How To Pack In A Carry-On – With A Toddler

I never thought this day would come. But it finally has.

We’re finally back to carry-on travel as a family.

Our London trip over Labor Day was a trial run for India – get Rho comforable on a long haul flight, see how he manages jet lag, and generally observe him before we finalize the Bombay-Madras-Hyderabad itinerary.

I also gave myself an additional trial – to see if we could pack in carry-ons exclusively for the trip.

The results – Rho’s a pretty great flier (even in early morning flights), he’s more resilient and flexible than I give him credit for, and the less time we spend in the car, the better.

And we successfully packed and traveled in carry-ons. And I think we could have traveled a little bit longer – up to a week – this way.

Here’s what we packed, and how we managed it.


My husband and I packed our own carry-on suitcases – him in his Briggs & Riley Baseline, and me in my larger Away carry-on (read my full review here). What I packed was basically identical for my Stockholm trip, but with fewer evening outfits.

Backpacks would also be a great option for luggage. Tom Bihn has been a popular choice among travelers we’ve featured before, and I love my CabinZero pack.

Rho’s main luggage has been the Catalina weekender, which we’ve been using since we brought him home from the hospital. I packed the bottom section full of Pull Ups and a fresh pack of wipes, and the top with his clothes for the trip. His toiletries were in a little Baggie packed at the very top of the bag, and his backpack was filled with everything he needed for the flight – iPad in a Rho-proof case and headphones, wipes and overnight Pull Ups, an extra outfit in a wet-dry bag and emesis bags (our motion sickness essentials), snacks, and an empty water bottle.

I used this backpack as my personal item, and also packed an extra outfit for myself, a fully charged Mophie so Rho’s iPad never lost charge, and small surprise toys in case Rho got bored.

This is what I typically pack for Rho for a week-long trip, being sure to leave extra room in his luggage:


We brought our Babyzen Yoyo (best baby purchase ever). It got us through the airport with ease, and I hung Rho’s backpack from it while wearing my own. We were ready to gate check the stroller, given that we had three pieces of overhead luggage. But Virgin Atlantic let us bring it onboard both ways (more on that later!).

We skipped the car seat and used UberFamily for traveling to and from the airport. If we travel with a car seat, we travel and check this one (a great find after Rho outgrew his Doona). If your kid is large and old enough, this looks like a great option.

In The Airport

Sri carried both of our suitcases through the airport, with the Catalina slipped over the handle of his. I carried my own backpack and pushed Rho in his stroller, with his backpack hanging from it. This was one of the rare times I didn’t want to get to the airport early – I wanted as little time as possible between getting to the airport and getting on the plane.

Both Sri and I ate protein bars before boarding our outbound flight. On the return, we all ate a hearty breakfast at Heathrow and arrived to our gate just as they announced boarding. Win.

I folded up the stroller at the gate, and we let him walk through the jetway and onto the plane himself, holding the boarding pass so the flight attendant could help us (they did!)

On The Plane

We splurged for Premium Economy on Virgin Atlantic, which was worth every penny. We had a middle row of three seats, with Rho sitting in the middle and strapped in with a Cares haness. There’s more overhead bin space in this cabin than regular economy, so we were allowed to bring our stroller onboard along with our 3 pieces of main luggage.

I stowed our backpacks in the space in front of our seats, and kept Rho’s essentials – iPad, headphones, water bottle, and emesis bag – in the seat pocket in front of him. I slipped my Kindle and in-flight beauty bag in the pocket in front of me, on the off-chance I’d have a little downtime in the flight.

Which I did, on the return. Rho was wide awake and we took turns playing, painting, reading, and snuggling him on the outbound flight. On the way back, he was content to watch a few movies and nap. On both flights, we changed his Pull Up before take-off and right before landing (this changing bag made it a breeze).

We deplaned after everyone else had, so we could take our time getting out leisurely. Sri lugged the stuff, I carried Rho, and we made it out of the airplane without losing any of our belongings (and only a little bit of our sanity).

Next up – India. Wish us luck. Lots of luck.

How we survive long flights with a toddler, how to survive long flights solo, and how we packed when Rho was a baby.

I share a new travel post on Thursdays. You can find them all here.