Some use one bag for the whole family, I never subscribed to that school of thought and found a separate bag was helpful to organize and give your child a sense of independence. If your child has a ticket and the airline allows one free checked bag, this includes your child as well. To maximize this space, use a full-size bag for the child and leave empty space or utilize space for clothes/outerwear for other family members or perhaps souvenirs.
Quick dry clothing is equally useful for children and just a couple items mixed with cotton/poly blends can be a lifesaver. No matter how hot the destination, make sure to pack two pairs of long pants/trousers. You may encounter a buggy area or the blistering sun that will make you grateful for the coverage. Likewise, pack a couple of loose long sleeve t-shirts for the same reason. Of course, you’ll fill in with a few t-shirts and shorts/jeans if appropriate. You will need outerwear, preferably a couple of pieces that can be layered. A soft hoodie/fleece will come with you on the plane, it can get cold!!! And a rain/wind barrier. If you are predicting colder weather, pack one more warm jacket and possibly a underclothing piece for layering. You know your child best, if they are cold natured, pack accordingly. You’ll need at least 3 pairs of socks for each child but you probably shouldn’t pack any more than 5, they’ll be wearing one pair on the plane. Likewise,5 pairs of underwear should do it but by all means bring enough for each day if it will make your trip more enjoyable. A lightweight laundry bagis a godsend to separate stinky clothes from clean ones. Diapers are another matter, you should pack enough for 5 days, any more is impractical and it’s hard to imagine a country that doesn’t have supplies. Those are minimums, pack more shirts and pants if you don’t feel comfortable washing out items or letting them wear a pair of pants twice. You should bring two pairs of shoes at a minimum, one they wear on the plane and one packed, as well as a pair of sandals. Not only do children have a habit of stomping in puddles, mine would lose a shoe inexplicably at the most inopportune moment!
Regarding toiletries, you can probably get away with a toothbrush and toothpaste in a ziploc bag as well as shampoo and comb (girls with longer hair will probably need a brush, conditioner, hair elastics and barrettes.) You will want some first aid items, a few baby asprin, benedryl, bandaids in a ziploc bag, nail clippers, tablets for an upset stomach and antiseptic cream. If you do have prescriptions, take them in the bottle and if possible make sure you have a pdf of your prescription on your phone in “books”. Of course you will want your passports, immunizations, credit cards, ID and important documents organized somewhere handy but not so handy it will easily fall out.
Don’t let any gate agent or government official rush you, put away all documents before moving on. A printed itinerary is helpful, definitely keep a copy on your phone or laptop but it may not be convenient to pull it out or your phone might be dead after a particularly intense session of Angry Birds. Don’t count on having a car seat everywhere you go, so it might be worthwhile to invest (or if you are lucky enough to already have one), in a car seat stroller. The "Doona" for infants seems like the latest and greatest but there are car seat carriers for a lot less dough, like this Graco carrier, that would do the trick. We didn’t have any such thing in our day and seemed to survive.
You will want some snacks for long journeys to keep little ones sated, bringing some from home goes a long way. Even if you don’t normally indulge in sweets, a few lollipops, gummies and hard candies (if they are old enough not to be a choking hazard.) My favorite is licorice, not only does it bring up the blood sugar and help popping ears on an airplane, it can soothe an unsettled tummy, some like peppermints for the same reason. Of course nuts, dried fruit, jerky, pretzels, crackers, cookies and any snack that travels well are good choices too. Make sure all dried fruits and nuts are in opened packages before departing an international flight and discard opened ones. The rules on this are murky, fresh fruit and vegetables will almost certainly be permitted but dried fruits and nuts (to my mind but don’t hold me to it) should be allowed, if for some reason you were stopped and searched for food. If you happen to pass a grocery store after landing, pick up some juice and bottled water, you do not want to risk your little one’s health on a short trip by drinking tap water and that includes brushing teeth. Though they will be drinking bottled/sterilized water a water bottle isn’t a bad idea to have on hand. That way you can refill where there is “safe” water.
Amusements are not an afterthought and my favorite part of packing for little ones. While a few dowloaded movies or shows are imperative, a small coloring book, notebook, crayons, pencil and pen are also necessary. Travelling brings out the creativity in everyone and children are no different. You may also find breakthroughs on reading or writing take place on a trip when family togetherness is more continual. Dover has wonderful little activity books that take up almost no space. One or two is plenty, leave room for a small manipulative like a lego or figurine that can capture your child’s imagination for hours. Headphones for devices or TVs on the plane are recommended. A pack of cards for a game of Go Fish or War is a must for kids old enough to engage. Of course, a couple of simple books you can read together at night or can be paged through is a great idea. And for goodness sake, let them carry a small bag with their amusements so they learn some responsibility and practicalities of traveling. I think our son’s first bag was a big red Teletubby, Po, another was a blue Lego bag and the last one he traveled with as a child was a swanky Tumi sling bag I found at Tuesday Morning he adorned with a camel we bought him in Egypt. Unbelievably these were never lost and everyone was interested in making sure they were retrieved from the overhead in an airplane or below the seat of a train. These will also serve to remind your progeny of their travels.
Which brings me to this point, your kids, especially the small ones, will probably not remember much about their journeys. This should not take away any of the pleasure or learning that takes place when exploring. Travel gives everyone perspective and I believe children all the more. They will have a sense that not everyone in the world, or even a “civilized” country like America, is as fortunate as they are, which is a blessing. Not to mention the joy traveling with young ones brings parents and other adults. Vacations bring families together by challenging boundaries. You will have memories in photos you will no doubt reminisce over for a lifetime, I know ours have brought us pleasure beyond words. Please comment with your suggestions of must-haves when packing for trips with children below.
Adventure freely and often, you won’t regret it.