What to pack in a carry-on for kids traveling internationally:

by Rachel on February 5, 2010

In general I’m in favor of children learning responsibility at an early age and I believe they should have to live with the consequences of their actions, or in this case, the consequences of their packing oversights.  However, it is one thing to go to Santa Barbara for a summer weekend without your flip-flops and it is another thing to fly 11 hours in coach without adequate food or entertainment.  My children and I have packed their rolling bags for international travel countless times.  For those of you new to this experience, I highly recommend taking a brief look at the following suggestions.

  1. Carry-on Bag: All travelers over the age of 3 should be responsible for their own carry-on bag.  Quit schlepping your kid’s gear.  Seriously.  Let them take responsibility for their own stuff.  Save your back and raise independent kids all in one fell swoop.  This means that a small, rolling bag is in order.  I’m partial to the Victorinox WT Wheeled Tote currently on sale for $199.  It ain’t cheap, but it is rugged and it has a nice, wide open storage compartment with two small side pockets, and a zip pocket on the outside for either i-pods or phones, depending on the age and technology level of your kid.  The other outside pocket holds a water bottle.  As you know, you cannot bring water through security.  You can however bring an empty refillable water bottle that you can fill with water as soon as you get through TSA.  All kids get thirsty whenever it is least convenient.  Bring a refillable water bottle and all will be well.
  2. In-flight Entertainment: My kids don’t own hand-held video games.  I’m entirely opposed to them and on long flights I have witnessed children (not mine) lose interest in them right quick.  Bring them if you must, but have a back-up plan.  We never travel internationally without the following items handy: a lap-top computer with a carefully selected pack of beloved DVDs (or a portable DVD player with the same), a good headset, two books (or a recently updated, battery-charged Kindle), a drawing pad and a pen set, Mad Libs, a deck of cards, an i-pod with a new playlist and some new kid-friendly podcasts (funny is always good), an approachable guidebook about where you’re headed and at least one modest project.  For example, we often write thank you notes for whatever recent holiday just came and went while on the plane.  Having at least one directed task that needs to be accomplished helps the time go by.  We’ve done math flash cards, foreign language flashcards, thank you notes, travel update letters, and long forgotten homework for the first hour of many a flight.  We play chess and Scrabble.  If there’s room, we bring along a travel chess and Scrabble set.
  3. In-flight Dining:  Airplane food sucks.  Planes get delayed.  They sit on runways, wait for gates to become available, and who knows what else.  We never, ever, ever go anywhere without some serious victuals on hand.  I carry an insulated lunch bag with a shoulder strap on all long flights (leave a comment if you want me to post what I pack for a family of four in our insulated lunch box).  The lunch box comes in handy once we arrive at our destination for trips to parks, picnics, train rides, car rides etc…  My kids also carry protein bars and sliced apples in their own bags.
  4. A Change of Clothes:  Even pre-teens have been known to spill the entire contents of their Ginger Ale all over themselves 90 minutes into a ten-hour flight.  At the bottom of my children’s carry-on you will find a pair of comfy sweatpants, clean underwear, a short sleeved t-shirt and a fleece jacket or sweatshirt.  I cannot tell you how many times we’ve needed these items.
  5. A Comfort Object:  Your children may have grown out of comfort objects.  If they have, great.  If not – put it in the carry on.  G-D forbid the checked luggage is lost.  My kids are big but we still carry two small stuffed animals per kid and a soft small blanket that keeps them warm on long flights and goes into bed with them in hotels.
  6. Their Meds:  Any daily meds need to be in their carry on.  In addition I pack a small medicine kit that comes onto the plane in their rolly with age appropriate Acetaminophen (chewable), Ibuprofen (chewable), Benedryl, Dramamine, Pepto-Bismol, Immodium, Band-Aids, Neosporin, Cough Medicine (now available in dissolvable strips), a one week’s dose of a standard anti-biotic or Cipro, and a small thermometer. Last summer I also carried Tamaflu.  I’m not sure yet whether we’ll need it for this summer.  Call your pediatrician before you leave and ask their advice.  You’ll need to speak to them anyway to get an anti-biotic prescription to take with you.
  7. Back-up Glasses: My younger son broke his glasses two hours into an 8-hour drive and we didn’t have a spare pair with us.  It was a total bummer.  We have not made that mistake a second time.
  8. Digital Camera, spare memory card and battery charger: I finally got so tired of my kids telling me to take a photo of this or that thing, I gave them each a cheap, indestructible digital camera to use.  Last year’s model that you’ve moved on from does just the trick.  Make them take their own pictures.  One of the best rainy day/sick child/stuck in a hotel activities I’ve ever devised it to have your kid pick their favorite digital photo from the trip – keep it active on the display of the digital camera (or copy it over to your laptop if you have the technology) and have them draw a picture based on the digital image.  We were stuck in a storm in a hotel room once and this activity kept my kids busy for a LONG time.  We put the digital image and a scanned version of the drawing in our travel album.
  9. Antibacterial Wipes or Antibacterial Gel: Airplanes are germ infested, self-contained, pandemic incubation chambers.  If my kids get sick traveling it is often just after a really long flight.  I’d tell you to have your kids wash their hands, but as you may have read, the quality of the water available in airplane restrooms is almost as suspect as the food they serve.   Anti-bacterial wipes aren’t a cure-all, but they’re at least a first line of defense.
  10. A Copy of Their Passport and Travel Itinerary: I’m all for independence and early responsibility, but I do draw the line at kids carrying their own passports.  I carry not just mine and my kids’, I carry my husband’s as well.  I’m uber responsible and I’ll happily carry yours too.  I’ve never lost a travel document.  Yet.  I wear one of those dorky passport carry packs around my neck.  You have to show your passport so many times these days, it doesn’t make a stick of sense to put them away until you’re sitting on the plane.  Although I won’t let the kids carry the real thing, I do put a copy of their passport and our travel itinerary in their bags.  I’m not sure it helps in the least, but it makes me feel better prepared – which is half the battle.
  11. Something New: Some parents drop serious change filling their kids’ packs with all sorts of NEW, glittery, shiny stuff before a long trip.  I’m over this.  A good drawing pad and a set of pens go much further than some glittery thing that quickly gets abandoned.  Buy something new if you must, but I think that the list above is PLENTY.

If you have additional suggestions – I’m always game for new ideas.  Leave them in the comments.  Next up – what your kid should have in their daypack for a day of international city exploring.

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