6 Essential Items Every Parent Needs In Their Personal Bag For A Flight

The thought of traveling with multiple children can overwhelm many parents. 

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Chefchaouen, Morocco

Whether one is traveling internationally or domestically with his or her family, it’s great to know what items are helpful to carry along for a flight. Moms constantly tell me they can’t wrap their heads around how I pack for a flight with a toddler and/or baby because they carry around so much “stuff” just to go to the grocery store.

Personally, I’ve never been one to take much for babies/toddlers when running around town. I used a diaper bag just a handful of times because they weren’t for me. Since I carry larger purses, I would throw in a few diapers, some wipes, a small blanket, change of clothes and a small snack.

That’s really it.

I never really learned to depend on tons of gadgets and large products; I kept it simple at home, and I try to keep it simple when packing my personal item for a flight.

And if I can do it you can, too.

Now I’m not here saying that I don’t *still* struggle with overpacking from time-to-time. The girls constantly demand a variety of outfits for a trip and Nasi can’t keep anything clean—I HAVE to have numerous changes of clothes for him. I’ve always had laundry days when traveling—long before it became a trend—I just don’t like the responsibility of washing clothes every couple of days. So, I’m as guilty of overpacking at times as the next person but as far as packing loads of “stuff” for a trip, I just don’t do that.

There’s really no one “right” way to pack when traveling; families should find what works for them as I have found what has worked for us. This information should be used as a guide of ideas that is tweaked to fit the individual needs of one’s own family.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

For this post, I would like to focus on what I pack in my personal item for a flight. Amaris and Ariela use backpacks as a personal item, and in the future I will write a post detailing what they carry in theirs.

What is the difference between a personal item and a carry-on?

Wait, Iliah, you’re telling me that a personal item and carry-on luggage are two different things?

Yep, that’s what I’m telling you.

Your personal item is typically a purse, small backpack or a bag that can fit underneath the seat in front of you on your flight. I use something similar to this A New Day weekend bag from Target as my personal item. I love this design because it comes with a large strap that allows me to carry it across my shoulders, it offers multiple pockets for extra space and it’s large enough—but not too large—to carry everything I need for a flight. The nylon material is easy for cleaning up any spills, and the dark color hides stains that are easy to acquire during a trip. I hate traveling with bags that look dirty; I think I have way too much of my abuela in me.

A carry-on bag is usually larger than a personal item—it may come in the form of a small suitcase—and needs to fit in the overhead compartment of the plane. Most airlines limit carry-on luggage to 22 by 14 by 9 inches in total size—this includes wheels and handle. This Made By Design suitcase at Target meets the standard dimension limits set by most airlines; it’s an affordable option at just $69 and has a sleek and stylish design.

do airlines limit the size of your personal item?

As stated above, the usual requirement on many airlines for a personal item normally is that it should fit underneath the seat in front of you. Most airlines don’t pay much mind to the size of your personal bag, but there are some discount airlines with stricter personal item policies. If you are flying a low-cost carrier, such as Spirit or Frontier, be sure to check their personal item size allowance before your trip.

Huatulco, México

Huatulco, México

Here are 6 ESSENTIALS that every parent should have in their personal item for a flight:

1. First Aid kit/medicines

Whenever I travel with the kids, I always have some type of first aid kit/supplies with me for emergencies. Kids are bound to get cuts and scrapes when traveling, so it's wise to be prepared with a first aid kit on hand. You can put one together with any items in it that you may need, or purchase a kit that is already together to save time. I’ve done both and there’s no right or wrong way to do it. If you decided to purchase one, I love this Thrive brand travel first aid kit. It's small enough to fit in your hand so it doesn't take up much space in my personal item and comes with 66 pieces of valued first aid supplies. The kit includes tweezers, medical tape, bandages in a variety of sizes, cleansing swabs and many other essentials. It also comes with a mini book with tips on treating minor injuries—I'm telling y'all, it's a great little kit! 


traveling with MEDICINE tips:

  • If traveling internationally, be sure to check each country's policy on carrying liquid meds. When traveling within the United States, parents are allowed to bring liquid medicines, such as fever reducers, in their personal items and they are not subject to the 3oz rule—this is not the case in other parts of the world. On a family trip through Europe in 2016, our fever reducers were confiscated at the airport in London on our way to Copenhagen. We were told that we would need a prescription to carry them with us and that we could not take them on the flight.

  • Pack chewable medicines. Many brands now produce chewable fever reducers and allergy relievers. If your child is at least 2 years old, and will actually chew them, these are great travel-friendly options.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia

2. pack underwear and a light change of clothes

Don't forget to pack a few items you may need for yourself in your personal item. As much as I want to be about that carry-on only life, it's just not always possible for me to do for varying reasons. So when checking a bag, I'm always sure to pack at least one pair of underwear for myself in my personal item. I can survive wearing the same clothes for a day or two if necessary, but you'll NEVER catch me in dirty underwear—I just wasn’t raised that way.

