That said, I actually find it more cumbersome to travel with bulky gear and prefer to check strollers and car seats. Better yet: rent these items at your final destination. Rental car companies provide car seats with advance reservations, and some companies partner with hotels to provide stroller and car seat rentals. Ask ahead and avoid the extra trouble when you can. My rule of thumb: My kids, now 4 and 6, have to be able to carry their own carry-ons. Tough love? Perhaps. But it's never too early to turn them into experienced travelers.
What to Pack
Every person with a seat gets one carry-on bag, while mom and dad also get to bring one laptop bag, one purse, or one diaper bag. Now, what do you bring?
For Infants: Pack your standard diaper bag complete with all the items you need on an outing: diapers, changing pad, wipes, diaper cream, plastic bags for soiled clothes, blankets, tissues, pacifiers, teeth toys, extra change of clothes (two, just to be safe), a hat to keep baby's head warm when the plane gets cold, bibs, bottles, breast milk or formula, nursing pads for mom, baby food, infant feeding set, snacks, and a few of baby's favorite toys. If your baby has any medications or you're concerned about illness, bring medicines in your carry-on, including infant pain and fever reducers, teething relief and gas relief medication.
For Toddlers: Pack a backpack (preferably one your toddler can carry) with your essentials, as well as toys. Take a change of clothes for an accident, diapers or pull-ups, plastic bags for soiled clothes, diaper cream, snacks (plenty if the flight is long and your child won't eat the meal served), drinks purchased after security, small books, favorite toys, and your child's "lovey" that helps him keep calm and to sleep. Stash a small first aid kit with bandages, motion sickness relief, fever reducers, pain reducers, and any prescribed medications in this carry-on, or your own.
For School-Aged Kids: At this age, kids can definitely carry their own backpack or rollaway carry-on. Put your cell phone number and your name somewhere visible on the outside of the backpack, in case you become separated. Inside the backpack, allow your child to bring some favorite toys, such as crafts, video games and books to keep him occupied on the plane. Pack a sweater in case the flight gets chilly. Bring some snacks and purchase some beverages after security to carry, as well as gum to help reduce ear pressure. Stash a small first aid kit with bandages, motion sickness relief, fever reducers, pain reducers, and any prescribed medications in this carry-on, or your own.
For Teens: Teens can and will pack a carry-on for themselves, but make sure the essentials are in there, and that the rule-breakers are not. Teens should be sure to have their IDs and passports on them, and their wallets with cash. Let them carry their own tickets, and give them a copy of the itinerary in the event you are separated, as well as their cell phones. Put a copy of your insurance information in your teen's carry-on as well. Teens should also carry their own prescribed medicines, but have on hand aspirin and other basics in case they need it. Glasses and/or a spare set of contacts should also be carried on.