The limited space for carry-on items can be daunting with the seemingly endless needs of children. However, there are some specific carry-on items you want to be sure you bring every time to make your life in easier during the travel time from home to your vacation destination. Travel is truly back following the global pandemic, but airlines don’t seem poised to handle the volume. I’m seeing unprecedented stories of delays and cancellations, both in the airports and on the planes, so it’s critical you are well prepared to handle what comes your way. With this in mind, as I sip my highly overpriced airport wine, I thought I would share some carry-on items that you should always bring with you on the plane, particularly when traveling as a parent. Get ready to put together your own Mary Poppins bag – the travel version!
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1. Toothbrush & toothpaste
For you and any travel companions! This way you can still freshen up when you are left stranded in an airport or if you must unexpectedly spend a night in a hotel without your checked luggage. Drop a travel-size toothpaste into a clear 1-quart clear bag for TSA compliance and bring your toothbrush in a travel-friendly case so it’s not leaving moisture on any other items.
Let’s be real: not only is airport food insanely overpriced but inevitably, the most inconvenient delays and cancelations happen in an airport where everything is already closed! Those growling tummies and whiney voices will drive a parent insane. I always have a few emergency granola bars, trail mix, crackers/goldfish, dried fruit (fresh fruits and veggies work well for shorter trips) … items that make a minimal mess and don’t require refrigeration. Just when you think you have enough snacks, throw in a few more. There is nothing worse than a hangry travel companion – no age limit on that one!
Bring your snacks in reusable bags or containers that you can rinse and reuse throughout your trip to be a more eco-conscious traveler. I love these from Stasher that are made of high quality silicone and can even be heated in the microwave. I also love these from Bumkins that come in assorted sizes and colorful prints and can be dropped directly in the washing machine for reuse.
Most importantly, whatever you select, make sure it is well sealed and the snacks aren’t going to cause damage to any other items in your carry on bag. There is nothing worse than trying to deal with a leak or a spill at 35,000 feet!
3. Hand sanitizer and wipes
Full disclosure – my name is Michelle, and I was a bit of a germaphobe long before Covid. I’ve always had hand sanitizer in my car, purse, and carry on luggage. Covid simply reinforced the importance of this carry-on item in my kit. The same goes for wet wipes, which are handy in countless situations. Both items can be purchased in assorted sizes for travel convenience. I try to use a small sanitizer and regularly refill from a bulk version at home to minimize waste. Be sure to place the sanitizer in a well sealed clear bag to be TSA-compliant.
4. Extra battery pack charger & multi-USB hub
If you’ve ever spent a moment in an airport experiencing mass delays, for example, due to bad weather, you know just what a premium is placed on finding a coveted electricity outlet. I’ve seen people argue over them. Save yourself the hassle and bring a battery pack with you at all times (don’t forget to fully charge it the night before your trip!). To add to this, with all the devices spread across the family, I can’t tell you how helpful having a multi-USB hub can be, either for an outlet or for your battery back. This will help save the inevitable argument about “who needs to charge the most”.
5. Change of Clothes + Stain Remover
A change of clothes is one of the most important carry-on items, not just for your kids but also for you! Ever had a kid throw up on you? Had a baby’s diaper blowout gone very very wrong? Or even a seatmate who knocks your coffee/wine/soft drink into your lap? Trust me, you need an easy-to-carry extra set for you too. Be sure to throw in a stain remover stick (I’m a huge fan of the compact Tide To Go Instant Stain Remover) in the bag to make easier work of your post-accident laundry.
6. Refillable Water Bottle
Look in a trash can just before you get to TSA screening and the items you will see most are half-drunk plastic bottles of water. It hurts my heart to see this wasteful practice, and at $5+ a bottle, the pain extends to my wallet also. Good news though – increasingly, airports are installing water bottle refill stations. These are designed to easily accommodate water bottles of all sizes and many even instantly turn on when a bottle is held underneath. In my head at least, these are a little more sanitary than refilling your bottle from a drinking fountain that, unfortunately, a lot of people often put their mouths on directly. I love this sustainable option and my inner-OCD loves seeing the tracking numbers that show how many “bottles have been saved” by a particular water station. Every effort counts! Plus, staying hydrated when traveling is extra important!!
