Complete Carry-On Packing List for You and the Kids

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Packed suitcase
Make sure the kids have the right clothes for the family visit. Photo credit: Stock Unlimited

You do not have to check bags when traveling as a family with kids. No extra baggage fees. No precious vacation time spent waiting at the carousel. And forget the very real possibility of lost luggage. It is possible for you all to fly with just carryons, even for a week-long vacation. But there are tricks and packing tips you need to know. Following is what I’ve learned from years spent traveling with hubby and my two kids. Read on and flight light!

Is It Really Possible to Pack Light with a Family?

Yes! If you’re flying with a family, say two adults and two kids, that equals four possible carryons. That means you beat the baggage fees and can still have everything you need for a week’s vacation. Really.

The key to packing light is teaching kids to pull their own weight. Kids as young as 4 can push a small lightweight four-wheel carry-on like this one.  Even preschoolers are used to wearing backpacks. Pack them with the supplies the kids will need to stay happy during the flight, from iPads and Kindles to coloring books and snacks. Treat your teens like adults and let them pack their own stuff, strictly enforcing the carry-on only rule. If you’ve got tweens, they need a little extra TLC. See the section on tweens at the end of the post.

That frees up your backpack for carrying the important documents — boarding passes and passports — everyone’s prescription medications, and anything you will want to have during the flight, such as an eye mask, headphones, water bottle and cashmere wrap.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Start with the right suitcase! Choose one of the best luggage brands that are lightweight, durable and stylish.

Family on the beach
It’s easy to pack light when you’re headed somewhere warm. Photo credit: Pixabay

It’s All About Packing Smart

Everyone who buys a ticket is entitled to board with one carry-on that fits in the overhead bin and one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you. Here’s how to make the most of all of that luggage space.

1. Wear your heaviest stuff on the plane — jeans, hiking boots, bulky sweater, puffy coat. It will save room in your carry-on luggage and keep you warm on a chilly flight.

2. Pack several thin layers for warmth rather than one bulky thing.

3. Invest in compression packing cubes like these from Gonex.

4. Plan what everyone will wear to ensure every piece of clothing can do double or triple duty.

5. Pack detergent pods or Woolite in case you need to wash something during the vacation.

6. Limit everyone to packing one pair of shoes and one pair of flip-flops or sandals. That’s it. With the pair on your feet, that makes three, which should be plenty for a week away.

Carryon Packing Checklist

There are two parts to this:

  • The carry-on bag
  • The personal item

We’ll tackle each one separately.

Carryon-Only Travel Packing List

This is where you want all of the stuff you’ll be using once you arrive at your destination. It might include any of the following, but not all. Obviously, if you’re going somewhere cold, you’ll want a warm hat and gloves. If you’re headed to the beach, pack the sun hat instead.

Clothing for adults

  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Bra
  • Pajamas
  • Dress shirt
  • Casual shirts/T-shirts
  • Pants/jeans
  • Shorts
  • Dress or skirt
  • Sweater or sweatshirt
  • Swimsuit/cover-ups
  • Rain jacket
  • Sun hat
  • Warm hat & gloves
  • Scarf
  • Dress shoes
  • Flip-flops or sandals

Clothing for kids

  • Underwear
  • Socks
  • Pajamas
  • T-shirts
  • Pants/jeans
  • Shorts
  • Sweater or sweatshirt
  • Swimsuit
  • Rain jacket
  • Sun hat
  • Warm hat & gloves
  • Scarf
  • Flip-flops or sandals
Tips for Minimizing TSA Security Stress and Wait Times - arrive early.
Remember 3-1-1 for taking toiletries through security at the airport. Photo: Pixabay


Remember to limit liquids such as shampoo and lotion to TSA-friendly 3 ounces or less. Put them in a quart-size plastic bag to lessen the hassle when you go through security.

  • Brush and/or comb
  • Soap
  • Sunscreen
  • Deodorant
  • Toothbrush & toothpaste
  • Dental floss
  • Razor
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers
  • Shampoo & conditioner– Shampoo bars are super travel-friendly and kids love them.
  • Moisturizer
  • Makeup
  • Band-Aids
  • First-aid ointment
  • Insect repellent– select wipes so that they don’t have to be included in your liquid ziplock
  • Pain relievers

Extras to Pack

What to Pack in Your Personal Item

First, think about what kind of “personal item” you want to take. I know most people choose a backpack. It can carry a lot and it’s great for hands-free travel when you’re also wrangling kids and their carryons. But I prefer a big cloth bag like this one. I like that it’s flexible and can be tucked under the seat in front of me, but I can easily pull it out, zip it open and see everything inside. When we’re off the plane I can sling it over my shoulder for almost hands-free operation.

  • Costume jewelry (leave the expensive stuff at home)
  • Passport/visa
  • Guidebook
  • Copies of important travel documents
  • Identification
  • Credit cards (bring two, just in case)
  • Cell phone
  • Boarding pass/tickets
  • Medical insurance card
  • Electronics chargers
  • Extra power supply
  • Power strip
  • Itinerary
  • Travel insurance card
  • Power converter
  • Wallet
  • Prescription medications (2 times as much as you’ll need, just in case)
  • Cash
  • Earplanes (indispensable when you’re flying with a head cold)
  • Ear plugs
  • Eye mask
  • Headphones
  • Tide stick stain remover
  • Lip balm
  • Motrin
  • Benadryl
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Clorox disinfecting cleaning wipes for cleaning the germy spots on the airplane.
  • Inflatable neck pillow
  • Baby wipes for cleaning little hands

What to Pack in Your Kid’s Personal Item

Special Considerations for Tweens

You’re the best judge of your tween’s ability to pack their own bags. Even the most independent will still likely need a bag check to make sure there’s adequate underwear. The most important items will be the holy trinity: cell phone, charger and headphones. And, girls definitely need to pack the essentials, just in case that time of the month arrives unexpectedly. At a minimum, remind them to pack, in a very accessible location:

Cindy Richards is a Pulitzer Prize nominated journalist who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of She also is the mom of two now grown kids who have traveled with her since that first, fateful plane ride when one preschooler discovered a barf bag in his seat pocket and his sister, finding none in hers, demanded, “I want a barf bag too!” She has been a reporter, editor and columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune, an editor at Chicago Parent and Catalyst Chicago and an instructor in the graduate school at Northwestern’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism.
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