Traveling with Young Children: How I Pack for Airplane Travel

by ilene on June 5, 2014 · 11 comments

in baby, parenting, travel

Zoey just completed her 25th airplane ride!  Not bad for a 18 month old.  Girl is one well travelled child. I’m not saying that she is good on planes, in fact, she is pretty terrible onboard.  She’s just been on a lot of them.   Her first plane ride was at 11 weeks old (she was awesome, I was scared out of my mind) and since then, we’ve kept on taking off.  Her longest plane ride was either to Hawaii or to North Carolina and she’s even flown internationally (Cabo).   Jeff and I are both avid travelers so we are adamant that having children would not stop us from enjoying one of our favorite hobbies.  Our hope is that we will pass this travel bug onto Zoey!   I want her to be able to experience new places, new cultures, meet new people and create wonderful memories.  Fear of flying with a baby will not stop us from seeing the world!   We have a couple more cross-country flights and another trip to Hawaii planned for this summer, trying to squeeze in as many flights as we can before Zoey hits two.  By the time fall hits, she will have flown over 30 times!

Traveling with an infant and now active toddler, though we believe worth the stress, is definitely not easy.   There is the actual time spent away, which we no longer call “vacationing” since its actually MORE work than just hanging out at home.  We just call it a “trip” now since it  often doesn’t feel like a relaxed vacation.  And then there is the whole preparations/packing part before the trip even starts which I will go in further detail in this post.  I remember the days pre-kids when I could pack for a flight in less than 20 minutes and everything I needed all fit in one small carryon bag.  Now the preparations start days, even weeks, before our day of departure and the amount of stuff we bring when we travel is borderline ridiculous.  Here is a picture of Jeff and all the gear we brought with us on our trip to Oahu last fall:

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Ridiculous, much? It’s laughable how much stuff we had to bring for one week of vacation! And this is for ONE child!  Can you imagine if we had two?!   I give all the respect to parents who travel with multiple small children!  That giant orange bag covers Zoey’s carseat.  Every trip now starts with a discussion on should/shouldn’t we bring a car seat and  if so, which one should we bring.  You have no idea how cumbersome and heavy a carseat is until you are dragging it across terminals and up/down rental car shuttles.

I’m no expert on air travel with kids, but I’ve done it a lot, mostly solo without Jeff’s help.  I’ve had my fair share of airport meltdowns, but I thought I’d share a few tips on how I pack for plane rides in case there any nervous mamas out there needing some help preparing for their summer vacations.   The key for me is to be prepared and organized.  And by this, I mean to anticipate what I’ll need and keep everything in its proper place.  Everything I pack has its own compartment and if I take it out, I have to put it back in its initial spot.  Often times when I am out and about, I’ll be in a hurry and will stick objects that I just took out into random places which I forget about when I try to retrieve it again.  This is how things get lost, which only adds to the stress.  When I know that I am prepared and organized prior to boarding my flight, I am a much more calm traveler and thus, a much more pleasant person shepherding Zoey and lugging my suitcases through congested airports.  This is better for everyone I come in contact with that day.

Below is how I pack for air travel. This is what I find works for me.  Let me know if you have other tips! I would love to hear in the comments below!


Ok, so let’s first talk about  carryon bags.  I check most of my stuff when I travel so that I’m not encumbered with heavy suitcases but I still need a large bag to carry Zoey’s essentials that I need on the flight.   For a small kid, she needs a lot of stuff! For my one allowed carryon bag,  I use this large Quiksilver Daddy Day bag aka my survival bag (by the way, this post is not in any way sponsored by Quiksilver, I just really like this backpack):


I ditched my sorry Skiphop diaper bag long ago in favor of a bigger, sturdier backpack.  Initially, I tried to get by with one of Jeff’s old  northface backpacks but it really did not have enough compartments or storage space, so I checked out a bunch of dad backpacks designed for carrying kid essentials. Dad backpacks are awesome because they look pretty cool compared to a flowery diaper bag and your husband can’t object to carrying the diaper bag!  hehehe.   I also like being able to wear a bag pack when I am on the go so that my hands are free and there is less strain on my shoulders.   I bought a couple of daddy diaper backpacks (tried the DadGear version that my sister has and the Okkatots Baby Travel Depot) before settling on the Quiksilver Daddy Day bag for its size and style.  (It’s on sale now, too!)   The bag looks a little ridiculous on me but its not my everyday bag so I don’t mind carrying it every once in awhile.   Here I am, toting it around in Vegas on my 5’2″ frame:

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Even though this backpack is huge, the size is a plus when I travel because there is really room for everything!  Here is how I stuff it to the brim with all the necessities for traveling with a toddler:


The key is to keep everything compartmentalized so you know exactly where things are.  The large compartment keeps diapers, change of clothes, Zoey’s lovey, books, toys and other forms of entertainment (like this portable chalkboard).  If you ever traveling with toddlers, then you know that having a ton of food/snacks is crucial for your sanity so I devote the entire  middle compartment to her feeding supplies like bibs, burp clothes, nursing cover, utensils and lots of non-refriderated snacks.  The insulated compartment in the front holds food that needs to be kept chilled.  It will usually stay cool long enough if its a shorter flight.

