What to carry for a fun flight with young children

Packing to travel by yourself is a snap (Oh, the joy of uninterrupted time on a plane!).

Packing to travel with young children is a whole new experience. Hopefully my experiences in traveling with kids can help make your trip even better. Here are a few things I tend to pack for carry-on to make travel more fun:

And on that note of packing, don’t carry it all yourself. From the time each of my children could walk, each carried his or her own backpack filled with all the fun stuff. I just carry the essentials, backups and a few extra entertainment options. And, of course, be sure your bags fall within the allowance of your airline. Check your airline’s website for details.

So what’s in those magic backpacks?

Stickers. These are great for sticking on paper, cups, seats, Mom… whatever. (Just be sure to clean them up at the end of the flight.) You could tell stories with the stickers, place them in books, or just give your child a sheet and let him go crazy. One of my kids likes the repositionable sticker books, but the others never took to them. To that end, a friend of mine swears by Colorforms to stick on the window or tray, but we’ve never tried them… we’ve had too much fun with the stickers.

Blank notebook or inexpensive scrapbook. You can use this for those stickers or for coloring, drawing, journaling or creating your own scrapbook as you go. (Plus, if you need scratch paper in a pinch you can always snag a piece.) We often go the scrapbook route and develop pictures along the way. We have pictures and drawings from friends met all over the world. And decorating the pages took lots of beautiful time.

Glue stick. Great for lots of on-the-go crafting. But remember, you cannot fly with scissors, so only bring this if you have shapes or scraps to adhere. You could cut a bunch of shapes before the flight and stash them in a zip bag. (Don’t worry about getting too creative here. I just punch a lot of the same shapes from my scrapbooking punches on scrap paper and we’re good to go. It’s the process you are working towards here, not a masterpiece finished product.) You could also bring magazines or use the inflight magazine to go on a scavenger hunt through the magazine and rip out specific pictures and stick them in the notebook. (Look for babies, happy grownups, interesting buildings, flowers, things that start with a particular letter…)

Markers, pencils or crayons. This goes with that notebook and any other activity books you may bring. Consider Crayola’s new triangle crayons which won’t roll off the tray for the younger kiddos. I usually slip the crayons and other art supplies inside a plastic zipper pencil bag. This makes them easier to find and more difficult to lose.

New magazines or activity books. Or download activity pages off the internet and put them in a bradded folder to make your own activity book. I like the magazines like Highlights and Ranger Rick that have stories and activities. Activity books with ‘magic’ markers that reveal hidden ink are a lot of fun.

Lightweight books. You don’t want to weigh down those backpacks, but reading is always a good idea, so go with the paperbacks if you can.

Small pad of sticky notes. Almost as good as stickers. My kids love to stick them everywhere.

Small toys. My boys have been entertained by Legos and small cars for hours at a time. (Yes, HOURS.) Don’t underestimate the power of simple, classic toys. You might consider packing tray or box to hold the Legos to keep them from dropping.  Likewise, my daughter is well-entertained by a little bag filled with bracelets and necklaces or her baby, its clothes and a bottle.

Empty sip or straw cup or water bottle. To use during the drink service and lower the chances of spilling during turbulence. Just be sure it is empty when you go through security for obvious reasons.

A few snacks to be eaten whenever your child wants… oh the freedom! Pack something fun and an old standby.

And the really magic item… a lollipop. This is for takeoff and landing (I pack the second in my bag.) so your child will be sucking and consequently alleviate the potential for ear pressure and pain. If your child is too young for a lollipop, consider nursing/feeding, a pacifier or a sip cup (fill it with something after security so you’ll be ready for takeoff.)You can usually find safety pops at a dollar store for the younger ones. My children know they may not eat the lollipop until we are cruising down the runway and about to takeoff. Don’t let them begin licking when you first push away… you might sit there a long time. I don’t worry as much about landing for the older kids, but I do try to get the younger one to snack on some crackers or drink on the way back down for the same reason.

What about movies and video games? Bring them, but try to hold off as long as possible, unless you are nearing a melt-down. We try to have them as tools (bring earphones and extra batteries) but not rely on them too much. This means when we REALLY need them, they always do the trick. On one flight it was not possible for all of us to sit together. So, on a three-hour flight, our two boys, then almost 3 and almost 5 years, had to sit a few rows away from us. And we knew the movie would keep them happy for the bulk of the flight.

Depending on the age, your child might pack a few of the items himself. But don’t let him pack the whole thing… that would spoil the mystery and excitement. And beware of packing all brand-new to you items… you might want to give new toys a test-run a few weeks in advance to avoid packing any duds. Just stash them away once you know they are winners so the newness doesn’t wear off. (This is a great time for toy-swapping with friends. And cleaning out the depths of your own kids’ toy stashes a few weeks before the trip might yield some old long-lost favorites, perfect for resurrection on the flight.)

And what’s in my bag? It depends on the length of the flight, but I typically pack extra clothes as required by each child’s age, extra snacks, the laptop for movie-watching and the movies, extra batteries, my digital camera (this can be entertaining for them, as well), my ipod with my music, kid music, a few narrated children’s books and children’s tv shows, tissues, wipes, water bottle (filled in the airport), gum, a magazine or book and my journal. I also bring extra zip bags for whatever may come up and extra return address labels to stick on anything that needs my address.

You might consider bringing a few things for airport entertainment, as well. Here are a few things that have worked for us:  a gallon zip bag of Legos and other small toys, a beach ball to inflate and play toss, a small bottle of bubbles (like the ones given as party favors. You’ll need to put it in your zip bag of liquids and declare it at security.) The bubbles are great for all sorts of waiting times: waiting to check in, waiting to board, waiting for luggage, waiting for the rental car…

What do you pack in your kids travel packs? Any tips to share?

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  1. says

    Great list! Don’t forget extra clothes for mom and dad, too. I once had to walk down the breezeway with my sweater refashioned as a skirt, my toddler wearing my baby’s onesie as a shirt, and the baby in just a diaper! Oh my… I considered using the airplane blanket as a sarong, but wasn’t sure I could pull that one off.

  2. says

    These are excellent tips. We’re flying next week and I’ll be packing almost everything on your list. In fact, we went to Michaels today to buy stickers, notebooks, and markers. And my husband is out buying lollipops right now! :)

    Thank you!

  3. says

    We’re traveling at Christmas – by plane or truck is yet to be decided but we are traveling – so I’m bookmarking this post. Thanks for all the great tips!

    Found you via Metropolitan Mama


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