We’ve looked quite a bit at the carry-on essentials for surviving a long-haul flight with a toddler or small child. Now that you know what you are likely to need while spending 20 hours in aeroplanes, let’s look at what NOT to pack in your child’s carry-on.
We’re not talking about the things that you are not allowed to take in your carry-on. We’re assuming that you are going to comply with all laws and not pack anything explosive in your carry-on and you’ve also checked the security restrictions for things like power banks and charging cables.
If you’ve been on a long-haul flight with a small child (we’re at 24 and counting), you will soon realize that there are some things, which may be fun for your child but will cause you more headaches than they are worth. Some of these we had to learn the hard way.
We came up with 7 things best left at home and once you read our reasons, I am sure you will agree that they are better left at home or packed in your checked luggage. So here are our recommendations of what not to pack in your child’s carry-on for long-haul flights.
Do NOT pack any essential documents in your child’s carry-on
This one a tip that you probably would have realised yourself and is probably the most obvious when you think about what not to pack in your child’s carry-on for a long-haul flight.
Miss M loves her passports. She loves looking at them and handing them to the immigration officers or airline staff and she loves telling other passengers that she has two, “A pink one and a blue one” (pink is what she calls the maroon of the EU passports).
We let her hold them when they are needed, but otherwise pack them away. In MY bag.
She can be enamored of something one minute, then put it to the side to get something else out of her bag, and forget to put the original thing back in her bag. If we are not yet on the plane, it might even be left where she put it aside. I do NOT want that to be her passport.
Do NOT put your child’s passport(s) or any other essential documents in your child’s bag.
Do NOT pack smelly or messy food in your child’s carry-on
We recommend packing lots of snacks in your carry-on and have a list of things we recommend. You will need them! They will come in handy on your flight and often during the first few days when you reach your destination and are trying to help your child through jet-lag.
So why are snacks on the list of what not to pack in your child’s carry-on?
Please be discerning about your snacks. Don’t pack smelly food in your or your child’s hand luggage.
The temperature fluctuations – and time spent outside of a refrigerated environment – will only intensify any strong smells and unpleasant odours. This will be unpleasant for you and your fellow passengers. Trust me, your child will not want to eat it either. Broccoli, beef jerky, cold meats or pungent cheeses come to mind.
Avoid messy foods, too. Kids are not cleanest eaters at the best of times. If you provide them with foods that are prone to crumbs or being dropped, that is what will happen. A popcorn kernel can become very itchy if it gets stuck under clothes. You can even find that border control sniffer dogs find your hand luggage interesting if you have a lot of crumbs (especially if they are crumbs of things you are not allowed to bring into the country).
Do NOT pack smelly or messy foods in your child’s carry-on. For safety, food should be one of the 7 things best left at home.
You can find a list of snacks we recommend here.
Do NOT pack drink bottles with straws in your child’s carry-on
We have a drink bottle with a pop-up straw that we love for almost everything EXCEPT long-distance flights (or any flights really).
Cabin pressure does interesting things to the liquids in such drink bottles.
One flight, we took our empty bottle through security and had a member of cabin crew fill it with juice for us on the flight. Apple and blackcurrant. When we got to Dubai, Miss M was thirsty and wanted a drink – we had to empty the drink bottle before going through security again anyway. She opened it to have a sip and the juice fountained in a lovely arch and landed all over her, all over me and left a lovely sticky purple trail on the floor and the chair.
Of course, this was when I still had a change of clothes for Miss M (we do recommend that you pack a couple of extra outfits). However, there were no clean jeans for me and there was no cleaning staff in sight. Trying to get the juice out of her hair with a sensor tap that kept stopping was also a challenge.
Learn from our experience: avoid any drink bottles that normally leak (they will on a flight) or any with a straw as they will cause fountains.
Do NOT pack playdough in your child’s carry-on
Some Mums will swear by playdough. I love it when it is not on a flight – sign up for our emails to get my Mum’s playdough recipe for free.
Still, while playdough is great for sensory play, it is not so great when it gets stuck under your fingernails, in the carpet or leaves little spots on your clothes. It is even worse when it happens on a plane. You – and other passengers – will find it in all sorts of places. And then when you stand up to go for a walk, little bits will drop into the aisle to share the joy. There’s even more joy when it is pink glitter play doh…
If your child is like Miss M and tends to be missing about a quarter of the playdough when it comes time to put it away, playdough definitely belongs on the list of what not to pack in your child’s carry-on!
Of course, the same applies to slime, goo or any other sticky play substance or sensory mix that is great for play but not for mess!
