How to organise your carry-on luggage when travelling with children

This is a guest post by Linda Andersom from Mums on the Go


You are travelling on a crowded plane with two small children. Your toddler manages to spill juice all over the front of his clothes only seconds before your baby pukes on hers. You are rummaging through your carry-on bag with one hand, trying to find some wipes and spare clothes for them both. Unfortunately, what you thought was a neatly packed bag this morning, resembles utter chaos as your toddler has already rummaged through it on the plane looking for his favourite toy. The kids are crying and you wish you were anywhere but on this plane right now. Does any of this sound familiar? I have travelled a lot on planes with my children and have discovered that some extra organising of what it is in my carry-on luggage makes a huge difference in those crazy mid-flight moments.

Here are a few of my sanity saving packing tips:


I always make sure I have more than enough packed to cover travel to the airport, the flight itself and the travel to accommodation. I split my supplies into two compartments in my carry-on bag:

  • My which contains 2 nappies, some wipes, 2 “stinky nappy” plastic bags and a change mat. This is easy to find in my bag and perfect to just grab hold of with one hand on the way to the toilets when a nappy change is required.
  • A large zip lock bag with the extra supply of nappies for the day prevent them falling out in my bag and makes them easy to find when I need them.


Depending on the length of trip, I will always carry a spare change of clothes and sometimes even two for each child. However, you want it to be as easy as possible to get your hands on them when you need them.

  • I have a supply of large zip lock bags. Each child’s clothes goes into one bag. You could also label the bags to make it even easier to tell which clothes belong to whom (helpful if asking your husband to find the clothes!)
  • Having clothes in zip lock bags achieves a few useful things: keeps them together and easy to find; prevents them getting wet/dirty if something else spills in your bag; easy to see what is in the clear zip lock bag, which prevents opening lots of things when looking for the clothes.
  • Pack light weight, non bulky clothes, as the spares to minimise the space they take up.


Endless supplies of snack food are my lifesaver on planes. Snacks create a distraction on take-off when my youngest does not want to be buckled in on my lap; ensures kids eat something during the flight because they rarely eat the meal provided on the plane; and, of course, may contain a very useful bribe or two!I pack the snacks in a clear takeaway container, which allows kids to choose what they want without any rummaging. Keeping it all in one container also ensures it is easy for me to find with one hand!

lunchbox for travel


  • I use the same principal as when we camp… Keep them small (but not tiny) and multi-purpose. Kids have wonderful imaginations so let them use it.
  • I always have a few new things packed as a surprise, such as stickers, new colouring book or small toy.
  • If you are willing to hand them over to your kids iphones (on flight mode), iPads or portable DVD players can be worth their weight in gold.

Next time you travel try out some of these tips and hopefully the journey will be easier and more enjoyable for you.


You may also like The Organised Housewife Traveling with Baby checklist

Linda Anderson Mums on the GoLinda Anderson is the founder of Mums on the Go ( – a directory of child-friendly businesses that help mums look after their own needs, even when they have kids in tow. Linda is Mum to two gorgeous girls and has her third baby on the way in August. For more helpful hints on travelling with children, visit Mums on the Go and connect on Facebook and Twitter.

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Kate July 11, 2012 - 1:55 PM

Lollipops for my kids are at the top of my packing list. Regardless of their age (my kids are 11, 9 & 6), lollipops are a lifesaver for kids with helping them equalise their ears on take-off and landing. The sucking of the lollipop easily takes care of ‘popping’ their ears. And if they’re not old enough, give your toddler/baby a bottle or drink with a straw to achieve the same result.

Daniella June 2, 2015 - 5:21 PM

We have been caught short a couple of times and the descent is about to happen – we have a “sucking thumbs’ competition between my 7 year old and myself. The aim is to get it as wrinkled as possible. Works to stop popping. Can get funny looks on the plane but I am usually past caring.

Kelly July 11, 2012 - 4:04 PM

This blog was just in perfect timing for my trip from Bris to Melb on my own with Mr 3yr old and Mr 8 mth old – Thank you for the many ideas as I was starting to stress about the thought.  Flying with one child was easy but never having flown with 2 I just didn’t know what to expect.

