Traveling With A Toddler? This Is Everything I Packed In My Carry-On (They’d Make Great Gifts, Too)

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Last month, we took the girls to Hawaii for the first time. We had originally planned to go last November, when Elle was still highly portable (read: less insistent upon doing everything herself), but six weeks of passing around various plagues, including a positive COVID test the day before our flight, forced a…shift, we’ll call it. (I had other words at the time. A lot of them.)

So this year, with a decidedly squirmier babe in tow, we boarded the five-and-a-half hour flight feeling extremely grateful for all of our good health and good spirits going into the trip. And with a meticulously packed carry-on bag full of carefully curated activities to keep a 20-month-old more or less content for the duration of her first-ever flight. (Traveling with a toddler means you’ve gotta come prepared.)

I posted a sneak peek of this on my Stories before we left (and our video team generously put it together in a quick reel, here), but since I’ve gotten quite a few questions requesting more details, I figured I’d round them up here.

My Must-Have List For Flying With A Toddler

Traveling with a toddler 14 must-haves

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14

So, with that said (and with the caveat that we let our 8-year-old indulge in her tablet the majority of the time while I helped entertain the wee one — screen time rules kinda go out the window when traveling), here is everything I packed in my carry-on for our flight with kids to Hawaii.

There are some true gems here, friends — this exact busy book, if nothing else — so I’m happy to be sharing them should you find yourself in a similar situation traveling with littles. Godspeed!

1. Longchamp La Pliage Large Tote Bag

I know this isn’t the most exciting bag out there, but I’ve been using my Longchamp Le Pliage Tote (search “Le Pliage Large,” or, ohhh, discounted here) for 10 years now, and I can’t imagine a more useful bag, especially for travel. Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. It fits a *ton* of stuff. Everything in this post, first of all, but when I travel solo, it fits my laptop (with case!), planner, sweater, small purse, big ol’ water bottle, snack, little toiletry kit, a (compact) change of clothes, and more.
  2. It easily slides right under the seat on the airplane, with legroom to spare.
  3. The zip top keeps everything contained.
  4. It easily wipes clean, inside and out. Mine has been all over the world and still looks new.
  5. And, best of all, it folds down flat and compact, so it can be packed away when not in use (or packed as an extra bag to be filled up with souvenirs on the return trip home).

2. LCD Writing Tablet

Lana has had this little drawing tablet since she was 2, and it’s still going strong. (We’ve never even had to change the battery!) This kept both our girls occupied on the flight, and it’s a game changer for restaurants. I can’t count the number of games of hangman and tic-tac-toe we’ve played on this thing. The only issue, of course, is that they had to share the one, so I promptly ordered a second when we got home.


3. Black Paper Notebooks

I don’t know why drawing (or painting) on black paper is so cool, but it’s exactly the kind of novelty that is called for in an experience like this. We stock up on these little black drawing journals, and when you add a pack of glittery gel pens, it makes quick games and pretty much every kind of doodling seem more exciting. These are obviously a big hit with our 8-year-old, but our toddler loves doodling on them, too (with supervision, of course). The real hit with Elle, though, is stickers. Our craft drawer at home is overflowing with pages of stickers from holidays, birthday parties and past crafts, and she is pretty content sticking them haphazardly into these little notebooks. (Strangely, she’s really good about not sticking them anywhere she shouldn’t, for which I’m super grateful, ha.)


4. Gelly Roll Metallic Gel Pens

Gelly Roll pens are the absolute best when it comes to gel pens that glide without skipping or drying out, and these glittery metallic gel pens are perfect on white or black paper. I do sometimes wish they were retractable because the caps are a bit annoying to keep track of (and a choking hazard, so we only let Elle use these while supervised), but they’re just so satisfying to use.


5. Crayola Mini Twistables Crayons

These are the best crayons — especially for older kids, but Elle is able to use them, too (bonus points for the fact that I don’t end up littered in crayon wrappers). They’re perfect for more detailed coloring, never need sharpening and come in lots of colors.


6. Cute Standing Pencil Case

We pack both the twistable crayons and the gel pens around in the most adorable pencil case that Laura recommended years ago (and has since become our go-to bday gift for 7-8-year-olds, filled with cool pens). The top of the case slides down to expose the pens inside while it stands like a little cup on the table. There are a few designs to choose from, but I’m (predictably) drawn most to the little boba.


