After having “non-rev” privileges with Southwest Airlines, Christy dove into the world of points and miles so she could continue traveling for free. Her other passion is personal finance, and is a cer...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Being a mom of an 18-month-old and a frequent traveler, I’ve had to quickly become knowledgeable about strategically packing when traveling with a child. By far, the most significant adjustment was toddlerhood. No longer content to be held in a baby carrier or sleep the majority of the flight, traveling with my toddler is a whole new ballgame when I compare it to traveling with her as a baby.
Not only do you have to make sure your child is fed, clean, and safe, but you’ll also need to keep them occupied for the flight! So, after traveling with my baby for 18 months (20+ flights, including 6 long-haul flights), what do I keep in my carry-on bag? And how do I adjust this when traveling domestically versus internationally?
When I found out I was pregnant, it wasn’t a question as to whether or not I would travel with my child. My husband and I love to travel, and while we knew the style of travel would change, we never considered putting our travel plans on hold. Being the Type-A person I am, I started developing my baby registry to include many travel-specific items.
So, what items do I repeatedly reach for when packing for my trips? First up, domestic (or short-haul) flights.
Flying with your baby’s car seat is a huge consideration. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I’ve primarily flown in business class seats, and car seats don’t fit in these seats.
The other times I’ve flown in economy, I didn’t purchase a seat for her, so I’ve generally gone without a car seat. Being buckled into a car seat is the safest way for a child to fly, so once she turns 2, I’ll be bringing these along:
Having a hangry kid on your hands isn’t fun for anyone. Delays could always mean a missed meal or snack, even if you’re planning a short flight. It’s tough because most flights only offer small snacks, and those options aren’t always safe for little kids. It’s always good to have plenty of kid-friendly options available. Here’s what I pack for mealtime:
Regarding food and drinks for toddlers, TSA notes that “formula, breast milk, juice, baby food, and even liquid medications in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces are exempt from the 3-1-1 liquids rule.” For example, you can bring a “reasonable” amount for liquid pouches like yogurt and applesauce, considered “medically necessary items.”
Kids get into everything. Attacking the seat, belt buckles, armrests, and tray table is usually my first order of business once I get to our seats. Beyond that, having some other essentials is key:
While I do offer my child some screen time, I try to keep it pretty limited. This means I’ve gotten creative with how to keep my little one occupied.
What works for you will depend on your child’s age, but here is what worked for me on our most recent flight with my 18-month-old daughter:
There are a few last items I’ll throw in my carry-on luggage:
Depending on the destination, I’ll pack either my UPPAbaby Minu V2 travel stroller or Liki trike by Doona. These fold down super small and fit in the aircraft’s overhead compartment. While it technically counts as a carry-on, I’ve never been asked to gate-check my stroller, even if I’ve maxed out my limit of items.
International flights are typically long-haul flights. This means more time on board, more food, diapers, etc., that I need to pack. I also bring gear to help my daughter sleep.
Regarding safety considerations, not much changes, no matter the destination. Bringing a car seat is a good idea if you have the space and don’t mind carrying another item.
While I brought a car seat on my most recent trip to Italy, I couldn’t use it on the plane because we were flying in business. I just checked the car seat in a bag instead.
Honesty, you’ll just need more of everything when it comes to food and drinks. You’ll likely miss multiple meals, and airplane food isn’t generally kid-friendly. I’ve always ordered the infant meal, but what I am given varies wildly.
For example, Virgin Atlantic offered organic pouches for my child. These were a huge hit! On other flights, I’ve gotten bottles of yogurt (a mess waiting to happen) or even plain baby biscuits.
In addition, for international flights, I also pack:
Ensure you finish (or throw away) all fresh fruits and vegetables before disembarking. Entering another country with these items is a big no-no and can get you into hot water with customs officials.
I like to use overnight diapers on long flights. It’s hard to gauge exactly when your child will fall asleep (or for how long), and the last thing you want to worry about is how long a diaper has been on. I’ll change these typically while she’s awake, but they are just a nice buffer!
I don’t own a plane-friendly bed, as I’ve been lucky enough to fly all of my international flights with my daughter in business class.
Baby beds are not allowed by all airlines and are at the discretion of your flight crew. While they can be a huge game-changer, you are not guaranteed to be able to use them. It’s always good to be prepared if you cannot use one.
You may also be eligible to use a bassinet for your child, but most have height and weight restrictions. For example, my daughter hasn’t fit in a bassinet since she was 11 months old.
If you plan to get ahead of jet lag, a pair of pajamas can also help keep your home routine intact and set the tone for bedtime.
In addition to the items listed above, I always have an iPad with some emergency YouTube episodes (Ms. Rachel is a favorite), just in case! I haven’t had to use these on flights so far, but it’s always good to have a backup option.
Wireless toddler headphones are also ideal, as the airline’s headphones may not be a great fit for smaller children.
Don’t forget to bring your travel documents, including passports for the entire family, when traveling internationally!
Traveling with a toddler hasn’t been the most relaxing experience, but I’ve found ways to make it less painful. Having all of her necessities on hand, toys, and lots of snacks, has helped me navigate my numerous travels with my 18-month-old. While it takes much more thought and planning, I’ve loved experiencing the world with her by my side.
You’ll want to make sure all of your toddler’s basic needs are met, including food, drink, diapers, and wipes. You’ll likely want to include plenty of toys to keep them entertained as well. Depending on how long the flight is, you may need to bring other items to help them sleep on the plane.
Each airline and fare class has different rules. In many cases, if you’re not buying a seat for your child, they are not entitled to a carry-on item. However, once they are older than 2, your toddler is generally entitled to bring on a personal item, so a backpack would be allowed. Be sure to check the rules and restrictions when booking your ticket to confirm.
Yes, you can bring water on the plane for your toddler. You can either bring a reusable bottle to refill or purchase water once you are through security checkpoints.
TSA notes that “toddler drinks and baby/toddler food (to include puree pouches) in quantities greater than 3.4 ounces or 100 milliliters are allowed in carry-on baggage and do not need to fit within a quart-sized bag.” This means you can bring plenty of snacks for your little one’s next flight.
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This bonus value is an estimated valuation calculated by UP after analyzing redemption options, transfer partners, award availability and how much UP would pay to buy these points.