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NiQi Travel Guides: How to pack your children’s carry-on luggage for international flights.


Packing a carry-on meant having to chuck a set of clothes in (for a just-in-case oopsie), my DSLR camera and travel documents. Years later, Mohamed and I are traveling with 4 children all under 9 years and 4 pieces of carry-on between us turns into an entire closet.

I’ve also realised that so many people out there still don’t understand what to pack into a carry-on or even how to pack it. Some online guides even suggest packing all of your clothes into your hand luggage. I am not that ambitious!

Here are the common mistakes that I’ve made when I traveled before (with 2 and 4 children on different occasions, on local and international flights):

  1. Packed each child an individual carry-on. Misconception was that they each could feel like they were part of the traveling journey and that by holding on to their own luggage, it could keep them ‘busy’. Reality: We had to look after their luggage and make sure that it wasn’t left behind.
  2. Packed individual carry-on bags for each child/person as opposed to all of the craft in one bag, all of the snacks in another, etc. Reality: You land up opening multiple bags on the flight and it’s more cumbersome to put back up.
  3. Spreading things across carry-on bags and forgetting where I packed it. Reality: Having to open 3 bags when the item you needed was in the fourth.

I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking into my personal traveling style and how my packing decisions ultimately affect the ease of how I travel. My husband is left to bring down the carry-on, open, unpack and re-pack, give me the eye when I say it’s in the ‘blue bag’ and then repeat the process.

This is how I’ve packed our luggage for our recent trip to Maldives. My method might not be revolutionary, but for me, it’s been somewhat of a learning curve.

The Luggage.

Let’s discuss luggage. I find traveling with hard cases safer. Not only am I able to bring back fragile items, they just feel sturdier and handle better on the ground. Unfortunately you can’t squash it into the overhead or over-stuff it (over the 7kg mark).

We purchased the Samsonite S’cure range almost 3 years ago. At the time, it felt like we were spending a ridiculous amount of money on just luggage. Many trips later, this has been the best travel investment that we have made.

(Shop here: I love that the bag moves in any direction (meaning, the wheels do). It has an upright movement, meaning you don’t need to tilt the bag to move it anywhere. The handle is adjustable so small hands may push it around (what we’re avoiding) or you may take 2 and hold them back to front (the plan).

To get a little technical, the S’Cure range also has a three-point locking system. So there is no need for locks (with keys) and travelers to the USA: there is a TSA lock.

If you look inside of the bag, there is a top section which may be closed with a zip. I usually keep items that are valuable or items that I might not need during the flight in there (spare set of clothes).

The bottom section has a cross strap which is useful for keeping everything in its place.

When we purchased the luggage, we thought that having different colours is an easier way to identify what we might have packed into which bag. This holds true but it also left me very confused. In order to prevent that happening again, I now make a note on my phone of what went into each colour carry-on so all I need to do is refer back to my memo so I know which bag needs to be pulled down.

Aside from looking neat and professional, these bags are an investment. The likelihood is that you will never need to change your luggage unless these crack, are stolen or if they release a lighter bag (this one currently weighs 2.9kg empty). I especially like that the locking system is built into the bag so there is no need to worry about missing keys or broken locks.

The Travelers:

I have 4 kids ages; 4.5 + 4.5 +6.5 +8.5 years. Although there isn’t a large gap between them, their interests differ. At times, they like to look through or play with each others toys, games, or colouring however they like to each have their own traveling ‘packs’ which need to have the same number of items and similar (but targeted at different ages).

What went into their Carry-on:

Our journey is being split into 2 flights: Johannesburg > Dubai, Dubai > Male. Our flight is midday, which means they are likely to be awake for a longer period of time, and probably sleep towards the end of flight 1 and much of flight 2.

In Bag 1 (Pink), I packed all of their needs for Flight 1. This would have most of their activity packs and games.

I put them into different Ziploc bags and labeled them so they could identify with who had what. If I was traveling with just 2 kids, for a shorter trip, I would like to use the fold-up toiletry bags which hang on to your seat. I find that slightly cumbersome and it’s not large enough to store colouring books.

Each pack contained:

  1. ย 1 x folder inside to keep papers + crayons. On the front of each folder, a plane colour-in activity with my childs name.
  2. 1 x small packs of crayons. I didn’t want to purchase too many colours because I know the likelihood of taking them all out, having them fall and then finally looking for the missing crayons.
  3. 1 x activity book of stickers + colouring pages
  4. 1 set each of beach-related printables that I grabbed off the net. I themed it for the beach, and likely would have done a city one, or one related to a country that we were visiting at another time.If I looked hard enough in the stores, I probably could have found a book, but this was the cheaper and easier option.
  5. 1 x travel games set from Gymathstics. These are age-appropriate and are specifically designed for traveling.
  6. 1 x Snackpack which included: crisps, chewing gum (we break rules when we are on holiday), gummies and Menthos, sucking sweets, nuts, pretzels, O-tees cereal (my kids are huge fans of cereal without milk), 2 biscuits and popcorn. Note the packaging of each; everything needed to be in easy to open containers or packets because ultimately, what we’re aiming for is to avoid them asking me to do anything! (the reality might not be so!).
  7. 2 x figurines for imaginative play.
  8. Tissues plus small pack of wet wipes.
  9. Small sheets of writing paper for drawing.

