Getting ready for a long-haul flight can be intimidating if you plan on travelling with kids. One of the main concerns a parent has when preparing for a long trip is what they should pack for their children, especially in carry-on bags; there are questions about which items kids need and which should be left at home.
What should kids pack in a carry-on bag for a long-haul flight? Some of the essentials parents should pack in their children’s carry-on bags include:
- Tissues and Wet Wipes
- Things to Do or Play with
- Children’s Headphones
- Small Travel Pillow and Blanket
However, the specifics of your child’s carry-on bag contents will mostly depend on their age.
Flying on a long flight with children and making sure that they have everything they need packed can be nerve-wracking, but it helps if you are prepared! This article will outline all the essentials that you should make sure are in your child’s carry-on bag and offer some tips that will help you be sure you are prepared for anything.
- Deciding What to Pack
- What to Pack in Carry-On Bags for Kids
- Essentials for All Ages
- Packing for Babies and Infants (0-12 Months Old)
- Packing the Carry-on for Toddlers (1-3 Years Old)
- Kids (4-11 Years Old) and What’s in their Carry-on
- Pre-Teens & Teens’ (12-18 Years Old) Carry-on Packing List
- Frequently Asked Questions About What’s in the Kids’ Hand luggage
- Does each child need a carry-on bag?
- Is there anything you have to buy to prepare for a trip with kids?
- Choosing Your Child’s Carry-On Bag
- Final Packing Tips
Deciding What to Pack
When you start packing carry-on bags for your kids, remember that less is always more. In other words, pack light if you can and only take the things you need. (The same can be applied with check-in bags if you are bringing them, too.)
Things you SHOULD NOT pack
While having at least one or two toys in your child’s carry-on bag is recommended to keep them entertained during your transit to the airport, waiting in different queues, the long flight, you do not need a full bag of toys.
Not only will they end up taking up precious space that can be used to pack more essential travel items, but, chances are, your child will not even want to play with all of them once they board the flight—or after you have finally reached your destination! They will likely be too busy interacting with the new things around them.
Also, toys can quickly become lost on the plane or left in your hotel room, and there is a higher chance of them breaking or ending up missing pieces during your travels.
Do you want the added stress to find that vital little piece of the toy when the boarding call comes?
It may seem counterintuitive to have fewer things available to keep your child occupied during your trip. However, leaving most of their toys behind can help stimulate their creativity (and yours 😉 ).
You will be surprised at how well they can entertain themselves with a few guiding steps from you!
Too Much Clothes
You should pack enough clothes so that your child has something to wear throughout the time you are away, but also keep in mind that wherever you plan on staying may offer laundry services, too.
If you are booking with a hotel, check with them first to see if they have a laundry facility; if so, it will be safe to leave behind a few sets of clothes. (Do not forget to pack a little laundry detergent so that you can wash your clothes while there!)
Otherwise, if you are camping or staying at a location that will likely not offer the ability to wash clothes, try to pack enough clothes that will cover your child’s needs throughout your stay.
Quick-drying clothes will always be useful for trips, as they can save you a lot of extra packing. And most often, clothes just need a little rinse, instead of a full-blown wash.
Keep at least two sets of clothes in the carry-on.
Too Many Bags
In general, make sure you do not end up taking too many pieces of hand luggage.
Especially if you are traveling with kids, you will need to stay as hands-free as possible so you can carry your child, hold their hand, or push a stroller.
It is usually best to take a backpack with you as your form of carry-on luggage, so you are better able to interact with your kids.
What to Pack in Carry-On Bags for Kids
Now that you know what you should not pack for your kiddos, here are a few things that should be packed in their carry-on:
Essentials for All Ages
- Tissues and Wet Wipes – Be prepared for any messes by bringing along a pack of tissues or wet wipes.
- Snacks – Kids can become hungry fairly quickly on any journey.
Make sure that you bring along a couple of snacks, like cookies or fruit snacks. Avoid bringing snacks that are sticky or messy.
TIP: If you plan on bringing snacks from home to pack in your carry-on, make sure they are sealed in their original container or a bag per airport regulations.
Alternatively, you can also purchase snacks from the airport after you have gone through the security check.
Also, note the rules for the country you are travelling to in regards to the import of food products and fresh produce. Some have very fines if you are caught even unintentionally taking these in.
- Warm Socks – Because planes often become cold during a flight, make sure to pack a pair of warm socks for your child to wear. Better yet, rather than packing them, have your child wear them on the way to the airport so you can save room in their carry-on bag. Having warm socks will also give them the freedom to remove their shoes to be more comfortable.