You don’t have to leave the playdough at home. If you are going to have a significant time change and anticipate jet-lag, do pack some in your luggage. Playdough can be a great, easy distraction for those early mornings with a child who is suffering from jet-lag.
Do NOT pack toys with small parts in your child’s carry-on
I made a serious mistake on our last flight to Australia and by the end of it, I wanted to open the windows and throw it all out and scream. Yes, I packed one of the 7 things best left at home.
We departed the day after St Nicholas had visited. Our St Nicholas was quite clever this year, or so she thought, and gifted a number of things that Miss M would need for her trip. She got a new camera, which was fantastic and absolutely worth the money. She also got two Barbie sets (or knock-offs), one with a girl, three puppies and various paraphernalia, and one with a pregnant Barbie, complete with baby, stomach and baby goods.
You can probably see where I am going with this.
Naturally, Miss M wanted to take all the bits. While we convinced her to leave the Barbie baby bits at home, I let her pack the puppies and their basket, bowl, bones, brush and bottles. All together in a ziplock bag.
The bag was great, but every time she opened it, we had a panic about something going missing, dropping on the floor, getting stuck between the seats… it was a nightmare!
Fortunately, we did not lose anything, but not for want of trying. However, our wonderful new dinosaur puzzle only managed to make it through the flight minus a piece that was lost somewhere. No manner of searching by us, our neighbours or the cabin crew was able to recover the lost piece.
Lego sets with small pieces, Barbie accessories, puzzle pieces and any other toys with small parts will be banned from Miss M’s carry-on for all future flights. In my book, they definitely belong on the list of what not to pack in your child’s carry-on for a long-haul flight. If you are wise, you will also realise that they are one of the 7 things best left at home.
The exception will be games where the parts have magnets, like this chess game, though possibly more along the lines of this fishing game at the moment. Or you could DIY a set with mini magnets and a small tin and some characters. I guess I will have to put it on my list…
Do not pack felt-tipped markers in your child’s carry-on
Felt-tipped markers are on the list of what not to pack in your child’s carry-on for much the same reason as the toys. Have you ever tried to find a lost lid under a seat on a plane, especially one that is a dark colour? Meanwhile, because she is concentrating on finding the lid, your child has managed to draw on the wall or the table (or you) and it won’t come off? Yeah, been there, done that.
Our tip: don’t pack felt tipped markers in your child’s carry-on.
While we’re at it, avoid wax crayons too. They break, the paper label comes off, and they leave little messy bits everywhere. The wax also does not come off walls or tray tables easily.
Do pack pencils. Please also pack a pencil sharpener, but make sure it has a container for catching the shavings. I quite like these combo sharpener and eraser ones. Who knows, the eraser may even allow you to erase any errant masterpieces made by your little one while you attempted to snooze.
Do NOT pack cheap headphones in your child’s carry-on
A long-haul flight is not the time to be strict on your no screen time policy. In fact, if you make watching something on the in-flight entertainment or your tablet something that only happens on the plane, it can make the flight more special for your little one.
Yes, some airlines will offer ‘child’ headphones. However, one size fits all does not really work for kids. Miss M found them rather uncomfortable the first time she had to use them – we had forgotten the jack for hers.
Don’t forget the jack.
If you are considering letting your child watch something, pack some headphones. Do NOT pack poor-quality headphones that will break five minutes into the flight. The headphones are likely to be squashed in your child’s carry-on and may have a book or two shoved on top, so make sure they will withstand a bit of wear and tear.
Otherwise, you may as well just use the airline headphones…
Noise-cancelling headphones are also the best. The rest of the plane does not want to hear what Mr 4 is watching. They will probably get a loud commentary anyway as he tells you what is funny in a loud voice, not realising how loud he is because he can’t hear himself over what he is watching.
BONUS: Do NOT use a bulky bag for your child’s carry-on
We’ve looked at what not to pack in your child’s carry-on but forgot one thing. Yes, it is not technically something in your child’s carry-on: it’s a bonus tip about the carry-on bag itself.
The best carry-on for your child is one that they can carry themselves.
If you are travelling as a solo parent or with more than one child, you are unlike to have your hands free. You cannot carry your child’s bag, nor can you pull them along on their very cute but very impractical suitcase.
Do NOT use a bag that is impractical (too big or difficult for your child to carry). Don’t pack your child’s carry-on too full either or it will be too heavy for them.
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What not to pack in your child’s carry-on
There are many things that you should pack in your hand luggage, to account for all eventualities. However, there is still a list of what not to pack in your child’s carry-on. Learn from our experiences and leave these 7 things at home or pack them in your checked bags and save your sanity
What did you think of our list? Is there anything else you would like to see added to our “What not to pack in your child’s carry-on” list?