What to Pack in Your Carry-On Bag When Flying with Kids

Family hurrying for a plane departure

 Westend61/Getty Images

Flying with kids? It's important to think through what to pack, and what to not pack in your checked luggage (which will likely incur baggage fees) and what you'll want to keep with you on the plane. 

Click through for our list of must-have items for your carry-on and day bag.

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Personal Documents and Essentials

Tote bag for important carry-on items
Ariel Skelley/Getty Images

Make sure you have easy access to travel essentials:

  • wallet with credit cards, small cash, insurance card, and travel membership cards
  • ID (driver's license or passport)
  • cell phone
  • boarding passes (or use airline app)
  • itinerary (or use Tripit app)
  • glasses and/or contact lens case
  • valuables (jewelry, camera)
  • gadgets (laptop, tablet) and chargers
  • car keys (if leaving vehicle at airport parking garage)
  • reading material
  • anything else you can't bear to lose if your luggage is mishandled
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Activities for Kids

Kids on a plane
Juhan Sonin/Flickr/Creative Commons

Older kids can pack their own books and entertainment but young children will likely need help packing fun activities in their carry-ons. The goal is to keep kids occupied and, hopefully, relatively quiet on the plane. Some suggestions:

  • books
  • tech gadgets (iPod, Kindle, tablet, etc.) with headphones and pre-loaded apps and/or movies
  • crayons and coloring book or notepad
  • printable travel games
  • several surprise activities or toys from the dollar store
  • small bottles of bubbles

Keep kids busy with these must-have travel toys and games, which are also great for long airport layovers and other downtimes during travel.

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Prescription Medications

Prescription medications
Food and Drug Administration

Always carry necessary medications in your carry-on or personal bag when you travel. If a checked bag is lost or delayed, you won't have to go through the rigamarole of finding a pharmacy and replacing your medication. Also bring any over-the-counter pain or motion sickness medications you may need in-transit.

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Antibacterial Wipes

Wet Ones antibacterial wipes
Wet Ones

Even if you're not a germaphobe, it's better to be safe than sorry and pack sanitizing wipes. A study by the website TravelMath found the germiest places on airplanes and in airports. Get your family in the habit of doing a pre-flight wipedown of all tray tables, seatbelt buckles, armrests, entertainment-system controls, and overhead vents. 

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Teddy Bear, Doll, or Lovie

Girl with a teddy bear at airport
Caiaimage/Agnieszka Olek/Getty Images

If your child wants to fly with her favorite stuffed animal or lovie, prepare her for the security checkpoint. Explain beforehand that the TSA agents will take a picture and then give it back a few moments later.

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Empty Water Bottles

Hydaway bottles

Due to the TSA's 3-1-1 rule, you can't bring a full bottle of water through airport security. The solution is to pack and empty water bottle and simply fill it at any airport water fountain before you board your flight. We particularly love the clever Hydaway collapsible water bottle, which takes up very little space when empty.

Buy on Amazon

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Healthy Snacks

Healthy Snacks for the Plane
Earthbound Farm

The flight crew will likely serve a beverage in-flight, but snacks aren't a given. Pack several dry, healthy, portable snacks in zip-lock bags. Before eating, remember to use hand sanitizer or wipes.

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Something to Chew or Suck

Swirl lollipops
Fun Express

Until kids learn how to pop their ears during takeoffs and landings, it's a good idea to pack something to help them alleviate ear pressure. For babies and toddlers, a bottle or sippy cup usually does the trick. Older kids can sip from a water bottle or suck on a lollipop. For kids over age 3, chewing gum may be the best of all. 

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Diapers and Baby Supplies

Kimberly-Clark corporation

If you're flying with a baby or toddler, pack enough diapers or pull-ups to get you door to door plus three more hours in case of delays. You'll also need a few quiet activities, and a change of clothes for baby in case of an accident, and an extra top for yourself in case of spit ups.

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E.A.R. Inc.

Bringing a baby on board? Consider handing out disposable earplugs to your nearest neighbors. It can diffuse tension if your little one has a bout of screaming or crying.

It's not unheard of for parents to hand out Starbucks gift cards in small denominations as a gesture of appreciation for their understanding after a long and noisy flight.

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CARES Harness

Kids Fly Safe harness
Kids Fly Safe

Got a toddler? One item that belongs in your carry-on is the CARES Harness. It's light, easy to pack, and takes 15 seconds to install. This shoulder harness loops through the airline lap belt and keeps your child safe and unable to kick the seat in front of her. It is FAA approved for all phases of air travel, including take-off and landing, for babies weighing 22-44 pounds.  

Buy on Amazon

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Ziploc Bags

Have Ziploc bags in your carry-on
SC Johnson Company

A few empty gallon-size Ziploc bags in your carry-on can come in handy in a multitude of ways. Use them to store half-eaten snacks, chewed gum, a leaky sippy cup, soiled baby's clothes, or a dirty diaper. They also make great airplane sick bags because they seal in odors.

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These inexpensive spring-loaded clips always come in handy when your hands are full (and a parent's hands are almost always full in the airport). Attach one or two to your carry-on for keeping track of any stray flotsam and jetsam that comes with kids. 

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A Pen

Pack a pen in your carry-on bag

Flying to an international destination? There will be a landing card to fill out on the plane. 

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Oversized Scarf

Pack an over-sized scarf
Phil Boorman/Getty Images

Aircraft cabins can get chilly, regardless of season. It's not easy to pack your own blanket and it's best to steer clear of airline blankets. The solution is to pack or wear an oversized scarf or pashmina, which can be worn as a shawl or tucked around a sleeping child. 

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