Packing Tips: My Carry On With a Toddler

Earlier this week I posted What’s In My Carry On Tote for when I fly/travel solo.  I said that the list changes drastically when I travel with my kid, so today we’re talking about what to pack when traveling with a toddler!

In the last post I said that I travel an average once a month, either flying or driving, and as a result a lot of my packing is down to a science.  Well, traveling with a kid is a little different.  Even though Addie has flown quite a bit and been on even more road trips with us, I can’t say we feel like we’ve gotten traveling with her down to a science.  And that’s because, as most parents would attest to, young kids change every few months.  That means their attention spans and desire to move or engage or to do something interesting change every few months!  And that means their needs change every few months.  So, every time we fly or travel with Addie, we’re like, “I don’t know how it’s gonna be!  She was fine on the last flight, but she’s 2 months older this time and a lot more squirmy.  I hope this turns out okay!”

Also, I’ve only traveled with ONE kid.  And usually Benson is there with me, so it’s a 2:1 ratio.  That obviously factors into how manageable travel is.  I’ve watched my friends travel with 3+ kids, and that’s another beast altogether.  And on our last trip to Madison I saw several moms traveling SOLO with 3 kids.  I was in awe.  Complete and utter awe.

Lastly, we’ve never flown internationally with her, which I can’t even imagine doing.  Our longest leg has been a [1.5 hr flight + 1 hour layover + a near 5 hour flight].  Our other flights are usually either 1.5 hours or 4.5 hours.  Flights that are 4+ hours are the ones that put me on edge with a child in tow, so I really can’t imagine an international trip!

That said, here’s the carry on list that we took on our recent trip to Madison with our 22 month old daughter.  This was the [1.5 hr flight + 1 hour layover + a near 5 hour flight].

I’ll also try to throw in notes about how this list changed from when Addie was a baby.

General Stuff:

  • Backpack instead of tote.  If I’m with Addie I carry a backpack instead of the tote I showed in the last carry on post.  I pack my tote in our luggage.  Being hands free is SO important to me while traveling with a toddler.  The backpacks Benson and I use are super expensive and ones that I don’t find cute or stylish at all.  But, I had scoliosis surgery in 2001 so I need to protect my back.  These backpacks are military grade, but sold commercially, and they can hold a ton of weight without feeling heavy or cutting into my shoulders or making my shoulders sore.  These aren’t normal backpacks, lemme tell ya!
    • This goes in 2 backpacks.  If I traveled solo with Addie I could do it in one backpack and my tote.  

    For Me:

    • The bottom right corner is my normal stuff that was in the last post (HERE), sans reading material.  Books and magazines add up in weight, and when there’s a toddler next to me there’s no way I’m going to get leisurely reading done anyway.  It is also extra important for me to have a tiny wallet to make room for all the kid things I’m packing.
    For Traveling Through the Airport:
    • Baby Carrier (not shown).  Up until she was around 18 months we never brought a stroller or a carseat and only baby-wore her through the airport.  You can wear babies through security as well, though doing so will always require security swipe and test your hands.  We never flew with a carseat because our destinations always had one.  
      • (Even though we don’t fly with a carseat, I know it’s safest for a child to fly in one.  I know this can be a controversial subject, so I’d like to kindly preemptively ask us to refrain from engaging in a parenting opinion war here.  I trust us all to research carseats and flying and do what you are comfortable with for your own children.)
    • Stroller.  Our recent trip to Madison was the first time we traveled with a stroller.  You can check strollers and carseats once you get to the gate and are about to board the plane, and retrieve them off the ramp immediately off the plane.  For many airlines it’s free.  You should be able to find costs for children’s gear on your airline’s website. 

    For Addie’s Needs In-Flight:

    • Wipes, sanitizing wipes, diaper mat, diapers for a full day, and plastic grocery bags.  We package these together in the smallest sized packing cube (HERE) for easy access amongst the rest of the stuff.  Even though Addie only needs 1-2 diapers during travel, I prefer to bring a few extra in case of delayed flights or layovers.  
      • The diaper mat and sanitizing wipes were crucial.  Out of respect for other’s noses, we didn’t feel comfortable changing Addie’s #2 diaper in her seat.  Some airplane bathrooms have changing tables, but some don’t.  This one didn’t, so Benson had to change her diaper on the bathroom floor.  YUCK YUCK YUCK.  (I’ve been a public bathroom germaphobe since I was a kid.)  He laid down the diaper mat on the disgusting bathroom floor, changed it as quickly as he could, then used the sanitizing wipe all over the diaper mat.  Ugh, blech.  Can’t even talk about it anymore.  Let’s move on.
      • Plastic bags for storing dirty diapers
    • Change of clothes in case of an accident.  When Addie was younger we brought 2 changes of clothes AND an extra shirt for me as she was more prone to leaking out of diapers or intense projectile spit up post nursing.  That’s less of a problem now, so we just bring one extra outfit for Addie.  I feel it’s better to have one than not.
    • Cardigan and/or swaddling blanket.  I’m typically cold on flights, so I bring an extra layer for me and for my kid. During baby stage we brought her swaddling blanket.
    • Lovey.  Her pink dog and blanket are her best friends, and on our last two trips she carried them everywhere in that little backpack along with her sunglasses.  So stinking cute.  
      • (Find her dog HERE and blankie HERE.  This blankie has been with her since she was a baby because she likes the textures plus babies are less likely to suffocate with these.)  
    • Medicine – Kid’s Motrin and syringe, snot sucker (HERE), Orajel, etc.  We store them in a breastmilk bag, haha.  Perfect fit!  
    • 1 cup full of milk + 1 insulated bottle with extra milk in a Ziplock bag.  Addie won’t drink much water, but she’ll totally drink milk.  While you can’t bring a water bottle full of water for yourself through security, you can bring kid cups full of milk or juice through security, in reasonable quantities.  Note: a security test will be done on them.   
      • I’ve talked about this water bottle before and how it keeps drinks cool up to 24 hrs.  We *just* bought one for Addie to keep her extra drinks cold.  
      • Find her “miracle” cup HERE.  Water bottle HERE.
    • Snacks.  We flew during a meal time, but since Addie’s a somewhat picky eater and wouldn’t eat what we were having for lunch we decided she could eat snacks for a meal while we traveled.  Shown here are goldfish, cheese crackers, Cheerios, and string cheese as “lunch.”  Also shown are two fruit/veggie squeeze packets and raisins and a fruit roll up for special treats during squirmy times.  We never give her fruit roll ups, so I saved them as a last resort special treat if she got antsy.
    • Napkin, burp cloth, or a few paper towels because kids are messy.  The purple thing with the snacks is a cloth napkin.  