7. Skoolzy Nuts & Bolts Toy

This little nuts and bolts busy activity was perfect for keeping Elle engaged for 10-15-minute spurts of the flight, and even though she needed my help getting some of the bolts threaded, she was just as entertained reciting the colors and shapes of the pieces. The pieces are big and bright enough that they’re easy to retrieve if you drop them, but I still only pulled out a couple at a time so that we could easily keep track of them. She’s even more into them now.


8. 6-Pack Colored Masking Tape

This is the only item on this list I didn’t actually pack, but boy do I wish I had! I had seen a few viral reels on the joy of bringing a roll of painters’ tape when you travel with a toddler (hat tip to Aliya for sending me another cool one just the other day), and the uses are endless.

Not only can you secure things to your airplane tray so they don’t fall off (you can even tape the roll, itself, to the table and use it as a cup holder), but you can use it to create roadways, practice letters on the airplane windows, stick and re-stick it to anything within reach, quickly fix broken toys (or ripped books!), tape a napkin onto baby for an instant bib, and more. We have this rainbow pack of tape for doing much of the same at home, and one of the rolls is definitely going to find its way into my carry-on next time.


9. Freebear Busy Board Book

There are dozens (maybe hundreds) of these things on Amazon, so I went deep down the rabbit hole to find the one that I thought would be best suited to Eleanor at this age (20 months at the time we traveled). This specific busy board book has plenty of fasteners — some of which she can handle on her own and some she can grow into, plus pages of colors, shapes and letters for matching. I will note: for all those little removable pieces, you’ve got to affix the Velcro tabs (included) yourself, which takes maybe 15 minutes or so. Glad I packed our bag the day before and figured this out!

I was shocked by how much Eleanor loved this. I’d guess she spent at least half the flight playing with this contentedly (off and on, of course), but it was also handy during early mornings in the resort when we were still trying to wake up. And even at home, she asks for it when we go in the car, or if we know we’ll have room to spread out at a restaurant, it comes along for the ride. An easy recommendation that I can see us reaching for often over the next year or so.


10. Wiki Stix

There’s a sweet cafe in Redwood City we used to go to weekly that gives these little packs of colorful, wax-coated strings to kids just about as soon as you sit down, and we’ve been big fans ever since. You can make them into silly glasses, people, animals, letters, medallions, pretend jewelry…the list goes on. They’re non-messy, tactile fun and they take up almost no space. Plus — they’re cheap. (They make a great party favor or piñata-filler, too.)


11. Skout Organic Bars

These Skout Organic Bars are like Lara Bars but with a little more of a refined texture and smaller format that is perfect for kids who burn out on bars after a few bites. (Mine.) Great flavors and awesome, minimal, real food ingredients. I like the PB&J ones best, the girls like most of the fruity options. Apple pie really does taste pretty apple pie-y. Great for a first food, too, because they can be easily torn into little bites and they’re not too gummy.


12. 32-Piece Waterproof Zippered Pouch Set

I organized everything we packed into these ultra-handy pouches, which we use all over the house for organizing backpack contents, snacks, toys, craft materials, pens, sewing accessories, hardware and so much more. (I’ve seen lots of people recommeding them for organizing board games out of their boxes.) They’re a freaking steal, the quality is great, and it brings me glee every time I find a new opportunity to reach for one. (The center console of our car is now also satisfyingly tidy!)


13. Z Bar Cookies + Creme Protein Bars

Lana doesn’t love bars, in general, but these Z Bar Cookies + Creme Bars literally taste like Oreos. They’re a little messy (because of the creme coating) and probably have more sugar than I’d like, but they’re one of those once-in-a-while snacks that feel like a treat. I always grab a box for vacation.


14. Pure Organic Layered Fruit Bars

Of all the pressed fruit type bars out there, my girls like these Pure Organic Bars the best. I like the format, too — a little chubbier than a fruit leather and easier to bite, too. Plus the flavors are seriously delicious. We get them at Costco, but if you, like me, find that committing to buying 48+ of any snack dooms your kids to automatically losing interest in it, you can get them on Amazon in normal quantities, too.


Good luck out there, gang! Happy travels.
xo,
Em

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