Packing Carry Ons For Air Travel with Toddler and Baby

Packing for air travel with young kids, babies or toddlers can be tough. Mostly because they can’t carry anything and they have a lot of needs- so you have to pack light.

We’ve rounded up some of our very best packing tips for airplane travel with young children. And if you or your kids are nervous about flying, here are 5 tips for helping a fearful flyer.

Preparing for

  1. Each adult wears a backpack.   Pack a “snacks and activity” backpack, and a backpack with diapers and clothes.  I prefer backpacks because they keep my hands free, and because they usually have tons of compartments and zippered places to stash everything.  With all the clothes and diapers in one pack (as opposed to packing a bag for each person), when the inevitable diaper or potty emergency strikes, I’m not looking through different bags for what I need – it’s off to the potty I go! Separate bags for separate purposes.
  2. Everyone gets a change of clothes. Pack a spare outfit for everyone, and two for anyone under 1.  Babies spit up and blow out their diapers, and it’s awful to arrive somewhere covered in baby excrement.   Do yourself a favor and bring extra clothes.  I pack the adult clothes at the bottom of the bag, and the youngest person’s clothes at the top, since an outfit change is most inevitable for the younger traveler.  (Note: I also pack extra underwear for me, and a toothbrush for everyone.  Just in case we are stuck overnight somewhere…)  Extra clothes = extra piece of mind.
  3. Snacks are necessary.  Be realistic about what snacks you pack.  Snacks are not a form of entertainment, they are sustenance, so you don’t need entire bags of chips, candy, and fruit. In my experience, snacks from home are forgotten once we land and can sample the local cuisine. Granted, no one wants to be in a tiny airplane seat with a hungry toddler, but remember that almost every flight has snacks for purchase if you are in an emergency.  Fig bars, nuts, apples, and dried fruit travel well, don’t spoil easily, and keep you satiated. Non-messy food = happy flight attendants.
  4. Keep ‘em entertained. Pack age appropriate plane activities that are only played with on the plane.  I have a drawer in our house full of plane toys that only come out once we have taken off and landed.  This way, the novelty hasn’t worn off, and I’m not concerned that we will take a favorite toy that will inevitably get lost or broken and cause tears.  I also allow my toddler some autonomy here.  She gets a small backpack of things that she chooses to take, and she carries the backpack.  On our last trip, she packed fruit snacks, crayons and a teddy bear.  I never even opened my activity bag because she was content with her “own” stuff.  Pack activities that are “special” for the plane.
  5. Ditch the car seat.  You will have to decide what works best for your family here.  We either check our carseat, rent one at our destination, or don’t take one at all if we know we won’t travel by car.  Car seats as carryons are bulky and require a lot of effort to carry.  If you really want to take your own car seat, the extra cost of checking it is priceless compared to the feeling of lugging the seat through multiple airport and onto multiple airplanes.  Keep in mind that most Latin American countries don’t require car seats in public transportation or taxis, so unless you plan to spend time in a private car, you might not need the car seat.  If you plan to rent a car, rent the car seat as well.  Leave the car seat at home, or check it.
  6. Think long and hard about the stroller.  Most places in Latin America have uneven sidewalks, rendering even the most hardy strollers almost completely useless.  I remember lugging our stroller to my husband’s hometown only to realize that there was no way we could use it because, between the rain and the broken sidewalks, it was much more trouble than it was worth.  Wearable baby carriers work great for non-walkers and early walkers. The exception to this was when we traveled to the Dominican Republic and had multiple long layovers.  The stroller became a play place, a bed, a place for luggage, and was great when we had to run through the airport to catch a flight.  Decide what you need the stroller for… if you don’t know, leave it home.
E sleeping in stroller

On this delayed flight, we were sure glad to have the stroller with us!

Hopefully these tips will help you travel light with young children, but it is by no means a comprehensive list.  What tips and tricks do you have for packing light for air travel?  

Baby wearing our oldest after Costa Rica made it to the Word Cup Quarterfinals in 2012. ¡Pa' la calle, carajo!

Baby wearing our oldest after Costa Rica beat Greece to enter the World Cup Quarterfinals in 2014. ¡Pa’ la calle, carajo!

