Packing a carry-on with a toddler

Packing a carry-on with a toddler

Packing a carry-on with a toddler

Packing a carry-on with a toddler

The most common questions we see when it comes to family travel or toddler travel and luggage:

Packing a carry-on with a toddler, today’s topic

Why are carry-on bags better?

Where do your checked bags go during an emergency landing?

What should be in your carry-on luggage?

What bag should you use?

Should your toddler or child have their own kids luggage?

I don’t think I can explain the importance of packing a carry-on with a toddler unless I explain what we have been through and why having a carry-on with a toddler, if it’s fully loaded for your 10-day vacation or just as a carry-on with a few essential items, is necessary for a trip.

Pucked on, emergency landings, missed connections. Air travel is just less predictable than you hope it is for a toddler.

Looking back, it makes sense people don’t pack a carry-on with a toddler. You have a stroller, a car seat, the vacation bags, and now you have to shlep around a carry-on. No thanks. 

We promise it will all make sense if you have a toddler. You don’t need to pack a regular bag and an additional carry-on for most people. We do suggest packing light and packing into a backpack or carry-on suitcase if you can. 

But for those brave hearts that want to experience the world with their children, packing a carry-on is essential.

Why are carry-on bags better

Why are carry-on bags better for toddler travel

When the cabin crew got on the overcome to inform everyone that we were going to be making an emergency landing in El Paso, we knew we would miss our connecting flight in Pheonix and would have to stay the night somewhere.

With a two-year-old, this was not the news you wanted to hear. It was already getting late, and we were running on very little sleep since our flight out was so early that morning. This was on our way back from Florida from a convention and 2 days at Universal and Disney. We were tired and wanted to be home. 

As we landed in El Paso, you could hear the people frustrated by the emergency landing and the time it was wasting. With less than .6% of emergency landings happening, it makes sense that people are mad. People were angry at a man who fell very ill the entire flight. The flight attendants attempted many things on the flight to help him and not do an emergency landing. But, sometimes, things are out of our control, and flight attendants and pilots have to make the difficult call not to continue on and opt for the emergency landing. 

In this case, it was fast! Less than 45 min on the ground in EL Paso, but it was already too late to make our connection, and they were not going to hold the plane for us Reno folk.

So off to Pheonix for an overnight we went. We made our way to baggage claim, but they were not. Everyone on our flight got their bags beside the missed connection people. 

Where do your checked bags go in an emergency landing, you ask?

Nowhere really. Many people don’t know that it can take hours to receive your bags after a missed connection flight after an emergency landing. The airline must ensure it is first safe to get the bags off the plane, then pack everything together and send them off to the prospective flights and baggage claim. The bags that don’t have a flight to connect to because it was missed must stay on the property until the next connecting flight. Um… what. 

Yes, you can request your bags, and it will take several hours to receive said bags. At 11:00 at night, we didn’t have time to wait hours for bags. They had rebooked us on a 6:45 am to Reno the following day. So off to the hotel for the night, we went.

What we did have was our carry-on bag with all our daughter’s essentials.

Diapers, blanket, Formula, pj’s for her, and a change of clothes. We had everything we needed to ensure our daughter felt safe and secure for the night, although nothing was as planned. We ordered food quickly and then off to sleep for the few hours we had.

So what should a carry-on have?

I read so many different resources and asked every mom I knew, how to fly with a toddler, but nothing is like an experience on your own, and I’m here to share ours.

Here is the flying with toddlers checklist

Let’s start with TSA and security since we have to base everything around their guidelines for air travel. 

Oh, the federal aviation administration, also known as the FAA. We love you so much. All jokes aside, we are thankful that you can quickly look up TSA regulations online and go through them. ALL of them… It’s a lot. But here are the most essential. 

You are competing against the FAA and your babies’ needs. Liquids and all. We have learned something new every time. 

Breast milk and Formula seemed to always get pulled and run through the Bottle Liquid Scanners. Put Formula and milk into clear, translucent containers, not plastic bags or pouches. They go through the Explosive Trace Detection scanner if they can’t put them in the bottle scanner. So pull them and make it easy.

