What’s in Our Kids’ Carry-On Bags?

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We’ve been traveling with our boys since they were babies.  I don’t want to brag, but I’m going to just a little bit.  They are awesome travelers.  But I’ve got to admit it’s a bit like the “Which came first- the chicken or the egg?” conundrum.  Are they awesome travelers because they’ve been traveling so long?  Or have we continued traveling for so long because they are awesome travelers?

I like to think it’s a bit of both.  Our boys have easy going personalities that thrive on adventure.  While at home we couldn’t bribe them to sit still for a half hour TV show, somehow they always manage to bust out some super-secret awesome travel behavior whenever we are going somewhere.  They can keep still and relatively quiet on long plane rides for hours, keep themselves busy on road-trips and wait in lines or at restaurants without screens.  They really never cease to amaze us when we travel.

Part of this might have to do with their personalities. Though I think most of it has to do with how we plan, prepare and pack.  Whether we’re taking a weekend road trip or flying across the country, we try to plan and pack in ways that allow them to be successful.  We’ve had a lot of success with their carry-on backpacks so today I’m going to share with you what’s inside their bags!

When packing a child’s carry-on bag, keep in mind that if you want the child to carry it themselves, you don’t want to over pack it.  If it gets too heavy, they’ll be whining and begging you to carry it for them.  But if it doesn’t have enough stuff in it to keep them busy for the duration of your trip, they’ll be whining that they’re bored.  We have a couple of secret-weapon items that help keep our boys busy without weighing them down!



The Backpack

Let’s start with the backpacks themselves.  I struggled to find just the right backpack for our sons to use as a carry-on.  Our boys are tiny.  The toddler backpacks are too small and regular backpacks are too big.  Size-wise I wanted something in between.  I also wanted it to be light weight.  I ended up purchasing two of the Sunhiker Lightweight Travel Backpacks.

These backpacks are the perfect size for our boys to carry on their own yet fill with enough stuff to keep busy.  The bags themselves are lightweight and water resistant.  Plus they came in a lot of fun colors which meant each of our boys could choose their own color.

We’ve had these backpacks for over three years now.  They’ve been on over 40 plane rides and countless road-trips.  They’ve been dragged through airports, tossed carelessly in the back of the minivan, stepped on, dumped out of the car- you name it, our boys have done it to these poor bags.  But they’re still in excellent condition!  To be honest, for how affordable and light weight they are, I didn’t expect them to hold up so well and last so long.  But they still look like new and won’t need to be replaced any time soon!

If you’re looking for another great use for these light-weight backpacks, they make great hiking packs for kids (and adults as well!)  Check out how our friends Travel Light Action use similar packs for trekking with young children!


The Boogie Board

This is hands down, without a doubt the single greatest purchase I’ve made as a parent.  Our boys got their first Boogie Boards at three years old.  Six years later they still play with them nearly every single day.

The Boogie Board is thin and lightweight, making it a perfect travel companion for young kids.  It’s kind of a screen without being a screen.  Instead it encourages creativity and artistry without having to lug around big drawing pads and constantly wonder where your kids dropped their pencils.  Kids can doodle or draw on it, then click a button to refresh the screen.  The bummer is that you can’t save drawings, but it’s really the simplicity of it that makes the Boogie Board so amazing.

We rarely leave the house without our Boogie Boards.  While they are fantastic for travel, they are also great for going out to eat, waiting at doctor’s appointments, sitting in the cart at the grocery store, etc.  So we don’t just use them on the plane.  Even at home, the Boogie Boards come along on all adventures in case our boys need to stay busy while we wait somewhere.  I can’t even count the number of compliments we’ve gotten about our boys’ behavior while we are out and about all because of this one, simple, easy to carry toy.


The Headphones

I searched far and wide for the perfect kids headphones.  My must haves included an over-the-ear model and volume control to protect their little ears.  I hit the jackpot when I found these LilGadgets Volume Limited Headphones with Share Port.  These ear phones are well padded so they are big and comfy. The headpiece is adjustable which means our boys have been able to grow with these for the last three years.  They also came in a bunch of bright colors so our boys loved picking out their own.  The maximum volume is 93 decibels which is safe for little ears.  The cord comes wrapped in nylon so it won’t get tangled like regular wired headphones do.

But my favorite feature is the Share Port.  Each set of headphones can plug directly into a device OR plug into another set of LilGadgets headphones.  Being that we only have one iPad that our boys have to share when we travel, this feature makes these the perfect headphones.  They can turn on an audio book or movie and easily connect both sets of headphones to share the sound!  And because the cord never tangles, they’ve always been able to set up their head phones entirely on their own! (It also appears that they now make a wireless version as well!)


