How to Pack for a 12 Day Trip with a 6-month-old Baby (Using only Carry On)

how to pack for a 12 day trip with a baby (using only carry on)

Packing with Baby Carry-On Luggage Only

Taking advantage of my mini-retirement maternity leave, we recently went on a trip to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Mexico.  Initially, the plan was to drive down from Vancouver to Tijuana but after calculating the drive time, it was a 20-hour trip.  20 hours back and forth in the span of two weeks is probably a very bad idea for baby.  We decided two take two return flights instead (so four flights in total, I know, ambitious with a baby right?).

The itinerary was Vancouver to LA then LA to Mazatlan, then Mazatlan back to LA, and LA back to Vancouver.  Since most North American airlines started charging $25 for checked baggage on North American flights, this would cost us $100.  On our last trip to Hawaii for 5 weeks, we did checked luggage and it was great.  Even though we minimally packed, I did pack a lot of things that were unnecessary though (too many onesies, too many swimsuits for baby)… I even packed baby GYM’s play gym!

Since this trip is not very travel hacked compared to Hawaii’s trip, I wanted to decrease the costs if at all possible.  I know $100 doesn’t seem like much but it feels like such a luxury when you have to pay full fare for flights!!  (Do I sound like a spoiled travel hacker or what?). 

My sister in law who is the queen of frugality (I think more so than me) said she never checks in luggage on her trips.  She has two kids under 5!  Mind you, her trips are usually 7-10 days long but still, that’s amazing!

My husband didn’t think that we would be able to do a 12-day trip without checking in luggage.  The stakes were high.  It would be $50 CAD and another $50 USD for checked luggage fees.

In addition to a monetary impetus to forego luggage check-in, there is the motivation of time.  It’s nice not to have to wait for baggage claim.


Being the keener personal finance blogger that I am, I decided to accept this challenge and publicly declared it on Twitter.  He must not remember that I hiked for 7 days in the Canadian wilderness on the West Coast Trail with some girlfriends and carried all our own gear on our backs.  So I know how to pack (light).

Then I started researching.

There were THREE elements that allowed this carry-on experiment to succeed.  These are as follows:

the game changer- The diaper bag

You might think that a 12-day trip using only carry on is nearly impossible.  I know I kind of did.  I definitely had my doubts.

As you probably know, you are allowed a carry-on and a personal item on flights.  Usually, the carry-on dimensions are as follows for Air Canada:

Source: Air Canada

The personal item can be the size of a purse, briefcase, backpack, or laptop bag.  I brought a backpack and put my laptop in it.

We were traveling with a lap infant (just have to pay taxes for the baby, children under age 2 who are sitting in the parent’s lap don’t need to be charged full adult fare), and infant travel allows you a lot of luxuries.

These lap infant luxuries include:

  • Diaper bag
  • Stroller
  • Car seat/ child restraint device

These are all not counted towards carry-on items.  You can roll up your stroller/ car seat combo right up to the gate and they will take it on the plane for you.

Again, I will reiterate that the diaper bag (which I use as a purse as well) does not count towards carry-on items.

This is game changer information.  With that, the amount of luggage allowed was enough for twelve days.  See below for my chic hand-me-down Marc Jacobs diaper bag.


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the other problem: baby food

Our baby recently started on solids.  It’s been fun but messy!  Since we were going to Mexico, I was a little concerned about the potential for Hepatitis A or traveler’s diarrhea so thought it is best we bring our packaged fruit and vegetable purees from Canada. The problem is that most of the baby food in jars or squeeze packs are 130mL, or over 3.4 fluid oz which is over the 100mL limit for liquids allowed on an airplane.

Then another game changer came about.  Baby food (sufficient amounts enough for the plane ride) are exempt from the 100mL or 3.4oz limit, as long as you don’t bring too much.  We packed 5 packages with us, each lasts 24 hours in the fridge, and as long as it is a reasonable amount they will let you go through with it.  But be prepared for some extra screening.  In exchange for LAX security NOT opening up the pouches, I had to receive a thorough patdown.  On our last few days, we gave the baby some banana puree when we were back in the United States.  We also had rice cereal packed.

