We love the idea of sharing our spirit of adventure with our very young children but traveling with preschoolers can be more than a little challenging! After all, little ones come with So. Much. Stuff. Are you wondering how to pack your preschooler’s carry-on or stressing about how you’re going to carry all the things? Relax, mom. You don’t have to tote it all. Buy a cute carry-on for your preschooler and follow these tips on how to pack your preschooler’s carry-on from Go with the Flow Traveling Mom Jill.

Pack these essential items in your little one's carry on to make your next family vacation a little easier for you!

We adopted our boys from China when they were two and three and-a-half. We’d been their mom and dad a mere four days when we handed them a mini backpack filled with goodies that (we hoped!) would entertain them on the long flight home and introduced them to the wonderful world of travel. My boys are now busy second-graders and we haven’t stopped traveling. We have some great memories along with some travel horror stories, like that time we only packed a three-year-old one pair of shoes. Traveling light is awesome until your child chucks his only pair of shoes off the hotel balcony in Greece. One thing we have perfected, though, is how to pack your preschooler’s carry-on.

Relax, Mom. You don't have to tote it all. Buy a cute preschooler's carry-on for your child and follow this list of what to pack to make your travel easier.

Backpacks packed and ready to travel! Photo credit Jill Robbins, Go with the Flow Traveling Mom

1. New Stuff

If you pack your same-old-same-old boring toys in your preschooler’s carry- on and expect them to be entertained on a flight of any length? All the nopes in nopeville. Pack toys your child hasn’t seen before or at least hasn’t seen in a while. Things don’t have to be new but they have to be “new to them.”

2. Sticky Notes or Painters Tape

Many how to pack your preschooler’s carryon suggestion list wills contain stickers. Stickers are light, cheap and don’t take up much space. Kids love stickers but stickers are kind of a pain in the butt. They…well, stick to stuff. You feel obligated to try and do damage control, such as de-sticker all the things your child has put stickers on, before you deplane. Nobody’s got time for that.


Sticky notes or painters tape have all the glorious fun of stickers without the…well, the extreme stickiness.

3. Wikki Stix

These are no-kidding awesome and if you put one toy item in your preschooler’s carryon, this should be it. Wikki sticks are fun, bendy sticks that your child can bend and shape into…well, into whatever. Think pipe cleaners that stick together.

Wikki Stix are great thing to pack in a preschooler's carry-on

Wikki Stix are perfect items for your preschooler’s carryon. No noise and no mess! Photo courtesy of Wikki Stix

Wikki Stix are made of yarn enhanced with a microcrystalline, food-grade non-toxic wax… the kind used in bubble gum and lipstick. And that’s it. (Psst…it’s that touch of wax that allows them to stick!) They’re also not messy or noisy so that’s a win in my book!

4. Snacks, snacks, snacks

Most airlines still serve snacks and most all still provide meal service on long-haul or international flights. This does not mean that snacks will be served when your kids are ready to eat them or that your kids will like them. Tuck a few familiar favorites in your preschooler’s backpack and they can snack on their own terms.

Relax, Mom. You don't have to tote it all. Buy a cute preschooler's carry-on for your child and follow this list of what to pack to make your travel easier.

Snacks + electronic entertainment = must haves for any child’s carryon! Photo credt Breeze Leonard, Bonding Traveling Mom

I also recommend buying a drink for their backpack once you get through security. Yes, you’re going to pay more for that bottle of water or juice but it’s nice not having to rely on beverage service when your kiddo wants a drink. If you’re a penny-pincher, you’ll cringe at the $3.00 Capri Sun pouch. But you’ll be happy to have that $3.00 Capri Sun pouch when your small  human informs you of their extreme thirst before the flight attendants are allowed to get up and move about the cabin.

5. Coloring books and activity books (i.e. dot to dots) with crayons, markers and pencils

Visit your local dollar store before you travel and stock up on new coloring and activity books. I like to throw a couple in the suitcase, too, in case we have downtime at our destintion.

6. Wipes and Tissues

I don’t know any mama of a preschooler who leaves home without being armed with wipes and tissues. While you’ll certainly have these things stashed in your mom bag, why not let your little ones have their own? Because messy kids, you know?

7. Electronic entertainment

I know parents have varying ideas about how much screen time their children should get but for me, all bets are off when we’re traveling. The “new stuff” rule should apply here, too. Check for new apps or games that don’t rely on WiFi before you leave home. And, don’t forget the headphones. Chances are, you’ll be getting enough side-eye from fellow passengers without adding extra noise into the equation. Because noisy kids.


Relax, Mom. You don't have to tote it all. Buy a cute preschooler's carry-on for your child and follow this list of what to pack to make your travel easier.

Headphones help preschoolers enjoy their electronic entertainment and the other passengers don’t have to hear the beeps and squeaks! Photo credit Kristi Mehes, Multidimensional Traveling Mom

8. Change of clothes

Potty accidents. Spilled food. Delayed baggage. I tuck a spare change of clothes into everyone’s carry-on when we travel as a family. A preschooler is old enough to tote her own spares.

9. Small stuffed animal or lovey

If your “can’t survive bedtime without it” animal is too large for the carry-on, consider having him ride in the checked baggage. If that’s not an acceptable solution for your young person, the lovey becomes a carry-on in itself and something else for you to keep track of as you’re moving through the airport. Leaving a cherished stuffed friend on a plane by accident is seriously traumatic. Ask me how I know.

10. Lollypops

Lollypops work just as well as gum to mitigate those annoying takeoff and landing ear-poppers. You might not think your preschoolers are ready for gum, but they can probably handle a lollypop.

11. Sweater, hoodie or light jacket

Even in the summer, temperatures in the cabin or in the airport tend to be chilly.

12. Ziplock bags

Again, this is something you carry in your mom carry-on, but Ziplock bags take up literally zero space. You can use a Ziplock bag to house wet or soiled clothes in the event of an accident. You can use a Ziplock bag to store uneaten snacks in or as a makeshift trash bag. And if all else fails and airsickness happens…well, you know. Tuck a Ziplock bag into one of the side pockets of your preschooler’s carry-on. You just never know.

Relax, Mom. You don't have to tote it all. Buy a cute preschooler's carry-on for your child and follow this list of what to pack to make your travel easier.

It’s easy to stash some ziplock bags in one of the side pockets of your preschooler’s carryon. Because messes WILL happen. Photo credit Jill Robbins, Go with the Flow Traveling Mom

What’s the first thing YOU reach for when you’re packing your preschooler’s carryon? Tell us about it in the comments! Happy traveling!