They would each be responsible for their own packs and whatever came out, should go back in (with any luck). The balance of the snacks would need to be carried over in to the next flight, including whatever paper and other craft items could be salvaged. Flight 2s only entertainment included a new toy that would keep them busy for a bit (putty) and a small book to read (or be read to). Many of the snacks were actually taken through during our time in Maldives, and more importantly, they tried to keep it all in their own pack as it was their own special pack of sweeties.

This bag would also contain chargers for devices in another zipped small bag; phones and iPad. These were easily accessible when we checked in and needed access to our chargers.

In the top section of this bag (the zipped part), was a set of spare clothes for each child including underwear. Because I planned to dress them in layers (with a vest underneath it all), I didn’t need to pack another jacket.

In Bag 2 (Blue), I packed all travel document print-outs. It was sectioned into Maldives and Dubai.

Each folder had a copy of all passports, hotel reservations, relevant Visas, any tickets/online bookings and/or relevant meeting dates with contact persons (should I not be able to access my email).

This bag also had a set of spare clothes for Mohamed and I (bulkier, so it made sense to pack it in an empty bag). Remember to put in spare undies too. This bag also had travel sized toiletries (basic: baby powder, body cream decanted into travel-sized container, hairbrush, hand wash) plus a bag with basic touch-up make-up.

I packed our travel musallah (prayer mat) plus my travel burqa (it’s an all-in-one cover-up with head scarf attached) into the bottom section of this bag.

In Bag 3 (Navy), I packed 1 set of swimwear for each person (adult + child). This seemed pretty unconventional (I think) but my plan was to have our luggage sent to our room, to be able to have quick access to our swimwear and to get into the water as soon as we can when we land! This happened exactly as I hoped that it would. The kids changed immediately and headed out to the beach. I also packed a small travel-sized container of sunblock. I wanted to avoid having to open any luggage and the inevitable would be that my kids would likely ask to go into the beach when arriving.

I also packed a full-size bag of all our (potential) travel medication. In the bottom section, a pair of sandals for everyone. It’s easier for kids when we fly (tying laces just to get to the bathroom is very frustrating). These will come out when we need to use it for our cossies.

In Bag 4 I left space for anything that I might have needed to pack into it at the last minute (mother-in-laws snacks, anything I needed to buy, etc). I also left space to put my handbag in and Mohameds napsack so we didn’t need to worry about lookign after it on the plane.

I didn’t want to go over the weight limitation so we made sure we weighed everything before we left home with our mini travel sized scale. This is a wonderful investment in case you are one of those over-packers.

How did I keep track of it all?

I saved a note on my cellphone with what was in each bag. I feel like I need a moment to myself for my organisational skills here.

I don’t read on-board or watch any series on my laptop etc. I prefer to sleep or watch a movie. I didn’t need to pack reading material etc, and my camera and lens fits into my handbag. Mohamed carried a napsack which his laptop fits into along with any on-hand documentation for travel.

There’s always that temptation to put more stuff in! I tried to keep a whole section empty in one of the bags so I could add anything that was a last-minute add-on. What are your tips for carry-on luggage? Please share here or on the post with this image on Instagram:

What would I do better the next time:

  1. I would purchase a tote and keep all of my travel documents in there as well as our passports. The tote should fit comfortably through the handles of my luggage and fit neatly on top of the luggage so it’s easier to carry around. In this tote I would also add things that are necessary to pull out in a hurry, or essential items needed for the plane or when we land. It’s sometimes cumbersome having to open up luggage to get to essential stuff.
  2. I wouldn’t pack as many activity items into each travel pack. I’d split the packs into how many flights we are doing and not over stimulate them. They slept for most of all the flights so in reality some what what I packed was only used at the hotel. Other than these packs, I brought nothing else extra in terms of toys or entertainment.

Images all taken with my Samsung S8 with editing.

12 Responses
  • Ayesha
    August 30, 2017

    Jazak’Allah for this…although my baby is still small it was interesting read!

    • Naqiyah
      August 31, 2017

      I hope that when your bub is older, you can out some of the recommendations into practice! Thank you for reading and your kind comment ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Hawa
      November 1, 2017

      Salaams. Jazakallah especially for the kiddies packing guide. I love the idea of having swimwear accessible immediately. Will be using your tips for our trip to Mauritius.

  • Naseema
    August 31, 2017

    Absolutely love this blog. Tx

    • Naqiyah
      August 31, 2017

      Thank you for the kind words Naseema!

  • Ray
    September 12, 2017

    Salaams & Shukran for this. We plan on travelling with two children (4 & 1 years) so this was perfect ๐Ÿ™‚

    Will print and utilise this list as its very handy!

    Once again Jazakallah for Sharing!

    • Naqiyah
      October 9, 2017

      Only a pleasure to be able to assist and offer any advice that I found useful. Safe travels and I hope that you find the trip easy with the kids.

  • Naz
    September 26, 2017

    Thanks so much. This guide will really assist alot. I was always under the impression that we had to book unrah with a travel agent. Is this something new or have i always been undrr the wrong impression?

    • Naqiyah
      October 9, 2017

      Some people find it easier and reassuring to book with an agent. If you are used to doing that or have older parents who prefer to have an agent, then that’s ok too. Younger, more tech savvy travelers are now opting to book by themselves, ultimately saving some money. It’s a personal preference at the end of it all. Thank you for your comment and for appreciating this post ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Fozia
    October 24, 2017

    Appreciate all the advise and especially the tips.
    Can’t wait for Travel Loyalty Post

    • Naqiyah
      October 25, 2017

      Thanks Fozia, the post has been published )