Our Family Only Travels with Carry-Ons—Here’s What I Pack to Make That Happen 

I never check luggage when I travel with my baby and toddler—here’s how.

By Kristy Alpert 

As a mom who has visited 86 countries, I’ve learned that, just like there are solo travelers out there who love to check bags, there are parents who love to check bags. I’m not that traveler, nor am I that parent. I’m a carry-on only girl and have been since I was flying standby under my airline pilot dad’s flight privileges.

Carrying on isn’t easy with a baby and a toddler, but once I accepted that most hotels have cribs to borrow, rental car companies rent car seats, and many restaurants have highchairs (although a lap works just as well), I’ve literally lightened my travel load. Packing has always been my super-human trait, and, although I’m minimal on what I bring with me,, the following gear is necessary for me to achieve “carry-on only parent” status. 

Solly Baby Wrap 

This super soft wrap easily stuffs into my diaper bag or doubles as a scarf when I’m not using it, but when it is in use, my baby girl stays secured on my chest while my hands are free to hold my son’s hand in one and roll my suitcase with the other (or, more accurately, hold a coffee in one hand while my son rides on my rollaboard). 

To buy: Solly Baby Tencel Modal Wrap $69;

Doona Car Seat & Stroller Travel System 

If there’s one piece of baby equipment to splurge on, it’s this genius car seat that converts into a stroller. It buckles directly into any car/Uber/Lyft/taxi (i.e., no bulky base installation necessary), and you’ll just gate check it just like any other stroller and pick it up planeside at your destination to avoid the baggage carousels.

To buy: Doona Car Seat & Stroller Travel System $550;

WavHello Portable Baby Soother 

I use this travel sound machine at home and while traveling since it clips or stands anywhere (i.e., car seat, crib, etc.) and it’s chew safe. I’m partial to Ollie the Owl, but all the woodland creatures perform equally as well. 

To buy: WavHello Portable Baby Soother $49.99;

Nite Ize S-Biner SlideLock Carabiner 

Consider this gear clip the extra set of hands you need while traveling. The slide lock prevents anything from falling off during travel, so you can securely hang bags from your suitcase, clip-in a water bottle to your backpack, or use the hang hook to keep your backpack off the ground in bathrooms. 

To buy: Nite Ize S-Biner SlideLock Carabiner  $4;

Beaba Wellington Diaper Backpack 

Many airlines don’t count diaper bags as carry-ons, which means you can load this spacious “doctor’s bag” style backpack—which is easy to access in-flight with one hand—with as much as you can carry. 

To buy: Beaba Wellington Diaper Backpack $99.95;

Babeyer Mini Cooler 

Confession: I rarely use this cooler for milk or formula. I clip this cooler to the left strap of my backpack with a carabiner and load it with earbuds, snacks, toys, or anything else I’ll need to get to quickly on the plane.

To buy: Babeyer Mini Cooler $22.99 (was $29.99);

J.L. Childress Car Seat Gate Check Bag  

There have been countless times when I’ve watched airport employees trudging through rain with gate-checked items, and this water-resistant bag has saved me from a soaked stroller every time. I clip it to the right strap of my backpack with a carabiner so it doesn’t take up any space. 

To buy: J.L. Childress Gate Check Bag for Car Seats $19.99;

Stnky Bag 

Think of this as a packing cube for your family’s dirty clothes. Carry-on bags are confined spaces, and it just takes one wet swimsuit or soiled pants to ruin your bag’s entire contents. Trust me, it’s worth the extra space in your suitcase.

To buy: Stnky Bag $28;

Larq Filtered Water Bottle 

This light-weight bottle had me at “detachable carabiner,” but the main draw is its built-in filtration system that makes me feel good about water quality (and taste) for my kids, no matter where we are.

To buy: Larq Bottle Filtered $58;

HawLander Little Kids Backpack 

Having my son bring his own snacks and toys was a game changer. This is often the bag we use most in-flight, and, although we keep it light in the off-chance he actually wears it, in a pinch we can fill it up with bulkier items and clip it to my rollaboard with a carabiner. 

To buy: HawLander Little Kids Backpack $25.99;

Kokodi LCD Writing Tablet 

No mess toys are critical for an easy flight, and this tablet keeps things clean, light, and fun. I’m currently teaching my son to read on this tablet, but it’s also great for tic-tac-toe or for silly self portraits. 

To buy: Kokodi LCD Writing Tablet $18.99 with onsite coupon (was $29.99);

TravelPro Maxlite 5 

I prefer soft-sided suitcases when traveling with kids because they don’t take up much room in a hotel room, but also because I can stuff this feather-light bag fairly full and it’s still easy to lift overhead while wearing a baby. 

To buy: TravelPro Maxlite 5 $137.28;

Delsey Paris Turenne Carry-On Suitcase 

This spinner from Delsey Paris is the only hard-sided suitcase I’ve ever loved. The front pocket is soft enough to expand, and the interior is deceptively roomy. 

To buy: Delsey Paris Turenne Hardside Soft Pocket Carry-on Spinner$279.99;

On Cloud 5 Shoes 

I wear these hybrid running/lifestyle shoes on the plane and then pack a pair of sandals so I only have to bring two pairs of shoes … but I often only end up wearing my On Clouds because these shoes can handle anythingduring my travels.

To buy: On Cloud 5 Running Shoes $139.95;

Post-it Notes 

Screen-free in-flight entertainment at its finest. A single pad of Post-Its can become an art pad, a hide-and-seek game, stickers, a bouquet of ice cream cones, and so much more. The best part is that once you’re done, you can reuse them or just throw them away.

To buy: Post-it Super Sticky Notes $7.29;

YumEarth Lollipops 

Sugar is a rare treat in my house, but I will always board a plane armed with a handful of lollipops. I try not to use them if I don’t have to, but they’re a lifesaver for kids struggling to pop ears or struggling to patiently wait for seatbelt signs to go off. 

To buy: YumEarth Organic Fruit Flavored Vitamin C Pops $6.37;