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What to Pack for Kids on the Plane (Ages 3-8) + Best Airplane Activities

What to Pack for Kids on the Plane (Ages 3-8) + Best Airplane Activities

When talking about traveling to other parents, one of the main concerns seems to be flying with children. Just a thought of kids on planes makes many people anxious. But if you are prepared well, there is really no need to stress!

Air travel with toddlers and preschoolers is probably the most challenging because young kids need to be entertained all the time… So the most common question I get is what to pack and how to entertain kids at the airport and during the flight.

In this post, we share some tips about what our children pack to take on the plane. Travel essentials and plane activities for kids that have been tested time and again.

When this article was first written, our boys were 5, 5, and 7 years old. Their carry-on luggage has been packed in pretty much the same way since they are out of diapers. 43 flights and counting at that time.

I have updated this article recently to include our top airplane activities for kids. We have flown with our kids numerous times since and I stopped counting the number of flights. I can tell you that it does get easier and their carry-on gets lighter with the years. But the basiscs, our top tips for what to pack in kids’ hand luggage remain the same. Take a look!

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. While packing for a family road trip you can always add a few extra items, when flying with kids, 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 that it works pretty well. We used to take more toys with us when the kids were little but quickly stopped doing it. Here is why.

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, seashells, 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: 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

When flying with kids, 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 of what to pack in kids’ carry-on. Read on!

Packing list for flying with young children

Kids’ Hand Luggage Packing List

The 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!
  • 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, but it’s also the perfect way to help them avoid ear pain due to the changing pressure.
  • 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 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.

Airplane Activities for Kids

Since so many of you asked about the best way to keep kids busy on the plane, here are our personal (& tested many times) suggestions for the best plane activities for kids:

  • Drawing. Pack paper and twistable crayons. In addition, kids might like to draw on a boogie board. It’s easy to pack and can keep them busy for hours!
  • Stickers. It’s incredible how many hours young kids can spend playing with stickers. Sticker playsets, especially the reusable ones, don’t take much space in your carry-on and can keep younger kids entertained for a long time.
  • Workbooks. From about the age of 3-4 years, you can start introducing workbooks to your children. The good thing is that at that age, children are not familiar with the homework concept yet and actually enjoy learning through play. This is a great activity when flying with kids because you are there to help them if they need any help.
  • Digital tablet. Don’t use the screen as a babysitter on the plane because it will backfire on you. But there are moments when it can help you get through the long flight! When you want to eat or use a bathroom, for example, or when everything else fails and all you care about is that your kids are quiet for a few minutes, some screen time can be a savior. If used in moderation, the screen always captures kids’ attention and keeps them happy. But if you let them watch movies and play games on a long-haul flight for hours in a row, you’ll end up with a tired kid that cannot be reasoned with.
  • 1-player travel games. For somewhat bigger kids, from about 5-6 years, you can find some really nice single-player games that they can play on their own. It challenges them and keeps them busy for a while. Furthermore, many of these games are very small and easy to pack in your hand luggage.

Having said all this, no activities will work well in keeping very young children busy if you yourself are not involved as a parent. So don’t expect to put on your headphones and watch three movies during the flight. If you want to avoid tantrums and survive the flight, you really have to be there for your kids.


So, these are our tips for airplane travel essentials for kids. If you are looking for more tips for traveling with kids, make sure to also check these articles as well:

Best travel gear for kids
Gift ideas for traveling kids
Survival tips for road trips with toddlers
Tips and tricks for traveling with kids

READ ALSO: Best Family Travel Destinations

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How to pack kids carry-on like a pro

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aliccia scrivener

Thursday 19th of August 2021

i have a 15 year old who has autism so she still likes all the kid tv shows such as peppa pig or thomas the tank engine also she has a bear, blankie and a dummy/paccifier she cant live without have you any tips on what to pack x


Tuesday 24th of August 2021

Hi Aliccia, you know your child better than anyone else. If she likes certain tv programs, why not download some of them on a tablet/smartphone and take that with you? It doesn't take much space. The same with her favorite toys - pack one or two that you know will keep her happy. I'd definitely take a (e-)book if she likes to read. But my suggestion, in general, remains the same as for any child - do not overpack! For a child that age, taking a book/magazine or a tablet/smartphone should be more than enough for the flight. Good luck!


Saturday 9th of January 2021

Love the tips, Jurga! Thanks for sharing.


Sunday 10th of January 2021

Glad you found this useful, Tim. Happy travels with kids!


Sunday 24th of November 2019

Hi I am Emily, I have 3 kids, a 2 month old, Olivia (Via), twin 6 year olds, Victoria and Elizabeth (Tori and Liz) and my husband is already at my family’s new house, so I have to take a infant and twins on a 15 housr flight all by myself any tips for flexible packing? PS:my kids are sad (since dad is away) so I want something like a fun first plane trip!


Monday 25th of November 2019

Hi Emily, all my best tips for what to pack for kids on the plane are already in this article. I think that the 6-year olds will be quite happy with in-flight entertainment and the baby will sleep a lot, so it's better to pack as little as possible. You'll need your hands to take care of the kids, and all the baby stuff will probably require quite a lot of space anyway. If I were you, I'd pack as little as possible. If you are looking for something fun for your twins that doesn't take much space, I can recommend boogie boards. My boys loved drawing on them and could spend a long time just doing that.


Saturday 24th of August 2019

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.


Thursday 29th of August 2019

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...


Sunday 23rd of June 2019

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.


Sunday 23rd of June 2019

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!

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