What to pack for kids on the plane

What to Pack for Kids on the Plane (ages 3-8)

In TIPS & ADVICE, Travel Gear, TRAVEL TIPS, Traveling with kids by JurgaThis post may contain affiliate links, which means that we may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. More info: Disclosure.

When talking about traveling to other parents one of the main concerns seems to be flying with children. Air travel with toddlers is probably the most challenging… The most common question I get is what to pack and how to entertain kids at the airport and during the flight.

We are just back from yet another trip and so I thought I’d share some tips about what our kids pack to take on the plane.

Our boys are 5, 5, and 7 years old now, but their carry-on luggage looks pretty much the same since they are out of diapers. 43 flights and counting.

What to pack when flying with kids (packing list for ages 3 to 8)
 

How to pack when flying with kids

When it comes to packing for kids, remember that less is more. Take only what you really need! Don’t pack a bag full of toys. The chances are big that your kids will take all the toys out of the bag, play with them for 2 minutes and announce that they are bored or that they want that one toy they left at home. 

We have a pretty strict one toy per kid policy when traveling and I have to say it works pretty well. We used to take more toys with us when the kids were little, but quickly stopped doing it. Here is wy.

Why we never take toys when we travel with children

  • Toys take lots of space in your luggage.
  • Familiar toys are boring and they stay in your suitcase or in the hotel room most of the time.
  • Toys get lost or broken. Tears guaranteed.
  • If you have more than one child, the chances are very big that they will fight over the toys. Even more tears guaranteed.
  • Kids can play with pretty much anything when traveling: stones, sea shells, leaves, dry plants, etc. etc. Actually, not having toys stimulates their creativity and you’ll be amazed at how well they can keep themselves busy without any toys whatsoever. Try it!
 

Should each child have their own carry-on bag?

Do you really need a separate bag for a toddler? If you are not sure, don’t take it. While young kids love the idea of having their own travel bag, they quickly get tired of it and you end up carrying all the bags at the airport.

That being said, packing a bag for each child has a lot of advantages as well and older kids can usually handle a backpack or a small carry-on. Here you can read more about kids luggage and the best kids’ travel bags for all ages.

If you want to get a cool travel bag for your young child which they will want to carry themselves, take a look at the amazing selection of kids’ travel items from Trunki. They have original ride-on suitcases, little backpacks, and many other cool travel bags that any preschooler will love!

When we rent a car abroad (which is pretty much all the time), we always take Trunki Boostapak (car booster seat and backpack in one) for our kids and so they each have a separate carry-on bag. This doesn’t mean, however, that they are allowed to fill it with toys…

TIP: You can also just take a regular kids’ travel backpack or give each child a packing cube that they can use to pack their stuff.

***Read also our guide to the best travel booster seats***

We always take Trunki boostapak for our kids when we travel
‘Trunki’ has become an essential travel companion for our kids
 

What to pack for kids on the plane

Make sure your kids wear comfortable clothes that are somewhat stain-resistant. Always dress in layers and keep their feet warm as it can get cold on the plane. We never take pajamas, joggings, or other special clothing for kids to wear during the flight. When traveling with three young children you learn to keep things simple.

Below, you can find a list for what to pack in kids carry-on. Read on!

Packing list for flying with young children
 

KIDS’ HAND LUGGAGE PACKING LIST

First tip to successful packing is to let the kids help you pack. Make sure you have the last word though. Let them choose one toy or a travel game to take on the plane. It will keep them busy for a while as choices like that are not easy for a child, but they will appreciate the fact that you let them decide and will be more willing to co-operate.

The kids will probably try to negotiate to take a few extra toys. You can let them pack more if it makes them and you happy, but remember that you have to set a limit somewhere. You can agree on some rule that you are all comfortable with, for example, you could let the kids pack whatever they want as long as it fits in one little packing cube, a ziplock bag, etc.