Be warned though: When selecting a water bottle, be aware that a style including a fold or flip straw is possibly going to shoot water at you when you open it during your flight. That’s right, the pressure change after takeoff will likely transform your trusty water bottle into a water fountain. Go for designs that are leakproof, lightweight, durable, and shatterproof.
7. Mini-Version Medical Kit
Bringing prescription medications in your carry-on items is a hard and fast rule (this also applies to any medical-type equipment that your family requires). But are you making sure you have the right emergency over-the-counter meds should you get stuck? I always make sure we have some pain/fever meds (adult and child versions), anti-diarrhea meds, some allergy tablets, motion-sickness medication, and band-aids in a few different sizes. While much of the time you can find these items in an airport, prices are considerably marked up and only available if a store is open. It’s much easier to keep a small travel container for pills with this assortment and refill each time you are leaving for a trip. Note: if you combine the tablets into one small case as I do, be sure you know how to tell them apart and the appropriate dosages for the ages of your travel party.
8. Extra Face Masks
While many airlines and locations no longer require an in-flight face mask, my family are continuing to wear them. The reality is that this helps as a layer of protection against general coughing and sneezing germs during the flight, and I don’t want a lousy cold to ruin our adventure. But those disposable face masks can get a little gross after a few hours of travel. Food or drink can get on them, there might be some sneezing or coughing, you might accidentally leave one in an airport restaurant. Be sure to carry extras of your favorite masks so you always have a backup as needed, in all necessary sizes, for all members of your travel posse.
9. A Pen (and a backup pen!)
I always keep at least 2 pens in my bag, the extra in case the first runs out or gets left somewhere inadvertently. While this has always been handy for completing in-flight visas or customs forms during international travel, there are increasingly additional unexpected forms to complete since the onset of covid, so be sure to keep a writing tool easily accessible. This also comes in handy for an impromptu game of tic-tac-toe or dots and boxes during an unexpected flight delay.
10. A Hands-Free Bag Option
Every parent will tell you they need a dozen extra hands. Never is this truer than when you are traveling. Trying to keep track of little people, their gear, your gear, wallets, passports, and your mind – it’s a full-blown circus act. I literally couldn’t survive without a cross-body style option that allows me to quickly access the most urgent items: wallet, phone, passports – without having to set down one of the other items and dig deep into a bag. Select a bag with a sturdy strap, easily cleaned or water-resistant, and a reasonable size to accommodate key items without having to dig too deep.
5 Bonus Carry-on Items to Include for Long Haul/International Flights
Okay, let’s be real. The bathrooms on long-haul flights can get a little…. icky. However, I do like to get a little comfier with the shoes off, in a respectful way to other passengers. These slippers have grippers on the bottom, are lightweight, easily packable, and you can throw them directly in the washing machine when you get home!
2. Travel Adapter
Not just any travel adapter. Gone are the days when you could get by with a single plug. When your backup battery (see item 4) is spent, your travel adapter needs to be ready to accommodate multiple charging items at one time. Many designs are available that provide an additional 4 USB connections – so helpful! Go for a universal all-in-one design that adapts for assorted global regions without the need for multiple (translation: pieces you will lose) accessories.
3. Extra Set of Underwear
Can we all just agree that having clean teeth and clean underwear goes a long way to help you feel human again after a long-haul flight? Do yourself a favor and include this with your change of clothes. You can thank me later.
4. Wet/Dry Bag
Listen up if you aren’t familiar with these. These bags are versatile, lightweight, and a true blessing. Theoretically, these are designed for trips to the beach, boat outings, etc. In those instances, you are ideally keeping the water out of your bag. But when traveling, particularly with kids, these bags are invaluable for keeping all manner of dirty items contained.
5. Inflatable Foot Rest Pillow
This foot rest pillow is magic for helping your kid fall asleep on a long-haul flight. The particular benefit of this design is that it allows them to extend their feet in a more comfortable fashion while keeping their seatbelt buckled – essential for safety. This particular design has a 2-in-1 valve for quick inflate/deflate action without hauling a heavy pump. This item is a little bulky, so I would only recommend it for longer flights. Some airlines don’t allow this, so where possible, check in advance.
Wishing you travels that are just a little easier! Now tell me, are there any top carry-on items you recommend that we missed? Something you can’t live without? Comment below and Happy Roaming!
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