Cast your mind back to those pre-kid days, when navigating airports felt like a breeze and the concept of traveling light was second nature. Remember the freedom of gliding through terminals with just a compact carry-on, unencumbered by check-in luggage? Fast forward to the present, and it seems like the notion of traveling without an entourage of luggage is a distant memory.
As fellow parents, we understand this shift all too well. The endless list of trip essentials for your little one(s) can easily overwhelm even the most seasoned traveler. But rest assured, we're here to offer a helping hand, drawing from our own family travel experiences and challenges. Our aim is to bring back that liberating feeling of traveling with ease, even with your tiny companion(s) in tow.
Getting off the bus in San Sebastian carrying 2x Hideaway Duffels, 1x roller and 1x stroller bag.
We did exactly this during our 6-week-trip across Italy / France / Spain with our 4-year old and 1.5-year-old. During those 6 weeks, we:
- Stayed in 10 different Airbnbs / hotels
- Took 7 different flights (incl. the 10-hour journey to get to Europe)
- Traveled by train, water taxi, ferry boat, bus, Uber
- Rented a car for 7 days
Suffice to say, we moved around A LOT, and were grateful that we intentionally minimized our luggage footprint to make each leg of the journey easier! Read more to discover the joy of (nearly) stree-free family travel using only carry-on luggage.
The (many) Pros and (few) Cons of Traveling with Carry-On only (link)
Before jumping into our practical tips, you should ask the question of whether carry-on only luggage is the right choice for you. We recommend that you read our article on the pros and cons of carry-on only travel with kids. To read more, click here.
Tip #1: Pick Family-Friendly Accommodations
Choosing the right place to stay during your family adventures plays a pivotal role in lightening your travel load. Opting for family-friendly accommodations that offer essential amenities significantly reduces the need for packing additional items. When searching for the perfect Airbnb or hotel, prioritize the below amenities:
Crib: This is the #1 priority for an accommodation when you are looking to travel carry-on only, as most travel cribs are larger than carry-on size limitations and therefore require check-in.
Laundry: Possibly tied for #1 priority with the crib, is that your accommodations have laundry. If you are traveling more than a few days, knowing that you are able to do laundry will dramatically reduce your need to pack excessive clothing for your little one(s).
High Chair: While this isn't absolutely mission critical, accommodations with a high chair are truly a game-changer when you decide to have a family meal in. It is just way less messy! Increasingly we see accommodations providing this, but you have to ask.
Toys/Books: Highlighting to your accommodations upfront that you are traveling with a baby or small child often results in them offering you many toys and books they have set aside for families like yours! This is especially true for Airbnbs.
By selecting these thoughtful accommodations, you can minimize the amount of gear, clothing, and entertainment items you need to bring, allowing for a more streamlined and hassle-free travel experience. During our time in Europe, we only stayed at Airbnbs that had a crib as part of their listings. To calm our nerves around leaving our (beloved) travel crib at home, here are some things we did:
- Messaged our hosts before booking to request they share pictures of the crib with us as we wanted to make sure that the crib was clean and safe. (Bonus tip from reader Sarah Moran: even if they don't mention the items you're looking for in the listing, it never hurts to message and ask if they have them!)
- Messaged our hosts before arriving to request that the crib be set up for us prior to our arrival (we’ve had an experience before this trip where the crib was not built as they had dismantled it).
- Packed multiple crib sheets, our SlumberPod, and sound machine so that we could ensure cleanliness + familiarity for our toddler.
One bonus to staying at places with cribs is that they’re usually homes of people who have kids, which means they usually also provide other kid-friendly supplies including toys, books, towels, and plastic plates/cups/bowls! Over the course of our 6-week trip, our kids were just so excited to explore every new destination to see what new goodies they would get to play with.
Tip #2: Pack the Right Gear for a Seamless Journey
While we've discussed what you can avoid bringing by choosing the right accommodations, it's equally crucial to focus on bringing the right travel gear to make your journey as smooth as possible.
Boarding the train was super easy with our minimal luggage footprint
When going carry-on only with your little one(s), you’ll need to be hyper space efficient with every item that you bring. Here are the essential items we’d recommend so that you get the most utility out of every single item that you’re bringing with you — no wasted space!
