Mom's Carry-On Bag: What to Tote When You Fly

Real Style on 05.09.11
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Photo: Ellington Handbags

Recently, my friend Rita flew to Hawaii with her husband and their kids. An hour into the Dallas-to-Honolulu flight, her two-year-old threw up. On her. "I had vomit in my bra," my friend told me later.

She was carrying a full change of clothes for the baby -- and nothing for herself. Fortunately, her sister-in-law was also traveling with them and offered up her own cardigan, but, she said, she still smelled like throw up for the rest of the trip.

It was a long trip. (The baby peed on her on the way home, too. Poor Rita.)

When you fly with kids, you need to assume that the worst will happen, and you need to be prepared. This doesn't mean that you have to lug a steamer trunk on the plane with you, but it does mean being thoughtful about what goes in your carry on bag -- and your kids' bags -- and about what you wear on your travel day. Here's what you need for a stress-free flight.

Clothes you can change out of easily. Dresses are great, but separates -- a tee and skirt or pants -- are your best bet for travel; you'll look nice, be comfortable, and be able to change whatever gets soiled without stripping down to your birthday suit. If the diaper leaks on your skirt, you can swap it for a new one without changing your top; if the baby spits up on your tee, you can change just that. Stick with machine-washable items that can be rinsed in a bathroom sink, if needed, and choose pieces that you could easily stuff into your carry on in an emergency; jeans will be difficult to deal with, but chinos are slimmer and will fit right in the bag.

Bonus: Carry yoga pants as your backup; they're easy to pack and can double as loungewear at your destination.

Change of clothing -- for everyone. If your kids are old enough to carry their own bags, they can carry their own clothes. Pack spare clothes -- shirt, pants, underwear and socks -- in a gallon zip-lock bag; compress to get all the air out. Don't worry about wrinkles; these are for an emergency, not a fashion show. Stow the clothes at the very bottom of your child's bag, under the snacks and games and stuffed friends. Make sure at least one other adult traveling with you knows where the bag of clothes is, in case you need help getting to it. Traveling alone? Show your kids where the clothes are; they can help each other out if needed. Do the same for yourself -- pack a full change of clothing, including backup bra and underwear, in a ziplock bag, and put it at the bottom of your carry on.

Bonus: The ziplock bag can be used to store wet or soiled clothes for the rest of the trip, so the rest of the things in your carry on won't smell like vomit. Or worse.

Diaper wipes, for speedy cleanup. Even if your kids are fully potty trained, pack a small container of wipes in your bag for travel. If someone does throw up (or, well, worse) you can use them to wipe up the mess. Because they're designed to be gentle on skin, you can wipe your child (or yourself) down from head to toe. Diaper wipes are also typically more sturdy than antibacterial wipes, which are designed primarily for hands, so they do a better job of cleaning up big messes. Diaper wipes are also great at getting out stains, of any sort, and can be used to clean up people and clothing.

Bonus: The light scent will leave you feeling (relatively) refreshed. Or at least not as smelly.

Finally, keep in mind that any time you fly anywhere, there's a very real possibility that your luggage -- or you -- will not make it to your destination. Having a full change of clothes in your carry on bag means that if you suddenly have to spend the night in St. Louis, you can get up in the morning and put on clean underwear and start over. And that will really make your trip less stressful.

More on Traveling with Kids
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5 Tips for Packing for a Road Trip
Family Vacation Checklist