Traveling with kids: How to pack your child’s travel bag
Parenting & Family,  Traveling

Traveling with Kids: How to Pack Your Child’s Travel Bag in 5 Steps

You’re packing your kid’s travel bag wrong

Stop overpacking your kids!

OK, so we travel a lot. I mean, A LOT. By the time my son was one, this kid had already been on over 11 flights, including international. We love to travel. And even with three small children, we make it a priority in our life. So I know my way around traveling with kids!

And yes, I’ve made all the mistakes.

I will say I used to be a classic over-packer when it came to my kids’ stuff. I was prepared for any and all possibilities of emergency. Extra clothes? Got it. First Aid Kit? Got it. Sensory activities? Got it. Bags of toys organized to the brim with backups in every suitcase? Got it.

I even remember a couple of years ago sitting on my living room floor until two in the morning the night before a trip, making a bunch of little different activity bags for my kids to do on the flight. (You know the “busy binders” you see on Pinterest with crafts from pipe cleaners or using Cheerios and Froot Loops to spell out patterns and other nonsense.)

Busy binder activities - not worth it!

In this photo, you can see the quiet books I made my kids when we took our first family flight to Mexico. I do not regret making these! They were fantastic and my kids continued to use them for years! You can also see all the clear pencil cases with craft supplies…that’s the mess I’m referring to haha.

(If you’re looking for tips on traveling with baby gear, click here!)

Travel bags for kids

When I’m referring to travel bags for kids, this can be anything you use to bring your kid-specific activities. For toddlers and older, they probably have their own backpack. For the younger crowd, this is probably the diaper bag.

You could also choose to use an open tote bag for easy access, but I would worry about things spilling out if it tipped.

If you are sharing a bag with your child, make sure your things are organized separately. This way, you can easily hand over your child and his things to a loving partner, grandparent, or traveling companion while still having your own things.

This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through a link. I only link to products I have personally used or researched. 

(Click on the pictures below to be taken to Amazon)

Why I stopped Planning flight activities for my kids

But you know what happened? My kids went through all the activities and made a huge mess in the first 10 minutes after takeoff and then kept asking me for more and more and more.

Another flight I remember clearly was me scrambling and opening up pouches of toys and snacks while my son screamed. The flight attendant walked by and handed him a plastic cup and he played with it happily the ENTIRE FLIGHT.

Nowadays, I do things a lot differently.

Looking for Minimalist Packing Tips? Check out my post here!

I keep things as simple as possible and teach my kids exactly what to expect. Follow along for the only things that I pack in my child’s travel backpack. 

1. Snacks

Oh, the all-important snack bags. I used to have these really cute organizer containers and I would portion out different snacks per child so that they had a well-balanced flight snack with lots of variety. 

Just looking at this picture makes me cringe.

Too many snacks!

I would then go on to bring back-ups of different snacks in my bag just in case someone wasn’t in the mood for what I had packed them already. How ridiculous is that?

Nowadays, I do things so differently and it has become a thing my kids expect and love and totally look forward to. The week of our trip, we go to the Dollar Tree (which they call the snack store, by the way) and they each get to pick out two snacks for the flight. 

I like the snack bags that are bigger than individual or single-serving sizes, but not quite full-sized bags of things. My kids tend to pick freeze-dried strawberries or mangoes, little bags of peanuts, mini Oreos, or Ritz-bits cheese or peanut butter crackers. 

I try to encourage them to pick one sweet and one salty snack in case they want something different but I don’t hold fast to this rule because, ultimately, it’s their snack and they’re going to eat whatever they pick. End of discussion.

2. Water bottle

As far as water bottles go, I bring the cheapest ones that we have that are leak-proof. I’m very aware that at any second any one of my kids can lose a water bottle and I’m not about to bring their expensive Yetis with them on vacation. 

Not only are they super heavy and difficult for them to carry around while they’re full, but I don’t want to lose them and be out $30 when I could just bring an inexpensive plastic, light water bottle to fill. 

Either way, you do want to have a water bottle for your kids. It makes it so much easier when they have their own while traveling. Pack it empty for the airport, then once you get to the gate, fill it up!

These are the ones we have that are basically indestructible. They’ve been across the country more times than I can count.

Another solid choice and very inexpensive.

Here’s a stainless steel option with amazing reviews.

3. Activities

Now, I already mentioned that I used to go way overboard on activities because I wanted to make sure the kids were occupied for the whole flight. But what that left me with was lots of mess and high expectations from my kids. Do I need that pressure while I am already pulled thin from traveling? No, I absolutely do not.

Art set

So what do my kids get now in the form of activities? They have these little art sets that have markers, pencils, a little pad of paper, stamps, and glue sticks. They zipper shut for easy cleanup and containment and they fit perfectly in their backpacks. 

My kids all have the Disney Zip-up Stationery Kit like this, but they’re hard to find nowadays!

Here’s a similar product that’s much easier to find:

This is their main activity. My kids are definitely on the crafty side – coloring and creating keep them busy for a long time. If you have kids that don’t care about coloring, then you might have to find a different option for this. I’ll give you some down below.

Fidget toy

In addition to their art case, I also add in one fidget toy of some sort. I’ll link a couple below that we have and that get a lot of use. You want to make sure that these are pretty quiet so you don’t disturb other passengers.