The following items are always in our carry-on luggage when flying with children:

  • Twistable crayons, pen, and paper. If you take one item on a plane, make it this one.  Make sure you have enough paper and I really recommend twistable crayons. They don’t break easily, they don’t need to be sharpened, and they don’t make kids’ hands dirty. Ideal on a trip!
  • Workbooks. Workbooks have always been a big success with our three boys. Read also this post for some great travel books for kids.
  • Boogie board.  Boogie board is  just another way for kids to draw, but it does miracles when the traditional methods fail.
  • One cuddly toy, a blankie, or whatever ‘friend’ your child sleeps with.
  • Lollipops. It took us many years, lots of flights and aching ears before we came up with this simple yet very effective solution. Now we always have lollipops in our hand luggage. Give them to the kids during take-off and landing and you’ll see that it does wonders. Not only do the kids sit quieter in their seats, it’s also the perfect way to help them avoid the ear pain due to the changing pressure. All three our kids had a cold when we flew to Lithuania last week and I was really worried that landing would be tough for them, but none of them complained about the aching ears this time. I still cannot believe it!
  • UNO or single-player travel games. One-player travel games are ideal to keep older kids busy during the long flight, while UNO is the perfect game to keep the kids busy while waiting at the airport.
  • Digital tablet. We hardly ever use it on a plane, but it’s proven helpful a couple of times when we had to wait longer at the airport. Amazon has really affordable Kindle Fire Kids tablets that might be a good choice when traveling with young kids.
  • Warm socks. This is particularly useful on long-haul flights with children as they can keep their shoes off during the whole flight.
    Medication. You don’t need to take the whole medicine cabinet with you, but make sure you always have some painkiller, nose spray and some band-aids with you.
    Some snacks. Depending on the time and the duration of your flight, you may want to take some food with you for the kids. Apples, grapes, and cookies are always a big success with our kids. Sometimes we take sandwiches as well. Try to avoid any food or drinks that can be messy. You don’t want to deal with dirty clothes or sticky fingers on the plane.
    Paper tissues and wet wipes. No explanation needed, I suppose.
    On the long flights, we also take one set of extra clothes. Try to pack something that would fit any of your kids and avoid having to pack a separate outfit for every child.
 

If you are looking for more tips for traveling with kids, make sure to also check these articles:

Best travel bags for kids
Best travel gear for kids
10 gift ideas for traveling kids
Flying with young children made easy in 10 Steps
Survival tips for road trips with toddlers
15 tips and tricks for traveling the world with young children

If you found this post useful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin this image!

How to pack kids carry-on like a pro
 

Comments

  1. Great tips! I always go to a toy shop after Security and pick up two new ones for the plane. My personal rule is 4/5 toys per flight. My partner is a toyshop worker. He lets me have some for Christmas each year.

    1. Author

      That’s a lot of toys, but I guess every kid is different and also every age and every flight is different. We always stuck to the rule of no toys and it worked well for us. Now that the kids got bigger, all they take is their Kindle e-reader…

  2. Thank you so much for all these useful tips 🤗
    My two boys are 3.5 & 7 and we are about to have a long long trip. Is there any chance you could suggest some books and games that you have found to be interesting and educational for this age on Kindle Fire.
    My older one loves Captain Underpants😅🙈, but he has finished reading all the books

    1. Author

      Hi Aleksandra, our kids absolutely loved Geronimo Stilton books at the age 6-8. I see that some of them are available on Kindle as well, so you can also download them on the Kindle Fire too.
      They loved (and still do) all kinds of kids jokes books and riddles and brain teasers. They can read and tell the same jokes and riddles again and again. Great entertainment for the whole family 🙂
      I’m not really familiar with many games for that age group, as we never had any games on tablets when our kids were that young. Somehow we managed to resist that for a very long time… Now the twins are 8 and our oldest is 10 and they do have some free games on their tablet, but they just download some themselves and change every week, so I really wouldn’t know what their favorites are. Usually it’s related to soccer 🙂
      If I were you, I’d take some ‘screenless’ activities as well (activity books used to do wonders for our kids at that age, and also a game like UNO (or UNO Junor) is always in our hand luggage). Kinds need some down time and staring at the screen for hours will leave them exhausted and they won’t be fun to deal with…
      Hope this helps. Have a great trip!

