Flying with Kids: What to Pack in the Airplane Kid Bag

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If my mom was writing this post, it would be a Pinterest-worthy collection of hand-crafted activities made from pipe cleaners, pom-poms, and felt — all wrapped in artfully created handmade wrapping paper.  In fact, she traveled with us to India a few years back and made just such an activity kit for my kids. It was absolutely incredible.  Alas (sigh)…I am not, however, my mother.  Occasionally, a tiny bit of her peeks out in me (mostly around birthday party time)…but for travel…it’s usually 2 days before a trip—there are mounds of laundry still to be done, and I want to just click and have everything for airplane “entertainment” show up magically in a brown box ready to go.

I weirdly love airplane time with my kids….well not the trip that Little One screamed for 4 hours straight or the one when the guy screamed at me because of kicking little feet that I tried my VERY VERY hardest to control…but I weirdly DO love airplane time with my kids MOST of the time.  No emails for me to respond to, no itch to straighten the house…the kids required to be strapped in next to me, their undivided attention—can all actually facilitate some lovely interactions. I sometimes look at it as a personal challenge to see how long we can truly be present with each other and play together, or talk with each other before resorting to screen-time escape. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a good airplane snooze with my kids both on screens, but sometimes too much screen time makes my kids monsters, and having protected electronic-free time together is a nice balance to that.

I admit, I am an avid toy shopper, so travel is definitely a good excuse for me to do some online shopping damage.  Novel toys, open-ended activities, and a variety of “stuff” I have found is the way to go.  I’m usually a bit of a toy snob about buying well-crafted toys that will last for years (as you may have noticed from the Amazon Handmade Post),  but when it comes to travel, it’s also fun to “bring on the junk”.  A few character toys and plastic doo-dads can do wonders for entertaining kiddos while not taking up too much space and being easier on the wallet.  I build last-minute travel toy purchases into our travel budget, but I also purposefully hide some of our nicer travel toys after trips, so I can bring them out again when it comes to travel time and have something “new-ish” without the extra cost.

I like to divide the kid-carry-on-bag packing list into categories to make sure I have a range of good stuff for different kinds of play (remember I’m Shana’s friend who cherishes a well-organized checklist.)  I break it down into a checklist of eleven:  Something Magnetic, Drawing Supplies, A New Book, Something Sticky, Something to Cuddle, A Game Mom Enjoys, Something to Fidget With, Pretend Play Characters, Something Tech, Water Bottle, and of course…Kid Bribes. If it’s a shorter flight and they don’t play with everything, not a big deal because it also gives them toys to play with in the hotel room or at restaurants.

The collage below shows a typical bag that I pack, but below that I list other options in each category so you can get ideas for differently aged kids with various interests. This packing formula has worked for me from toddlerhood to to my current 10-year-old.  For really long trips (think 23 hours of travel time to Bangalore, India to visit family), I triple and even quadruple the items in some of the categories below, so that I can have new activities for them to pull out every hour or so that they are awake.

So…this is for all you fabulous mamas who want a bit of quality playtime with your kiddos on the plane, but don’t want to scour Pinterest for homemade activity projects. In my opinion, the kids will have just as good of a time with the store-bought suggestions below. I tried to keep everything from Amazon or Nordstrom for fast and/or free shipping. And, of course, no judgement if you pack just one iPad and nothing else in that kid-carry-on-bag….happy kids make for happy mamas.                             

Something to Fidget With: Wooden CubeBot // A Game Mom Enjoys: Airplane Activity Tokens // Drawing Supplies: Moleskine Drawing Journals with Mini Drawing Set // Water Bottle: CamelBak Kids Water Bottle // Pretend Play Characters: Wonderhood Kid Figures (unfortunately are sold out, but we also like these // A New Book: Usborne Look-Inside Airport Book  // Something to Cuddle: Nido Nest Kids Neck Pillow // Something Magnetic: Tegu Travel Set // Something Sticky: Wikki Sticks // Something Tech: iPad Mini with LilGadgets Kids Wireless Headphones // Kid Bribes: YumEarth Organic Lollipops // The Actual Travel Bag: Wildkin Dinosaur Rolling Bag

The Actual Travel Bag

Something Magnetic

Drawing Supplies

A New Book

Something Sticky

Something to Cuddle

A Game Mom Enjoys

Something to Fidget With

Pretend Play Characters

Something Tech

Water Bottle

Kid Bribes


Let me know what other tricks for traveling with kids you guys have or if you have found a music player (without a screen) that is sturdy enough for kids!  Good luck with packing, and happy summer travels!