But please, don’t let them walk around, especially go to the toilets, without shoes on! Planes are very dirty!
- Small Travel Pillow and Blanket – A soft, comfortable pillow—ideally a travel neck pillow since it can condense down to fit around your child’s carry-on or in it—will come in handy if your child starts to feel sleepy during the flight. The same applies for small blankets.
These are worth carrying even though long haul flights provide them to passengers. They are great for throwing into the airport stroller, wrapping your sleepy child in when you arrive.
- Disinfecting Gel or Hand Sanitizer – Bring a gentle disinfectant or hand sanitizer for cleaning small sticky hands or keeping them germ-free before snacking. (This is also an excellent item to pack in case you run out of wet wipes.)
- Headphones – In case your child wants to play on a tablet or watch their favourite show on your phone, a pair of headphones will come in handy to ensure you do not disturb fellow passengers around you.
Having their own set of headphones means they can listen to music through the airport and carry on watching that film even after the flight attendants have collected all the aeroplane headphones.
Make sure you select specific children’s headphones from a reputable brand! It’s vital for hearing health in the long term.
- Sippy Cups or Water Bottles* – Bring along an empty sippy cup or water bottle to fill with water.
Current airport security regulations state that passengers are not allowed to bring more than three fluid ounces of liquids in their carry-on bags through security. After you have gone through security, you can safely fill up bottles at the airport water fountain to have something for the kids to drink during the flight.
TIP: Of course, one concern you may have is ensuring your child has access to safe drinking water while travelling abroad. We LOVE our LifeStraw filtering water bottle for the peace of mind it gives.
Lifestraw’s bottles meet EPA and NSF International Standards for filtering leads, heavy metals, bacteria, chemicals, and microplastics from water sources, and offer bottles designed for both adults and kids.
Packing for Babies and Infants (0-12 Months Old)
Your baby will most likely be resting on your lap for the duration of your flight rather than sitting in a seat. Though you may be lucky and get a bassinet. For babies you will need to make sure you have packed enough essentials for their eating, sleeping, and changing needs in their carry-on.
- Diapers and Diaper Bag – You do not want to go without packing enough diapers for your little one! Make sure to pack enough diapers that will get you through at least two or three times the duration of the planned flight. This should cover small accidents and will be handy in case there are delays with the flight.
If you are unsure whether or not your airline will consider a diaper bag as its carry on or personal item aside from your belongings, refer to our article, “Does a Diaper Bag Count as a Carry-On?”
In some cases, you may find that the things you would pack in a diaper bag fit just as easily in a carry-on alongside your other items
- Formula – Bring extra to account for unexpected delays: Like diapers, bring enough formula that would last you two to three times the duration of the flight in case there are any delays.
Bring extra bottles and nipples as well, in addition to distilled water to help rinse them.
- Breast Pump – This is more of an item needed for breastfeeding mothers, if they use them. In addition to this, parents will also need to remember to bring two muslins (as a burp cloth and cover).
TIP: If you are still nursing, it is recommended that you feed your baby during take-off and landing. The action of sucking will help the baby handle changing pressure and keep them relaxed.)
- Baby Food and Bibs – These are essential items to pack if you are feeding your baby in addition to formula or after they have transitioned from milk to food. But bibs are also handy for teething babies, as you can save on a change or two of clothing.
- Two- Three Sets of Extra Clothes – Accidents happen, and that is okay!
Bring along two to three extra sets of clothes for your baby (and at least a spare top for you, too!) in case of any messes that occur during the flight.
- Pacifiers – Bring spares! …at least two of them in case one of the pacifiers fall on the floor or become lost during the trip.
- Baby Wipes – Naturally, wipes will be necessary once it is time to change your baby’s diaper, but baby wipes are useful for so much more. (Check out some more details of taking baby wipes, and how to make to environmentally conscious choices regarding them. )
Also, do not forget to bring along diaper rash cream and baby lotion.
- Changing Pad – Disposable changing pads or a reusable one works just as well.
Whatever you would typically bring with your baby’s gear to a restaurant or other outing, you should pack into their carry-on.
- Medium-Sized Bags – Make sure also to bring a few medium plastic bags (grocery bags work) to store soiled diapers in case there is nowhere to dispose of them.
The bags can also hold dirty clothes.
- Extra Blanket or Shawl – An extra blanket is useful for protecting your clothes from messy burps, in addition to covering yourself if you are nursing.