  3. Those are some AWESOME ideas. Especially the wipes lol. We traveled nearly 30 hours and omg I was ready for a clean feeling after 3 lol. I found it funny that you said the kids will find a way to entertain themselves without the crazy cool gadgets tho. I tend to keep my kids away from electronics because I want them to explore and be creative (I am most certainly not saying it’s better than other ways, all kids are different!). We got on our flight with in flight movies and they chose to draw, color, tell jokes….they were 7 and 4 at the time. Now they are 2 years older but still the same. We chose to over-pack 😧and it’s true…i ended up carrying most of their stuff lol. I definitely appreciate the time you took to type this up. It definitely helps FOR SURE!!!!

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Abby. Indeed, every family, every child, and even every trip is different. We had 20+hr flights when kids kept themselves busy with just some paper and crayons, but as they get older, they use electronics more too.
      One thing we now always take with us is their Kindle e-readers and it’s a life-saver. We just buy a couple of new books to download before every trip. It’s so light to take and the battery lasts for days. Last year, we got stuck at the airport the whole day (and ended up spending the night due to a canceled flight) and their Kindles kept them busy the whole day. I still rather have that than a digital tablet – reading books has a very different (calming) effect on kids than agitating games (last thing you need in a stressful situation).
      Anyway, thanks once again for sharing this – I’m sure it will be helpful to other readers.
      Happy travels!

  4. This is such a great list! I would also suggest a light jacket for the plane. A jacket, blanket, and thick socks make all the difference on a cold flight.

    1. Author

      Absolutely, Amanda. Just, I’d rather go for a sweater – it’s not really pleasant to sit with a jacket on, no? We always have a sweater at hand on the plane – temperatures can vary so much during the flight.

  5. Hi, I’m Flor from Argentina. I have never fly before, this will be my first time in a plane, also my husband and kids (2 years and 5 years). We are going to travel 12 countries of europe from July to september this year. I got really worried about the ear pain your kids had when you fly. Does this happen always in children? And What is the cheapest ways to travel with children? Do you have any tips?

    1. Author

      Hi Florencia, you shouldn’t worry too much about the ear pain, just be aware that it happens quite often. Many people experience it on the plane, but usually it’s gone very quickly too. It helps if you can swallow a few times. Chewing gum helps with adults, but for kids it’s a bit difficult, that’s why we always take lollipops. Just in case 🙂 Some people experience more serious problems, in that case nose drops can help or special ear plugs. But, once again, in most cases you or your kids won’t feel anything.

      As for how to travel cheap with kids. Flying is usually the most expensive part of any trip, so if you can travel by car, it will save a lot of money. Of course, you might be able to find cheap flights here in Europe, so if you don’t take too much luggage and manage to find great fligt deals, it can also be ok.
      Other good ways to save money is by staying at apartments where you can cook. It’s usually cheaper than a hotel room for a family too. We never stay at AirBnb’s, but find plenty of family accommodations via Booking.com.
      What saves the most, we find, is booking your trips well in advance. Everything is so much cheaper if booked upfront and you also have more choice in terms of accommodations.
      For the rest, try to always look for special family tickets wherever you go. Children’s meals at the restaurants are often 1/2-1/4 of the adult’s meal price here in Europe.
      Hope this helps.

  6. WHERE CAN I ORDER FIRE KIDS TABLETS/ KIDS DIGITAL TABLETS.
    THANK YOU

  7. Such an informative blog. We Will be travel to Melbourne with three boys
    aged 1,3 & 6 next year. What type of car you rent at Melbourne and is the trunki booster complied the Australian regulation? I am wondering whether we can fix the booster by ourselves in 5 seater car for most of the car rental only provide 2 car seats.

