Air Travel Series: The Perfectly Packed Carry On

If I had to name one single decision that could make or break a successful flight with a baby or toddler, I would say it’s how you pack your carry on. Once you know what to bring (and what to leave behind), it can completely change the course of your travel experience. Below are my tips for making your life a LOT easier by properly packing your carry on bag with baby!

For all intents and purposes, when I refer to your carry on here, I am talking about your diaper bag. All of these items should ideally fit in it. I don’t believe in checking luggage ever unless I have to (the last time, aside from the flight when we moved from NYC to LA, was when I studied abroad in Australia for a month in 2006…truly – AND THEY LOST MY SUITCASE FOR 24 HOURS). If all these items fit in your diaper bag, your actual carry on suitcase will be completely free for the items you’re bringing to your destination, and you will never need to go into the overhead bin and fumble around trying to find anything. If you are traveling ALONE with more than one child – that is a different story for a different day.

I’ve broken my tips into 2 sections: those for babies and those for toddlers.

Carry On For Babies 1 Year and Under

Logistics

Wallet, phone & boarding pass – Keep them in a specific side pocket that is easily accessible for TSA check and boarding. Make it easier on yourself.

Copy of birth certificate – Teddy has been on almost 30 flights in 18 months (on 5 different airlines) and I have never been asked for his birth certificate. However, most airlines will tell you have it, so bring it in case, don’t risk it.

Gear

One muslin blanket – Or thicker blanket if you’re in a cold climate. This can be used to cover baby while they’re sleeping on the plane, to lay under them if they want to sit/roll around in the terminal while waiting for the plane, or even to cover you while nursing if you don’t use a nursing cover.

Nursing cover – If you are nursing. This is a lot easier to have something secured around your neck when you’re in a tight space with lots of people around.

Cloth dipaer/burp cloth

2-3 more diapers than you think you need

Wipes

Hand Sanitizing Wipes – I have talked about the Babyganics Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizing Wipes On-The-Go too many times to count. I never leave the house without them, and for air travel, I find them absurdly essential to wipe down the seatback, tray table, seatbelts….basically anything your baby is going to touch.

Clothing

Full change of clothes for baby (including socks) – s**t happens. And for young babies, it may happen a lot.

Change of shirt for you – I know this sounds crazy. However, I also know of SEVERAL Moms who have been pooped or puked on mid-flight with no accessable change of clothes. At least just toss in a spare T shirt – takes up very little space but will give you major peace of mind.

An extra warm layer if needed for destination/chilly plane

1-2 gallon zip lock bags – To put dirty clothes in if it comes to that. You don’t want a pile of poop clothes chilling open air in your bag.

*As a side note here about clothing – make sure baby is dressed in something that is EASY to take on and off. You do not want to be in an airplane bathroom fumbling with a one piece that has no snaps at the crotch and needs to be taken fully off to change a diaper. Planes are chilly too. Dress e’m warmly, even if you’re going somewhere warm.

Food

If you are exclusively nursing, this is very easy, because you boobs come pre-attached. Otherwise:

Bottles with pre-measured formula ready to be mixed – You can bring water through TSA as well with a baby, which is different from normal travel where they make you throw it out. Sometimes they will test it, but they have to let you bring it on.

Water or milk sippy cups – We use a separate cup for milk and water with Teddy, to help him distinguish between the two. I usually bring one of each, empty, and fill with milk & water in the airport lounges so it’s fresh and cold. For babies, I recommend the Nuby Non-Drip Sippy Cup for milk/formula and the Munchkin Click Lock Weighted Straw Sippy Cup for water.

Snacks – If your baby has started solids, bring a prepared snacks for baby in small, air tight containers – our favorite is the Munchkin Stainless Steel Snack Catcher. For babies newly on solids, pouches are a great snack – small,light, and spill proof. 

Toys

One small board book and a teething toy – They don’t likely need much. Teddy found the most entertainment from non-toys during his many baby flights (if you follow @bicoastalbabyb on Instagram, you know all about his hot and cold relationship with the Delta #luggagetag). I wouldn’t overthink it. Just give em an empty water bottle and you’ll have entertainment for hours.

Carry On For Toddlers 1-2 Years

Logistics

Wallet, phone & boarding pass – Keep them in a specific side pocket that is easily accessible for TSA check and boarding. Make it easier on yourself.

Copy of birth certificate – Teddy has been on almost 30 flights in 18 months (on 5 different airlines) and I have never been asked for his birth certificate. However, most airlines will tell you have it, so bring it in case, don’t risk it. This can potentially come in extra handy if your baby is close to the 2 year mark (or is especially big for their age) and the gate agent wants to make sure you’re not trying to lug a 3 year old in as a lap infant. I have heard of Moms getting asked for the certificate because of this, which makes sense.

Gear

Diapers & wipes (assuming your tot is still in diapers).

Hand Sanitizing wipes – I have talked about the Babyganics Alcohol-Free Hand Sanitizing Wipes On-The-Go too many times to count. I never leave the house without them, and for air travel, I find them absurdly essential to wipe down the seatback, tray table, seatbelts….basically anything your baby is going to touch.

Blanket and/or Mini Pillow – if it’s a long flight and they will try to sleep.

Clothing

Change of bottoms for diaper emergencies (and changes of underwear for potty trained kids)

1-2 gallon zip lock bags  – To put dirty clothes in if it comes to that. You don’t want a pile of poop clothes chilling open air in your bag.

An extra warm layer if needed for destination/chilly plane

Food

Water or milk sippy cups – We use a separate cup for milk and water with Teddy, to help him distinguish between the two. I usually bring one of each, empty, and fill with milk & water in the airport lounges so it’s fresh and cold. For toddlers, I recommend the Green Sprouts Glass Sippy Cup for milk, and the Safe Sippy Stainless Steel Straw Cup for water.

In terms of food – as Teddy has gotten past the 1 year mark, I don’t generally bring snacks for him from home unless it’s a cross-country flight. There are plenty of options in the airport lounge that he is happy with, and then food offered on the plane. Even if your baby is a lap infant and not in their own seat, they flight attendants will be happy to give them the complimentary snacks. For longer flights of course, I bring him his own food to make sure he has enough to eat and at the right times for his usual meals.

Toys

Special Travel Bag – Whether this is a single toy or a whole bag of toys, bring something NEW that your child hasn’t played with before (could be a coloring book, set of stickers, etc – don’t need to overthink it). The idea is that for trips going forward, they will know to anticipate something that is exciting and different – and will keep them occupied longer.

Headphones & tablet if your child uses one – I’m not going to get into screen time with you. That is your personal choice. If your kid uses a tablet, bring it. I PERSONALLY think a tablet is a great “special occasion” product for tots – only allowed in scenarios like long flights. If it’s something they use all the time, it’s less likely to hold their attention.

And there you have it – now you’re set up for a happy, non-traumatic flight with baby…or at least your diaper bag is!

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