- Car Seat – A lightweight travel seat comes in handy regardless if you are using it for your child on the plane (if you have booked a separate seat for your baby) or in a rental vehicle at your destination (as long as it is legal in your destination, please check)
It is likely, that once your baby is comfortable, the hum of the plane engines will lull them to sleep, so be sure also to bring a small blankie or their favourite soft stuffed animal for them to them feel comfortable and safe.
In case you find your little one is more active on a flight, bring along a couple of teething rings in addition to two to three small toys for them to play with.
Note: When it comes to toys for, consider quiet, small, and easy-to-hold items, such as teether toys like this Buzzy Bee Multi-Textured Silicone Teether Toy.
Packing the Carry-on for Toddlers (1-3 Years Old)
Toddlers can be a hard nut during your trip. Their new-found freedom being curtained by rules and regulations, being constrained can easily lead to a melt-down or two. Worry not, these are things that can be overcome by merely packing the right essentials.
- Diapers and Diaper Bag – Like with babies, you should have enough extra diapers to cover two to three times the duration of your planned flight.
Even if your toddler does not use diapers at home anymore, you could still bring them just in case of regressing due to the change in routines.
And if you bring diapers, also bring along baby wipes, a changing pad, and a few plastic bags to dispose of soiled diapers.
- Formula or Other Special Food – Bring two to three times more formula than what would usually last you for your flight duration.
Also, bring extra bottles and nipples or sippy cups.
- A Couple of Sets of Extra Clothes – Toddlers can be messy eaters; if a wet wipe is not capable of cleaning up a large mess on their clothes, then you have a spare outfit ready to change them into. Do not forget to pack your own extra set of clothes, too!
- Pacifiers – This is only necessary if your toddler still uses pacifiers; if you decide to pack one, bring an extra one as well.
- Bibs – Avoid the need for cleaning behind a messy eater by packing one or two washable bibs!
- Stroller – A stroller is an essential item to bring with toddlers, especially if you expect to have your hands full while boarding and exiting the plane. Make sure that the stroller you bring is durable, compact, and easy to fold. It will need to comply to the airline’s hand luggage rules and easily store it in the plane’s overhead bin for you to be allowed to bring it onboard.
- Extra Blanket – Like with babies, extra blankets can come in handy for burping or nursing.
- Car Seat – A lightweight travel seat comes in handy regardless if you are using it for your child on the plane or in a rental vehicle at your destination. (If you are planning on taking it on board, make sure it complies with the airlines’ certification requirements. )
Things to Banish Boredom
Here are some ideas for what to pack, however, we don’t recommend bringing everything mentioned on this list! Make packing easy, choose only one or two items from the list to pack in your child’s carry-on bag, adjust to your child’s temperament and their preferences.
- A Favourite Toy – Allow your toddler to choose one or two toys to bring with them on the plane.
Keep other passengers in mind, though, and make sure the toys they pick do not create lots of noise or flashing lights. (If they do, remove the batteries for the duration of your trip.)
You will want to make sure they bring a toy that is also small and does not come with many pieces that can be easily separated.
Things like a stuffed animal or these Melissa & Doug Pull-Back Vehicles are good options.
Some of our absolute favourites toys for toddlers include:
- reusable or gel stickers
- magnetic doodle boards
- stacking cups, like these caterpillar stacking cups (which will double up as a bath toy in your destination too)
- Colouring Supplies – This includes a notebook with blank pages that they can draw on or a colouring book they enjoy.
Crayons are usually the best colouring tools to bring since they do not require sharpening or make little hands messy; be sure to pack them in a small Ziploc bag or pencil case where they can be kept together.
It’s also worth noting that most airlines give a little entertainment pack to their little passengers and this will often include some crayons too.
- Books – There are plenty of early learner picture books perfect for children this age. Many of these books are pictures only, without text.
Of course, you can also bring a children’s book that you can read to them while on the plane.
You can also pick up a magazine for your toddler at the airport.
Of course, other than the toys mentioned above, you can also use a variety of apps on your phone or tablet to entertain them. Here are some recommended by readers:
- Baby Zoo Piano – This app is more ideal for use in the airport rather than the airplane because of the noise it makes, but with a good set of headphones, it comes in handy. The app helps young children become acquainted with piano music as well as learn to recognize the sounds of different animals.
- Fisher-Price Shapes & Colors Music Show – As the name suggests, this app helps teach children about how to identify different shapes and colors. The app also provides musical accompaniment for greater entertainment.
- Nursery Rhymes – This app recites several different nursery rhymes in the form of kid-friendly, animated videos.
Do you and your little one have any favourite apps?