Diaper wipe packs sometimes throw off the machines because of their alcohol or water content. SO they will pull your bag and go through everything. Easy fix, pull it out, send it through the x-ray machine by itself, and off it goes. 

The biggest thing we suggest is TSA pre-check. You don’t have to take your belt off, pull any necessary liquids out and walk on the nasty airport ground in your socks. Ew.

Having TSA pre-check, Global Entry, and Clear makes airport security go much more smoothly. 10/10, get a credit card that gives you a credit for that purchase—making it free. And totally worth it. We love our American Express Platinum for a lot of its perks. It does have a hefty annual fee, but we find it valuable and worth it.  One of the perks is access to some pretty cool airport lounges. – Platinum Card – Rose Gold Card

Those are my referral links for the credit card: I would love it if you applied using mine, you get a special bonus, and they also give me a very small bonus for sharing the word. It means the world to my family and me and allows me to continue to share with you. 

Diaper Bag

Your diaper bag will have the most items, but we like packing our own backpack and putting a lot of the essentials we will need quick access to in there, and the items we don’t need quick access to are in the carry-on in the overhead bin. You are also carrying the diaper bag or hanging it on your compact stroller through the airport. So you don’t want to overpack it and have a heavy bag to carry around.

Diaper bag essentials for toddler travel

First Aid Kit

Hand Sanitizer

Sippy cup

Everyone should have their own water bottles. All sippy cups are fine. Just remember if you have a closable straw sippy cup to either open the top before you take off or open the water over the floor and not your lap, so water doesn’t spill on you from the pressure.


New toys

Keep kids entertained with a new toy they haven’t seen. This works a lot better when they are younger. Once they hit toddler age, have them help you pick the toy out. Make sure to talk to them about the new airplane toy they pick out and how it’s for a special day. Surprise them on the plane with their new toy. 

Do not get toys that are loud or make a bunch of noise. Thank you from everyone on the plane. HA

Remember, you are with people who don’t even want to see a baby, let alone their new toy or cries. We like to tape the speaker so that even if it accidentally gets turned on in the louder setting, you are safe.

Another great idea for younger kids, not toddlers, would be card games. They can play with a sibling/parent or by themselves for a long flight.

Top Toddler Toys for the Airplane


Blanket and Lovie

Bring your child’s favorite blanket and lovies to help them feel more secure and calm, with the potential to fall asleep. We always bring a small blanket or travel blanket if Sloan wants to sit on the ground, so she doesn’t have her own blanket on the airplane floor. Double Ew 

If it’s a longer flight, we bring her a sleep mat



Yes, your traditional small books, but we like mess-free coloring books or as little clean-up as is required. This water coloring book is great, and so are these mess-free coloring books, stamp books, and markers. We also like activity books for older kids, and ISPY books are great for all ages.



We don’t always love the airplane snacks on all flights, so we like to bring our own bag of snacks for ourselves and our child. We found this bento box, which is the perfect snack holder for young children. We even have them filled in our cars at home, so you won’t want to buy just one.

Many people rave about these kids’ snack boxes or snackle boxes. They are larger than we would like for our luggage, so we opt for the bento box since it holds plenty of snacks. We like to pack items like apple slices, gold fish, cheez-its, pistachios, oranges, dried fruit, and fruit snacks. The options are endless, and you can have them help you pack it. 



iPad, Tablet, or Phone

Screen time is a great distraction for older children and younger children. The most significant difference for kids is the content they watch and play with. As she has gotten older, we have transitioned to more movies and shows than apps, but she still spends a good portion playing educational and fun games.

We created a list of the top 20 apps for toddlers

We love the kid’s fire tablet and a pay-as-you-go phone (no, we don’t activate it as a phone), but it’s cheap, has a ton of storage, connects to the internet well, and plays apps and streams. We opt for it over tablets most of the time.

Top tablets for toddlers

Fire HD 10

Fire HD 8

iPad – but for yourself and give them your old one ;)

Personal item

This is the standard purse checklist.

Chapstick, hand sanitizer, lotion, perfume, wipes, adult and children Tylenol, CBD (adult only), extra charger, phone cords, and empty water bottles. Wallet with credit cards and ID or passport if needed. 