Again, my abuela’s teaching coming out in full force.

It’s also easy to throw a pair of light leggings or cute yoga pants into your bag, just in case you don’t have access to your luggage because of a mishap.


extra personal care items to bring with you ONBOARD:

  • Travel size toothpaste and toothbrush (if you want, it’s not necessary)

  • Menstrual cups/tampons/pads if needed

  • Deodorant (optional but I always carry it with me)

  • A few makeup essentials

Ras Abu Galum, Egypt

Ras Abu Galum, Egypt

3. Items for a baby/toddler

Traveling with a baby and/or toddler can be especially challenging because no matter how light you want to pack, they require things—many things. While I'm realistic and understand that packing extra for a baby and/or toddler is a necessity, I still try to minimize what I bring for them in my personal item. Nasi is at the age where he can carry a (very) small backpack of his own, which now eliminates some of the items that I have to bring for him in my personal item. For example, he will carry a small backpack with an action figure, a couple of matchbox cars, maybe a small paper pad and a few crayons. I don’t put too many things in his backpack or I’ll end up responsible for it. *Insert eye roll here.*


things to carry on the plane for a baby/toddler: 

  • Pacifier

  • Diapers (5-10 depending on the length of the flight. )

  • A full package of wipes

  • Baby food/snacks

  • Bottle and formula if applicable

  • Small blanket

  • Change of clothes (lightweight)

  • Extra underwear in case of an accident

  • Diaper rash cream (if necessary)

  • Form of entertainment

Taba, Egypt

Taba, Egypt


4. pack healthy Snacks in your Personal Item.

It is imperative to have snacks packed with you when traveling with kids, no matter how long your flight may be. Many airlines no longer provide a free snack for passengers, and even if they do, it may not be something your child will eat. Also, these snacks are distributed during certain times of the flight and it’s more than likely your child will get hungry before then, anyway.


easy snacks to pack for a flight

  • Fruit in peels such as bananas and clementines

  • *Trail mix (nut-free)

  • Dried fruits

  • Healthy granola bars and Stretch Island fruit leathers.

  • String cheese and cut deli meats

  • Beef jerky

  • Crackers

  • Pea pods, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and cucumber slices

*Nuts are also easy and convenient snacks for a flight, but I advise against packing them. There are many children with severe nut allergies who have reactions from being in close proximity to many nut varieties. I have friends who live in fear for their children in confined, spaces such as airplanes, because of nut allergies.

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, Slovakia

5. Travel documents and passports

Always have your travel documents and passports with you in your personal item. Instead of carrying around four or five individual passport sleeves, and throwing boarding passes at random in my purse, I keep myself organized by using the VanFn RFID passport and document holder. Let me tell you that this is a lifesaver! At only 9x5inches, it's small and compact enough to go into a purse or large bag but has so many functional compartments. You can fit four passports inside (more if you double up), there's an area for credit cards, coins, cash and even a place for a pen. I was able to keep special travel documents inside the space allotted for cash and hold my phone and boarding passes in the pocket in the front. This little carrier is stylish, functional, washable and only around $15. It's a game-changer for family travel!

Keeping passports and travel documents secure in one place helps to eliminate clutter and the misplacing of items.
— Iliah, Negra Bohemian


passport organization tips:

  • Keep everyone's passports in order by age in your family passport holder. Always keep the parents' passports in the first two slots of your family’s passport holder; from there, work your way up from the oldest child to the youngest. With this method, if a specific passport is needed it can be easily accessed.

  • Place a different color sticker on the back of each passport to easily identify who the passport belongs to. After getting your passports back from the immigration agent, instead of opening each one to see whose picture is there, just look at the sticker on the back and put it in the correct order in the passport holder. These Mark-It Dots stickers are the perfect size for this mission—I’ve kept our family’s passports organized for years using this method.

Budapest, Hungary

Budapest, Hungary

6. Electronics 

These days, it’s nearly impossible to travel without some type of electronic device. Whether it’s your smartphone, laptop, e-reader or tablet, there’s a good chance you’re going to have some form of electrical device with you.

tips for traveling with electronics:

  • Never pack your laptop in checked luggage.

  • Avoid bulky laptop sleeves that will take up unnecessary space in your carry-on and opt for thin, lightweight ones.

  • Always travel with spare chargers. Keep one in a carry-on and one in your checked luggage.

  • When traveling overseas, always remember outlet adapter plugs if needed.

  • Try to limit the number of electronics you bring. Stick to devices that serve multiple functions. Use your tablet for children’s games, watching movies, reading books and listening to music—there’s really no reason to pack a device for each of these functions.

Red Pyramid, Cairo, Egypt

Red Pyramid, Cairo, Egypt

Packing a personal item for a flight with kids doesn’t have to be overwhelming. With a few tips and the right planning, you’ll have everything you need.

does the idea of packing for a trip with kids OVERWHELM you? 


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