Traveling with a Toddler Part II: What to Pack in Your Carry-On
Updated: May 29
During my first trip with my son (who was two at the time), I was clueless. I had no idea what I needed to pack, what I didn’t need to pack, or how I was going to manage carrying everything around. After receiving several tips as well as some trial-and-error through the three trips I’ve taken thus far with my son, below are some of the items that I wouldn't travel without in my carry-on:
Empty Sippy Cup
It’s extremely helpful to have an empty sippy cup in handy for when the flight attendants come through for beverage service. Instead of having your toddler drink out of the plastic cup and expect it to actually stay IN the cup (and on the tray), you can just pour the drink in the cup, twist it shut, and not have to worry about the drink ending up all over you, them or the floor (or someone else).
In addition to some of your little one’s favorite snacks you’ll also want to buy a bag of Dum-Dum’s or other small lollipops to aid with their ears popping during takeoff and landing. Additionally, they are extremely helpful in distracting them and keeping them content when they start to get a little ansy from the plane ride.
Medications & Documentation
This may seem like a given, but always be sure that any medications and any related documentation you may need in an emergency are packed in your carry-on. In my family, my son’s Epi-Pen as well as a list from the doctor of all of his allergies go in a ziplock bag and are packed in a carry-on on EVERY trip. In addition, I pack travel-size bottles as well as a syringe or dosing cup for medications such as Benadryl and Tylenol. The last thing you want is for your child to require some kind of medication while in the air have no access to it.
This is especially helpful for first time flyers, where you have no idea how they’re going to do on the plane ride. Next time you’re out, buy a few new toys, books, and/or small activities and pack them away where they can’t find them. When on the plane, if they start to get bored, ansy, or fussy, having a brand new toy or book to play with with keep them interested and distracted, sometimes for the duration of the trip (or until they are tired enough to fall asleep).
Wet Wipes/Baby Wipes and Hand Sanitizer
Baby wipes will always come in handy for wiping butts, hands, and faces, even if you don’t have an infant. Similarly, antibacterial wipes and/or hand sanitizer will always come in handy for cleaning hands as well as surfaces. When traveling or on a plane, they are a must as you won’t always be able to get up and wash your hands, and you don’t know how dirty the surfaces are in the airport or on the plane.
On my most recent trip to Costa Rica, my son had a coughing fit that caused him to beautifully vomit mucus in my hand while we were having breakfast in the airport. Of course, there weren’t enough napkins at the table, and my waitress was nowhere to be found. Enter antibacterial wipes. The situation was fixed and all was clean within seconds.
Just like wet wipes and baby wipes, you’ll want to have some small travel packs of tissues and/or a plastic bag full of tissues on your for wiping noses, or for if you get stuck in the bathroom (or elsewhere) with no tissue paper.
Even if your child is potty trained, you may want to seriously consider putting them in pull-ups or overnight underwear for the flight, and packing plenty of extras of your carry-on. Tight connections, turbulence, and long waits can sometimes make getting to the potty on time difficult, so you’ll save yourself tons of drama and embarrassment by having them in one “just in case.”
It should be a given to have extras for your child, but you'll also want to make sure to have some for YOU...because when your child decides they want to vomit all over you, or have explosive diarrhea that somehow ends up on your shirt sleeve, you’re probably going to want to get out of that clothing ASAP. I’ve been in that situation before WITHOUT extra clothes (luckily never while on a plane), and it was not a pleasant experience!
If you choose to forego the pull-up route or if they are simply too big for them, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of extra pairs “just in case.” I usually try to have not one, but 2-3 extra pairs with me. Also, don’t forget to pack several plain undershirts! I had a friend once who forgot to pack extra undershirts during the winter and when their child vomited through the two sweaters they had packed, the child was forced to wear their winter coat on the plane with no shirt underneath. Poor thing. Imagine if this had happened during a season where coats weren’t needed? Extra undershirts will always come in handy!
Having a few empty gallon-size Ziploc bags with you will come in handy for holding open snacks/food, soiled clothing, dirty wipes/tissues, and other trash. I always pack more than I think I’ll need and surprisingly end up using all of them before my trip is over. Additionally, I like to use the larger Ziploc bags to group similar items together and make make packing my carry-on easier: The snacks go in one bag, the extra clothing and underwear goes in another bag, the medications go in another bag, and the wipes, tissues, and hand sanitizer go in another bag. This also makes it easier to go through security as well as repack your bag after security.
Okay, now clearly this isn’t something you’d include IN your carry-on, but for ease of lugging all of this above around, I highly recommend carrying a backpack AS your carry-on as opposed to a rolling suitcase or shoulder bag. A backpack will free up both of your hands, and puts much less stress on your body. Just throw the items you need to reach frequently in the front pocket, and all the rest in the main part of the bag. Not to mention, having a backpack is helpful during your trip when you need to carry around all of those extra things that come with going somewhere with a toddler. My personal favorite is the Jansport Mesh Backpack, which allows things like beach towels to breathe after they’ve gotten wet-- just make sure that none of your valuables are visible!
Have more items that you would add to this list? Leave a comment below and let us know what items you wouldn’t travel without!
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