What’s in your backpack? (What to bring when flying with kiddos)

As a parent of a three year old daughter who’s not only precocious, but not one that’s interested in sitting still, and who’d rather play preparing for a plane trip can be intimidating. At home getting her to sit down for anything other than a meal or TV is nearly impossible. Now I know I’m not the only parent that has this dilemma, it’s a pretty common one in fact. Kids like to play, run around and just do stuff. And frankly that’s what I want her to do. It’s an important part of her child development.  Besides they can get bored easily, so having a slew of entertainment is important regardless of the situation. I’m not an expert in picking travel distractions, but with at least 15 air trips with our kid since she was eight weeks old, and taking three major international trips to the Maldives, Australia and London. I can at least say I’ve learned a few nuggets of information worthy of sharing.

The travel backpack

1-Bring several changes of clothes, and of various warmth levels. Planes get hot and cold rapidly and having layers and other options are really important. Plus accidents happen, whether it’s just a spill or they don’t make it to the bathroom in time. Having extras is always important. We always take two full extra sets, sure it’s a lot, but I’d rather have extra then not enough. I’m cheating here but also recommend an extra set for mom and dad. You never know when your kid will get you in the mix. Think peeing though a diaper and getting you wet or them throwing up on you. Not fun for sure, but if you don’t have to wear your dirty clothes for a whole day you’ll thank me. This second tip is especially important on long journeys or when kiddo is younger.

2-Bring Ziploc or wet bags. This goes squarely with number one. What do you do with the wet clothes after…put em in the bag of course.  We have these ones and love them. They can be washed and reused always a plus.

Our wetbag

3-Bring lots of snacks. You’d think this is obvious, but I’ve read so many stores of people not bringing them at all or getting stuck on the tarmac and not bringing enough, also what airlines offer free food, let alone stuff a kid might actually like? Bring stuff they like from home, also things that are single serve or reseal, so you don’t have to worry about them spilling in your bag when they only want half. The other really critical thing here is you can’t predict when your kid will get hungry (outside of normal meal times) or if you’ll have time between connections to get food. Or when you land finding food you want or a place that’s open. Our trip from San Francisco to the Big Island for example takes us through LAX and Maui, it’ll be 12 hours door to door. Between layovers getting to/from the airport it’s a long day. We can usually make do but little ones can’t or don’t understand, so making sure you have snacks and food is key. Also bring milk, especially if they still drink it at nap time and mealtime. Many airlines don’t stock this item outside of breakfast flights, and it runs out fast. A few boxes of shelf stable milk have gotten us out of many pinches in the past.


4-Entertainment, again a no brainier, but what do you bring? For us we always bring coloring books, stickers (she just loves them), now days flash cards (we might as well get some education in too), a couple of stuffed animals that we let her pick out, and unfortunately an iPad. This one always gets me, she’s only three and frankly doesn’t need to watch TV or movies, but since we seriously limit the TV at home, it’s a huge privilege to her. I think that’s what makes it work, since she maybe watches and hour a week if that, getting a bit of TV on the plane really helps. What really is hard for me, is that when I was her age we didn’t have that option and I turned out just fine. Well maybe I did, so when I see kids younger than her with their own iPad or Kindle just zoning out to TV it really bugs me. I want my kid to get out and play, get dirty in the yard and use her brain, and although she can learn from TV, she has a whole lifetime ahead to enjoy it. That being said, the iPad works, so we use it. Lastly we invest in kid sized headphones, they were more then I think a kids product should cost but, they fit, are decent quality and work. This ensures you’re not the parent that let’s their kid watch or play a game on your flight  and the whole cabin has to hear it. Seriously one of my pet peeves, and as I write this something I’m having to listen to from the kid in the row behind me. So annoying.

Toy time


5-Bring their favorite blanket. Well what I really mean is one from home they like or use. Not their favorite one if you can help it. The last thing you want to do is loose it, and have a kid loose it too. Apparently when I was one that happened to me and 40 years later my mom talks about it still. Besides the familiarity it provides, it also gives warmth, makes a pillow and a good hiding place when playing hide and seek.  It’s a multitasker.

6-Pay for a plane ticket for your child, I don’t care how young they are, it will provide you a bit of sanity and space. In the US, you can have a lap child till two years old, and not pay a fee to have them fly, you just need to tell the airlines when you book your ticket. The problem with this scenario is space and lack of it. With all the stuff you will bring regardless of what you think of my list, and the other items you’d augment it with you have to think about the five to 20 pound growth sitting in your lap. Not only is this not fun for you, it’s not fun for your new best friend the stranger sitting next to you. To me this is especially critical when most domestic planes have three seats across and you’ll either have one or two strangers sitting next to you who frankly are pissed you’re sitting next to them. I mean how many times have you been the one praying that the family of three doesn’t sit in your row? I know for me to say this is uncool, but it’s true. Space is a premium with shrinking seat width and depth and airlines finding ways to squeeze in more rows. In all of our little kids trips, some 100,000 miles we’ve only done two trips with her in our lap. The very first because  she was only eight weeks old, and we didn’t know any better, and then the second was a one hour hop to LAX. Although nothing catastrophic happened, we just found it a tough process to juggle a kid and all that comes with air travel. I know this view of buying a seat is not popular until you have to, but I think it just makes plane sense. Plus it goes with my next point.

7-Bring your car seat or other safety device, in our case at this age the Cares harness on the plane and use it. In our case we started with her bassinet car seat, then moved to a foldable car seat that will also convert to a booster. This one is made Diono. Then finally the Cares harness. All of these devices are FAA approved, although we have never been asked by anyone if they were. Again to me it’s about safety, as well as being able to keep them in one place. Plus since most kids sleep in their car seats it a comfortable and familiar place. One last point about this and I’ll get off my soapbox, would you consider not putting your child in a car seat when driving 50 miles an hour on the highway? Well a plane fly’s at 7x that speed. Enough said.


This might seem like a lot of stuff, but your peace of mind and sanity can go a long way. Also the quantity of stuff goes up or down depending on the length of the plane trip. We still brings these items for a trip to LA, but not as many items, and when we went to the Maldives, we brought twice the snacks and clothes. It was over 24 hours of air travel, and we needed to make sure we had enough stuff just in case.

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