The Perfectly Packed Child’s Carry-On

Whether it lasts four hours or 14, a plane flight can feel like an eternity if you’re not prepared. Your child’s carry-on is a big key to your success (see my recent post on travel packing tips on clothes and checked baggage).

Less is more

Make sure your child’s bag is light when it’s empty.You’re going to put enough in as it is, don’t add un-necessary weight. Look for a carry-on that rolls, but can also double as a backpack. Rollers come in handy, but there are moments (think escalators and rental car bus shuttles) when you’ll be thankful your little one can put their bag on their back and go. The TSA Rules are constantly in flux, and all airlines limit the size of carry-ons, but that doesn’t mean your son or daughter needs the largest one allowed. Even with the best planning, at some point you will wind up carrying the bag. Cut yourself some slack before you get off the ground.

Have your kids pack with you

This get’s more important as your kids get older. What you think your kids need, and what they really want, might be two very different things. Packing together eliminates any unwelcome mid-air surprises such as five pounds of marbles or last year’s swim trophy. For older kids, it also adds an element of responsibility. An added bonus, if you’re child is part of the packing process, they can’t blame you when something is not in the bag.

A Favorite Quiet Thing

With the emphasis on the quiet part. This will be different for every kid. Some might want a pad of paper and small pack of crayons or colored pencils, for others a travel journal and a new fancy pen or pencil. For my girls it’s always books. They can get heavy fast.To keep the weight down, buy only paperback books, and limit your readers to two or three maximum. If your kids finish the books they packed, donate them at your destination and pick up a few new ones for the return trip home. My girls are close in age and they’ve learned to select books they both want to read, doubling their travelling library. They also like to buy books that will help them remember their trip. From Mysteries of the Loch Ness Monster to Chinese Folks Tales, books are a great use for souvenir dollars.


My kids aren’t really the video game type, but when we were planning a 2-week-plus trip to China, we thought a little extra back-up might not be a bad idea. We spent about $250 dollars on two Nintendo DS handheld game systems and games. They were worth every penny. Lightweight and easy to carry, they came in handy on various flights and long bus rides. An added bonus, they’re pretty much silent once your kids plug in a pair of earphones.

The latest rage is an itouch or iphone. I love my itouch, but my kids love it more. And why not? From music, to television programs, to a quick game of checkers, there are just too many options to get bored.


It doesn’t matter if they just had a six course meal, kids get hungry. And if they stay that way, then they get grouchy.So be prepared for when the munchies strike.Pack some snacks for the air. A sweet or two is ok, but try and pack something easy that will hold them until their next solid meal. Apples, crackers and peanut butter, and granola bars are popular with the younger set, and easy to eat on the go. They also typically make it through security without much question.

It’s not a must, but I love sneaking a surprise into my girls’ bags. Who doesn’t like a surprise? A water bottle for the trip, a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies or a new address book complete with addresses so they can send all their friends post cards. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just wrapped. Anticipation is great at keeping spirits high. My girls get to rip and tear once we’ve passed the half-way mark.I think that’s also when most moms take their first sigh of relief, and maybe, just maybe they start to realize, they’re on vacation too.

Relevant Links:

entertaining kids planes

One Comment

  1. When we pack a carry on for a trip, I let each child pack their 1/2 full with whatever they want. One year it was stuffed animals and Barbie dolls, the next year small cars and stickers. Once they pack what they want, I fill the other 1/2 with mommy extras = prepared games and information about our destination, snacks, and surprises!! I visit the holiday aisles of Walmart, Target, and the Dollar Store year round for ideas for my secret mommy extras stash!

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