Wondering what to pack in a carry-on bag for kids? Whether you’re taking a long flight or even a short flight, planning ahead and knowing what to pack in your carry-on bags will make the flight go by faster and keep everyone happy.

We’ve listed everything you will need for a flight with kids, including what to pack in a kids’ carry-on bag or personal item, as well as what to pack in a carry-on bag for the parents.

Flying with kids can be a bit daunting and intimidating. There are so many variables – flight delays, the length of flight, and even just how your kids are feeling that day – that it can be hard to know how the flight is going to go. 

And while you can’t control these issues, the part you CAN control is being prepared with what to bring on the plane.

Here’s what we recommend bringing in a carry-on bag for kids, including snacks and activities for the plane, as well as other airplane must-haves for kids to ensure that you have the smoothest flight experience possible.

Flying with Kids: What to Bring On Board

Before we get into what to pack for kids on a flight, let’s go over what they can bring on board. 

Each passenger who purchases a seat is entitled to bring one personal item on board, as well as one carry-on, although some airlines now charge extra for a carry-on bag. 

Note: If your child is flying as a lap infant, they don’t get to bring a carry-on bag though!

Each airline may have different size restrictions for carry-on luggage, so it’s best to check with the individual airline before you start packing.

In general though, the standard carry-on luggage size is 22” x 14” x 9”, including handles and wheels and most  20 or 21-inch bags will meet the carry-on requirements.

Read more | The Best Carry-On Luggage for Family Travel in 2024

And while that baggage allowance sounds great, keep in mind that your child will have to carry these bags through the airport. There may be a lot of walking in the airport, and there’s always the possibility of gate changes, needing to walk quickly or rush to get to the gate on time, and you may have to walk across the tarmac and climb stairs to get on or off the plane. 

That being said, my kids have always carried at least a small personal-sized backpack. Once they were about 4, they could carry a slightly larger backpack (still personal size), as well as a rolling suitcase that was their carry-on bag. 

And if you’re using a stroller in the airport (which most airlines allow you to gate check when you are travelling with young kids), you can always attach the kids’ backpacks to the stroller when travelling through the airport. 

So whether you decide to pack a small backpack or personal bag for kids to carry on the flight, or you bring an additional carry-on bag for kids, we’ve got you covered with what to pack in those bags. 

travelling solo with kids
My kids at age 4, carrying a rolling suitcase and a small backpack

Packing for a Flight with Kids

Originally, when we first started travelling, I packed a small backpack (which is considered a personal item) for each of the boys, with snacks and activities, as well as a pair of PJs or a change of clothes for the boys. My personal bag had all of our documents, extra snacks, a change of clothes for me, a big scarf, as well as lip chap and a pen. 

This is what I considered the must-haves for a flight. The rest of our clothing, toiletries and other miscellaneous stuff went into a checked bag.

But over the last few years, things have changed – namely baggage allowance for flights and a more minimal packing style for us, and now our carry-on list looks a bit different. 

We try to travel with carry-on only now, and in some cases, personal items only.  

While I get that not everyone wants to travel like that, there are still some things you should always put in your kids’ carry-on bags. We’ve listed these items below, as well as some suggestions further down on what to pack in a kids’ carry-on if you’re trying to travel with only carry-on luggage.

Travelling with personal items only
(plus a travel car seat and a soccer ball)

What to Pack in a Personal Size Carry-on Bag for Kids

Each airline will have its own size requirements for personal bags, but to be honest, most kids’ backpacks will be under the size limits. The budget airline that we fly often has one of the smallest personal size limits at 16” x 6” x 13” and my kids’ backpacks (10L) are under that at 14” X 4.5” x 9”. Here’s what we can fit in that 10L backpack:

1. Change of Clothes

Whether you’re travelling with little ones or older kids, a change of clothes is a must to have in your carry-on bag. Spills and bathroom accidents can happen, and it’s nice to have a fresh pair of clothes to change into. And on the off-chance that your luggage is lost or delayed, having at least one change of clothes is a bonus. 

If the flight is an overnight flight, I always pack PJs for the boys, as it helps get them into a normal bedtime routine. Sometimes they wear PJs on longer daytime lights as well, as they’re comfy. But if we don’t pack PJs, I always include an extra change of clothes, including a top and bottom, underwear and socks. 