Linda - Mums on the Go July 12, 2012 - 11:00 AM

 have a great trip to Melbourne with your little ones. My personal experience has always been that the more organised I am before the flight the more calm and happy the exerience is for all of us … especially if I am flying alone with them. I am sure Mr 3 will be a wonderful helper 🙂 and if it all goes pear shaped … breathe deeply and remember the day will end! LOL   Happy travels – Linda

Kelly @ kiwiwomensstyle July 11, 2012 - 5:02 PM

Great timing for me also as we’re travelling UK to NZ next month with 4.5 and 2.5 yr olds.  Toys that I found priceless on the last flight were coloured pipe cleaners, plasticine, triangle shaped coloured pencils (so they didn’t fall off) and a couple of favourite stories.  Tip A – insist that favourite stuffed toys go into the hold.  These were my biggest bug bear to try and keep hold off during transit!

Thanks for your ideas – zip lock bags are awesome!

Linda - Mums on the Go July 12, 2012 - 10:55 AM

 I love your tips about triangle shaped pencils/crayons! I will be adding that to my packing lists in future 🙂  Have a great trip to NZ next month and hope zip lock bags make your carry-on luggage easier to work with during the flight. Linda

Rachael Edwards July 11, 2012 - 6:45 PM

We had a few plane trips when our third child was just a baby. We also had an 18 month old and a 3&1/2 year old, so 2 very young children to occupy. Probably the best advice we were given was to break the trip into 15 minute blocks. For every 15 minutes you need one snack and one activity, which will take about 5 minutes each, leaving you with 3 or 4 mins of boredom to deal with before they’re ready for another toy or snack, so a 2 hour flight you want 8 snacks and 8 activities/toys, though you could probably double up on a few. Stickers and colouring books are absolutely awesome!

JB Perth July 11, 2012 - 8:58 PM

Having just flowing with Miss 3 and Master 5 – spare clothes are a must for yourself as well as kids.  If they vomit, it is usually over you too!  Also take old thin towel (found old cloth nappies great) and face washers (with plastic bag).  These can be used as bibs when they eat to catch things falling off the tray, wipe hands & faces, clean up vomit, endless!  Make sure you are happy to throw them away.

Linda - Mums on the Go July 12, 2012 - 10:57 AM

 great suggestions! I always laugh when my husband wears a pale coloured t-shirt when flying with us and then complains at how dirty he is on arrival!!  Nothing I wear of my kids are wearing is “precious” as who knows what will happen to it during our travel day 😉  Linda

Brooke - Little Miss Moi March 18, 2014 - 12:28 PM

This sounds really bad (because I generally abhor matching outfits) but I dress my girls in matching outfit for flights (they only have one matching outfit, it’s become their ‘flying uniform’) when I am taking them solo. It helps me see them if they run off, and people know they belong together, and I figure if one gets lost at the airport I can point to the other sister and say “She’s dressed just like this”.

KJ July 12, 2012 - 12:17 PM

I never dress my kids in clothes I would be sorry to throw out, and change my own shirt to an old one on the plane. And yes, on long haul you need two changes! Having had an 18-month-old do a spectacular fountain vomit over herself and me, I was very pleased to put the whole lot in a bin bag. I also pack a lightweight bassinet or stroller blanket for each child (ours are 2, 4 and 6yrs old) for something clean to lay their head on in transit lounges, as they seem to collapse to the floor at the gates! Also… whilst not related to carry-on, stagger your meals if you are flying with your partner by requesting one meal at the beginning of the food service, so one parent can be (mostly) done before the other tray arrives 😉

nellbe July 12, 2012 - 1:41 PM

Wonderful tips, taking them all on board, about to head off to the States (from Aus) and taking my 7 and almost 3 year old. I need all the help I can get!

Linda - Mums on the Go July 12, 2012 - 6:47 PM

 Have a fantastic trip!

Amy Li July 15, 2012 - 2:10 AM

some of the toy manufactures put out small toy catalogues, I’ve picked up a Thomas and Friend train one and the Matchbox cars, all free of course. Found them in the toy sections. Small and compact to keep in my handbag, great for my 3 year to read on our flight to HK.

BelCC March 18, 2014 - 10:13 AM

What great ideas!! We don’t travel a lot but I’m actually planning on implementing some of them to just condense the about of stuff we cart around when out and about with our kids!!

