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Your family and you are catching a flight in a few days, heading to your favorite destination. And you’re traveling with kids. That destination, however, requires a three-hour flight. How in the world do you keep a three and six-year-old happy for three hours?

No need to panic. Take a few deep cleansing breaths, and with a bit of planning, you’ll find packing doesn’t need to be problematic. As a matter of fact, the task can prove to be a bit of an adventure.

If you’re traveling overseas, check out our easy guide for visas and passports for kids.

Traveling With Kids: Pack Your Carry-On Like A Pro

Are you traveling with kids to a fun destination? Don't worry, packing doesn’t need to be problematic with these 4 easy rules for packing a carry-on.

When I was traveling with kids, my rule of thumb was if it can be placed in the checked luggage, that’s where it needed to go, even if it meant spending the extra money for checking the luggage. I wanted my hands readily available to reach for a child’s hand or sippy cup about to be dropped.  

What we placed inside the carry-ons was the key to making the trip a successful one, measured by the level of contentment of the child. If the child is content, then the entire plane cabin is content, right?

I’ve come up with four rules of thumb, all beginning with the letter “F,” for “fun.” Actually, that’s the first rule!

Pack your carry-on like a pro when traveling with kids with these 4 easy rules. Click To Tweet


The fun begins before you leave, and the fun doesn’t have to take long.

First off, sneak away and buy a couple of new toys, books, and snacks. Quickly wrap the toys and books and place them inside the carry-on. Choose moments throughout the course of travel for your child to open a new gift.

Then, get your child involved in the packing process. Allow him or her to select a few of the items that go into the carry-on, with the caveat that each item needs to be parent-approved before being packed. Allowing the child to make some choices ensures he or she will pack a few favorites.

Feather-Lite Favorites

4 Rules Of Packing A Carry-On When Traveling With Kids

Whenever I am traveling with kids, I want everyone’s carry-ons to be as light as possible, including mine. The thought of carrying a thirty-pound backpack and a tired child through the airport makes me shiver with dread. I chose early on, then, not to pack a lot of toiletries except for medications. Then we would do a quick run to the big box store for those necessities once we arrived at our destination.

  • 1-2 lightweight books
  • small notebooks with a few crayons or markers
  • 1 stuffed animal or doll
  • 2-3 palm-sized toys
  • small deck of cards or other travel-size game

When my son was five, his favorite toys were tractors. They were big and they were heavy! I knew if we packed even one, his backpack would be weighed down. Solution? We ran to our local implement store and purchased two smaller tractors for $3.00 a piece. We wrapped them up (see “Fun” above), and stashed them in the backpack or carry-on. One of those tractors is now a Christmas ornament!


4 Rules Of Packing A Carry-On When Traveling With Kids

The Transportation Security Administration has specific rules about bringing certain types of food through security. Consumerist has made things easy and provided a list of items you can pack.

Regardless of what you bring, be sure to limit sugary foods to avoid the ever-nasty sugar high, then sugar crash, from your child.

Here are a few of my kids’ favorites:

  • Cheese
  • Crackers
  • Apple
  • Granola bar
  • Juice or water in a spill-proof container. However, liquids cannot exceed 3.4 ounces; a better way is to take an empty water bottle, and once you are past the security checkpoint, fill it with water from a fountain, or purchase a drink inside the airport.

If your pocketbook allows, it’s always a treat for the kids if you purchase a meal at an airport restaurant and then save a snack or two for the plane ride.


The most important weapon in your arsenal for a successful flight, however, cannot be packed in the carry on, because it requires you. Use this opportunity to focus on your children. Play their game with them. Help them draw or write. Make up stories together. Providing focused attention makes the time go faster and the trip more memorable for all.

Are you traveling with kids to a fun destination? Don't worry, packing doesn’t need to be problematic with these 4 easy rules for packing a carry-on.

Tammy Tilley
Tammy Tilley
Tammy Tilley, mom of two adult children, cares deeply about parenting issues. Although she’s looking in the rearview mirror of her hands-on parenting days, once you’re a parent, you’re always a parent. She enjoys sharing a few memories and a touch of advice about spending energy on the things that matter. Tammy has a BA in English from Anderson University (IN) and a MS in Education from IUPUI.