In my daughter’s 21 months of life, she has taken NINE round-trip flights. I’m sure there are plenty of people who think I’ve lost my mind for flying with an infant, now toddler, so frequently, but I’ve learned so much from it. I know the idea of traveling with a small child, especially by airplane, can be daunting. But beyond the diaper bag essentials and an extra outfit, I’ve compiled a list of must-haves for my toddler’s carry-on that keep her quiet and sitting still for 3-4 hours at a time. I understand that every child is different and what works for my kid may not work for other children, but hopefully this can jump-start ideas for your own toddler’s carry-on!
- Their own bag.
Airline baggage rules have gotten more and more strict over the years, but if the allowance is there, pack your toddler his or her own carry-on bag. I’ve found it to be so much easier to keep things organized if all her things are in one place.
- A blanket and/or jacket.
Having a blanket or jacket with you will be perfect if the flight is too cold for your little one, but it can also serve another purpose. The seat belts on airplanes are designed to unlatch with ease. This makes them a perfect toy for small children. It’s also the perfect setup for pinching little fingers. You can use the blanket or jacket to help hide the buckle of the seat belt. I can usually distract Addison with something else if the buckle is out of sight.
I never trust that there will be the right snacks at the right price in the airport or on the plane, so I just pack them myself. Heading to your local dollar store is a great place to start because they usually have the perfect portion sizes for packing in a carry on bag. Otherwise, go into your pantry and pack snacks in plastic bags! For our last flight, I packed for Addison: goldfish, granola bars, Oreos, and cheese crackers.
- An empty sippy cup or water bottle
As you pass through security, you’re required to throw out any liquids larger than 3.4 ounces, but as long as you bring an empty cup, you can just fill it up at a water fountain once inside.
- Phone or tablet
This is my least favorite thing to pack for our flights, but it is the most effective. I have a playlist of Disney music saved to my phone and try to have a movie on there as well. There are also plenty of age-appropriate apps available for download. Addison currently likes the ones by Fisher-Price.
- Kid-sized headphones
I’m not about to force the 25 people closest to us listen to Moana sing “How Far I’ll Go” 50 times on repeat, so I went to the electronics section of Target and picked out a toddler-sized pair of Frozen Headphones for Addison.
- Stickers and a blank notebook
This is where the dollar store and the dollar section of Target can become your best friends. I found a little notebook at Target for $1 that’s the perfect size for 1-2 stickers per page, and told her it was her sticker book for when we travel! It doesn’t hold her attention for the entire flight, but it takes up no space and keeps her occupied for 10-15 minutes at a time.
- Coloring set
I really like the Crayola Color Wonder Mess Free line of coloring books and markers. The markers only work on the special paper and they come in a variety of sets and prices. They are more expensive than regular markers and coloring books, but if it keeps my child from creating a work of art on her own face, that’s $10 well spent. Another thing I’ve found from this same line is sticker sheets—and they are magical stickers that come off of ANYTHING. I tested them for myself and they came off of every single thing I stuck them to!
- Suckers, Pacifier, Bottle, or Cup
If you’ve ever flown before, you’re most likely familiar with the feeling of your ears popping during landing and takeoff. For a little kid, this is a bizarre new feeling that usually isn’t much fun. I like a sucker because it distracts her. I bought a small bag of Dum-dums from Dollar Tree and let her have one for a few minutes during our descent on our last few flights and she didn’t seem to be bothered by her ears!
Pack patience in your toddler’s carry-on because you’re both going to need it. There will likely be people annoyed that you chose to fly with your toddler. I’ve seen the looks and heard the comments. I’ve seen the way their bodies tighten when they realize they are seated in the same row as me. Don’t worry about those people; you most likely won’t see them again. There will be plenty of opportunities to get frustrated in the potentially high-stress experience that is flying with a toddler. Just remember to be patient and trust that you can do this! It’s a few hours of your great, big life, and a wonderful learning opportunity for you and your child.
Do you have some favorite items to pack for your toddler’s carry-on that didn’t make this list? Let me know in the comments!