We also like this electronics organizer, but a small zip-closure bag also works well.


Birth Certificate

You only need this while they are a lap child, and even then, they only checked it once. BUT bring it anyways, and make sure you bring it on any international flights. This should go in a special spot in your bag, so you do not lose any of your important documents while you are traveling. It should be packed and gauded like a hawk since it can be very hard to replace.

Diaper and wipes for a single change

Have one set in your essential bag for most domestic flights. If you need more diapers, you have easy access to get in your carry-on. You may only need to change them once on the plane, so you should not waste precious bag space with those bulky items.

Now the carry-on toddler packing list

If you can pack your entire bag in a carry-on, we HIGHLY suggest it. But, if you are flying with your toddler’s car seat and stroller, you will likely have to stop at baggage claim to get them no matter what. Airline guidelines are not the same across the board. 

For safe measure, if your stroller is fully collapsable and under 27 pounds, you can take it to the gate. If it fits in the overhead bin, you can take it on; if it can’t, check it. 

For car seats, you can bring them on the airplane as long as the car seat has a specific requirement and stamp of approval. WebMD wrote an entire article about why you should bring them on and some of the airline guidelines.

They only send child items out first at baggage claim, so you could be there while waiting for them so you can also grab your bags. 

On each trip, we determine how and if we will bring the car seat. There is a method to our madness.

Diapers, Wipes, and any other changing items

Both baby wipes and cleaning wipes.

We loved this changing pad set from Fawn when we were doing diaper changes. 


Reusable plastic bags for diaper changes 

We also like using a wet bag. Then dump it in the trash in a bathroom in the terminal. They are reusable and washable. You can also use a Ziploc bag for easy throwaway or these reusable ziplock bags.


Bag of toys. 

Small toys are best, and we suggest you have special travel toys that they can only play with sometimes, ensuring the toy will keep them a little busier than a traditional toy from home.

We also like UNO, an origami book and paper, play-doh, and books as other game/toy options for older kids. Ask them, pay attention while at home, and ask yourself what keeps them the most occupied.


Packing Cubes

I cannot stress this enough. Use packing cubes. We have tried the amazon vacuum bags, these {brand name} zippable packing cubes, and these standard packing cubes. 

I love these vacuum bags for long journeys, long-haul flights, and international flights, they allow you to pack extra clothes and not take up extra room. We also use them when we go to amusement parks since we do daily themes and need extra clothes for that.

We love these fabric compression Packing Cubes for your routine, shorter flight, or everyday road trip. I can pack enough clothes for a week in them, and they take up very little room in your travel bags. These were a little bit more of an investment, but totally worth it! Nordace makes the coolest backpack/diaper bag also. 

Then there are the standard packing cubes. They are not all created equally. We like this pack because it comes with laundry bags that we can use for smaller items, snacks, or dirty clothes. We also like this packing cube set also, and it’s very comparable in price.

Having clean, fresh clothes makes people happy. If you are skipping having everything in your carry-on and opting for a carry-on and a checked bag, make sure you pack spare clothes for all family members in the carry-on bag. Having an extra outfit for travel days is a good idea for potty training and any other random disasters that might happen. 

Nordace Siena Compression Packing Cube Siena Compression Packing Cube Packing cubes

Toiletry Bag

Packing for 3.7 fl oz is one of the toughest things. Not all brands make travel sizes, and if you have a routine you like to follow at home, travel will throw a wrench at that. 

We love these travel-size containers to fill with our own items, they even come with a small pill holder. When we found Amika, we fell in love with their travel products.


Dry Shampoo 



I love Tatcha for skin care items and travel sizes.


Face Wash

Starter Set



While we would love our toddler to pull her own luggage, she isn’t quite old enough to manage it the entire time by herself. So we opt for her to help with ours until she is ready for her own. She is learning how to do it independently, and then she will build independence and lighten our load.

When she does pull her own luggage, we have been eyeing this. It matches our Away set that we currently own.

If you want to know step-by-step how we pack our bags for trips, check out these trips here.

Let me know what your favorite tip is that you share with friends.


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