10 Must-have Carry-on Items for the Traveling Toddler

Keep calm and travel light.

It's that time of year when parents, children in tow, take to the skies to travel for the holidays. Your first instinct when flying with toddler might be to cram everything but the kitchen sink in your child's adorable Thomas the Train roller bag, but trust me: Less is more.

First, let's talk about the bag itself. Ask yourself "is it something my child can manage solo?" Sure, they're not going to drag it through the entire airport (likely they'll be safely contained in a stroller), but it's hugely helpful if your toddler can walk onto the plane themselves, with their carry-on, giving you an extra hand for your bags, tickets, infant, water bottles, etc.

And trust me, small is OK, because here is a list of just 10 things you should bring, all of which should fit in a roller bag roughly 12 inches tall by 4 inches wide.

A "Lovey"

Toddler Travel

Whatever stuffed animal, baby doll or cuddly creature your child is currently obsessed with should be the first item in the bag. In addition to bringing your child comfort, he will get a kick of buckling it in with him on the airplane, which will help him stay in his seat.


Bring a few healthy favorites, but not too many. Half the fun (and a great way to kill time) is letting the toddler pick out a snack from the airport gift shop, or choosing one from the drink cart. Paying $5 for a bag of peanut M&Ms is ridiculous, yes, but the half an hour of time it will kill will be totally worth it.

Empty Spill-proof Cup

Most flight attendants happily will fill a spill-proof cup with juice or milk, avoiding some potential messes. That said, don't underestimate the entertainment value of a cup of ice and straw. Just remember it's water and will dry eventually.

A Coloring Book and Crayons

You don't need to bring the whole 96-count box, just a few crayons (or markers, if you're feeling brave) for doodling or games. Also, make sure to have one coloring or activity book with a few blank sheets stuck inside. If the mazes and connect-the-dots get boring, encourage your toddler to draw a thank-you picture of them on the plane for the flight attendants or pilot.


Stickers are cheap and disposable, a perfect in-air activity. Let your child stick them on his or her arm, clothes, bag, etc. -- whatever keeps them busy. Also, consider bringing enough to share with another family who might have a child who is struggling.

A Small Flashlight

My daughter is obsessed with mini flashlights. And flights, even those taken during the day, often are dark enough for the flashlights to shine. An obvious downfall here is that your toddler is likely to shine the light in your eyes, or the person sitting next to him or her. This is not ideal; however, I've found it's such a great distraction that being temporarily blinded a few times is worth it -- you decide.

A Book

Consider leaving the board books at home -- the trick here is to pack a book long enough that it takes a couple minutes to read, but not so big where it makes the bag too heavy.

Suckers, Gummy Candy, Etc.

Don't wait till their ears are plugged. Dole out these treats during take-off and landing just in case.

A "Surprise" Toy

Whether it's wrapped or not, a small surprise toy is always a good diversion to bribe/encourage your possibly stubborn toddler to stay in their seat and put up the tray table. This is always the last item to go in the bag, and if it doesn't fit, can be stored in yours to be pulled out when it's most needed.

Extra Necessities

I also pack the extra set of clothes, diapers and small blanket in my bag. They are bulky and often just get strewn around while your toddler is searching for the fun stuff in their bag.

What's not listed here, and is a must while traveling with toddlers, is an iPad or something similar. I recommend keeping it in your carry-on, as it is heavy, breakable, and expensive. In addition to her favorite games and movies, I always download a couple new ones for her to explore during the flight. I also try not to bring out the iPad until the novelty of the airport/plane has worn off.

So pack light and try not to stress. Holiday travel is exhausting, but can be managed with fairly few tears -- from you and your toddler.

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