Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What to pack in your hand luggage when traveling with kids

Me and my hand luggage.

Packing light is a challenge when traveling with children, especially if they still need diapers, special food and formula. Spread the burden by letting your children bring their own hand luggage as soon as they’re big enough. My son loves his wheeled backpack and will happily cart along his own toys and snacks in it without complaining.

Just make sure to check what’s in their bags before you go. We once ended up with a huge, sharp-horned dinosaur in our hand luggage. At least it wasn’t confiscated by security when they discovered it in the x-ray machine...

My own two must-haves in my hand luggage are antibacterial wipes and plastic juice boxes. I'll explain more about why below!

General packing strategies
  • Keep credit cards, money, tickets and passports on your person, in a waist pack or neck wallet for example. This reduces the risk of forgetting them somewhere.
  • Use a backpack as your carry-on. It frees up your hands and when you’re traveling with kids, you will need your hands a lot!
  • If there are two adults on the trip, split the load of carry-on items in a useful way. Make one carry-on the diaper and change-of-clothes bag and the other the snack and toy bag for example. This makes it easier to stow one carry-on in the overhead compartment on board to use only when it’s needed. It also makes it easier to find what you need.
  • If possible, stow jackets and other outerwear (hats, gloves etc.) in your regular luggage before checking it. My logic is that the fewer items you have to keep track of while traveling the better. Most likely you will be spending your time inside airplanes and airports so jackets and coats won’t really be needed anyway. Bring, or wear, a long-sleeved shirt, sweater or cardigan in case you get cold.

What to pack in your hand luggage 
Tub of wipes, ready to go!
  • Anti-bacterial hand wipes and gels. These are an absolute must. I use them on my children and myself (and my husband when he lets me) literally all the time when we are traveling, and definitely after any bathroom visits and before eating. This has significantly reduced how often we get sick after traveling. 
  • Sippy cups & juiceboxes. I use Rubbermaids's litterless juiceboxes for my kids when we travel, and find them invaluable. Drinking from regular cups on board an airplane can be a real challenge for kids: it’s crowded, they may be sitting awkwardly, and the plane may be shaking. I pour any drinks served to the kids on board into the the plastic juiceboxes to be consumed safely right away, or saved for later.
  • Diapers and wipes. Even if you typically don’t use pull-up diapers for your child, consider bringing some on the airplane. If your child can stand up unassisted, changing a pull-up is a lot easier than using the change table in a tiny airplane bathroom.
  • Baby food, baby bottles and formula. You are allowed to bring formula for your child, even with the current restrictions on bringing liquids on board. However: water is available on long flights (even warm water), so bringing just formula powder may be a better option. And if you’re traveling with a breastfed child it’s even easier!
  • A change of clothes. Because accidents and spills can happen even with a toilet trained child. Bring a clean shirt for yourself too if you have the room!
  • Comfort items. Bring any and all such items your child may need: blankets, stuffed animals, pacifiers and so on. If your child uses a pacifier, bring an extra one as well as a strap for securing it to your child’s clothing.
  • Snacks. Granola bars, fruit rollups, crackers, pretzels, raisins… Go with snacks that your child likes, are easy to pack and not too messy to eat.
  • Toys and books. Pick items that are big enough that they won’t disappear on-board, yet small enough to fit in the hand-luggage. Avoid messy and noisy toys.
  • Bribes. By this I mean special treats that can be used as persuasion tools. Bring something you know your child can’t resist and use it when you really need it. For example when a security lineup is taking forever, when your flight is delayed or your child just will not stop kicking the seat in front of them. For my daughter I bring lollipops. For my son, Smarties.

Your on-board pharmacy
I always bring a stash of medical supplies with me on the airplane. Usually none of it gets used, but I figure the day I forget to bring something is when I will need it.

To comply with regulations, make sure your supplies fit  into a one liter (1 quart) plastic bag, and that none of the bottles contains more than 100 ml (3oz.) of liquid. I always bring:
  • Decongestants. I bring both a nasal spray and a liquid decongestant for children. (Ask your doctor or pharmacist what decongestants are suitable for your child’s age group.) Don’t forget this item, because if your child is congested while flying, your flight could become a nightmare. I’ve flown once with a severe head cold myself and it is a very painful experience. On that note: don’t forget to bring a decongestant for yourself!
  • Gravol or other anti-nausea medication. If your child has an upset stomach, you will want to have something that can help them (and you) out.
  • Fever and pain relief. Bring liquid acetaminophen or similar for young children in case they get a fever or an earache while traveling. And again, remember to bring some for yourself too!
  • Allergy medication. If your child tends to suffer from allergies, then you should definitely bring this with you as well. 
For more information about what you can and can't bring on board, visit the TSA or CATSA websites, or the website of the airline you will be traveling with,

Read more about flying with kids:


    1. Good idea for the drink boxes, but I find that the air pressure in the cabin makes the liquid spill out. I use a sippy with a spout that doesn't have a straw that dips into the juice. same idea, just less mess.

      1. That's an excellent tip, though I've never had the spilling problem with the juice boxes so far. Anything that helps kids avoid dumping cups full of juice is a good thing on a flight for sure! :)


    Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...