What to pack on a trip with kids when flying.
Our family loves traveling and we go and do quite frequently with our kids. However, we always drive. We have taken ONE trip in the almost decade that we’ve been parents where we flew and brought along one of our kids (it was our first baby, he was just over 6 months old and we went to Mexico).
There is a MUCH bigger world out there than just within our driving distance and we want to take our kids to further away locations. However, both flight travel and just traveling super far from home are pretty dang intimidating with little kids!
We recently took our first flight with three of our four children (we left the infant at home with grandparents). We flew from Georgia to California for a week! It was a LOT of prep to get ready for the trip and I put a lot of time and thought into what to bring, how to pack, and how to make the travel experience as smooth as possible for us all.
Being strategic with luggage is very important. Again, we travel a lot with our kids. So I’m pretty good at packing but I’m used to packing for a car trip. Where you have a LOT more space for storage of items and no weight limits or confinements to just one suitcase.
We have a Delta Skymiles Credit Card which allows everyone in our party to check one bag each for free. Y’all this was a game changer for our flight. I was able to pack FIVE checked bags PLUS a carry on for each of us as well.
When it comes to actual packing…planning is crucial. By knowing what you’re doing each day of your trip it makes it SO much easier to pack light because you can only pack exactly what you need.
Planning on flying with a baby? Extra planning and prep is so important! Be sure to read this guide from My Favorite Job Title is Mom for flying with your infant.
We had an itinerary for our plans and I packed each child’s outfit for each day in a gallon size ziplock bag. Including their underwear, socks, and any accessories. I then labeled each bag with their first initial and which day the outfit was for them to wear.
Not only did this make packing SO much simpler but it made the flow of the trip smoother as well because each morning all the outfits for the day were ready to go and easily accessible (in the hotel I just assigned a drawer to each child and had all their bags tossed in their drawer).
By packing clothes in the gallon bags it’s easy to illuminate all the air in the bag which allows it to be rolled tightly for suitcase packing.
When I pack for a flight I like to fit as much as possible in the carry-ons. Not only does this lighten the checked bags to make sure we’re under the 50 lb limit but it also ensures I have my stuff. Nothing is worse than arriving to your destination and learning that your luggage traveled somewhere else! I always pack at least the first couple days of our trip into the carry on bags!
For this trip I was able to pack all of the outfits for all three kids for an entire week into 1 side of a large checked bag and 1 side of a carry on! Pretty impressive!
It was important to me for each child to have their own book bag for the flights. I wanted to make it so we could ALL ENJOY the flight and so neither my husband or I would spend the whole time digging through our bags for each kids items that they wanted.
If you’re taking a longer flight then there will be screens in the seats with tons of kid-friendly movie options to enjoy. All you need are headphones to watch them!
I kept reminding myself of this and knew that the kids would be SO excited for movies on the plane that they wouldn’t need a lot of other things to do.
However I also knew we’d have layover time in the air port, time sitting on the plane prior to take off, and the possibility of a screen not working (I never fully trust technology!).
In their bags I packed a small blanket in case they got cold (as well as a light jacket), head phones for the movies on the plane, their tablets (fully loaded with non-wifi needing games and books), some simple coloring and activity books (Where’s Waldo for our oldest, water color activity books for the younger ones), and SNACKS.
Have a toddler? Here’s a great post on activities for the plane from Carpe Diem Our Way!
Downloading games on their tablets (making sure they don’t require wifi!)
Yes, planes have movies but with layover times tablets are SO handy!
We bought all of our kids an inexpensive Kindle Fire (and case!) for the trip
Packing your own headphones avoids having to buy any in flight and mess-free coloring activities are great for when kids need a break from the screens!
I’m a big believer in snacks are where it’s at when traveling with kids. Keeps ’em happy. Keeps ’em quiet! My kids were beyond excited about the snacks! I happened to come across a crazy clearance deal on candy and stocked up. In the week leading up to the trip I divided out all the treats into little portion size snack bags and then combined the goodies into a quart size bag labeled for each kid.
I packed a snack bag per person per flight. So they had one snack back for the travel to our destination and another snack bag for when we checked out at the end of the week and headed home. I also packed additional snacks for our days on our trip as snacking on vacation is part of the fun 😉
Allowing each child to have control over their snack bags worked out so well to make the flights easier on my husband and I and the kids LOVED having that responsibility!
When you don’t fly often, or especially not with children, it can feel overwhelming to keep track of what is allowed and what isn’t and all the ins and outs of airline travel.