2. Small Blanket or Stuffy

Yes, the airlines usually provide blankets but it’s nicer and cozier to bring your own blanket. Having their own blanket is also a bit of added comfort for younger kids.

A comfort item, whether a small blanket from home or a stuffed animal, will help kids feel more relaxed on the flight. I always packed a small blanket, as the kids could use it to stay warm on the flight, as well as wherever we were staying.

If you are packing a stuffed animal or favourite item – one of my guys took his ‘blankie’ everywhere we went – be sure to check under the seats before leaving the plane! After accidentally leaving a Minnie Mouse stuffie on a plane once, we now make sure to double-check under the seats before leaving the plane.

Carabiners work great to attach some items to a kids’ carry-on bag as well – my guy’s blanket had little finger holes in it, and those were perfect for attaching through a clip to the top of his bag, so it was never misplaced. 

3. Water Bottle

It’s important to stay hydrated, especially on a flight!

While you can’t take full water bottles through security, you can take an empty refillable one and just fill it up before boarding the plane.

We love these Contigo water bottles, as they don’t leak or spill and they have a handy loop on top for clipping to a backpack. We also really like these Mountop bottles, which also have a built-in clip at the top of the bottle.

4. Sweatshirt of Hoodie

Airports and flights can get chilly, so we always wear a sweater when travelling.

I prefer the zip-up ones, which are easier to take off and on. And if the sweater has a hood, you can pull it through any loops or straps on the bag.

Many backpacks have a loop at the top for easy carrying – this is perfect to pull the hood of a sweater through when the kids aren’t wearing it! 

5. Snacks

Snacks, snacks, snacks. They’re an important thing to pack when travelling with kids, no matter whether you’re flying, driving or just out exploring somewhere. But especially on flights, snacks are important.

Meals, if included, may not be served when your kids are actually hungry, or they may not like what’s served. And some flights don’t serve food now or only offer expensive snacks to purchase. Having a supply of kid-friendly snacks will make your flight go so much smoother. 

Things to consider when choosing snacks to bring: Liquids over 100ml won’t be allowed through security – and this includes things like guacamole and hummus that don’t seem like liquids (we learned this one the hard way once, when we bought a brand new tub of guacamole at the grocery store in the airport, only to have it taken a few minutes later when we went through security).
Applesauce pouches are usually under the limit, and any dry snacks, like granola bars and dry cereal, are fine to bring in a carry-on bag. 

6. Activities

Books and activities are a good way to keep kids entertained on flights. We have a whole list of suggestions for kids’ activities on flights here, but some of our favourites include activity books with mazes and puzzles, reusable sticker books, and colouring books, and for toddlers, these busy boards are fantastic. 

Some other ideas and options are stacking cups (which are GREAT for toddlers or even older kids), Magformers, gel clings for the windows and sticky notes.

My kids also love those small activity packs that contain a small book to colour and only a few crayons. Dollar stores are great for these types of books, or you can find some, like this one, on Amazon.

Another activity that travels everywhere with us is Story Cubes – these small dice with pictures that you can roll and then create a story using the pictures that you rolled. These are also great to use in hotel rooms, while waiting for flights or trains, or even while waiting for meals in a restaurant. 

7. Books

My guys LOVE books so this is a no-brainer.

Books are always a great idea to bring travelling and they’ve come in handy for us while waiting to board, or to read before bed on the flight to keep with a semi-normal bedtime routine.

I also pack a few books for the kids to read independently, like these I Spy Books, which are great for early readers, or any of the thin early reader books (which take up less space in the carry-on bags). 

My guys loved the “I Spy” Books, from toddlers right up until they discovered chapter books, and different I Spy Books have come with us on every trip. They’re great for re-reading and keeping kids busy during long flights.

Again, it’s a nice quiet activity – the people behind and in front of you will thank you!

Read more | Best Travel Books for Kids: Fun and Educational Books to Inspire Wanderlust

8. Small Toys

I also like to pack a few small toys – something small that fits in your kids’ hand – that they can play with on the tray tables or armrests.

My boys love cars and trains, which is perfect since these are small to pack and easy to play with on the tray tables or armrests. 