NOTE: For the purposes of this article, we’ll be sharing what items we brought while traveling as a family of 4 (2 adults + 2 kids with their own seats). When traveling with your little one(s), it’s always important to double check the carry-on allowance for your airline. In general, we’ve found that usually every person that has an assigned seat (i.e. not a lap infant) is allowed: 1 personal item + 1 carry-on luggage (note: budget airlines will often charge for a carry-on luggage).
- Travel Stroller: Bugaboo Butterfly. For us, this stroller is the best of all worlds — small and compact enough that you can fold it one-handed and store it in most overhead bins, but also spacious enough that we could fit items in the basket underneath (bonus: the Getaway Bag and Hideaway Duffel each can separately fit under the stroller).
- Travel Car Seat(s): WAYB Pico Car Seat (for our front-facing 4-year-old) and an infant car seat with stroller adapters (for our rear-facing 1.5-year-old). Traveling with two little ones can easily get out of hand with the amount of stuff, including the car seats. We’ve found using the WAYB Pico Car Seat to be a great hack as this car seat is quite compact, and can easily be packed / carried with all of our other gear (when not in use, we usually keep this in our stroller bag or in our stroller's bottom basket)
- Travel Diaper Bag: The Getaway Bag. Your personal item is a valuable piece of baggage, and the Getaway Bag is designed to maximize the amount of toys, diapers, food/liquids, and clothes you can being for your child(ren) while keeping everything absolutely organized to ensure your flight goes as smoothly as possible. Depending on the length of the journey, we will carry 1 Getaway Bag for both kids, or 2 Getaway Bags (1 per kid). For Europe, we brought 2.
- Carry-On Luggage: The Hideaway Carry-On Duffel. This newly launched carry-on item offers ample internal and external compartments to give you the peace of mind you need that all your child(ren)'s belongings are packed, organized, and with you at all times. For any trip longer than a 3-4 days, we will bring 1 Hideaway Duffel for each kid and let them act as our kids' dressers away from home. The 5 different ways to carry the Hideaway Duffel make it the perfect luggage to carry every stretch of your journey while complementing your other travel gear. We often use the Hideaway Duffel's luggage pass-through, sliding it over the handle of the carry-on roller bags that we each use to carry our adult-sized belongings!
- Stroller Bag with Wheels: Having some kind of stroller bag is essential to ensuring your stroller doesn't get damaged if it is gate-checked. It is also a great place to squeeze in a few extra items such as light jackets and changes of shoes for the whole family to wear after arrival.
By prioritizing the right travel gear, you can greatly reduce the anxiety and discomfort of your journey with your little ones.
Tip #3: Learn from our Packing List for 6-Weeks in Europe with a 4-year-old and 1.5-year-old
In addition to only picking accommodations with a travel crib, we also prioritized (almost) always having access to a washing machine to do laundry (note: dryers are fairly rare in Europe!). Knowing that we’d have to hang dry often, we packed enough so that we would comfortably only need to do laundry about once per week.
By the end of the trip, our 4-year-old dressed himself every morning picking his outfits independent from the Hideaway Duffel
Hideaway Duffel Packing List (one for each child):
- 10x Tops (mostly t-shirts, couple long-sleeve)
- 8x Bottoms (half pants, half shorts)
- 2x Layers (1x sweatshirt, 1x zip-up sweatshirt)
- 2x Swim Bottoms, Tops
- 2x Pajamas
- 2x Crib Sheets (1.5-year-old) OR 2x Pillow Cases (4-year-old)
- 2x Light Sleep Sacks (1.5-year-old only)
- 1x Sound Machine
- 1x Baby Monitor/Camera
- 2-3x Small Loveys
- 8x Socks
- 1x Day’s worth of Diapers (1.5-year-old) OR 8x Underwear (4-year-old)
- 1x Sun Hat
- 1x Beach Shoes
- 2-3x Small Books
- 3-4x Small Toys
- 1x Light Jacket
- Extra Snacks
- 1x Dopp kit for both kids (toothbrushes, toothpaste, medications)
The Bottom Line
Wherever you go, traveling with kids is such an enriching experience for the whole family, and with the right packing strategies, it can also be relatively stress-free. By implementing our expert tips for family traveling with only carry-on luggage, you can focus on creating lasting memories with your little ones without the added stress of managing excessive baggage. Bon voyage!