    1. Author

      Hi Vivian, we rented a car in Adelaide with a drop-off in Melbourne. It was category F (station wagon), but was actually quite small compared to the other cars we had during that trip. However, it was a brand new Mercedes C break, so we didn’t complain. In Australia we rented two car seats (because our twins still needed them, they were too young for a booster) and we had one Trunki with us that we put in the middle (for our 5-year old). Since we rented several cars at different locations, it was cheaper to buy Trunki than rent a booster every time. In any case, you can put three boosters on the back seat, but you can never squeeze three car seats next to each other.
      Trunki BoostAPak is certified ECE R44 /04 for European standards and I think it’s acceptable everywhere in the world for kids from about 4 years old. So it is definitely ok for a 6-year old. If you’re not sure you can check Australian regulations (try this Australian website for more information).
      Our twins are 8 years old now and we still use our Trunki’s on every single road trip abroad, pretty much everywhere in the world, and never had any issues. I think EU standards are so strict that anything that’s approved here, is usually ok anywhere else :).

  8. I will be travelling for the first time with my 2yo and 4yo boys. My husband and I will also have help from my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Yay! Thanks for this list. I especially love the tip about packing an extra outfit that will fit all kids to avoid packing for all.

    1. Author

      Hi Linda, that sounds so easy, 2 kids and 4 adults. We usually have 3 kids for 2 adults and manage somehow :). Relax, you’ll be fine. Just don’t overdo the tablet or screen time, because the kids get so excited that they don’t sleep well afterwards, and you really want them to sleep if it’s a long flight. Have a great trip!

  9. flying on a five hour flight next week just wondering do they let you bring toy cars on board the flight

    1. Author

      Hi Sinead, normally you can take toy cars with you, no problem. Not sure about ones with batteries or remote control, but those wouldn’t be appropriate to take with you in any case, as they disturb other passengers. I’d say if you take something, make sure it’s not much bigger than the size of your son’s palm (like Hot Wheels or MatchBox cars). You have to understand that the only space he’ll have to play with them is his tray table, so don’t take any bulky items and in general just pack a few things. Paper and crayons can usually keep your kids busy for hours…

  10. This list helped me survive a long road trip that was 5 hours long with my three year old! He loved the boogiebaord, and I bought him one of the ride on backpacks! Our road trip was 10 times better with the items you listed! Thank you again!

  11. These tips were great! My kids had an awesome time on our way to California! I bought the boogie board and it was a big hit!

  12. Thanks Jurga

    The article was indeed very informative as I have 2 daughters- 6 and 9. They are very similar to what you have portrayed and I feel, I will try following your tips for the vacation we are off in the next 5 days.

    Uma

    1. Author

      Let me know how it goes, Uma! Our kids are now similar age (7-9) and we still pack exactly the same way for all our flights. Except that now we take Kindle e-readers for each of the kids – reading books is the best way to keep them quiet at the airport, on the plane, but also in the hotels/restaurants when on holiday.

  13. Love this! My kids are accustomed to long road trips. We’re a military family and drive from NY to TN two times a year – it’s a 16 hour drive with no stops. One of my biggest tips is to start driving at night (either after dinner or after bedtime) – we knock out as much as we can while the kids are sleeping. Of course, our drive is also super super long. We usually bring video games (Leapsters, Gameboys) and little sketchy pads. It keeps them occupied for a majority of the trip 🙂

    1. Author

      Thanks for sharing your experience, Beth! 16-hour road trips must be really challenging with kids. In a way, long flights are easier as you are free yourself and can keep them busy, while in a car you have to focus on the road as well. We used to drive at night when the kids were little, but it’s so tiring… I think I would break such a long drive in two days now…

  14. This is so helpful! I am terrified of an 8-hour flight with our two kids next month. I would be really anxious to take such a long flight with only paper and some crayons, just ordered fire kids tablet for both of them, hope it will keep them busy.

    1. Author

      I totally understand you, Karen. We’re flying to the U.S. next week and I just realized that we fly during the day. Which means we’ll have to entertain the kids for about 8-10 hours as well… Digital tablets do wonders and will definitely keep your kids busy during the flight. Just make sure they are well charged! Have a good flight!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.