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  1. I don’t have kids but would happily BE your kid if it meant I got to have this great travel bag on a plane! Great ideas!

    • Haha! I will totally take you on the plane with me as long as you don’t kick the seat in front of you!

  2. Look Inside an Airport is an amazing book and I highly recommend it but please do not buy it from Amazon. Amazon is not an authorized seller of Usborne books in the USA so you are likely to get a book that comes from the UK (may have words spelled differently, may take a LONG time to arrive etc) or the seller will decide they can’t actually fulfill your order. Usborne books are sold through independent consultants in the USA. My friend is a very knowledgable consultant – her website is – and you can order these amazing books directly from her.

  3. This is a REALLY great roundup of stuff, Linzi! Waaaay back in the early days of The Mom Edit, when it was Ain’t No Mom Jeans, Shana recommended those gel window clings. You know, the ones you can always find at the Dollar Spot in Target? My kids always loved those. I always recommend them to moms getting on the plane with little ones. Now that my kids are older? We each have a device and watch movies!

    • Ooooh! Would love to give you my suggestions. If you are looking to spend in the $50 range and are okay with archery, my son received this archery set this year for his birthday and it was a big hit. The story behind the two brothers who created it is awesome and it’s SO much fun to play with. For gifts, we often give board and card games to 10 year olds. My son’s favorites right now are Rumikuub, Settlers of Catan, Maze Racers, and Sleeping Queens. Or you could do a book or book series. He loved the Amulet Series and the Land of Stories Series. You could obviously do just one or two of those books too for a more economical option. My son also really enjoys receiving gift cards to the neighborhood toy store or the local comic or book store. Those are always safe options if you don’t know the 10 year old that well or don’t know what they already have. Good luck!

  4. Love these ideas! We have a few kids’ magazine subscriptions that I hoard for flights. They get a “new book” that is lightweight, and I don’t stress if it gets ripped up on the trip.

  5. Great post. As expats who travel internationally every year, I’m bookmarking this for future trips. I like the idea of categorizing things so you’re sure to have variety.

  6. Thanks for all of the great suggestions! I thought I had a great travel bag for my four year old son but I immediately purchased several more items for our upcoming flight. I can’t wait to have fun playing games on the plane!!!

  7. Wow! This can be one particular of the most useful blogs We’love ever arrive across on this subject. Actually Excellent. I am also a specialist in this topic therefore I can understand your effort.

  8. Natalie Kenny on

    We just did 14 hours in the car from IL to CO (and back). We used most of these ideas too! I would add, brainquest cards, would you rather questions (the whole family enjoyed these), lego tape with some legos (we used pencil cases from the dollar store), my daughter is really into finger knitting so I also packed some yarn for her… (But friendship bracelets for girls, beads and string/pipe cleaners (even for little ones working on fine motor skills or take it a step further and use fruit loops)) or any handcraft would also appeal to a big age group if kids!

    • Oh I LOVE the finger knitting idea, Natalie! And fruit loops for stringing…my 5 year old would be so in to that. Thanks for the ideas.

  9. Love this! I’m getting ready to fly with kids next week to Bangalore (what a coincidence!). I was going through my TME feed procrastinating on work and packing, but good thing I did. I’m going to pack a few of these items (sticky, art) since I already have the tech, game, book, and water bottle set aside for them. Is your partner from Bangalore? My family is from there. Love visiting but it’s been a long time and the kids weren’t walking when we were there last.

  10. I’ve been traveling with an almost 4 year old since he was a few months, and as soon as he wouldn’t eat it, play-doh became our go to on flights. To keep the tray from getting gross—or the play-doh from getting gross from the tray!—we cover the tray in disposable plastic placemats from amazon. They have sticky strips that keep them in place.

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