The Games

Between their two backpacks, we always have three games packed.  First, we always travel with a pack of Uno Cards.  It’s a fun, easy card game you can play without needing a lot of space.  Second is Spot It.  Spot It cards come in their own little compact metal container so they are easy to pack and pull out for a quick game.  It’s another one that doesn’t require a lot of space so it’s perfect for airplanes or restaurants.  The last game we always have packed is Rush Hour. It’s a logic game that involves moving parked cars around to let the red car escape.  It’s compact, comes in it’s own little carrying case, and it has a wide variety of levels so it’s great for all ages. There aren’t a lot of pieces, but the cars can be dropped or lost so always make sure to check for all the cars when you pack it up!  These three games don’t take up a lot of space or add a lot of weight.  But they are all fun for the whole family and keep our boys busy on long plane rides!



The Scratch Books

Scratch Books are something we only use for travel.  It keeps them new and novel which means they’ll still hold our boys’ attention for a while when we get on a plane and they find a new one in their backpack.  Scratch books are relatively small and compact and come in a huge variety of themes.  While our boys loved themed books when they were younger, now they tend to prefer blank scratch books so they can create their own epic drawings!


The Motion Sickness Bags

Okay, I’ll admit this one isn’t the least bit exciting for the kids.  But we don’t pack a single travel bag without at least two of these motion sickness bags inside.  We discovered these at our local children’s hospital when our son had his second surgery for a severely broken arm.  They sent us home with a few in case the anesthesia bothered his little tummy.  I have a severe phobia of vomit. But I had just found one of the greatest inventions of all time!!!

I ordered a big old case of ‘em on Amazon and stashed them in both cars and all of our travel bags.  The boys always have to in each of their bags just in case. Knock on wood we’ve never actually had to use one of these while traveling.  But I’m always worried about someone getting sick so these bags give me the peace of mind of knowing that we’re prepared.  They take up very little room, have a mouthpiece (unlike a Ziploc bag or the paper bag the airlines give you!), and can twist and seal shut after use for easy disposal.   We don’t go anywhere without them!


The Odds and Ends

There are a few odds and ends we always keep in our boys backpacks.  A book to read, a pack of gum, antibacterial hand wipes, a couple of healthy snacks and a gallon size Ziploc bag with a lightweight change of clothes.  The rule in our family is that when we’re on a plane, nothing goes in your mouth without first washing your hands!

While I still keep a larger bag of snacks with me it’s nice when the boys can reach their own snacks.  This means I can usually buy myself an hour or so of peace and quiet before someone is standing over my seat saying “Mooooooom, I’m hungry!”  The bag with the change of clothes is another peace of mind item.  If anything happens, we have quick easy access to dry, clean clothes and a bag to put wet or dirty ones in.  You can use a straw to semi-vacuum seal the bag so it’s compact and won’t take up much room at the bottom of the backpack!


Warning:  Kids May Travel Independently!

I will give fair warning about our boys’ carry-on backpacks. I don’t want anyone else to be caught off guard like I was last year!  Though I had long dreamed of this moment, I wasn’t the slightest bit emotionally prepared for it to happen.  On a flight from Detroit to New York last summer we had two seats in one row and two seats across the aisle.  Our boys wanted to sit together, which to them meant they were “alone”. I cleaned their seats and got them situated, then my husband and I sat down.

We never heard from our kids again until the plane landed in New York.

They used the contents of their bags to keep busy the entire flight.  They both read for a while, played a few card games, drew on their Boogie Boards, listened to some music on their headphones, got themselves their own snacks, and even ordered their own drinks!

It hit me like a ton of bricks.  My kids didn’t need me for an entire flight!  They were only eight years old.  And they didn’t need me.  Not once!  Like I said, maybe it’s all the practice they’ve had.  But I think at least some of it is because we’ve mastered the art of packing their carry-on bags!

Traveling on a budget airline and need to be extra careful with your packing?  Check out this great post Super Light Packing for Budget Airlines from our friends at Five Family Adventurers!!


  1. joy

    love UNO. Have you tried phase 10 or skip bo?

    Joy at The Joyous Living


    1. Lissa

      No! We totally need to check them out!!


  2. Jo

    Great post! I really like the photo too – they look so adorable. My family never went anywhere without a pack of UNO cards when I was a child too. I still love playing it 🙂


    1. Lissa

      I’m not gonna lie- I love these games too!!


  3. Ran | Travel & Lifestyle

    I’m not a kid but I need a checklist when I travel too, haha! I also need headphones. They’re definitely a lifesaver for long, boring trips! Your boys are lucky they get to learn those good travel habits as early as now, though! Keep it up!


    1. Lissa

      Thanks! I a bit of an obsessive packer while my husband is the “Throw stuff in a suitcase 10 minutes before we leave for the airport” kind of packer. I hope I rub off on our kids more than he does! LOL!


  4. Seeking Wonderful

    Uno and Spot it (mine is called Dobble) are such fun games! I would really need to get a new pack of Uno, since this one is already missing lots of cards. 🙂 They are a life saver, especially when your flight is late or you have a long layover, or on the beach. 🙂


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