Especially with a big family, our kids definitely need to help out with carrying some of their own stuff when we travel. This is especially true when we fly, but also helpful when we road trip or RV. We love giving each of them their own travel backpack for kids to pack their own kid travel essentials. It allows them to take responsibility and also think about their ideal kids packing list.
We try to pack pretty minimally, so we don’t like them to fill up their kids travel backpack with a ton of heavy stuff for them to carry. So here are the child travel backpack essentials that we always make sure to pack!
BEST TRAVEL BACKPACK FOR KIDS
We personally prefer to have a specific traveling backpack for kids that they don’t use for school and other activities. That way, it doesn’t need to be emptied and cleaned before a trip, and they’re functional as kids travel backpacks right away.
The thing with kids travel daypacks is that you’re often trading off comfort for weight/practicality. We personally prefer to have travel backpacks for kids that are ultra lightweight. We love these folding travel backpacks that we’ve had for years. Each of our kids has a different color (easy to identify!) and they fold up so small and weigh almost nothing. They’re very roomy but also very flexible. It’s SO easy to squish them under any airplane seat as a carry on for kids, or in a car! They have several pockets and work great for us.
That said, they’re NOT the most comfortable backpacks out there. There’s almost no shoulder strap padding, and they are a bit long for younger kiddos. Our kids ages 6+ have all done fine with them, but it’s something to be aware of. But we personally love having the option to fold them up and stow the stuff in a suitcase if needed.
So while the above backpacks are the best backpack for travel with kids for us, they’re not the best if you want something really comfy. If you’d like something with a bit more structure and comfort, these backpacks for traveling kids are inexpensive, roomy, and have terrific reviews as being the best travel backpack for kids. They also come in a number of colors! I’d like to try them out for my kids when we go on another longer trip and they need something with more support.
For my younger kiddos (ages 4-5), I typically just have them use their preschool backpack. At that age, those tend to be lightweight and fit their little bodies well. We’ve had this travel backpack for toddlers ever since my oldest was tiny (it’s a great small backpack for preschool!). Somehow it’s still in terrific shape 8 years later!
WHAT TO PUT IN A KIDS BACKPACK FOR TRAVEL
What’s even more important to us than the actual backpack is what to put in them. Since we travel fairly frequently, we love having a streamlined process for what goes in the kids travel backpack. Keep reading to see what we include in our kids travel backpack checklist. You can also pop in your email below to get the printable checklist in your inbox!
TRAVEL MASKS FOR KIDS
These days, they wouldn’t really be the best travel backpacks for kids if they didn’t have masks accessible! We always pack high filtration ones when we travel to protect us and the communities we visit. We also always pack a few cloth masks just in case.
Here’s a full post with all our family’s favorite masks.
After masks, snacks are definitely the most important thing we put in our children’s travel backpack. We like to pack things like granola bars, apple, zip bag of fishy crackers, maybe a string cheese if it won’t sit too long, toasted chickpeas, etc. We also may pack a small treat, like a small package of mints or Tic Tacs.
Here’s also a whole list of 50+ healthy road trip snacks. Many of these would be perfect to add to a kids backpack for travel.
BEST KIDS TRAVEL JACKET
We most often travel with packable, lightweight down jackets because they’re great for layering in a variety of weather situations. We’ve used them in just slightly cool temperatures with a t-shirt under, or in the dead of freezing winter layered with flannel and wool base layers under. We like putting them in the travel backpack for kids so they can use them if they get cold or even as a pillow/blanket while traveling.
These are our favorite lightweight insulated jackets for kids. We’ve probably owned close to a dozen of them in various sizes over the years and passed them down through multiple kids. They’re inexpensive and terrific, including in the men’s and women’s versions (which Dan and I both own). I run pretty cold so I prefer this jacket, which is even more lightweight and packable, and is also incredibly warm (but fairly pricey).
If we’re going somewhere warm and wet, we occasionally travel with rain jackets instead. I love this kids rain jacket because it’s functional, simple, and cute. (We also love this long and waterproof rain jacket for women, and this men’s rain jacket.)
My kids love traveling with one stuffie to comfort them and to sleep with. It’s easiest if they carry their own in their travel backpacks for kids, so they can access it when they want, including during travel.
We like putting one of these hanging mini hand sanitizer bottles on each of our kids travel backpacks. It makes them easy to access, and they’re small enough that they go through security just fine.
When we get to our destination, we usually purchase a bigger bottle of hand sanitizer and we can refill the smaller ones as needed.
KIDS TRAVEL WATER BOTTLE
Whether we’re taking a road trip with kids or flying with kids, we love packing a reusable water bottle for each of them. When flying, we leave them empty until we’ve gone through security in the airport, and then fill them up at a drinking fountain in the airport. They’re also generally very helpful in preventing spills (even with older kids). For toddlers especially, it’s nice to pour a drink from the drink cart in there instead of leaving an open vessel on the tray table just waiting for them to knock it over.
