What to Pack in a Kid’s Carry On

This week we are pleased to present a guest post by Miriam Porter a freelance writer focused on Social Justice, Family Travel, Parenting & Veganism. Miriam has traveled far and wide as a single mom, with her son and writes about her journey and traveling with children. Her website, Miriam Porter, showcases her work.

Traveling alone with my son as a single mom, for a decade, I have learned many packing tips and tricks along the way for how to pack a kid’s carry on bag. We have traveled by car, bus, boat, train, and airplane across North America and the Caribbean. With each new destination and adventure I discover what works best when it comes to packing.

When flying with children there is more to consider; such as size restrictions of your bag, weight limits, and of course, food and liquid guidelines to follow if you don’t want your precious belongings left behind at the TSA. Taking into consideration that some kids have allergies (epi-pen) or need various medications, always leave room in your bag if this applies to you. These suggestions are a guideline, so adjust accordingly depending on your baby, toddler or school aged child.

Baby’s Carry On

Ah, babies, they are so little yet require so much stuff. Regardless of whether your flight is three hours to Florida, or eight hours to London, your carry on baggage allowance is the same. My motto when flying with babies? Be prepared for anything.

  • Diapers: The unwritten rule is to have at least one diaper for every hour in transit including airport wait times, and if you can squish a few extras in your bag, even better.
  • Change pad: Get pads that fold up small
  • Thin blankets
  • Wipes and tissues
  • Plastic bags: To dispose of soiled diapers, or for wet clothing
  • Extra change of clothes: Put an entire extra outfit in a sealed plastic bag
  • Pacifier (optional): My son used a pacifier and I probably traveled with a dozen of them on our first trip, they also help with ear pressure during take off and landing
  • Bibs: If you baby is a drooler I can’t stress how important these are; pack a few and include a waterproof one
  • Small toys: I always packed some of my son’s favorite toys including a small stuffed animal
  • Baby sling, or front carrier: This is ideal especially if you check your stroller with your luggage
  • The actual diaper bag: I preferred waterproof bags with either a shoulder strap option, or backpack style and lots of pockets

Whether you breastfeed or use formula, be prepared. There are liquid rules for carry on luggage (100 ml/3.4 oz. and all bottles or containers must fit into a 1 liter clear plastic bag). However, breast milk is considered an exception that you can declare to be screened at security. But to be safe, you may want to bring only what is necessary, since breast milk has been known to be dumped out, much to the dismay of protesting mothers.

Toddler’s Carry On

If you are still breastfeeding, see above. Perhaps you won’t need diapers, but if potty training is a work in progress, pull-up diapers are great, especially if you get stuck on the tarmac for hours without access to a bathroom (unfortunately, this happens on occasion). For years I kept a pull-up in my purse, just in case! Wipes are still handy to use at this age for sticky little hands and faces.

  • Small toys are essential: Traveling games of checkers, X’s & O’s, and Snakes and Ladders were my son’s favorites & he chose which stuffed animal made the journey with us for each trip
  • Lightweight books: A favorite picture pop-up book, or a book about the destination you are traveling to, that you can read to them helps keep them engaged
  • Coloring books, notebooks, crayons or pencil crayons (no markers!)
  • Surprise Dollar Store toys: Something you child has never played with works great; you can get a package of small plastic animals for two dollars and dole them out at half hour intervals to keep them guessing
  • Clothing: A complete change of clothing including socks and undies (I also bring a baseball cap and sunglasses)
  • Endless dry snacks: granola bars, crackers, cereal in baggies, pretzels, dried fruit
  • Still more snacks: small carrots, cucumbers, sliced apples, fruit that won’t squish

Tip: If you don’t want to spend a fortune on bottled water, bring an empty water bottle through customs and fill it up from the water fountain before you get on the plane. (Brita makes individual filtered plastic bottles).

School Aged Kid’s Carry On

It was a glorious milestone when my son finally pulled his own luggage and carry on bag onto the plane. Yay! I survived the baby and toddler traveling years! He started doing this when he turned five, and by the time he was six it was a lot easier to travel with him. He loved having his own name on the luggage tag and felt independent as my traveling companion.

  • Toys and books: Now, at age ten, he still brings his favorite small toys and drawing material as well as a new novel for each flight (A second one is packed in his luggage and for the flight home the books are switched)
  • Notebook: Sometimes we keep a trip journal, or list things we want to explore at our destination
  • Magazines: He loves hockey and baseball magazines and I try to save a current unread issue for the flight
  • Gum: This helps ears with take offs and landings
  • Ginger: My son inherited my nauseous flying issues, natural ginger helps or in some cases over the counter meds are necessary
  • Snacks: Just like the toddler section, but I also bring him a meal. We follow a vegan diet and can’t rely on airplane food. If you are traveling with a child with food allergies or intolerances, you will want to bring your own food as well. (Just be cautious of the no liquid rules)
  • Toiletries: Just like I do for myself, I include a small package in his carry on that includes; lip balm, toothbrush, travel toothpaste, Band-Aids, tiny hand sanitizer, kids Tylenol just in case!)

About Electronics: At home we have rules about using electronics and there is always a time limit on games and movies. But when traveling, the electronic rules are adjusted for the flight and waiting in the airport. But that doesn’t mean he plays video games the entire flight. For example, for every hour of electronic use there is an hour of reading or writing.

Tip: My son loves bringing his own travel pillow that goes around the back of his neck so he can relax while he reads or plays. If the carry on is full there are blow up versions that fold up quite small. They come in handy if your flight gets delayed. It’s a good idea to bring one for yourself too in your own carry on bag.

As small and mighty traveling companions grow bigger they will add their own suggestions of what they want to pack in their carry-on luggage. These days I encourage my son to make his own packing list and choose what ends up in his bag. Perhaps making these choices will trickle down into other areas of his life as he grows older and gains more independence.


Whether you’re traveling with a baby, toddler, or school aged children it pays to be prepared. Packing a carry on bag with the essentials to make a flight more comfortable and to head off any emergency is smart.

For Babies:

  • Pack extras of everything
  • Plan for feedings
  • A sling or carrier can help keep your hands free

For Toddlers:

  • Favorite toys and new surprises keep them busy
  • Pack a change of clothes
  • Don’t forget the snacks!

For School Aged Kids:

  • It’s all about independence
  • Bend the rules on electronics for travel days
  • Plan around nutritional differences to keep everyone happy


Want more like this?

Get weekly gear reviews, travel hacks, and packing tips sent straight to your inbox. We’ll send you a carry on packing list right away.