Of course, this is much easier if you are nursing instead of pumping and giving a bottle (because there’s less stuff to bring) but I still think it’s doable.

the second game changer- accommodation amenities

The second game changer that allowed this to happen, is access to LAUNDRY.  So important.  We have two points of access to laundry and the first access point is about 6 days into the trip.  So we packed for 6 days and then plan to spend some time doing laundry to prepare for the remainder of the trip.  If we did not have access to laundry, carrying more clothes would be necessary and likely would prompt us to use check-in luggage.

Also, most of the places have a Pack N’ Play or portable crib, with the exception of the Airbnb we are staying at for two nights (in which we will cosleep with baby) so we didn’t have to pack our travel bassinet (baby barely fits in it now though!).

the packing list for a carry-on only trip with a 6-month-old baby

Packing for Trip with Baby Using Only Carry On
Packing Cubes are great

The essentials (in the diaper bag):

  • Passports
  • Nexus (Nexus is free for children under 18)
  • Copy of birth certificate
  • Wallet
  • Emergency medical insurance info
  • Diapers (1 for each hour at airport and on plane)
  • Extra outfit
  • Nursing cover
  • Blanket
  • Plastic bags (in case of poopy accidents)
  • Portable diaper changer
  • Wipes
  • Tylenol (for the ascent and descent on the plane)
  • Toy
  • Baby food
  • Baby carrier (Ergo for us, last trip we brought two baby carriers and this was a bit excessive)
Packing for 12 Day Trip with Baby Using Only Carry-On
A carryon full of diapers

In the Carry-On

  • 7 diapers per day away (yes I counted out diapers)
  • Breast pump (I would not normally bring it, but the rice cereal is mixed with formula or pumped milk)
  • Packing cubes (bought at Miniso, so worth it, they were under $8 for the set)
  • 1 sippy cup
  • 2 spoons
  • 1 bowl for mixing
  • 1 spoon that attaches to squeeze pouch- Munchkin Click Lock Food Pouch Spoon
  • Baby dish detergent
  • Bottle and lid
  • Rice cereal
  • 3 cloth bibs and 2 polyester bibs (for easy wipe down)- this is probably overkill and I could probably just bring 2 wipedown bibs
  • 10 washcloths
  • Blanket
  • Clothes (10 outfits- 7 days worth plus enough for poopy messes)
  • 2 sleep sacks
  • More wipes
  • Sunscreen
  • Swimsuit (one for baby)
  • Baby washing detergent (decanted into an 80mL container bought from Miniso)
  • Citronella spray (for mosquitoes, decanted into an 80mL spray pump)
  • 2 Toys
  • 3 Books
  • Vitamin D drops
  • Baby wash and oil and moisturizer (three small trial bottles I got for free)
  • Crib sheet
  • Small baby nail file, thermometer
  • Sun hat for baby
  • Baby sunglasses

No Checkin Luggage Travel with Baby
Readers, have you tried traveling with only carry-on with your family?  

Did you know about the additional diaper bag allowance and baby food allowance or was I just clueless about this secret parenting-travel hack?

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27 thoughts on “How to Pack for a 12 Day Trip with a 6-month-old Baby (Using only Carry On)”

  1. We have only flied once with a baby and did have to check in bags. Looking back, most of the extra things we carried were not necessary and did not come into use during our travel. I’m just hearing about the additional diaper bag allowance. Hope you had lots of fun on your trip…I generally dread travelling with infants/toddlers 😉

    • @Enoch- I do too! We had a good time except on the flight back when he cried for 25 minutes straight before takeoff. It was embarrassing. I’m glad it’s over! I brought one thing that I did not use as well this time as well.

  2. Wow
    Impressive my wife and I check bags even when going away for a week. (first checked bag is free with my rewards program). We only did road trips when our kids where babies so we didn’t have to pack for air travel but I think I would have spent the extra for baggage. That’s awesome you managed to do it.

    • @Steve- If we didn’t have to pay I would totally check in haha. I am just too frugal/cheap. I wanted to do a road trip but then thought driving 20 hours would be too much in the span of 2 weeks.