 

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4 Comments

  • Reply
    Sitzman
    April 15, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Hi there,

    Good ideas! I was wanting to compare notes/ask a question. As for car seats, we usually take ours when we travel, but we’ve checked it so far since our kid has always counted as a lap infant (and it’s been exempt from checked bag charges). On an upcoming trip, though, he’ll be over two and need his own seat. Do you just use the belts on the plane to secure your kids, or do you have some other kind of thing? I got the impression that you check the car seat if you do take it, and I’m not sure what we should do.

    Also, that’s definitely true about strollers in Latin America, although some places can surprise you. Buenos Aires was pretty awful for a stroller, but it was still doable on the cobblestone streets, although just barely. But we were surprised how accessible Rio was with a stroller. It also gave the kid a break from walking and kept him secure so he wasn’t constantly attempting to run out into traffic, and quite a few times he ended up falling asleep in the stroller.

    And what you said is definitely true about a stroller being amazing in airports. In fact, the airport in Montevideo even makes strollers available for free when right when you get off the plane, since at that airport you have to pick them up with the baggage claim, for some reason.

    We also got our umbrella stroller for free from some friends who weren’t using it, but even new it probably cost only about $20. Plus, it doesn’t count as a carry-on. If you go to a store with used kids goods, strollers are usually super cheap, and for some people it may even be worth it to just buy one of those. That way, if it breaks or you end up having to abandon it along the way (or better yet, give it to someone with a kid in the country or place you’re visiting), it’s not a huge loss for you, and a potentially big gain for someone else.

    Thanks for the post!
    Sitzman

    • Reply
      [email protected]
      April 21, 2016 at 9:38 am

      Hey sitzman!
      So… I have not seen much discussion about taking the car seat on the airplane, but I have seen people rave about the airplane harnesses for kids, like this one: http://amzn.to/1SvZYuI (affiliate). There are also several international travel companies that will rent kid gear and even deliver it to you at different airports. And, most rental car places will include car seats for a nominal fee. The bottom line for me is that I just really don’t like packing a lot of stuff and hauling it around, so I try my darndest to just get by with the absolute minimum amount of luggage possible.
      As for strollers… so cool to know about Rio and Montevideo! Those places are definitely on the travel bucket list! I think how the stroller is used also depends on the type of stroller. When we were in Costa Rica, we had the plan to buy a $20 one and leave it there, but the $20 stroller barely rolled so we ended up borrowing a bigger one for the infant because we walked so much. Of course, the toddler then only wanted to ride in the stroller, so we were back to baby-wearing. When we went to Cancun, we took our Double Bob so that we could have the girls ride around in the airport, and hopefully take some walks. Never used it once. So… I was back to square one. Just take the minimum amount of things possible, and make the rest us as I go along!
      Thanks again for thoughtfully reading, I love your comments!
      Christa

      • Reply
        Sitzman
        April 22, 2016 at 2:01 am

        Thanks for the reply!

        I think I’d heard about those harnesses, and I’ll keep them in mind in the future. I guess we also travel differently, since when we go to the US it’s to visit family, and we never rent a car, but instead travel with family members who don’t have car seats. So it may just be worth it (or less hassle) to travel with the seat. Plus, it’s not like we have to lug it around after we arrive, so it’s a different situation in that sense, too.

        Oh, and I guess I didn’t mention we also took a car seat when we went to South America! It may have seemed crazy, and at times it maybe was, but it actually was a big help. First of all, we borrowed a car seat from a friend since theirs was significantly lighter and smaller than ours. It was also free to check on all the flights, so that was nice. And we used it quite a few times, like when we rented a car in Uruguay, or took taxis to and from the airport in Rio. I also realize it may have been overkill, but it seemed to work for us, especially since we never had to walk far with it.

        But it’s all food for thought–thanks!

        Sitzman

        • Reply
          [email protected]
          April 22, 2016 at 9:06 pm

          Hey Sitz:
          Lots of food for thought! I think the decision about what to take also boils down to what activities we plan at our destinations, and the car seat laws. There’s definitely advantages to having friends with kids at the destination, or having family with cars that are big enough for everyone to use. The latter is getting harder now that we are a family of four. Thanks so much for continuing the conversation here, you are an expert traveler and I definitely look up to you in that regard (and also ’cause you are taller than I am.)
          Christa

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