Flying with kids is intimidating. Will they cry? Will they sit? What if you’re delayed? What if you’re seated separately? There are so many variables that are out of our control.
The best things you can do as a parent? Don’t get freaked out about what other people think, and be prepared! These are the items you should always put in your kids’ carry-on bags.
1. Change of Clothes
When getting on the plane, you want to make sure you have plenty to entertain the kids during the flight and waiting times. But you also need to expect the unexpected.
You’re more likely to need the change of clothes because of something that happens on the plane than because your luggage is lost. Between food, drinks, illness, and bathroom accidents, it’s best to be prepared with an entire change of clothes, right down to the socks and underwear.
2. Comfort Item
For some kids, getting onto a plane can be scary. Having a comfort item close at hand, whether it’s a blanket, stuffed animal, or just a favorite toy they like to snuggle with, can help ease those worries. Plus, it’s helpful to keep this beloved item handy if you want your child to rest during the flight.
Airplanes are chilly, so it’s important to dress in layers, even if you’re heading to a warm climate. Plan on packing a soft, comfortable sweatshirt, preferably one that zips in the front so it’s easy to get on and off while seated with seat belts buckled.
4. Water Bottle
Flight attendants come around too infrequently to meet the demands of most kids (and adults) and don’t usually have closed-top cups or straws. Make sure to bring along a refillable water bottle or sippy cup, preferably one that’s insulated to keep drinks hot or cold.
Flight delays are all too common. So while you may think you’ll be home for dinner, always bring two to three times the amount of snacks you think you’ll need. The only way to get through long delays on the runway, the airline running out of the snack boxes you want to purchase, or flights without any snack options, is with a generous supply of your child’s favorite snacks.
6. Sanitizing Wipes
In order to help prevent the spread of viruses on airplanes, wipe down your seat, armrests, seat belt buckle, tray table, and window shade with sanitizing wipes as soon as you board. These days, airlines are turning around flights so quickly that often only a cursory cleaning is given between flights. It also helps to travel with hand sanitizer to use before snacking and tissues to wipe up spills and runny noses.
7. Child-Friendly Headphones
To cut costs, most airlines now have either a bring-your-device policy to access their entertainment options (American, Southwest), or bring your own headphones to use the seatback screens (JetBlue). Bring along a set of child-friendly headphones, like the cute and comfortable CozyPhones. These adorable headphones for kids offer built-in, volume-limiting technology and won’t fall out or hurt little ears like other headphones.
8. Childproofed Tablet
Since you never know quite what the entertainment options will be on the plane (as even airlines with good options frequently have dysfunctional systems), it’s helpful to bring your own childproofed tablet. You’ll want to make sure games, books, and movies are downloaded onto a childproofed tablet like the Amazon Fire Kids’ Edition. This rugged device can withstand being dropped and is easy to hold. Plus, it comes in fun kid-friendly colors!
9. Travel Pillow
If you’re traveling overnight or during nap time, be sure to pack a travel pillow, eye mask, and blanket. It’s hard for anyone to sleep on a plane, but if you block out noise and light and create a cozy environment, you’ll have a better chance of your child resting.
10. Travel Activity Books
To minimize screen time, make sure to also bring along a travel activity book for the plane. Toddlers love sticker books, while preschoolers enjoy dot-to-dots, mazes, and coloring. Older kids can get into travel-related activity books and journals with word searches, crossword puzzles, and other challenges.
Whether it’s an ebook or a physical book, reading is a great way to pass the time on the airplane. You can often download free ebooks from your local library using apps like Overdrive to save space in your carry-on bag.
12. Wikki Stix
If your kids do better sitting still when they have something to do with their hands, bring along some Wikki Stix. They can bend and shape these sticks into all kinds of creations or just fiddle with them to keep busy.
13. Card Games
School-age kids will enjoy engaging with mom and dad on the plane, or maybe even their siblings, with a simple card game like Memory, Go Fish, SkipBo Jr., or UNO. Look for ones that don’t take up a lot of space, are fun for two players sitting next to each other, and with cards that aren’t too slippery. Other options like Bananagrams and Story Cubes can also be fun with older kids.
14. Lollipops or Gum
A plane ride is not the time to get too worried about your child having a little candy. In fact, sucking on a lollipop or chewing gum can really help with uncomfortable ear pressure during takeoff and landing. Throw a few in their carry-on just in case!
15. EarPlanes for Kids
If your kids have a cold, invest in a pair of EarPlanes to help manage the air pressure during take off and landing. You’ll need to help them learn how to properly insert them and let them know when it’s safe to take them out and reinsert them. Even if everyone is healthy when you leave, throw a set in your bag in case someone gets sick before the flight home. It will save buying them in the expensive airport gift shop.
Tamara Gruber lives in Rhode Island with her husband, daughter, and two cats. She shares her family’s travel adventures on We3Travel.com and is the co-host of the Vacation Mavens family travel podcast.