Our trip to California included several days at Disneyland. We knew that would require a lot of walking and that we’d want a double stroller so both of our younger kids could ride in it during our time at the theme parks. With Disney you can rent strollers at the park…but what about the walking to and from the hotel? What about the walking through the airport?
We decided to purchase a basic double stroller to take with us. It folds up easily and compactly and had plenty of storage for things we’d want to carry with us to the parks. We have a heavy duty double stroller at home but couldn’t fathom dealing with that at the airport nor did we want to risk it having any sort of damage in flight. So purchasing one worked out to be the best bet for our needs and it was cheaper than if we’d rented from Disney!
A great thing about bringing a stroller to the airport is that you can check it at the gate. Meaning you can keep your children in the stroller throughout your time in the airport and then when it’s time to board you simply let the flight attendants know and then park it outside the door to the airplane and pick it back up when you land.
Another advantage of having a stroller and small children when flying? You get to board the plane first! This is so nice because you have time to get everyone settled in and such before the flight takes off.
I made sure to do a test run with the stroller before we left to see how it’d hold up with our Disney items! You can see the stroller we purchased here.
Wanting to compare the BEST light weight strollers for the plane? Read this post!
The trickiest thing for us to figure out for the big trip were car seats.
I’m hardcore when it comes to car seat safety. My kids stay in the safest seat possible for as long as possible. Meaning my four year old is still rear facing, my six year old is still in a 5 point harness and my nine year old is still in a high back booster.
I knew we’d be using Uber to get from the airport to the hotel and that we’d be renting a car for one day of our trip. I knew I’d want to make sure the kids were safe in the cars but also was realistic about it. I wasn’t about to lug their massive car seats from home through an airport. While I believe in being as safe as possible with my kids in the car, I’m also realistic and I know that most people aren’t nearly as hardcore as I am about it and that for a trip like this it was okay to lower my standards a bit.
First we discussed the four year old. In no way was I okay with her being forward facing in the cars on the trip. I did my research and found that the Graco Contender 65 has a decently high rear facing limit and is among the lightest car seats of its kind.
We debated how to get the car seat with us through the airport. Car seats can be gate checked like strollers or they can also be checked with regular luggage for free. They do not count as one of your checked bags. We decided to go that route and purchased a car seat travel bag (we also got one for the stroller) to help protect it in flight.
We simply checked the seat with our luggage and then picked it up in baggage claim when we arrived (since car seats are considered bulky items they will not usually be in the carousel to pick up but will be located nearby). It worked out so well!
Perfect for a post-beach nap during our trip!
When it came to the older kids I know that most kids their ages (six and nine) are in booster seats. Even though we still have them in a 5 point harness and a high back booster I know we are in the minority on our car seat hardcoreness.
For this trip I did a LOT of research and was super impressed with BubbleBum travel booster seats. They are the original, award winning, inflatable booster seats and were developed by a mama of two who struggled with traveling with kids and wanted a simple solution to keep kids safe while also making travel easier. I’m so thankful to the company for sending me two of the seats to try out on our trip and we were blown away impressed.
A few facts about BubbleBum seats:
- For ages 4-11 and 40-100 lbs
- Chosen as the “Best Bet” for the last six years in the booster seat evaluation done by the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety)
- Highly rated from my go-to car seat safety sight: Car Seats for the Littles
- Expire after 4 years
- Only weigh 1 lb and come in a super handy travel bag
- Has several different patterns to choose from (I went with basic black)
- Older children could easily inflate and install on their own with no help!
- Helps to easily fit three seats across in a car
They are inflatable booster seats. Meaning they are SUPER compact and lightweight and perfect for travel and then they can be inflated very easily by mouth to use in the car as a booster.
I stored them in one of my carry on bags and both boosters fit in half of one side of a carry on. I didn’t use the bag that came with them for storage as I wanted to make it as quick as possible to get to them when we were ready to go! They took up very little space and when we arrived at the airport and were waiting on our Uber we just inflated them. It took just a few seconds to inflate each one…nothing like trying to blow up a swim float in summertime!
Quick and easy to inflate!
The seats then work just like a regular booster and allowed for both of our children to be at proper heights for the seatbelt to sit correctly, and safety, across their shoulders and chest. They were a breeze in Ubers (and our rental car) and it was so nice that we could deflate them quickly to store once we reached our destinations. They worked great for the shorter rides but also the longer time we spent in the car during our trip to the beach. The kids all said they were comfortable and their belts stayed in proper positions.