My personal limit is two small toys; so that the tray table isn’t overflowing with toys, I can keep track of them AND it’s one for each of their hands.

You can buy a new toy (see below) so it’s something new and different for your child, or choose something they enjoy playing with at home so it’s familiar. 

9. A New Toy

A new toy is always exciting and keeps kids amused for a while. And while I’m not usually the kind of parent who buys new toys all the time, having something new will keep kids engaged for a good chunk of time on the flight.

For the boys’ first flight, a good friend gave the boys (well, actually gave me) a new toy and told me to save it for the flight. She had travelled quite a bit with her kids when they were young and knew how a new toy would keep kids entertained on a long flight.

And it doesn’t have to be anything big, in fact, smaller toys are better. When my guys were younger, mini-trains and small cars worked wonders. And don’t forget to pack one for the return flight home too!


Other Things to Pack in a Carry-On Bag for Kids 

Kids Headphones

Many airlines don’t supply headphones for free anymore, although except for the budget airlines, my kids have usually been offered headphones for free, or they were included in the kids club package. It’s a good idea to bring your own though, and there are some great choices on Amazon, with volume-limiting features. 

Tablet

Some flights will have entertainment options on the backs of the seats, but many smaller or budget airlines don’t offer any in-flight entertainment.

While luckily we’ve only encountered this on short 2-hour flights, if the flight was longer, a tablet would be helpful!

You can download games, movies and books ahead of time, so your kids have entertainment for the flight.

The Amazon Fire HD 8 Kids is a good choice and includes volume-limiting headphones. While we’ve managed to stay device-free on flights so far, this one is on my wish list for our upcoming 7-hour, no-in-flight entertainment flight to Europe.  


Backpacks: What to Pack It All In

And then all of these fun things need to be packed in a carry-on. We find it’s best to use a backpack, as these can easily be stored under the seat.

Keep in mind that depending on the size of your child, the size of the backpack will be different too!

When my boys were just toddlers, their backpacks were much smaller and only held a change of clothes, a few small toys and a few books.

Now that they are a few years older, their backpacks are a bit bigger and can carry more. They have been using these 8L backpacks for almost 5 years and we just bought new 10L backpacks from Decathlon. Even though they are small, they’re a perfect size, as they also count as personal items when we travel on low-cost airlines.

Now that you’re worked out what to pack in a kids carry-on, it’s time to think about the adults!

three backpacks on the floor of an airport. an orange 8L backpack with a soccer ball and portable carseat is on the left, a green osprey backpack in the middle and a blue 10L backpack from Decathlon with a portable car seat and soccer ball is on the right

What to Pack in the Parents Carry-on

While I know this is supposed to be about what to pack in a carry-on bag for kids, if you’re wondering what to pack in the parents’ personal bag, here’s what I always carry in my bag. 

  • Passports: Essential if flying internationally
  • Documents: (Boarding Passes, Visas, Consent Letter or Birth Certificates)
  • Other Paperwork: Some countries like Costa Rica, require proof of accommodation when entering the country so it’s best to have this info handy.
  • Lip Chap: Flights are notoriously dry and I always end up needing lip chap. I didn’t realize how much I appreciated lip chap until my bag was stolen on a trip and I had to take a flight home without my usual carry-on items.
  • Water Bottle: Stay hydrated!
  • Large Scarf: A scarf is always handy to have when you travel (to cover your shoulders or hair in certain places) but it’s also great to have on the plane. Wrap it around your neck when there’s a draft on the plane, or use it as a blanket for one of the kids!
  • Liquids in a Ziploc Bag: Have any liquids in a ziploc bag ready to pull out for security. Remember to keep these liquids under 100mL.
  • Change of Clothes: Accidents DO happen! Especially if your kids are really young, you might want to take an extra shirt. My mom has always told me the story of MY first flight and how I threw up all over her shirt and of course, she hadn’t thought of bringing an extra one. She has reminded me of that story quite a few times over the years.
  • Kleenex: It might sound odd, but you never know when you’ll need it. For yourself or the kids!
  • Wipes: I used to carry baby wipes but now I’ve switched to Lysol wipes. Use these wipes to wipe down armrests, tray tables, windows and even the seats. Anything the kids (and you) will touch that can be wiped down first.
  • Gum: This may be a myth, but I always carry gum and chew a piece on landing and takeoff. When the boys were toddlers, I gave them a soother or an organic lollipop – something for them to suck on in place of gum. Now that they are older, they get a lollipop or a small piece of gum for take-off and landing.
  • Extra Snacks: My kids pack a few snacks in their carry-on bags, but I also carry a few extras, both for me and the kids. If the flight is really long or you have a layover, extra snacks will be welcome!
  • Extras: And of course, you will need the usual stuff in your carry-on, like a camera, laptop, tablet, phone, money or debit/credit cards….

