Air travel with tiny humans can be exhausting—but being prepared when it comes to the kids’ carry-on luggage travel list can help lighten the load. What does that mean? Besides toting the necessary ID, cash and travel documents, your carry-on bag should be a veritable Mary Poppins case of goodies. Read on for the scoop on what to pack in a carry-on (and be sure to scroll down for the printable checklist).
Change of Clothes (for You and Your Kids!)
Accidents happen—whether they be the stinky kind or the spilled juice variety. So prepare for wet wardrobe issues by bringing spare clothes in your carry-on. Also, don't think just because you're a grown-up that you don't need to bring extras, too. One stray swing of an arm and your cup of wine may quickly end up lap-side.
Hint: Put spare clothes into separate zip-locked bags so you can easily grab what you need—and put wet or dirty clothes away afterward.
If there's one thing kids never tire of, it's snack food. Pull out all the stops with a travel trove of their favorite eats. Stick to easy finger-food types of items that they won't get things too messy (Fruit snacks, yes! Chocolate, no!). Chewy snacks are especially good during takeoff and landing when the simple act of chewing can help relieve ear pain.
An Empty Sippy Cup
You can bet that the little plastic cup your kid gets during in-flight beverage service will at some point hit the ground. Avoid spills by bringing a sippy cup (or water bottle, for older kids) that flight attendants can fill during the flight.
Tissues & Wet Wipes
Keep those hands, noses and faces clean by bringing enough wipes and tissues to last the whole flight.
Hand Sanitizer (& Sanitizing Wipes)
You've no doubt seen the news reports about the legions of germs lurking on airplane tray tables—and in-flight remote controls, touch screens and armrests. Protect your family from germs by applying hand sanitizer several times during the flight. Sanitizing wipes are great, too, since you can use them to sanitize all the surfaces around your seat as well as on the diaper-changing table in the bathrooms.
Chances are, the headsets the flight attendants distribute won't fit your child's ears—and in-ear buds aren't meant for kids. To make sure your kid can hear the movie (or whatever she's playing on her device), make sure to pack a pair of kid's headphones. We like these fleece-based CozyPhones, which wrap around your child's head like ear-warmers (which means your child can actually fall asleep with them on) and limit the volume to a safe level for children.
Diaper Changing Supplies
Arguably the worst part about flying with a baby or toddler is having to change said baby's diaper in the tiny airplane lavatory. So be prepared: Store diapers and wipes in easy-to-reach zip-locked bags so you can grab and go when the time comes, and bring a portable changing pad so you can cover the changing table inside the restroom. Be sure to wash those little hands after every change, in case your tots have wandering fingers in the grimy airplane bathroom.
Hint: Bring more diapers than you think you'll use (for babies under 1, we recommend one diaper per two hours of flying time).
Your kiddo might be all smiles on the ground, but it's anyone's guess how she'll feel once airborne. Ear pain, motion sickness, or just the sudden beginnings of a viral illness might hit mid-flight—so it's best to have a flight plan. Here's what you should stick in your child's in-flight medicine kit (Note: You can pack a similar kit for yourself, but be sure to mark it so you don't mix up meds):
- Antihistamines in case of allergic reactions (make sure you know the proper dosages beforehand)
- Motion sickness tablets such as Dramamine, which are safe for kids ages two and up (just be sure to buy the children's strength tablets)
- Any needed prescription medicines—Even if your child doesn't need them while you fly, you don't want to pack prescription medications in checked baggage, just in case your luggage gets lost or delayed
- Anti-nausea medicine like Pepto or Nausene, in case your child has an upset stomach.
- Gas relief drops
Something to Chew or Suck On
Ever wonder why people are told to chew gum on takeoff and landing? Chewing stimulates frequent swallowing, which helps keep the eustachian tubes open and equalizes air pressure as you ascend or descend. Sucking works, too, so don't be afraid to spoil your kids with some sweets during the flight. For babies, just make sure you give a pacifier or bottle (or nurse) during takeoff and landing.
Hint: Always carry lollipops. Besides helping with ear pain, they work wonders to tame tempers, and you can offer them to other moms whose children are fussing.
You may or may not be a screen-time kind of Mom, but we (and, probably, your fellow passengers) say ANYTHING GOES when you're flying with a brood of wiggly, moody little travelers. If it makes you feel better, load up your iPad with "educational" apps, then let your kid have at it (Need a good list? Check out this post on the best learning apps for preschoolers).
Hint: Don't forget to also bring a charger and plug. Many airplanes (and airports) have power ports—so you can keep your kids' devices charged (hopefully) all flight long.
We're not saying you need to construct a whole airplane busy box, but having a few wrapped surprises to give your kids throughout the flight will help keep them busy and engaged. A quick trip to a local Dollar Store is all you need.
Some easy ideas (Note: All of these are available at Dollar Tree):
- Handheld marble mazes
- Stickers and a small pad to stick them
- Toy figures
- Mini dry erase board
- Magnetic drawing boards
- Activity books
- Play dough or clay
- Window clings (they'll love putting them on the airplane window)
- Themed "Play Packs"
- Mad Libs (for older kids)
Long ago, we'd have told you to bring actual books on a plane to read to your child. Today—why waste the space? With a few clicks on your phone, you can download full-color picture books from your local library and read to your child. Just go to your local library's website to get the details or try Hoopla or Overdrive to see if your local library is represented.
Hint: Be sure to download books before you get on the plane since you probably won't be able to download titles while connected to an in-flight Wi-Fi signal.
YOUR PRINTABLE CHECKLIST
(Cross out any boxes that don't apply to your family):
- Travel documents
- Driver's license/ Passport
- Your tablet or e-reader
- Child's tablet
- Wallet with cash
- Wipes (a full-size pack if you've got a long flight)
- Change of clothes (at least one for you and your kids; two for babies), all packed in separate zip-locked bags
- Empty sippy cup, a cup with a lid or a re-useable water bottle
- Kids headphones
- Your headphones
- Medicine kit
- Lollipops, gum or chewy snacks for takeoff and landing
- Small toys
- Travel games/ activity books
PLUS THESE THINGS ... IF YOU'RE TRAVELING WITH A BABY
- Diapers (at least one for every 2 hours of flight)
- Diaper cream
- Changing pad
- Pacifiers (at least 3—they fall a lot!)
- Breast milk or formula
- Baby food jars or pouches
- Baby feeding spoon
- Nursing cover (if applicable)
- Pillow (or Boppy) to make you more comfortable when baby naps on your lap
- Gas drops
- Nasal aspirator if the baby is stuffy
- Teething toys