In an era of tighter restrictions on carry-on luggage, families are often scrambling to come up with good solutions for toting all their necessities on the plane.
Many airlines have family-friendly policies that allow parents to bring diaper bags on-board without counting against their carry-on allowance, as well as easy gate-checks for strollers and car seats.
But families still struggle with issues such as keeping the total bag count low, gaining buy-in from kids (who sometimes want to carry their own bag, and then quickly change their minds) and having bags that hold up to the spills and wildness that is travel with children.
Here are some of our favorite carry-on options (for both parents and kids) to consider for your next family vacation. Most of these are guaranteed to turn a few heads as you stroll through the airport. Go ahead and congratulate yourself on your luggage prowess!
1. Mountain Buggy Bagrider
Key Features: A bagrider, a combination stroller/carry-on, allows you to ditch your stroller while toting young kids around (about 18 months to 4 years old). The Mountain Buggy BagRider is a hardshell carry-on that features a safety harness and cushioned seat for your ship. Parents love that they can carry their kid and their bag in one fell swoop.
Why It’s Good for Families: As a parent, if you can avoid lugging an extra item through the airport, that’s a huge bonus. It’s especially good for kids and vacations where you don’t normally need to bring a stroller, but it’s convenient to have the option in the airport.
2. Venture Pal Lightweight Backpack
Key Features: Apart from the economic price, the Venture Pal comes in a variety of colors and is made from rugged material to stand up to the rigors of family travel. There are several interior and exterior compartments, and it can also fold up into pocket-size when not in use.
Why It’s Good for Families: Compartments are a parent’s best friend when it comes to carry-ons, and this bag delivers, with plenty of storage for your squeezies, water bottles, books, wipes and clothes.
3. Trunki Kids Ride-On Suitcase and Carry-On
Key Features: This adorable animal-themed carry-on for kids is a sweet entree into helping your kiddo pack his or her bag and wheel it through the airport. It’s sturdy enough that your kid can ride on it, and small enough to tuck in the overhead bin without drama. The small size of the Trunki Ride-On Suitcase and Carry-On does make it somewhat of a novelty—you can’t fit a ton of items in it—but it’s great for packing toys and books, or perhaps a few changes of clothes for a weekend trip.
Why It’s Good for Families: The ride-ability factor is huge (kids always love riding on bags!). And your kids can sit on it if you happen to be facing long lines. Your kids will love picking from the variety of animals, too.
4. PUQU Monster Truck Design Kids Travel Suitcase Toddler Luggage With Wheels
Key Features: The PUQU Monster Trick Design Kids’ Travel Suitcase is a truck-shaped, wheeled carry-on that doubles as a toy for young travelers. Like Trunki, storage capacity is limited to about 18 liters, enough for a couple changes of clothes or some smaller items. It features a shoulder strap or an extended handle for pulling.
Why It’s Good for Families: It’s a TRUCK! Need we say more? The ultimate in cool for the 2- to 5-year-old set, you’ll have built-in entertainment for your little one during some of the normal drudgeries of travel.
5. Kids Car Seat Travel Tray by Cradle Plus
Key Features: This clever bag is part backpack, part travel tray with features such as a tablet holder, an entertainment board, wipeable activity tray, two detachable side pockets and a cup holder. The Kids Car Seat Travel Tray by Cradle Plus also comes with padded back straps for easy carrying on board.
Why It’s Good for Families: Kids love to play with the tray table on the airplane (which also happens to harbor some of the most germs on the aircraft). This is a great solution for that, since it provides a barrier between your kid and the tray. He or she can eat on it, draw, play with toys, and put a a drink in the side compartment, all while watching a favorite show on the tablet, which can be stowed in a protective pocket.
6. Nomatic Backpack/Duffel
Key Features: The Nomatic 40-Liter Backpack/Duffel first got its start on Kickstarter and strikes a balance between backpack and duffel bag. It has 20 features, including pockets for laptops, tablets, and power cords, as well as a separate shoe compartment and an RFID-protected pocket for added security.
Why It’s Good for Families: Experienced travelers generally prefer duffel-style bags for their ability to fit the most inside a non-rigid space. The surprisingly large capacity of this bag means that you can pack enough for a few members of your family, and the pockets and features are helpful for keeping organized when you have different needs.
Key Features: UGOBAGS are hard-sided rolling cases available in a variety of carry-on size options that you can completely customize with your favorite photos, phrases and more. The cases are lightweight and feature a lock and a decent amount of interior storage.
Why It’s Good for Families: The perennial “black bag identity crisis” is something that plagues all travelers, not just families, and UGOBAGS’ customized options allow you to have a truly one-of-a-kind case that will stand out immediately. And, can you imagine how many parent points you’d score including your family photo or your kids’ favorite image on the exterior of your suitcase?
Cynthia J. Drake is a travel writer based in Austin, Texas, where she lives with her husband and two sons. Since becoming a mom, she’s been stranded at sea with her family, gotten lost in the Rocky Mountains, dealt with more than her fair share of public vomiting, and still can’t wait for the next trip. She writes regularly for AAA magazines, Austin American-Statesman, Texas Highways and Cruise Critic. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.