Kids (4-11 Years Old) and What’s in their Carry-on
Surprisingly, many kids in this age range will require less in their carry-on. However, there are still quite a few things that should be kept in their carry-on as you help them pack, such as the essentials mentioned above for all ages.
Of course, the exact age of your child, their preferences and reading ability will also influence the things you pack to keep them busy on your journey.
This is just some ideas and it’s not recommended to bring everything mentioned in the activity pack lists. Make packing easy, choose only one or two items from the list to pack in your child’s carry-on bag.
2 to 5-year-old Non-Readers
- Toys – Toys like stuffed animals or other soft, singular toys work best for packing for a long plane journey.
- Paper and Crayons– If your little one likes to express their creativity on paper, then make sure to pack some colouring implements and a pad for them to “write” in.
- Workbooks – Workbooks are great to keep kids entertained. Many workbooks for non-readers focus on developing handwriting skills or drawing skills.
There are also a few colouring books that are ideal for young toddlers and children.
- Small Digital Tablet – For this age range, apps and games such as those from the Toca Boca collection are perfect as they were developed with preschool-aged children in mind.
TIP: whenever your child is using an electronic device– a tablet or your phone- make sure it is turned to NIGHT MODE, so they get less blue light stimulation and it is easier for them to go to sleep after.
- Books – At this age range, your child may not yet have a full comprehension of reading, so if you do decide to bring a book, consider board books that are mostly pictures rather than words and maybe a book you read together.
5 to 7-year-old Early Readers
- Toys – Things like doodle boards are perfect for this age group of kids who want more than a stuffed animal to keep them busy.
- Tablet – Apps and games appropriate for this age range include: Crazy Gears, Yuppy, and Faces iMake. Apps that involve colouring and drawing are also great options.
- Books – Kids around this age tend to start having preferences for the types of books they enjoy, so let them help you pick out a few they might like reading. Children’s books for new readers are ideal.
- Workbooks – Workbooks with more puzzles, like the School Zone Big Mazes and More Workbook is perfect for this age range, and provides a combination of fun activity pages and educational references.
Lonely Planet, the travel guide publisher, has an excellent range of Lonely Planet Kids books for this age range. From learning the first words in a language to hands-on learning and inspiration, LP Kids has some great books to enrich the travel experience.
8 to 11-year-old Competent Readers
- Toys – Older children may find more fun in playing a game on a tablet or phone and reading a book, but there are a couple of toys you can pack for them, too, such as doodle boards or tracing pads.
- Tablet – A few apps and games your child may enjoy include: Alto’s Adventure, The Infinite Arcade, Pokemon (to battle around the world) and the well-known kids’ favourite—Minecraft.
- Books – Kids ages 8 to 11 have a reasonably comprehensive vocabulary and reading ability, so there is more flexibility in the types of books you pack for them.
Think about packing a beginning chapter book, such as Dragonbreath, or something for more advanced readers like a book from the Harry Potter series.
TIP: If you don’t want to log the heavy books around, maybe download these titles to an e-reader, like a Kindle. (An e-reader is kinder on the eyes and doesn’t have the same effect on stimulating the brain as tablets with their backlit screens.)
- Workbooks – Take this opportunity to let your child delve into something they are more passionate about. Are they into cars? planes? wildlife?
A trip, time away from school, is the perfect opportunity to focus deeper on these passions, both through reading and activities as well as the sights you are choosing in your destination.
Pre-Teens & Teens’ (12-18 Years Old) Carry-on Packing List
Kids within this age bracket are more likely to pack most of their things themselves, but be present and check over their packing to discourage them from taking something they do not necessarily need (especially for younger teens).
- Sanitary products– as young girls navigate the waters of periods, they will often forget about that “time of the month” is coming when it comes to packing.
- Deodorant– part of teenagehood are the hormonal changes to the body. Teens can be stinky little beings, who are learning to deal with the challenges of hormones and the effects on the body. The thing that often gets left behind is the deodorant.
- Chargers and Cords – For children with a phone, make sure they do not forget to pack a charger. Having a full battery will allow them to text and call you if you get separated during the trip.
Packing things to do
Teens are happiest in their little bubble of music or books, most often.
- Books – Encourage your child to bring along a chapter book or novel to read during the flight, maybe on the Kindle.
If you have a high schooler who needs to work on a summer reading assignment, there is no better time to get started than on a long flight!
TIP: Pick up a magazine or two at the airport for your teen. This is easy weight to consume then pass on to someone else to read.
- Tablet/Laptop and Other Mobile Devices – Older children can stay fairly occupied with mobile devices such as tablets, phones, and laptops.
These items will allow them to listen to music, play games, watch movies, and more during long flights.
