenley Kids Travel Tray
Why We Love It: One of the main reasons we love this car tray is that it comes with an adjustable, padded strap for convenient transportation. Your child can use the clear tablet pouch to hold coloring books or other materials, and the tray also comes with two cupholders and several storage areas.
Medium-sized (10-inch) tablet pouchRemovable/collapsible storage pockets Spacious zippered pockets Two available cupholdersFolds flat for storageReinforced sidewalls keep toys and snacks from spilling Padded, waterproof surfaceAvailable Colors: Pink/Gray, Red/Gray, Blue/GrayDimensions: 16.5 x 13.5 x 4 inchesItem Weight: 1.94 lbs
Possible Drawbacks: Given the tray’s padded surface, it’s difficult for younger children to draw and color on it without pushing through the paper.
Also consider: ZEAZU Kids Travel Tray with Bag
Why We Love It: This travel tray comes with several extra bells and whistles, such as a sturdier tablet holder, paper storage compartment, and a pocket tissue dispenser. Who doesn’t love that? You also receive a carrying bag for convenient transportation, and the tray works well for both road trips and air travel.
Dry-erase board surfaceOn-tray cupholderStorage areas for snacks, tissues, utensils, and wipesAdjustable seat strapsDurable, waterproof materialCompatible with most car seatsAvailable Colors: SilverDimensions: 17.36 x 12.76 x 2.09 inchesItem Weight: 3.14 lbs
Possible Drawbacks: The iPad/tablet holder does not accommodate tablet cases, so you would need to remove this before using it.
Best Carrying Case: BE Family Travel Tray
Why We Love It: The BE Family Travel Tray is a bit of a hybrid tray, as you secure it around your child’s car seat and fasten the other half around the seat in front. We’re big fans of this car seat tray’s messenger bag design, as it allows your child to simply fold in, zip up, and go.
Sturdy metal zipper pulls instead of plastic Carry strap is thick and wide for added comfortSnug, on-tray drink holderFold-in side storage pocketsLarge storage compartment for paper and booksBuilt-in PVC Touchscreen tablet sleeve Durable, easy-to-clean materialAvailable Colors: Blue and Red Dimensions: 17 x 12 x 13 inchesItem Weight: 1.9 lbs
Possible Drawbacks: There is no place to plug headphones into your child’s tablet once it is in the case. A solution to this would be wireless/Bluetooth headphones, but many people prefer to have the option for regular ones.
Best On a Budget: Innokids Kids Travel Lap Tray
Why We Love It: The Innokids Travel Tray comes in at a lower price point than others, but it isn’t short on features. It has several detachable storage pockets that you can remove for an expanded play area, and your child can also doodle on the tray with dry-erase markers. It’s an excellent low-cost option, especially if you have multiple children to buy for.
Sturdy, waterproof surface for quick cleanup Tablet holder fits most standard iPads and tabletsSide mesh pockets for toys, books, and drawing utensilsEasily collapses and can be carried as a messenger bagSuitable for car and plane travelCompatible with most car seatsAvailable Colors: Black, Fruit Green, and GrayDimensions: 17 x 12.5 x 1 inchesItem Weight: 1.81 lbs
Possible Drawbacks: Toddlers may have difficulty reaching items in the side pockets, and the tablet holder does not accommodate larger devices.
Best for Air Travel: Coolmum Kids Travel Tray
Why We Love It: When you’re flying with children, sometimes less is more. We recommend this kids’ travel tray for air travel as it has a more compact design while still providing adequate storage.
Several storage pockets, including cupholderRaised edges prevent snack and toy spillsTray’s surface is covered in waterproof plasticUnisex design Available Colors: Blue and Pink Dimensions: 17.5 x 11.3 x 3.2 inchesItem Weight: 1.8 lbs
Possible Drawbacks: Although the tray does fold down compactly, it’s too large to be carried in a child’s backpack.
Best Hanging Travel Tray: Kids Backseat Travel Tray Organizer
Why We Love It: If you’re looking for a dependable travel tray for cars, this over-the-seat option works well. Its simplistic, functional design provides a surface for your child to draw or color on, or they can use it to hold their tablet.
Strap adjusts to the height that works best for your childiPad holder on backside of the caseStorage pockets for crayons and markersAdjustable shoulder strap allows for easy carrying
Possible Drawbacks: There is no place to plug headphones into the tablet case, so you would need to poke a hole in the material (as suggested) or use a wireless headset. The compact nature of the travel tray also limits the activities your child can do while travelling, and it will not work for a child in the middle seat and no chair in front.
More ideas for your next family road trip
Now we all know it’s not as simple as set and forget when it comes to travelling with kids. Not only is there a lot to consider in getting your family and the car properly set up for a road trip, but there’s also the logistics of travelling with babies and toddlers, potty stops to trying to sleep in the car.
We have a comprehensive guide for preparing for family road trips here. You may also want to read:
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