The two side pockets carry an empty water bottle that I fill at a drinking fountain after I pass thru security and an unopened carton of milk:


TSA regulations actually allow parents traveling with young children to bring water, milk, breast milk and food on planes as long as its in reasonable amounts.  If the container is opened, security will ask to open the lid and do a vapor check, but   I’ve never had a problem bringing liquids for my daughter on the plane.

When I’m sitting in a tight spot on the airplane I don’t want to be fumbling and looking for things so everything that I carry in the compartments of my backpack is further compartmentalized, too, so I can find it easily and pull it right out quickly.   For example, I use these waterproof wet bags from Pottery Barn Kids to hold my diapers and change of clothes:


I got my wet bags on sale last summer and they are some of my favorite purchases.  In the pink bag, I put in all my diapering supplies like wet wipes, travel-size diaper rash cream and enough diapers to last a full day:


This bag is perfect when I need to change Zoey, because I can just grab the whole bag out of my backpack and have everything I need instead of rummaging through a huge bag for supplies.  I can also transfer it easily from one diaper bag to another whenever I switch bags.  It also doubles as a wet bag when things go horribly wrong and I need a place to store soiled clothes.   The blue bag houses a change of clothes for Zoey and an extra t-shirt for me when things go even more horribly awry.

For Zoey’s feeding supplies, I keep all the essentials (bib, utensil and plate) in a large ziploc bag like this:


When its time to eat, I can just take out the entire ziploc bag and I have everything that I need right there. When she’s done with her meal, I can put the dirty plate, along with any trash, back into the ziploc bag until I can wash it later.  No mess.  I also carry her utensils in a travel case for toothbrushes for the same reason.  I don’t want the dirtied utensil just floating around loose in a back pack.

I’ve also found it useful to carry disposable bibs, utensils and table toppers, too, especially for long trips where I know I will not have access to laundering facilities or a kitchen.  We use the Learning Curve Take  & Toss Flatware, the Pampers Bibsters and the Neat Solutions Table Toppers:


The table toppers were awesome when Zoey was into finger foods. I could tape down a table topper over the entire flight tray and put all her food directly on top of it and she could pick them off the tray. When she was done, I could roll the mess up and toss it away.


While I carry all of Zoey’s stuff in the backpack, I put all MY personal stuff in a big purse.  For my one personal item to carry on the plane, I carry a large Longchamp tote:


This Longchamp bag is my favorite traveling bag – lightweight, waterproof and spacious.  It’s so big, on my last flight, I fit in a whole pizza box!   It can really fit a lot of stuff:


Shall we have a look inside?  This is what I carry in my tote when I fly:


In my tote, I carry ANOTHER purse.  This may seem redundant and unnecessary, but I like to have a smaller crossbody bag when I am on vacation for days I don’t want to be carrying a huge backpack or tote.  In my crossbody bag, I put all my most important things like my wallet, keys, iPhone and passport.  I don’t like having things loose and swimming in the abyss of a giant tote, so its nice to have all of those important things contained in one place.  Like my backpack, everything in my tote is further compartmentalized.  I carry a folder with important travel docs like a copy of Zoey’s birth certificate (for proof of age as a lap child), airplane tickets, luggage stubs and hotel info.   A quart-sized clear ziploc holds all the 3oz liquids. In another small zippered pouch, I put my phone and iPad chargers, as well as headphones so that the cords don’t get all tangled.  I have a sunglass case since I  never leave the house without a pair, but I don’t want them sitting on top of my head the entire flight.  I also can fit my laptop and iPad in the tote.  I also carry reading material like a magazine and kindle in the rare opportunity that I might actually get a chance to sit and read quietly.  This rarely happens but every time I board a flight, I naively think that this might be THE flight that I can kick back and enjoy some leisurely reading!  One can hope!  Lastly, I carry extra wet-wipes because every traveling mom can never have enough of those. I put them everywhere so that I can easily find one when I need it!



Lastly, this is how I pack my suitcase:


Everything is in its own bag and organized.   The shoes are in a shoe bag, jewelry in a jewelry pouch, makeup in a makeup bag and toiletries in a ziploc bag.    And all the clothes are folded and sorted  in colored-coded packing cubes:


Can we stop for a moment so that I tell you how much I love packing cubes?! They have changed the way I travel!   I am a huge fan. They save space by keeping my clothes compact so I can fit in twice as much clothes and they keep everything tidy and orderly.   I will put Zoey’s play clothes in one cube, her nicer clothes in another, my shirts in another, etc.   I don’t like loose items floating around in my suitcase because they can easily get lost during inspection so I will also stuff loose items into the top of a packing cube.  They are also great when we get to our destination because I can take out my cube of shirts and put the whole thing in one drawer and my underwear cube in the next.  When its time to pack up, I consolidate all the dirty clothes into one packing cube and that will be the one I toss in the laundry when I get back home.   I believe in packing cubes so much, everyone in my family got a set for Christmas one year.  I was a packing cube missionary, spreading the good news and telling everyone that they must have it in their lives!!    I will never travel again without my trusty packing cubes!!!