Keep in mind the more laptops you have with you the more risks you carry for loss or damage. Can you all, partially, digitally detox on the break.
Frequently Asked Questions About What’s in the Kids’ Hand luggage
The following are some common questions parents have about packing for their little ones:
Does each child need a carry-on bag?
Not at all! In fact, if you have checked luggage, pack as few bags as possible. However, if you are travelling hand luggage-only, then max out on the carry-on allowance for everyone- baby to parent- to fit everything needed into your handbags.
Younger children may enjoy the idea of having a bag to themselves, apart from their siblings. However, they can quickly grow tired of it, leaving you to carry more bags than necessary.
To save room—and money from paying for additional carry-on bags—pack all of their essentials into one carry-on. Have a bag- packing cube- inside one carry-on with a separate activity pack for each child. This makes it easy to pull the pack out while you are waiting at the airport or when you get on the flight.
If you need to, have younger kids bring along a small backpack that they can easily fit under their seat on the plane and wear on their back as you walk.
On the other hand, older kids in their teens can certainly have their carry-on bag—and often prefer it. If they do bring their carry-on, it is usually best if they bring a backpack rather than a duffel bag or small luggage.
TIP: There are some benefits to having a carry-on for each child. This can help keep things organized and easy to find. It could potentially eliminate the need to have any extra check-in bags at all, saving you a lot of hassle with taxis and waiting at luggage conveyer belts: See the following post…
Many major airlines allow passengers to bring aboard one carry-on and one personal item for free. (Here’s a list of allowances)
For the kids, their personal item can be a small backpack where they can store toys, books, and other things to do, while the carry-on is a duffel bag or small luggage that can fit in the plane’s overhead bin.
Is there anything you have to buy to prepare for a trip with kids?
Absolutely not! Many of the items you will want to pack for your kids will be things you already own or have in the house. If you have to buy anything, it will most likely be something that you may have recently run out of, such as baby wipes or diapers.
Note that there may be some things that you will be tempted to purchase for the sake of having it available for your child during the trip, like a new, collapsible stroller. However, when it comes to strollers, if you do not currently have one that can be stored on the plane, there are plenty of destinations that offer stroller rentals for visitors.
Make sure you research your booked hotel and nearby areas to see if this is possible for you rather than buying a new stroller. If you cannot find nearby places that offer stroller rentals, consider borrowing from friends or visiting a thrift shop to purchase a stroller that can later be donated if you no longer have use for it after the trip.
Choosing Your Child’s Carry-On Bag
Before you start packing, you will need to decide what type of carry-on bag you should bring along for your child. But, how do you know which bags are suitable enough to bring for long trips with kids?
Before you decide, ask yourself these questions:
- Is the carry-on light enough for your child to carry on their own, like a small backpack? If it is on the slightly larger side, does it have wheels that make it easy for your child to pull it with them?
- Does it have enough storage space to pack your child’s essentials in addition to toys and snacks?
- Is the luggage durable enough to last on a long trip and many more after?
In general, it is best to use a carry-on that is both lightweight and durable, as well as a reasonable size to fit your child’s essentials for a trip.
Backpacks are a fantastic carry-on option, especially for younger children. They are easy to keep track of and fit underneath airplane seats so that they can have regular access to the things they need during a long flight.
Alternatively, a small and lightweight, carry-on-sized luggage with wheels, makes it easy for older children to pull their carry-ons alongside them as you move through the airport.
Final Packing Tips
- Make a packing list and print it out; a running list of things you want to pack will help keep track of them.
- Start preparing to pack a few days before you are expected to travel.
- What are your plans for the trip? Knowing what you plan on doing every day once you reach your destination will help you figure out what is needed.
- Sort all your documents and travel papers.
- Pack cubes are a packing saviour! Together with rolling clothes, these things revolutionise packing everything as compactly as possible.
- Pack baby or toddler outfits batched together in pack cubes. This will make it easier for you to find your child’s clothes each day of your trip—and you can avoid having to dig through their carry-on bag for a lost sock!
- Bring your emergency contact information in addition to a copy of you and your child’s health insurance (and travel insurance, if you get it). It is also beneficial to write down the contact information for where you plan on staying during your trip. Keep a copy of this information in your child’s carry-on in case you become separated at the airport.
- Finally, let your kids help you pack (with you having the last word, of course)! If they are younger, allow them to choose the toy or travel game they want to bring; not only will this keep them occupied as you pack the rest of their bag, but they will be happier that you let them decide and will be more cooperative.
Have we missed anything? What are your top tips? Let us know any questions you have.