    For Addie’s Entertainment:
    She did amazing on all of our flights with a mix of “busy bags,” TV / looking at pictures on our iPhones, flying during nap time, and special snacks.  We actually brought books with her on the way to Madison because she loves books at home.  But on the plane there were too many other new and exciting things that she couldn’t sit still to read.  The books took up so much space in our backpacks and didn’t get much use.

    I learned about “busy bags” through Pinterest, which are collections of small activities to keep kids occupied.  There are tons of ideas for busy bag activities at various ages on Pinterest.  I’ve pinned a few sites that each have tons and tons of ideas HERE.

    I tested our busy bag contents on several road trips leading up to our Madison flight and figured out what worked for Addie and what didn’t.  I tried additional activities not shown here that will be better when she’s older.

    I’ve  actually timed how long each of these keep her occupied and listed them.  Please note that on flights Addie usually did the lower end of the spectrum.  There are more distractions on planes so she doesn’t stay in her “zone” as long.  Also, every kid is different of course, and these activities are tailored to what I know my kid is into, which is drawing and transferring crap from one container to another.

    • My pens + notepad.  Usually she scribbles on her own, but lately I’ve been drawing pictures for her.  She can draw for 20-40 minutes at a time.  It’s kind of unbelievable!  
    • Sesame Street stampers (find them HERE).  Even as a not-quite-2-year-old she is extremely careful with markers and stamps, so we trust her with these with periodic glances from us.  10-25 minutes of play.
    • Whiteboard notepad – $1 bin at Target.  Comes with a small whiteboard pen and eraser.  More scribbling for her, but this one erases!  This occupies her for only maybe 5-10 min at a time.  She’s not great at erasing so she’d rather just draw with colored markers on paper.
    • Stickers – $1 bin at Target for about 300 stickers.  PREETTTTTTYYY good deal.  She loves to stick these on us or run back and forth handing them to strangers.  Not so much the latter on the plane, except to the nice person across the aisle, but while at my work conference in Madison, giving these out occupied her endlessly among my friends.
    • Stackable crayons + bottles and jars.  She spends time stacking them all, then pulling them apart, putting them in one container, then transferring them to another container, then stacking them again, and so forth.  These are $3 for 10 sets in the Target party favor section.  (Find them HERE.)  20-30 minutes of play.  
    • Peppa Pig sticker book (HERE).  This was okay for her.  I basically had to do this for her, which is not ideal, but playing with my kid isn’t terrible either haha.  😛  With my help this occupied her for about 15-20 minutes.  
    • Foam squares and colorful pom poms in a soap box, pill box, bead storage container, or empty baby food containers.  She will transfer these things back and forth between all the containers plus the bottles and jars.  Also a 20-40 minute thing.  She LOVES to transfer things! 
    • Gel Clings.  These are basically like thin jello but sticky, and they stick to airplane windows or tray tables without leaving residue.  They’re expensive on Amazon, but sometimes they’re at the Target $1 or $3 bins.  I struck gold and stocked up with 7 packs when I *finally* saw them after a couple trips to Target.  However, they only keep her busy for about 5-10 minutes.  I think once she’s older and can actually do things with the shapes or letters she’ll go for longer.
    • Q-Tips in a toothbrush holder.  More stuff for her to transfer…  When she first saw this, it occupied her for 15 minutes.  But since then she hasn’t paid much attention to it.  I don’t think she touched it on the plane.
    • Felt squares threaded on a shoestring.  She’s not old enough to string these herself.  I did it once with her and then she moved on.
    • Popsicle sticks with velcro dots to connect them and build things.  She’s not quite into building yet, just stacking.  I showed her how to build, and she didn’t care much.  She was more interested in stacking them all back together perfectly.  Only about 5-10 minutes.  I know she’ll be into these when she’s older.  But really, on a plane I take every minute I can get!  
      • These are jumbo sized popsicle sticks with velcro on each side.  DIY instructions are HERE.  Basically, use the same type of velcro on one side of the stick and the other type of velcro on the backside.  

    Lastly, like I said earlier, when she started to get a little stir crazy and wanted to run around, I pulled out raisins, a fruit pack, or if it was really bad I brought out the fruit roll up.  (I only gave her half of it.)  I peeled that fruit roll up as slowly as I could to draw out how long it occupied her for–10 minutes, haha!  Every minute counts, man!

    Hopefully this helped give you some ideas for what to pack, what you might need on the plane, or how to keep your kid occupied during the flight.  Let me know if you have any questions.  Good luck!

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