KezUnprepared March 18, 2014 - 11:44 AM

Very helpful 🙂 We’re travelling in June! While we’ve travelled with our son as a 3 month old and as a 17 month old, we’re going to attempt it with him as a 2.5 year old and I never feel like we’ve mastered it because his needs/personality etc change each time!

Brooke - Little Miss Moi March 18, 2014 - 12:26 PM

Hi Kez, I personally thing 2.5 is the age when the kids start to be great travellers. They are over the excitement of wanting to walk everywhere, and activities such as colouring or movies can hold their attention for longer than 30 seconds! Good luck.

KezUnprepared March 18, 2014 - 2:50 PM

Thank you! I find that very encouraging 🙂

Brooke - Little Miss Moi March 18, 2014 - 12:24 PM

I always take a spare plastic bag for garbage, as the flight attendants never collect it regularly enough. I clean up as I go. I take a carry on bag that can fit under the seat rather than in the locker, so I can access things when the seat belt sign is on, and get us all packed up as we are taxiing along the runway. As most of my travel is international, I always keep passports and pens in an outside pocket for easy access when I have a moment to fill in the forms. Sometimes it takes three or four attempts! If I do the ‘new toy for the plane’ tactic, I always buy the same thing, because a different one will guarantee fights. And I take what I can carry myself – if I let my kids take a carry on bag for themselves, guess who ends up carrying it?

Rach March 18, 2014 - 1:51 PM

Thanks for the extra tips! We fly next week to Quebec Canada with a 5, 4, & 10 month old (& my grandma with dementia). Im starting to think we are crazy! This tips certainly help though 🙂

Louise March 18, 2014 - 6:01 PM

Great tips! I second the change of clothes for parents as when a small child tips over their drink, it WILL land on you. A backpack with leash for toddlers can save your sanity in a crowded airport, especially when your stroller is in Oversize Luggage and you are trying to simultaneously grab luggage off the carousel while keeping hold of your little one.

Maria March 20, 2014 - 6:46 AM

Great tips:) Other things I’ve found are: Take two bags: one for the things you definitely need (food, activities, and wipes mainly) goes under the seat. The other bag has the might-needs, and goes in the overhead locker (the nappy bag, spare clothes, and baby paracetamol (which I’ve used surprisingly often!)). Agree with spare adult clothes. I try to pack spare kids clothes that are interchangeable between them all. The other thing for toddlers is a sleeved bib- goes on at the start and doesn’t come off until the end! Finger puppets and stickers are great activities.

Alecia March 27, 2014 - 1:35 PM

We found that always having a bottle/sippy cup drink on hand for babies/toddlers, or lollypops for older kids is great, give them to them as we are taking off and landing to stop their ears from hurting.

Kat - The Organised Housewife March 28, 2014 - 9:14 AM

great idea, when we went to Fiji a few years ago it really effected the kids ears and mine too for that matter!

Jo June 2, 2015 - 10:17 PM

Totally agree with ziplock bags – all my stuff goes into individual ziplock bags! I also carry small spare ones for leftover snacks in the airport that they usually ask for 5mins after getting on the plane! Ir handy for stashing that half eaten Lollypop that they will ask for again!

I always packed a separate nappy, disposable change mat, small wipes & anti bact lotion inside a nappy disposable bag. I knew each individual bag had everything I needed to grab and go.
Re: meals if travelling with two adults – get one of the adults a “special meal” so that they can eat at same time as kids meal and then the other adult can eat once everyone else is finished and settled.
And I never travel without paracetamol and nurofen onboard the plane. You would be surprised how often you need it.

Mel June 2, 2015 - 11:33 PM

Having travelled to the Uk from Perth with 2 year old twins I would say I agree with all of the above! We also had 2 nappy pouches that fold out into a mat. They hold wipes and 2 nappies and made it super easy to grab and head to the bathroom. We also downloaded wiggles episodes on our ipad – thank goodness as my girls were too short to see the screen so the ipad was a life saver. We also used the cups, magazines and anything else on the plane as a toy – to supplement the activities we took on board.

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If you have a big suitcase then you will put more things. First, make a list that what you want to take during the tour. Grab your packing pieces which will make easier your packing. Keep your things in different packets. Roll your clothes. This helps to maximize space and minimize wrinkles. I have a suitcase which I bought at an affordable price.

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