  3. I didn’t know airlines allowed a diaper bag when traveling with an infant. Then again, I never paid attention to it since we haven’t air traveled with Baby with Cents yet. We are considering going to Hawaii in the summer for a friend’s wedding so this is great news to hear.
    Great job on packing for that long of a trip and not resorting to checking in any bags. The diaper bag allowance and doing laundry during your vacation really helped that out.

    • @Kris- I only found this out for this trip too, not for my last trip (though would have definitely need to check in for 5 weeks away anyway). Hawaii will be amazing, Baby with cents will love it.

    • @Angela- Haha that’s a super hack! I would feel guilty for maximizing that but that is an option as well. I already feel bad enough taking up all the overhead compartment space but I admit it’s kind of nice to board first when you have small children.

  4. Not gonna lie, I wouldn’t want to be stuck behind you at security or boarding a plane. However, I am the person that always entertains someone else’s kid on a plane and the go-to person it seems for single moms traveling with kids, “Hey stranger that looks somewhat trustworthy, can you watch my 10 bags and 3 kids while I pee?” Surrrrrree….you’re comin’ back to your clan right ma?!

    We haven’t traveled on a plane w/ our lil’ guy yet, but for Mr. DS and I, carry-ons are a must! We maximize what we can check on the plane, and then when they ask for volunteers to reduce overhead space and to do plane-side check, we do that…bonus – get to board earlier and our stuff always seems to be there for us when we are getting off too so no issues there! I do keep 1 exchange of clothes and the toiletries in my backpack in case they do lose it for whatever reason.

    Great job travel hacking – very brave and I’m lmao you accepted the challenge on twitter…yeah, don’t go up against a dedicated PF blogger!

    • @Mrs. DS- Haha, fair enough. That’s nice of you to be the trustworthy adult 🙂 10 bags and 3 kids, that would be my nightmare. Also traveling by myself with baby would be a nightmare too. I made my husband walk down the aisle with me in shame after baby cried for 25 min straight before takeoff. 1 change of clothes and toiletries is a good idea, I really should do that next time I check in my bags.

  5. I love it! We had to check a bag when we traveled for about a week internationally but we managed with one large (free) checked bag for the whole family plus a couple of carry-ons. I was trying to go with all carry-ons only but since it was free, PiC didn’t want us killing ourselves to make it happen. I’m now inspired to attempt it again with JB when we go to Hawaii later this year even though we definitely have free luggage 😀

    • @Revanche- If it was free I would totally check in! You know, we had so much stuff to carry off the plane and used the carrier when we got off the plane, that we forgot our stroller and car seat combo when we left the Mazatlan airport haha. Then I realized we forgot it when we were waiting for our shuttle to the hotel!

  6. I’m impressed! It really seems like you make your baby fit into your lifestyle, and I have a lot of respect for that. I don’t have my own kids, but I did pack for my two-week NZ trip in a carry-on. I just don’t like the idea of checking in my stuff and having it possibly get lost, so I’ll adjust what I bring so everything can fit into a carry-on.

    • @The Luxe Strategist- I’m impressed you packed for a cold-vacation trip with a carry-on! With all the winter weather/pants/down jackets etc. I would definitely need carryon. Everything is just so voluminous unless you use one of those vacuum pack things.

  7. I was wondering how you’d succeed at this challenge, but I’d forgotten about the “personal item” allowance. If you’re allowed a diaper bag on top of that, even better! I’d probably have to check a bag because of the restrictions on liquids. But it’d be nice not having to stand around at the baggage claim!

    • @FMY- It was very nice not to have to stand around at the baggage claim! I always get anxiety when my bag is near the end or when it’s lost (which has happened a few times).

  8. Wow GYM! You are Superwoman!! I can definitely take a page of your life-hacks book. I find it hard as it is to pack a carry-on when travelling but have vowed to do so unless we are going skiing….Haven’t mastered that one yet, but look forward to. Hum…maybe I need to go skiing more often?! LOL. I had no idea there was an additional diaper bag allowance and baby food allowance. This is really useful information and a relief to know! BTW, congratulations on your new bundle of joy! 🙂

    • @Lily- Come skiing in Whistler, you get a 25-30% discount with your strong US dollar! Thank you- he’s certainly a bundle of joy!


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