When taking a family road trip, it makes it so much easier when everyone has their own drinks handy that they can keep in a cup holder or in their travel backpacks for kids.
I love that our kids have a travel backpack with water bottle holder so the bottle stays put. Insulated kids water bottles are helpful so that drinks stay cold for a while (especially helpful if you need milk for younger kiddos – flight attendants have always been willing to give me milk for my little ones, too). I like this hard spout insulated sippy for babies and young toddlers. THIS and THIS are great travel water bottles for younger kids. I also like this one (which is surprisingly spill-resistant, but the straw can get dirty since it doesn’t have a cover).
My older kids absolutely LOVE this water bottle – it’s a great size, fits in a side pocket, and keeps drinks cold for sooo long. If we’re planning to hike quite a bit on our travels, my kids pack their amazing kids hiking hydration backpacks and generally just use those for water on the road trip (we don’t often fly with these).
For adults, we really love THIS one and THIS one.
BOOK OR KIDS KINDLE
I really should’ve put this one first, because without this, everyone is significantly less happy during the journey, haha. My kids love to read and it’s the best way to keep them entertained throughout the travel day.
My 3 kiddos ages 7+ all have their own Kids Kindle. They get one once they become fairly independent readers so they can have access to lots of books. It is an absolute lifesaver!! Both at home and while traveling, the Kids Kindle is amazing for keeping my kids reading and to always have access to tons of books without needing to carry a bunch with us. More about the Kids Kindle for travel. It’s definitely one of our kids travel essentials!
For my younger kiddos, I like to pack a book or two that will take them a long time to peruse. Something like Where’s Waldo? or a lift-the-flap book with lots of interesting little pictures or tidbits work great. (This would be so fun, too!) I also like to pack a board book or two for babies and toddlers. (This is a favorite!)
TRAVEL JOURNAL FOR KIDS
We’re not big on souvenirs – we prefer memories and photos, and typically purchase one Christmas ornament for the family from each place we visit. But I do want my kids to remember their amazing experiences, and to be able to reflect on the privilege and beauty of the places they are able to see. So I have them each keep a travel journal from our adventures. Sometimes they record an entry for each day, and sometimes it’s one entry per place. Either way, it’s so fun to see what they remember and what stood out to them.
I don’t typically pack tons of kids activities in a travel backpack for kids. My kids are generally above to occupy themselves with books, snacks, talking to siblings, and perhaps an in-flight movie if it’s available. That said, I usually do pack 2-3 small activities for my younger kiddos (ages 7 and under), and my older kids occasionally take along a card game or something. I usually pack them in a plastic zipper bag – it’s enough to keep them content but small enough that if we lose them, it’s no big deal. Here are some of our favorites:
- Paint By Sticker book (I usually just tear out a few pages + stickers and just stick those in the backpack – these are the BEST for kiddos. They love them soooo much and it keeps them occupied for ages.)
- Small bag of classic LEGOs
- Brain Flakes
- Small sheets of paper and crayons
- Activity book (I love this human body one. Here’s a full list of all our favorite fun and educational activity books for kids)
- Cover Your Assets card game (here are a whole bunch of other favorite family games)
Last but certainly not least is actually perhaps the most important item at all – child restraint. When we drive, we typically use the same car seats we use on a day to day basis. But when we fly, I love child restraints that are small and compact and perfect for traveling. Ours all fit inside a backpack, which is soooo helpful when traveling!
My kids ages 6+ use the Mifold, which is a super compact folding booster seat. I use this for my kids who can buckle it themselves, stay in position, and don’t regularly fall asleep in the car. It’s soooo easy to transport! Also available on Amazon & Target. The Bubblebum is a great option if you’re having trouble getting a good fit with the Mifold. I love that either fits easily in a kids travel backpack.
For my preschool-aged kiddos, we typically pack this amazing booster vest. It’s sooo safe and comfortable and works for kiddos as young as 3 years old and 30+ pounds. It doesn’t fit very well in the toddler travel backpack, so my oldest usually carries it in his traveling backpack for kids.
For younger kiddos, we travel with either an infant car seat or convertible car seat for travel. Of course, the car seat doesn’t fit in a kids travel backpack (I wish!) but we usually attach it to a suitcase with this handy car seat suitcase strap.
Here’s more info on all the child restraints we pack when flying with kids.
We adapt our travel carseats for kids situation a bit more when traveling in the RV. Here are all our car seats when RVing with kids.
There you have it – a kids carry on packing list for their kids travel backpacks. I hope this kids backpack packing list helps you figure out what is most useful to have your kids carry on and manage for themselves during your trip!
Do your little ones have a travel backpack for kids? If so, what do you put in it?