Maze cube:

Snake cube twist puzzle:

Color matching puzzle game:

Legos

Another activity that I like to pack for my son is Legos. I give him the choice if he wants to bring his Lego set or not and usually he does. Again, this will keep him busy for a long time and it’s another great option if your kids prefer hands-on activities.

To make this I took a plastic pencil case from the dollar store and my husband cut a sheet of flat Lego base to fit into it. I glued it on and filled it with random Lego pieces. He’s got a huge bin of Legos, so I just grab a handful and put them in there and then include some little figures and different things so he can get creative. Because this is a pencil case, it fits perfectly in his backpack along with his art set.

Here’s a post from Inspiration Laboratories that walks you through the process of making a travel lego case!

My girls are starting to like legos more now, too, so I may have to make them each one for our next trip. 

Play-doh

For my girls, I also include the tiny tubs of Play-Doh. They are very sensory-inclined, and they can play with Play-Doh for a very long time and be happy. They have these great little tiny tubs of Play-Doh that come in all different colors and they’re super convenient. If one gets lost it’s not a big deal because they come in packs of 42!

4. Stuffed animals & blankets

Lastly, my kids are allowed to pack one additional toy or a stuffed animal as long as it fits in their backpacks. They usually each bring a small stuffed animal like a Squishmallow or Beanie Boo. I do always include their blankets because it’s a comfort item and you never know what the temperature is going to be on the plane. 

I always try to encourage them to sleep by getting them comfy with their blanket and stuffed animals.

Their blankets are really thin muslin and I have always loved these. Actually, when they were babies, I would use them as nursing covers and I would often wear them as scarves with my outfit and just drape them over. You couldn’t even tell they were baby blankets. They’re very thin and beautifully made blankets by Aiden and Anaïs. They have to be the silky soft swaddle blankets, otherwise the texture is different!

If you’re interested in what I pack in my travel bag as a minimalist mom or interested in how to travel with baby and child gear like car seats and strollers, make sure to subscribe to my weekly blog updates. Those posts are coming up next!

5. Screen-free

I bet you were wondering when I was going to get to the kids’ iPads. Well, not to disappoint you, but they don’t have iPads. They don’t have tablets or phones or screens. 

What do they have? They have parents that have iPads and tablets and phones. Sometimes they have screens in the back of their airplane seats which is great. But my kids don’t have a ton of screen time at home so we keep it pretty similar while traveling. 

For us, screens are a last resort when we’re traveling. We do use them a little bit more often now that they’re growing up, but not enough to warrant them having their own screens

Other flight ideas

Boogie boards

These LCD writing tablets are great for traveling with kids. They were staples in our travel bags for awhile but now we save them for restaurants and doctor’s offices.

Wikki Stix

Fun story here! When we were younger we spent a lot of time in Hawaii. One hotel we always stayed at would give out small packs of Wikki Stix at their restaurant to all the children in place of crayons and paper. My sisters and I LOVED these. A few months ago, I randomly remembered them and they are still a pretty big deal. I ordered them for my kids right away and we have travelled with them and take them to restaurants and such when we have some downtime.

Travel Games

Any travel games that your kids will actually be into are worth it to bring. Especially since these are meant to travel and be compact and convenient.

My sister-in-law got me hooked on this one and it has a pretty large age range.

Magnetic dominoes is another good game that can be passed around among kids. You can play real dominoes or make up your own games with them (as my kids do).

Last but not least, the classic UNO cards. I don’t think childhood would be the same without a deck of UNO cards wherever we traveled. If your kids are on the younger side and still can’t grasp the basic rules, it’s still fun to sort cards by color or number and practice number order. I can get a lot of quiet time out of a deck of UNO!

Flight Timeline

So how does this work without putting my kids in front of an iPad for the whole flight? It looks a little something like this:

Be patient

Our kids are not allowed to open their snacks until after we take off. Once we’re fully in the air and the seatbelt sign goes off, that’s when they’re allowed to open their backpacks, take out their toys, and eat their snacks. 

They can look out the window, play with the informational card or magazines in the seat pockets, and let the excitement build until take-off.

Side note: I should also say we try to always board the plane last. I do not like boarding the plane first and then sitting and waiting for 20 minutes for the rest of the plane to board. That is not fun for me or the kids. 

In-flight

So after we’re in the air, they usually eat all their snacks and then they’ll take one of their activities out and play with that. 

When they’re tired of one activity, they switch to the other. The girls will go from art kits to Play-Doh and then back to art kits, etc. And my son will alternate between his art kit and legos. Those are the only activities they have, so they know what to do. 

Once they start getting tired, which they always do, then we pull out the screens to encourage them to take a nap. 

Screen time

This is usually the last leg of our flight. We all get to chill out, relax, and prepare for the excitement of landing and reaching our destination. 

Usually, I sit with the girls and I’ll put a movie on my phone that they’ve already seen a hundred times like Frozen or Moana. My husband sits with my son and will do the same. My putting on thing they’ve seen before, they’re more likely to nod off.

Traveling with kids

I love our travel routine now. I love how much less stress is involved. I love that I don’t have to worry about having the perfect activities for them. I love that we’ve taught them what to expect and they’ve grown with it. 

As the kids get older, their tastes will change and we’ll adapt as we go. Because one thing is for sure, we’ll still be traveling!  

Do you have any travel hacks to share? I’d love to see them in the comments!

Find more travel tips here:
Minimalist Packing Tips: How to Travel like a Minimalist
Traveling with Kids: How to Travel with Baby Gear
How to Pack: Mom’s Minimalist Travel Backpack

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