Packing a perfect carry-on bag is more than a science, it’s an art form. One I am still working on perfecting; I learn something to improve upon every time I fly. I know not everyone sees it this way, but they just don’t know how to have a good time. My goal whenever we are taking a trip or undertaking a relaxing activity is to spend as long as need be planning and prepping for it ahead of time so there is as little work as possible during the trip or adventure.
Back to the art of packing a carry-on, (it warms my heart just thinking of it). When in college, (and checking bags was free), I would check my suitcase and literally walk on the plane with a backpack that had in it my travel information, personal items and a book. I had been pulled out of line and had my bag emptied out too often. I had it down pat; carry as little as possible. Fast forward several years later: after more lost luggage than I can count, spending nights in the airport, in a free airport hotel (which wasn’t as nice as spending it in the airport), and a hotel I had to pay for myself after delayed or canceled flights I no longer worry about packing light. The one things that has stayed with me is packing in a security friendly manner in order to move through security with my toddler, stroller and two bags faster than most businessmen who have to take off their jacket, belt, shoes and laptop.
Rollerboard, (standard overhead compartment size rolling suitcase)
Bag, (tote or backpack, 1 per adult)
Soft Structured Baby Carrier, (such as an Ergo)
*Stroller, (stroller will be checked at the gate)
Bag – This bag can be whatever you like; it’s going to be your ‘go bag’. It can be your diaper bag, a large purse, a backpack, a laptop bag or whatever you like. I actually use a security friendly laptop backpack I have from traveling for work. It’s not a family bag at all, but it means I don’t have to take my laptop out when we go through security and that’s pretty handy. In this bag you are going to want anything you are going to need to access for yourself and your toddler before getting on the plane. I transfer all important items from my purse into this bag and put my emptied out purse into our checked luggage. You will also have any travel documents, and passports. For your toddler you are going to want a few things to entertain them, but the airport and airplanes alone will be a lot of entertainment in themselves and I would recommend saving as many things as you have to entertain them with for the plane when you don’t have any other options. Also for your toddler you are going to want diapers and wipes, (if need be), an extra set of cloths, and food. The last thing you’ll need to make sure to include is anything you’ll need to pull out while going through security.
Rollerboard – This has everything else. I like to keep this as organized and streamlined as possible. I’m not interested in my underwear landing on the floor as security is searching my bag. The quick list for what’s in the suitcase is:
Electronics & Chargers
Toddler Sleep Things
Toddler Awake Things
Extra Toddler Supplies
Electronics and chargers is pretty simple. Your electronics you don’t want to or can’t check as well as chargers for computer and phones. Even if you have a 2 hour flight and aren’t planning on using your computer if you get stuck somewhere you may want it. It doesn’t matter how good your battery life is; carry your charger with you. If you accidentally leave your phone on during the flight you’re not going to have any battery left when you land.
Toddler sleep things; this is going to vary drastically based on child and flight time. This is also where I cut things out if need be based on how much room I have. If there’s room I try to bring a small blanket and pillow as well as my toddlers’ favorite bed-time animals. The pillow and then the blanket are the first things that get cut if space is an issue. If your child sleeps with a 36” teddy bear that’s probably not going to make the cut either. The goal is to have just a few things that will help my little one feel like they are “going to bed” while on the plane.
Toddler awake things; this is probably where I differ the most from other advice I have read. There are lots of cute bags, backpacks, and rolling luggage out there for little ones. And I can understand the sentiment about wanting them to learn to carry their own things. But I’m less concerned about turning the flight into a learning experience as I am about having the easiest time possible. And when I see the parent trying to carry a miniature disney backpack along with the rest of their stuff or telling their child “if I have to tell you to pick up your bag one more time…” it doesn’t look like anyone is have a good time. So I’m going to choose to make flying about making my life easier and pick another day to teach my child to carry their own things.
So this is going to sound completely strange, but I do use one of those mini-me backpacks. However, I choose to put it inside the rollerboard. When we get on the plane if it’s going to be sleep time the sleeping things come out and the suitcase goes in the overhead, but if it’s going to be awake time the backpack comes out and the suitcase goes in the overhead. The other thing about the mini-me backpack that I do a little differently is I pack it. This is not the moment I use to include my toddler in getting ready for the trip. In fact I pack it with no input from them at all, after they are asleep if possible; I want it to be a surprise. I pack it with toys, food, books, sometimes a small baby blanket; some of the things they have seen before and may be their favorites and some are brand new. – Looking at the length of this post, I think you are going to have to come back for Part #4 to see what I pack this with.
Extra clothes, for everyone! I pack extra underwear and a shirt for myself and husband and then a completely extra outfit for our little one; (this makes 2 so far, you have an extra one in the “bag” as well). I pack these in a clear air bag, it will save you a little bit of space; but more importantly it will help keep everything organized and be easier for secruity to see through if they search your bag.
Extra toddler supplies, this can be everything and anything. If your little one is still in diapers you will want lots of extras as well as wipes. You will also want extra food and snacks and of course you may want yet another outfit or at least pants for them, (making 3 extra sets of clothes).
We are almost done. Packing your carry on like this may take a while the first time, but if you find it works for you, you will also find the packing will go far faster the second and third time around.
So far we have your “go bag” and your rollerboard, which I recommend strapping together with this handy dandy thing. I just bought this less than a year ago, and can’t believe I didn’t buy it sooner! I could ramble on for a whole other post about my love for it, but I can’t believe there is anyone out there who would want to read such a post, so i’m just going to say, trust me and get it!
The last two things are a soft baby carrier and the stoller. You can read all about my stroller thoughts here. As for the soft baby carrier I know it seems redundant, and unnecessary when you have a 3 year old that can clearly walk on their own. But again, I’m going to vote for making my life easier on travel days. While in the airport the carrier just stays under the stroller, in fact it’s the only thing under the stroller and can stay there when folded to go through the x-ray machine at security. When preparing to board the plane my toddler goes on my back in our Ergo. It means that I have two free hands for the boarding process. I can use one hand to fold and carry the stroller to the end of the jet way and have a second free hand to roll luggage. Even when I’m not flying alone with my little one I still do this, because it cuts down on have to chase her anywhere or tell her she can’t sit in first class we have to go find our seat. She’s safe and I have two hands for whatever I need. As soon as we get to our seats I let her down to unpack the emergency information and headphones from the back of all the seats in front of us while I take out sleep or awake entertainment and safely put our suitcase in the overhead.
When getting off the plane we do it in nearly in reverse. At the end of the flight before the fasten seat belt sign goes on I return everything to the suitcase that came out of it and place it back in the overhead. Once we land and the fasten seat belt sign is off I gather our things in the seat, (which should all fit in our “go bag”) and put her pack in the Ergo. Upon seeing us like this someone always offers to help us get down our suitcase; (which I could do on my own if need be, but is certainly safer for someone without a child to do). We then exit the plane, and get our two bags strapped back together for easy rolling while we wait for our stroller. If it’s a fast connection I just leave her in the Ergo and go directly to the next plane if we are at our destination or if we have more time once we are off the jet way I find a place to pull over and put her back in the stroller.
Next week I’ll cover entertainment for a toddler during flying, but until then you can catch up on what you’ve missed so far: