Carry-On Only with Kids: A How to Guide to Packing Light for the Family


Carry-on only with kids FI

I recently drove a friend and her family to the airport for their trip to a Caribbean island. They were going for five days along with their two kids. They had seven large checked bags with them for their trip – SEVEN! I am sure they arrived and had everything they needed and more for their time on the island, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much more enjoyable and easier their comings and goings would have been if they’d been able to downsize just a bit in the luggage department. Do you really need to take so much with you when you travel away from home? You see people who travel with just carry-ons all of the time, but is it really something one can pull off with children? Of course it is! Here are some tips on how to travel carry-on only with kids.

Tips For Carry-On Only with Kids 

The first thing you’ll want to realize is that all members of your family get the same baggage allowance. That means that your kids get a carry-on as well as a purse-sized item just like you do. Take advantage of that rule and give each kid their own bag. When you’re not trying to pack everyone’s outfits into two carry-ons, it makes things easier.

You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations regarding carry-ons on the airline you’ll be flying. No one wants to encounter surprises at the airport or at the gate when you’re trying to wrangle kids and gear onto your flight, so look over things when time is on your side and arrive prepared and informed.

carry-on only with kids

Be sure to share your space. If one of your kids ends up with space in their bag, by all means use that for other family members’ things. You can sort things out when you get to your destination. This is especially important if you have some bigger items that take up more real estate. Everything still fits in a bag, and you don’t have to resort to checking a suitcase. This can be used when one family member’s bag is heavier than the others as well. They’re all headed to the same destination, so make them work for all of you.

Use the resources of the hotel or lodge you’ll be staying at to potentially eliminate bringing items with you. Do they rent cribs, pack-and-plays, a box of age-appropriate toys or books, beach items and supplies? Then why bring them along? If you’ve got an e-reader, load it up with books before your trip and potentially save yourself from hauling them with you. Staying with friends or relatives? They may have what you need or be able to borrow it from someone they know and save you the trouble of packing a few things.

Buy things when you arrive at your destination. This is especially relevant for things like some toiletries, snacks, beverages, diapers, laundry detergent, and bigger bottles of items you’ll use a lot. One quick trip to a grocery or convenience store could save you time and space in your bag.

Roll your clothes when you pack them, and stuff smaller items into larger spaces like inside your shoes. Wear your biggest and heaviest items and pack in layers whenever you can to be ready for all kinds of weather conditions.

Use travel-sized items when you can and try solid versions of things like perfume, deodorant, and shampoo to cut down your liquids bag. Free samples are great for this purpose.


Don’t be afraid to do laundry at your destination. Some hotels may have a service available, some have washers and dryers, some are nearby a facility to do it yourself, or you can always wash some items in your room and bring along a portable washline in order to dry them. Being able to recycle or reuse an outfit or items in your wardrobe is a great way to cut down on what you’ll need to bring.

Pack clothes that can do double-duty. A scarf that can work as a cover-up, a blanket, a skirt or a wrap is a great example. You’ll also want to look through your clothing and plan on wearing some items more than once. That black pair of pants can work with two different tops? Perfect – you now have two outfits instead of one. When you’re packing, lay out your clothing and try to pick outfits for the activities and days you’ll be gone. Clothes that mix and match or belong to the same color family work especially well, as they can be interchanged if necessary, or be recombined to create a new outfit.

One of the biggest enemies of packers is the temptation to start late and go too quickly. Give yourself enough time to assemble an intelligent collection of items, and then come back a bit later and eliminate those things you think you can do without. One-use items and “I think I might need this” items are perfect examples of things that may be able to be eliminated.

Most importantly, though? Believe you can do it. Practice doing it. Continually refine your system if needed. You’ll soon be wondering why you ever lugged so many bags with you as you can now avoid extra bag fees and the baggage claim area. You’ll enjoy traveling lighter and less burdened – no matter where your travels take you.

All photos courtesy of  Sydney Treasures Photography.

You may also be interested in Packing Tips For Winter Holidays With Kids.

Featured photo by: Bigstock/PRImageFactory

About the author

Sharon Rigney (aka msrigs) is one of Trekaroo's Travel Experts located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She's a mother to a daughter and two sons, ages 10-16. She and her family welcome the opportunity to travel and try new things, sometimes close to home and sometimes just a little out of their comfort zone just to shake things up. Her kids are so used to her reviewer's eye, that their first question when something notable happens on vacation is usually "so are you going to write about that"?

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