We are going to be traveling again shortly and I am reminded about something I am continually grateful for. We have a kiddo who has been able to pack her own suitcase since she was four or five years old. Amazing and such a relief when you are rushing to get ready for a trip! A few years ago I created a little picture chart for her to use to be able to pack her own bags. Since then she's become quite a pro and is usually all ready to go long before her dad and I are.
The way my chart worked was that I basically created a standard packing list of how many of each item she would need for most trips and put a picture with each one, since she couldn't even read yet when I first made this chart. If there were three shirts, she needed to pack 3 shirts and if there were two pants she needed to pack two pants. This worked very well! Later I started just writing in a number next to the pictures if it was different than what was on the chart, based on the length of our trip and specific needs. That worked well too.
So before she was old enough to read she could get together her clothing and set it all out so that we could go through it and check her bag to make sure she had everything and then just pop it all in the suitcase or backpack at the end. I still remember one trip we took where we only had about an hour's notice that we were leaving for the airport and she was ready in less than 30 minutes. I think she was seven. She's a good traveler.
Having a good rolling suitcase that she can manage and a backpack she can pack her travel necessities in (blanket, pillow, snacks, drink, books, iPad, etc.) in has made life so much easier. Since she was tiny she's carried her own backpack which has grown in size a bit as she has. Suitcase checks in for the flight, backpack carries us through the flight on the plane. I always packed diapers or extra underwear and extra clothing in her backpack in case of emergencies too. For little kids I like to pack quite a few small toys and perhaps even a few little fun surprises to keep them entertained on the flight.
For little kids, I factor in that about every 15-30 minutes on the plane they may get bored, so I bring enough things to keep then interested in something new every few minutes for the duration of the flight. For longer flights you can even rotate through what you brought twice throughout the hours. I find this philosophy works well for church as well. I've come to realize that the kids who are usually running unruly all through church or on the plane are the kids who don't have anything else to entertain them. If there is lots to do right there with mom and dad they will stay there and stay engaged. Worked like a charm for us for years and I continue to employ that tactic with other kids I cross paths with as well. I usually still carry a bag with a few toys in it to church just in case and it's amazing how often they get used.
Now that Bug is older, almost 11, I'm not so concerned about entertaining her on the flight. That is really her responsibility now and I assume she'll have a laptop to watch something online if she wants and a book or magazine to read as well. That should do it, thankfully. No more packing stuffed animals, toys and all that jazz.
But I still want to make sure she has a sweater or jacket for the plane, something soft to lay her head on if needed. A thin, down puffy jacket works well as both a jacket or pillow on the flight and and is nice to have for cool mornings and evenings. I still usually always bring a pashmina with me for the flight as well, which also works as a blanket, scarf or pillow in a crunch. They fold up easily in a corner of a backpack. They often get used by other family members who turn up a little empty handed for pillows or jackets.
I have a good backpack too that I've been depending on for travel for quite a few years now. It has been a godsend for the amount of traveling I've done over the past few years. Everything I carry on has a place and so every trip I know where I'm going to store things and where to find them when I arrive. Having a system down makes things faster when you are packing, decreases the likelihood you'll forget something as you go through each section and think about what needs to go in there and you always know where to find things.
Here's another post about how I keep a toiletries bag especially for travel that is always ready to grab and walk out the door with. It's been a staple for my trips for almost 20 years now. Here's a post about using packing cubes for clothing. I've also been doing this for almost 20 years as well and I like how easy it is to keep everything orderly and organized. It also makes it very easy to have your bags searched if that happens. Having four cubes in your suitcase, one toiletries bag and a couple of shoe bags keeps things looking great and functioning well!
And lastly, this is my favorite travel bag for trips when I know I'll be out and about for long days and doing a lot of walking and wandering. It works as a fairly small over-the-shoulder bag and if needed expands to hold shopping purchases, a lunch or a jacket. I've had this bag for 20 years, it's still in pretty much like new condition except for a little fading. But you would never know it's 20 years old and they still sell the same bag now.