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The Secret to Carry-On Only Travel With Kids + Packing Tips (2023)

Posted by Jel Navarro on
Carry-on only travel with kids

Do you pack everything but the kitchen sink when traveling? It can be a relief knowing you have everything you need (and don’t need). But it can also be exhausting having to lug all those items everywhere. Packing for a family trip can certainly be a stressful experience! Packing light is possible though, we promise. It’s also a liberating feeling to travel carry-on only. Want to know how families do it? Keep reading because we’ll be sharing some of the best-kept secrets to carry-on only travel with kids. 

The Basics of Carry-On Only Travel

Carry-on only travel tips for moms

If you’re ready to upgrade to the carry on only lifestyle, there are a few basics you need to know first. This way of traveling is not rocket science, but it requires a few useful tactics you’ll learn here. As you begin to master the art of carry-on only travel, you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment like never before.  

✓ Know the restrictions about carry-on bag - Most airlines have carry-on luggage weight restrictions (around 15 lbs to 22 lbs). There’s also a set limit on the dimensions. The carry-on bag must fit either in the underneath space in front of your seat or in the overhead bin. Check out this post if you have any suitcase questions in mind!

✓ Check in 24 hours before - Set a reminder for yourself to check in online 24 hours before. You should be able to reserve a decent seat for your family. Also, you’ll want seats that don’t leave you at the end of the line coming onto the plane. There will most likely be no room left in the overhead bins, so they may have to take your suitcase and “check it”, which defeats the purpose of traveling carry on! If you’re traveling with younger kids, the airline should usually let you on earlier so you can take advantage of the overhead space first.

✓ Know what's allowed - The biggest challenge with carry-on only travel is there are stricter rules when it comes to what you can bring on the flight. Aside from the 3-1-1 Liquids Rule, most sharp objects aren’t allowed in the carry-on bag. You can, however, bring disposable razors, safety pins, nail clippers and scissors less than four inches long. For a complete list of which items are allowed in your carry-on bag, go to the official TSA website.

✓ Buy the ideal carry-on suitcase for each family member - You can choose between a backpack, duffle or suitcase, but it really depends on the length of the trip. Always go for a reliable, heavy-duty backpack. For those wanting the convenience of a roller suitcase, opt for one that’s expandable and fits in most overhead bins. Of course don’t forget the kids! We would go for rolling yet cutely-designed suitcases like this one from Kids Olympia Luggage. It’s important that each member of the family has their “own suitcase” to travel with. That way, when the packing chaos begins you’ll know exactly which suitcase belongs to who.

✓ Buy packing cube sets for the family - This secret hack we’ll talk more about later, but these will change the packing game for your whole family. One colored set for each member of the family? Yes please! The clear packing cubes will keep everyone’s items separate, clean, and organized. Packing and unpacking is literally a breeze - you won’t even have to unpack since the cubes can act as traveling drawers. A must for carry on only travel!

Carry-On Only Travel Hacks You Need to Know

Kids carry-on travel

Traveling with a carry-on only bag might seem impossible with the kids, but here’s where we come in with our secret hacks. Below are our top 10 carry-on only travel hacks that you need to know.

1. Laundry is your friend, not the enemy - It doesn’t matter whether you’re traveling in Europe for a month or in Asia for two weeks, pack only a week’s worth of clothes (but extra underwear)! Treat laundry as your friend, not the enemy. If you have the option to pay for a laundry service while traveling, do it. You’ll either pay for this or you’ll pay for extra baggage fees, so why not travel lighter if you can? We almost always overpack anyways, so try your best to take less. Worst case? You’ll re-wear a shirt or two.   

2. Travel size everything - The TSA restricts the amount of liquids you can bring on a flight - no more than 3.4 ounces per item. All your liquids together must fit inside a Quart Size Bag (like the one shown below). Our recommendation is to bring all your toiletries in travel size bottles. Another tip! You can find solid alternatives for liquid toiletries (that will not count as a liquids). Why not try something new, like this highly-raved about Ethique Eco-Friendly Shampoo Bar.

Quart Size Bag

3. Wear your bulkiest clothes and shoes on the plane - If you’re bringing a bulky winter jacket or boots, better wear them on the flight to lessen the weight of your carry-on luggage. Once on the flight, you can simply remove these bulky clothing items (and your shoes if you bring fuzzy socks) and put them in the overhead bin.

4. Speaking of shoes, bring 2 to 3 pairs only - Think about your daily and nightly activities, and the outfits you’ll be wearing. Is there one pair of shoes you can wear during the day and one for the night? Will you actually be working out on your vacation? If sacrificing one outfit for a pair of special shoes will help you get into a carry on, just do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

Shoe Bag for carry-on only travel

5. Pack outfits you know & love - It’s important to bring clothes you actually wear on the daily, instead of choosing the outfits you wish you wore more often. Especially for carry-on only travel, you’ll want at least 4 to 5 outfits you know work for you. Upon arriving to your destination, choosing an outfit is already done for you!

