Take it from a mom who travels frequently with young children: here’s everything you need to know about what to pack- and what not to pack- in a toddler carry-on.
Flying is pretty routine for our children. G took his first flight at just over a month old, B when she was two weeks. Since then, we’ve traveled numerous times with both of them. I’ve lost count of how many times each has been on a plane, but I know G, who is five, has taken more than a dozen round-trips. By now, we feel like we’ve got a pretty good grasp on what to pack in a toddler carry-on to make the trip as smooth and, dare I say fun, for all involved.
What to Pack in a Toddler Carry-On
What We’re Bringing
The picture is what will be in B’s backpack. I buy most snacks and activities in pairs, so G’s will be nearly identical.
- Crayons and a zipper pouch (both from Dollar Tree): We have plenty of crayons at home, but these are fresh and unused and will make the kids’ day.
- Coloring: Paw Patrol coloring activity (Toys ‘r’ Us), Jake and the Neverland Pirates coloring book (Dollar Tree), Frozen art set (Toys ‘r’ Us), and Jake and the Neverland Pirates activity (Target). These were all $1 each and they feature our toddlers’ favorite characters. The Frozen activity has stickers, and we’ll have fun coloring the rest.
- Homemade playdough, a plastic spoon, and a cookie cutter (all brought from home). It’s a little unconventional as far as airplane activities go, but it holds B’s attention longer than any activity or TV show, and G enjoys it, too.
- LeapPad (Amazon). I originally bought the pink one for G for $40 during a Black Friday sale and it’s since been passed on to B. We don’t have any expensive games or apps, but B has a blast using the built-in coloring feature and watching a few inexpensive videos. We’ve since bought a newer one that G will bring. It has a few math and reading games that he enjoys.
- Snacks: baby food pouches (Big Lots, peanut butter crackers (Dollar Tree), and Peppa Pig cookies (Big Lots). These snacks totaled $5 and the crackers will be shared between both kids for both our flights out and our flights back. We love those pouches because they’re a mess-free, healthy, on-the-go treat.
There are, of course, some things we’re bringing that aren’t pictured:
- Blankets: we bring one blanket for each kid. They both have an attachment to a particular blanket, so bringing those will comfort them. The blankets will also be nice if it gets chilly and when we try to convince them to nap.
- Extra Batteries: this one is a no-brainer if you’re bringing electronics of any kind. We love rechargeable batteries because we can charge them during a layover.
- Headphones: pack headphones if you’re bringing any type of electronics, but also if the airplane might have in-flight entertainment. Most airlines will sell headphones, but they’re expensive and ill-fitting. These are our favorite kid headphones.
- Reusable water bottles: we have and love these Nalgene bottles and we always pack them when we fly. It’s so much cheaper to fill those bottles at water fountains or with free water on the plane than to buy several overpriced bottles. In addition to the reusable bottles, we also bring flavored water drops. The kids don’t drink juice, but they love flavored water.
- Extra clothes: we pack two extra pairs of clothes for each kid. They’re still toddlers and you just never know what sort of accidents, potty or otherwise, might happen. It never hurts to throw in an extra outfit for yourself, too, just in case. In addition to those extra clothes, we also pack a few plastic grocery bags because, if anything gets wet or dirty, we’ll want somewhere to put it.
- More snacks: we aren’t spending 12 hours traveling with only a few snacks for our kids. B and G don’t always care for fast food, especially when we’re traveling, so in addition to the snacks pictured we’ll bring a few bananas, Goldfish crackers, and granola bars.
- Medicine: I always bring medicine in case one of the kids gets a fever during our travel day. We also pack Benadryl to give the kids before our longest flight, which is about three and a half hours (this is something our doctor suggested we do). The kids wouldn’t nap otherwise. I think we all appreciate the sleep they get.
- Wipes and Sanitizer: Both are no-brainers when packing a toddler carry-on. My kids can make a mess eating just about anything, so between cleaning them and the surfaces around them, we go through a lot of wipes (when they’re younger we just use diaper wipes; as they get older, we mostly use Wet Wipes). My kids hate the sound of- and refuse to use- those loud hand dryers in the bathroom. If those are the only option in the airport bathroom, we skip it and use hand sanitizer instead.
What We’re Leaving
- Pillows: pillows take up too much room in a toddler carry-on and they just aren’t necessary. If your child is going to nap, let her use her blanket or lean against you. They take up too much room in a bag and, unless they’re an attachment item, just aren’t worth it.
- Junk food: not all of the food we’re packing is super healthy, but we aren’t bringing candy or super sugary treats. We’re spending hours confined to seats on two different flights; we don’t need to make that more difficult for any of us.
- Certain toys: I think carefully through every toy and activity I pack for the kids. Obviously, I avoid anything that makes noise or lights up (you’re welcome, fellow passengers). I also don’t bring toys that they generally play loudly with, or that would potentially roll around and be tough to play with.
- pack a significant amount more food in your toddler carry-on than you think you’ll need. If your child gets fussy during the flight, she might be content to snack her way through the whole thing (ask me how I know). For your sake, and for the sanity of those around you, you’ll want to be prepared.
- Don’t forget about the return trip! Buy double of a lot of the snacks and activities and stash those in your checked bag if you won’t have time to shop for items at your destination.
- If your doctor gives you the go-ahead to give your toddler benadryl, do a test run before the actual flight to make sure it doesn’t have the opposite effect on him.
We bring two backpacks as carry-ons when we fly. All the stuff we pack for each kid wouldn’t fit in one, but since we can’t all sit side-by-side- the planes we fly on have, at most, three seats across, then the aisle, then two more seats- it makes more sense to have two anyway. I always select our seats so we’re in consecutive rows, which makes it easier to share things like batteries and medicine.
With all the stuff in the toddler carry-on, it might seem like there isn’t room to pack anything for mom and dad. That’s pretty much true because here’s the thing: flying with a toddler is a full-time job. You won’t have time to do much beyond entertaining your child. I always bring my Kindle because it’s compact, and sometimes I even end up reading it. Mostly, though, if the kids are sleeping I’m going to want to sleep, too, or at least zone out for a few minutes.