The biggest travel parenting mistake I’ve witnessed is parents simply being unprepared for traveling with their tots. If you are traveling with an active toddler on an airplane, you need lots to entertain your little one packed in your carry on bag. And of course you’ll need the essentials to keep a toddler fed, clean, and healthy too!
I first wrote this packing list way back in 2012 when my daughter was a 3 year old preschooler. Now I’ve refined it after traveling with my son during his toddler years. And of course I’ve witnessed the successes -and occasional failures – of other parents flying with their toddlers over the years on hundreds of flights.
So if you are preparing to hop aboard an airplane with a toddler, here are the most useful tried and true items to add to a carry on bag packing list.
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Toddler Packing List for Carry on Bags
1. Crayons & coloring/activity books
An easy way to pass the time on a plane is with coloring and activity books. I’ve found triangular crayons work best for airplanes, as they won’t roll off the tray table. My daughter also loves the inexpensive Play Pack coloring books that come packaged with a small set of crayons included.
2. Wet Wipes
These days it’s totally acceptable to be a germaphobe on planes. But even before a global pandemic, I discovered that airplanes could be pretty nasty places. Once I started traveling with kids, I always wiped down the tray tables as soon as we board. I know that my kids always touch the tray tables a lot and (gasp!) even sometimes place food directly on them no matter how hard I try to keep things in containers and bags. It’s also a good idea to wipe down other high touch points like armrests and seat belts for good measure.
3. Diapers or Pullups
Depending on what stage of potty training your child is in, you’ll need plenty of diapers or pullups for your travels with a toddler, as well as any other related supplies like wipes or diaper cream. Remember to pack extras for flight delays or cancellations – diapers and pullups are still very hard to find in most US airports, although a few larger airports have gotten with the times more recently to stock family-friendly products.
4. Tablet or Smartphone
Parents on planes have it so much easier than a decade or so ago with the invention of tablets and smartphones to keep everyone in the family entertained – many of which are as affordable as ever.
While toddlers aren’t likely to watch electronics as long as older kids, load a device up with a few of your child’s favorite movies or TV shows. Many streaming services like Netflix and Disney+ now allow subscribers to download local copies of shows and movies for use when you might not have WiFi. Also be sure to download some apps that your little one will like – lots of them are both fun and educational!
5. Toddler Headphones
There is nothing that drives me crazier as a passenger than hearing other passengers’ movies or video game sounds. Don’t bother your seatmates and give traveling parents a bad name… get your child some earphones to block the noise. Kidz Gear is a brand that has held up well for our family. Ear buds almost never fit kids, so save those for the adults in your travel party.
Important tip – if you are going to buy wired headphones instead of Bluetooth, make sure your headphones match your tablet or smartphone jack. Newer iPhones, for example, only have a lightning connector, so you’ll need this adapter if you want to use old fashioned wired headphones.
6. New small toys
New toys are often more engaging than ones your toddler has seen before, so stop by the Target dollar section or the Dollar Tree the week before your trip to load up on a few small and inexpensive novel distractions. Whenever possible, I like to try to get a toy related to the destination we are visiting so we can also pass the time talking about where we are going (for example, something Mickey or Minnie related when we take a Disneyland trip).
A hungry kiddo is a recipe for airplane meltdowns. I recommend bringing double the snacks you will think you will need in case of delays or just an exceptionally hungry day. Kids can be picky and may not like the offerings on the plane or in the airport. Or you may just not have time to stop and buy food if you have a tight connection or a flight delay.
Don’t worry so much about perfect nutrition but rather what will keep your child quiet and occupied. My rules on treats are definitely relaxed when we travel – I regularly bring candy and cookies for tough moments.
Need snack ideas? Check out my post on 50 snack ideas for kids on airplanes.
The TSA liquid restrictions make travel with milk and juice a bit challenging, but you should know that if you are traveling with an “infant or small child,” you can bring some liquids aboard above the three ounce limit. I like to travel with ultra-pasteurized milk boxes from Organic Valley or Horizon and sometimes with a juice box or two (see my tips for air travel with toddlers and milk).
You can always also bring an empty water bottle or sippy cup and fill it after you pass through security. We swear by the Thermos Funtainer straw water bottles which are better for leaks than many water bottles on planes.
9. Stuffed Animal, Lovey and/or Blanket
If your child is going to be traveling at nap time or on a redeye flight, bring the items that he or she would use at home for sleeping. Loveys, favorite stuffed animals, or a blanket can really help a toddler feel more at home. Plus, planes can be cold and a blanket might come in handy even if your child doesn’t nap.
10. Extra Clothes
Toddlers get messy in even the best of circumstances, so I always travel with extra clothes for my child. There’s always a chance of a diaper leak or explosion for younger toddlers or a potty training accident for the older ones. You may also want to consider extra clothes for yourself if your child is prone to collateral damage. I’ve used those more than once!
11. Ziploc Bags
Zippered plastic bags have a multitude of uses on airplanes, and i never travel without a few bags of a variety of sizes in my carry on bag. They are great for holding and containing food wrappers as well as containing smells and messes like on soiled clothing or diapers.
12. Small Towel
This is one item that I have used way more over the years on flights that I thought I might. A small hand towel to have at the ready for spills can be really essential. Those airplane napkins don’t cut it when something really disastrous happens.
13. First Aid Kit
Last but certainly not least, always pack a few essential first aid items when traveling with toddlers. You’ll never know when you might need the power of a band-aid for a boo boo or some kid-safe dosing of pain reliever. This pre-packed first aid kit has most of the essentials and is compact enough to throw in a purse or a small bag your toddler might be carrying.
Don’t forget to check out my MASTER packing list for all ages and stages of travel.
Traveling with a Toddler and Need More Toddler Travel Tips?
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