6. Be smart with electronics - Do you really need to bring all your camera lenses and your bulky laptop? Think about the essentials and what you’ll use everyday. A tablet can be your all-in-one entertainment system, including games, watching movies and listening to music. Place all your headphones, chargers and other electronics into your personal bag or backpack to leave more space in your suitcase.

7. Let kids have their own carry-on - Kids love to be part of the game so let them carry their own bag. It’s a good idea to pack snacks, some toys and a blanket to keep them comfy! For diapers, only bring enough to last you all throughout the flight plus a day to be safe. You can buy diapers once you land at your destination (unless you’re going to a remote island).

8. Printable checklists for everyone - Give kids them their own checklist to check off and have them lay all their items on their bed. Once they’ve checked everything off their list, mommy can “approve” the items (and take out the unnecessary things) before packing. Here’s our favorite Ultimate Family Checklist for you to print out (maybe a few copies for each family member). 

Download family checklist here

9. Invest in a carry-on jacket - Here’s a nifty hack you can try: Invest in a carry-on jacket where you can pack items inside. Haven’t heard of a carry-on jacket? This guide highlights a few of the best brands to choose from. Basically, a carry-on jacket has more pockets than a regular jacket allowing you to store some more items discreetly. This will save you space in your luggage when not in use.

10. If all else fails, use the Duty Free trick - So you’re in the airport and you know that your carry-on luggage is beyond the weight limits. Do you give in and say goodbye to your carry-on only plan? Here’s one last hack you can use... Purchase something from Duty Free and then discreetly store heavier items from your carry on in the carrier bag. Yep, they’ll actually allow you to bring a separate Duty Free bag aside from your carry-on luggage and personal bag.

The PROS of Traveling With Just a Carry-On

Kid packing into cube

Here’s why traveling carry-on only is seriously worth it. If you’re not fully convinced about trying this new way of traveling, see the major benefits below.

✓ Save money ($$$) - Airlines charge passengers for checking in their luggage. In contrast, carry-on luggage isn’t usually paid for as long as it fits within the airline requirements. So if you’re traveling on a budget, it’s a good idea to travel with a carry-on only to avoid excess baggage fees.

✓ No worries about losing your bag - Though the chances of losing your luggage are low, there’s still that possibility when you opt to check-in your suitcase. By traveling with a carry-on only, you’re not at risk of losing your luggage.

✓ Save time - Normally, you’ll have to get to the airport early to check your luggage in. Not anymore! Carry-on only travel saves you time and money people! Especially when traveling with kids, this is a huge help.

✓ Convenience - Once you reach your destination, you won’t need to wait for your checked luggage by the conveyor belt. Getting to your hotel faster means more vacation time!

✓ In between travel is a breeze - It’s easier to move around when all you have is a small carry on and a personal bag. Getting in a taxi or small plane won’t be a hassle, especially when traveling with a family. If every family member has a large suitcase, you might even have to order double transportation to fit the luggage! Save money and stress and travel carry on on only.

The SECRET to Carry-On Only Travel

Carry-on Starter Set of packing cubes

One best kept secret to perfecting carry-on only travel is using EzPacking Clear Packing Cubes. It makes packing and organizing a breeze. When you’re going through airport security, the last thing you want is a piece of underwear suddenly popping out of the bag.

With packing cubes, you can avoid these situations because items are neatly organized inside clear cubes. The EzPacking Starter Set is an ideal option for you and your family. You can designate one color for each member and organize each carry-on luggage using their own set.

✓ Extra Small Packing Cube - Our TSA approved clear toiletry bag can be used for storing carry-on liquids such as shampoo, conditioner and toothpaste. Make sure that they adhere to the 3-1-1 liquids rule. Also, this size is perfect for small baby items, cosmetics or electronic chargers.

✓ Small Packing Cube - Can be used for packing your underwear, loungewear and socks, bras and bathing suits. Also a great size for thin shirts or blouses.

✓ Medium Packing Cube - Perfect size for packing casual tops and bottoms. On average, women can fit 3-5 outfits in this cube.

✓ Large Packing Cube - Great size cube for packing large items, such as jeans, jackets, sweaters and even towels.

Carry-on only travel isn’t meant for everyone.

The only way to find out is by trying it out for yourself and your family. Families who are traveling only for a short time or going from one destination to another would benefit from this type of packing. Begin with our basic guidelines and use the hacks we mentioned above.

If it still doesn’t work for you, no worries! This is your trip, so pack with the method that best suits your needs. Of course, don’t forget our secret hack to traveling with a carry-on only bag: packing cubes!

P.S. Want more tips when traveling with kids? Click here!


How to pack carry-on only with kids


Hacks for carry on only travel with kids
Traveling with carry on only with kids
Carry on only travel with children

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