The seat made the six year old feel SO GROWN since she wasn’t in her regular 5 point harness…while our nine year old was like “why can’t I use this everyday at home?”
They are for ages 4-11 and when we had a last minute Uber need in order to make a dining reservation less than 2 miles from our hotel (but too far to walk quickly enough to get there in time) we even used the booster for our four year old. She did GREAT and was SO PROUD. Not something I’d do on a regular basis but again just so perfect for those in a pinch moments especially while traveling!
You can see that the BubbleBum seat is inflated and gives her the boost she needs to have the belt be positioned properly and the hook on the booster seat also helps ensure the seatbelt is properly aligned!
We were above and beyond impressed with the BubbleBum inflatable booster seats. I cannot recommend them enough for traveling with kids. Plus they are a great AFFORDABLE option! We have kept ours on hand for other times when they are beneficial…like when carpooling or when a family member keeps one of the older kids but doesn’t have a car seat for them to use.
Thank you again to BubbleBum for the seats, we will be using them for years to come! You can learn more and purchase yours here!
Hotel Survival Items
Typically when we travel with our kids we not only drive but we also stay in rental homes or condos with lots of space to spread out. When traveling to a farther place from home we knew we’d be in a hotel. For a week. With three kids.
This was an area of concern for me as sleep is a HUGE priority for our family. I wanted to make sure everyone was well rested, including my husband and I! When we booked the hotel we made sure to book a suite with a separate bedroom. The living room of our hotel had a bunk bed for two of the kids to sleep on and we decided to actually bring our own travel air mattress (this one is awesome!) and small air pump (this is the one we have) to allow for the third child to still sleep near their siblings.
I also called ahead and made sure the living room had black out curtains. If they didn’t then I would have packed a dark sheet and tacks to cover the windows to make sure the room would be dark for the kids. We also downloaded a white noise app on each of their tablets to make sure they had plenty of white noise that they are used to sleeping with at home.
This was the first time our children would ever be changing time zones and going from Georgia to California meant a three hour difference. I knew the first night would be hard because their bodies would be saying it was three hours later than the time in Cali and I was worried they’d wake up super early the following morning since their bodies would be saying it was time to wake up at like 3 am California time!
In order to help with this, we brought along melatonin. I’d never used it before myself, or for my children, but my husband uses it pretty regularly due to his MS and struggles sleeping. We gave it to the kids the first night and it helped and they quickly adjusted to the local time zone!
Along with melatonin, I wish I’d thought to pack some other basic items like motrin and cough syrup. One child did develop a cough while we were there and it kept the other kids awake so we ended up shelling out almost $20 for cough medicine from the hotel gift shop. YIKES. Having some
Since we were able to bring one checked bag per person I also packed food items so every morning we’d eat breakfast in the hotel room. Not only did this cut down on costs but also time in having to hunt down food each morning.
I also brought along a water bottle for each of us (these are my FAVORITE for the kids!). Not only did we fill them up at the airports to stay hydrated but also used them in the hotel and throughout our trip. We found many places to refill them and it cut down on having to buy bottled water or other drinks!
Breakfast items, hearty snacks and TREATS 🙂
Reminders of Home
Children thrive on structure and routine and are very used to things being a certain way at home. In order to create a smooth travel experience for us all, I tried my best to bring bits of home with us. Their favorite stuffed animals, a favorite blanket, a couple of their favorite books.
I also tried to keep their routine as much as the same as possible from home too. We had breaks in our days for naps/rest time. We did early bedtimes many of the nights to make sure they had the rest they needed. I brought their vitamins so their bodies stayed on the same morning routine as well.
Even when going to somewhere new and exciting, it can still be hard for little ones to be away from home. Bringing simple comforts along on the trip is well worth the space they take up and the energy that goes into packing them!
Leading up to our trip I was nervous for flying and hotel staying and Ubering for the first time with kids. But it all went SO smoothly. We had THE best time and our experience on this trip has truly broadened our horizons in planning future trips for our family.
I’m a big believer that preparation is key and by preparing for an airfare trip everyone can have a smooth, easy and FUN experience!
Here are all the must-have travel items I mentioned in this post:
This was super interesting and lots of really helpful tips, thanks. I was just wondering what you do with all those zip-lock bags when you are done with them? Do they get reused? It just feels like a big lot of plastic to throw away!
Yes! I actually bring every single bag back home (unless it gets used on the trip) and then store them in my kitchen to reuse! Often I end up reusing the same bags from a trip for our next trip 🙂