When traveling with kids, your carry-on represents a critical lifeline. Don’t leave packing this essential item until the last minute. Flying with kids means coming prepared, and overlooking something as simple as packing enough diapers or wet wipes could turn a foreseeable accident into an unpleasant disaster.
Fortunately, we’ve been traveling with babies and small children for years and have compiled your surefire list of what to bring in your carry-on.
Before we start with the essentials, we recommend you pack a small, in-flight approved, rolling suitcase as your main carry-on. It will keep things organized and you (and the kids) can carry a smaller bag or backpack with items you’ll need handy.
As for what to pack, let’s dive in.
1. Important Documents
This first tip is vital whether you’re traveling with kids or heading out solo. Make sure that you have the proper travel documents ready at a moment’s notice. What are we talking about?
- Personal identification (e.g., passport, driver’s license)
- Cell phone (especially if you’re using an airline app for your boarding pass)
- Wallet with credit cards, insurance card, some cash, and pertinent travel membership cards
- Printed boarding passes
- Visas, if any
If you have a custody arrangement with your child’s other parent, you may also need to secure a child travel consent form. This document provides proof that the child has permission from both parents to travel. That means the non-traveling parent must sign and notarize it in advance. While you likely won’t encounter problems with this domestically, it’s essential to check international airline and border control requirements for your destination.
You should also ensure that you have proof of relationship when traveling with children. This proof might come in the form of a birth certificate, court order, or adoption decree. Of course, you’ll also need passports for each of your children. Find out more about the legal side of international travel with minors.
2. The Bare Necessities
Besides critical documents, you should also consider packing items in your carry-on case that you’ll need en route as well as things you can’t live without should your checked bags get lost or delayed. For starters, consider these items:
- Valuables (e.g., camera, jewelry)
- Eyeglasses and/or contact lenses
- Car keys (if you’ll be leaving your vehicle in the airport parking garage)
- Devices (e.g., tablet, laptop)
- Chargers for all of your devices
- Reading material (for you and the kids)
- Prescription medicine
- Antibacterial wipes
- Collapsible water bottles with lids
- Diapers, wipes, extra baby clothes, binkies, bottles, small blankets, and anything else that you may need to soothe your infant
- An extra change of clothes for everyone in the event of an unforeseen mess or lost luggage (roll these at the bottom of the suitcase)
- Extra zip-top bags to handle emergencies
- A scarf or sweater in case an extra layer is needed on the plane
- Anything that you can’t live without or that may get mishandled in your luggage
While the bare necessities will look a bit different depending on the ages of your kids, the ideas above will put you on the fast track to a carry-on packed with the right stuff. Here are a few more things to keep in mind when it comes to travel hacks that’ll streamline your next family vacation.
3. Kid-Friendly Activities
Let’s face it. Flying can be an overwhelming experience for kids (and adults, too!). The uncertainty of a novel experience can leave them feeling bewildered even as boredom sets in, especially on longer flights. That’s why it’s critical to make sure your children have access to activities with serious entertainment value. Movies are a blessing with older kids (invest in a good pair of headsets), but babies and above all toddlers are typically a more demanding crowd.
What are some items to consider bringing for your little ones?
- Crayons and coloring books or a notepad
- Activity books (sticker books were a big hit with my girls when they were little)
- Tech gadgets (e.g. tablet, etc.) with pre-loaded apps, music, and movies and headphones
- Travel games and toys (e.g., travel bingo, Mad Libs, Wikki Stix, etc.)
Many parents rely primarily on electrical devices to keep kids busy on plane flights, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But if you’d like to go unplugged on your next family vacation or limit screen time, you’ll need other options. Here are more ideas to keep kids entertained while on an airplane.
Don’t forget to pack your child’s favorite stuffed animal or lovie, too. To prepare your kids for the TSA security checkpoint, let them know that the TSA agents will need to take a picture of their beloved friend and then give it back a few moments later.
But what about a car seat? Do you need to bring one along when flying with infants? Or for transportation situations once you reach your destination? There’s no simple answer to this dilemma. Many parents opt to bring one along or work with a family-friendly travel company that can provide one for transportation at their destination. Learn more about your options.
4. Kid-Friendly Snacks
Packing kid-friendly snacks remains another must when flying with kids. Between flight delays and the fact that some airlines no longer offer food options, you’ll be happy you remembered to pack a variety of items that’ll satiate your little ones. Which types of snacks should you add to your carry-on? Keep it healthy with items such as:
- Veggie straws
- Fruit snacks (like fruit leather)
- Fruit pouches
- Individually packaged Goldfish crackers
- Healthy snack bars (e.g., Larabars or Fig Bars)
- Fresh fruit
These items will keep little fingers and mouths busy as well as tame the hunger monster. What’s more, items such as raisins and fruit pouches help equalize ear pressure during takeoff and landing. So, make sure to keep them handy before and during flights.
The Caveat: What Not to Pack
Now that we’ve gone over what to bring, here’s a quick reminder of what not to bring. Don’t pack any liquids, gels, or aerosol containers larger than 3.4 ounces (100 milliliters). As for containers that meet this maximum requirement, remember that they must fit inside a single quart-sized (liter-sized) Ziploc-style plastic bag together. This rule even goes for memorabilia, such as snow globes!
Liquid beverages also fall into the no-pass category when it comes to TSA. So, wait to fill your water bottles or purchase your drinks until after you’ve passed through the TSA security line. You should also avoid packing anything that can be construed as a weapon, such as the self-defense spray you might keep on your keychain.
What if you have baby food and bottles, or liquid medication that surpasses the minimum amount rule? Special rules apply to babies and medications. These will be screened and tested by the agent, so allow for some extra time at the security checkpoint.
Finally, airplanes are notoriously chilly. Remember to dress in layers, and keep those extra sweatshirts easily accessible.
What to Bring in Your Carry-On
Knowing what to bring in your carry-on when traveling with kids is critical to smooth travels. And this holds just as true when it comes to what not to pack. With the tips above, you’ll be well on your way to smarter travels, and that’s a win-win for you and your kids.
Of course, depending on how many children you have in tow, your carry-on might start feeling stuffed. What to do? Alleviate the burden by asking your school-aged kids to pack their own backpacks as carry-ons. It’ll also give them something to do and will help them build confidence.
Now that you’ve got your carry-on bag under control, could you use some help with the rest of your packing? Download the only packing list you’ll ever need.
At Our Whole Village, raising globally-minded children is our passion. We craft meaningful adventures designed for families who want to create lasting memories while making a difference. We’re here to help you and your family experience the world, its people, and its cultures. Contact us to learn more about the unforgettable experiences that we curate to introduce kids to the world and raise good global citizens.