Pro Tip: If you are travelling with infants or kids who are still in diapers, you are allowed to bring a diaper bag as well.


Extras to Pack if You Are Travelling Carry-On Only

And if we’re travelling using carry-on only and not checking any bags, I also pack the following in my carry-on:

And in the kids carry-on,

  • Clothing (3-4 tops, 2-3 bottoms, undies, socks)
  • Bathing suit, rash guard,
  • Flip flops or sandals
  • Sun hat
  • Rain jacket
  • Warm hat & mitts 
  • Scarf
  • Portable Booster Seat or Ride Safer Vest (depending on child’s weight and age)

**if there’s room, I usually pack a few more activities and books, like Magformers or Plus Plus, Water Wow and My First Paint when the boys were younger, and when we spent 6 weeks in Eastern Europe, we packed a set of hot wheel tracks to use in the hotel room! We’ve got some more great ideas in travel toys for 4 & 5 year olds and travel toys for 2 & 3 year olds


FAQs:

Can I take a kids water bottle on the plane?

Yes, you can bring a kids water bottle on the plane, but ensure it’s empty before passing through security, and then fill it up before boarding the plane. 

Can I take food on the plane for kids?

Yes, you can bring food on the plane for kids, and we recommend this. However, puree pouches, toddler drinks, yogurt, or any other liquid snacks must be under 3.4oz / 100mL to pass through security. Baby food and breast milk must be under the 3.4oz / 100ml amount, but do not need to fit in the one clear bag allowed for other liquids.

Can you take kids snacks in hand luggage?

Yes, kids’ snacks are fine to bring in your hand luggage, as long as they are within the allowable limits for liquids (under 3.4oz / 100ml). Granola bars, dry cereal, crackers and cookies are good options and any liquids, including yogurt and jams, must be less than 3.4oz / 100ml and be able to fit into a clear quart-sized bag. Keep in mind that many fruits, including dried fruit, are often not allowed on flights, and if they are, it usually must be eaten before landing, and not imported into another country. 


Final Thoughts: What to Pack in a Carry-On Bag for Kids

Knowing what to pack in a carry-on bag for kids will help to ensure that your travels will go as smoothly as possible. And by all means, this isn’t the be-all and end-all of a family travel packing list, but use it more as a guideline.

Be sure to pack a change of clothes, something to keep warm on the flight, a comforting item for younger kids, a refillable water bottle and fun activities to keep the kids entertained during the flight. And don’t forget snacks! 

Happy travels. 

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For more tips on travelling with kids, be sure to check out these posts:

13 Comments

  1. Thank you! We are a low tech family and it’s given me the confidence to stick to my guns!

    1. Glad it helped!

  2. Thank you so much for this list! I was very stressed out on what to pack and what was not allowed for our flight. This helped so much!

    1. I’m glad it was helpful!

  3. Alys jenkins says:

    you are so help fully and sweet thank you so much and i am a solo mum so this really did help xx

  4. This helps a LOT!! We’re going to be flying with my 2 year old later this year and I’ve already started looking for things to help make that trip easier. Thank you so much for this!

    1. Glad it helps! Good luck with your flight!

  5. It is so easy to get overwhelmed when packing for a trip. This simple list will make air travel with our toddler so much easier! Thanks 🙂

    1. You’re welcome! Enjoy traveling with your toddler!

  6. Thanks for creating this list and giving some ideas of what to pack! I love the idea of bringing a blanket and extra pajamas on the plane. Something I would have definitely skipped over by accident.

    1. You’re welcome! Extra pjs are so comfy on the flight! Helps my guys settle in and sleep too!

  7. It’s nice having a list of all the essential things to pack for a trip. Thanks for putting this together!

    1. I’m glad it was useful!

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