Besides my backpack, tote bag, luggage and Zoey, I am usually also lugging a camera bag with our DSLR, our Becco Gemini carrier, Uppababy Glite umbrella stroller, sometimes our Baby Bjorn travel crib depending on the destination and maybe a jacket and some food.  I am a mule.

If we are flying to the grandparents’ house, where we visit often, we keep there an extra crib, high chair, carseat, feeding supplies and even diapers/wipes so that we don’t have to bring any of those items back and forth.


Whew!!!   This was one long post! Hopefully this was helpful to other traveling parents out there!  If you are feeling nervous about an upcoming flight, remind yourself that if you don’t go on this trip, the alternative is being stuck at home  doing the same monotonous stuff over and over and, frankly, that does not sound that appealing either. If you have any other air travel tips, feel free to share in the comments below!  Good luck to all the parents traveling this summer! YOU CAN DO IT!!!

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1 Yenting Chen June 5, 2014 at 3:01 pm

Wow sis! Very detailed and organized! Great job!!

2 Steve Huang June 5, 2014 at 6:46 pm

I’ll save this for when we have kids! We fly 10-15 trips a year, thanks!

3 Patricia June 5, 2014 at 7:44 pm

What brand traveling cubes are those??

4 ilene June 6, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Hi Patricia, Target used to carry the best packing cubes- they were sturdy, deep, and fit a lot of stuff. They stopped carrying them tho so I have since bought other brands: Eagle Creek (, Ebags ( and another brand called Embark (can’t find info on it online) but none of these are as well made as the ones I got at Target 10 years ago!

5 Cindy Chen June 5, 2014 at 10:23 pm

We’ve travelled a bunch with the kids as well. And I’m FAR from organized like you, but a couple things I’ve learned… 1) triangle-shaped (Melissa and Doug) crayons are great bc they don’t roll off the seatback tray table. 2) definitely when potty training and even when potty-trained, it is less stressful to just put the kids in pull-ups since you can’t take them when the seatbelt sign is on. 3) our friends find lots of things to do with a roll of colored masking tape. 4) there are kids-sized headphones that T loves to wear, and 5) sometimes there’s a difference in which airline you fly… Jet Blue tends to be more kid-friendly (unlimited snacks means packing less plus TV screens) and Southwest (with tops on the lids of drinks for kids) are generally good bets.

6 ilene June 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Great tips, Cindy!

7 Jenn Chiang Chun June 5, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Wow! Super organized! I really like this thermos cup:
Keeps milk cold for 8-10 hours, which is great for trips when you’re out all day and you don’t want to buy milk every where you go. I compartmentalize everything too, not quite as much as you do, but it does help keep everything organized. We are going to Maui this summer and for the first time will be renting a car seat from a company we found on the island for only 8 bucks a day! We lugged our car seat to Kona last year, and I hated, well my husband hated it. So we figured it’s worth the 56 bucks, which is cheaper than renting it from the car rental places. When we went to Kona last year, I miraculously was able to pack all my stuff and Matthew’s stuff in my carry on and we didn’t check anything in, which I was pretty proud of!!! HAHAHA

Oh I also take a bunch of those doggy bags people use to pick up their doggy’s poop and use that instead of a wet pouch because the bags are 1. usually scented to mask the smell of poop 2. they are disposable, because I don’t really want to store a dirty diaper in a pouch I will reuse. 3. I am cheap and they are free because I take them from a dispenser in my neighborhood. 🙂 4. they are small and take up virtually no space.

8 ilene June 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm

doggy poop bags are a great idea!!! we use the arm and Hammer ones but they are pricey! i’m SUPER impressed that you managed to fit all your stuff and Matthew’s in one carryon! that is AMAZING!

9 Christine Szeto June 5, 2014 at 11:21 pm

So helpful!! travelling to Hawaii next Friday and i’m grabbing the quiksilver bag. They really should pay you commission. We are still mastering the whole travel thing. Every time we think we’ve got it down, we have another kid to worry about. It’s easier now that the older three can carry their own stuff.

10 ilene June 6, 2014 at 12:38 pm

Good luck, Christine! If anyone can travel to Hawaii with FOUR kids, it would be you, supermom!

11 Anonymous June 12, 2014 at 12:39 pm

911 Ilene! We leave tomorrow morning and I can’t decide whether to bring the changing pad. Yay or nay? I usually don’t bring one, don’t like carrying anything I can live without. But air travel is a different story…

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