A few years ago, at the Osaka airport, I let my kids get their first Happy Meals from McDonald's. The toy that came with the meal proved to be a gem on the flight. The kids must have played with them for at least two hours each. The next time I flew with them after that, I put a few toys that I had secretly hidden from Happy Meals in their suitcases and a few toys from the "gumball" machines that are EVERYWHERE in Japan. The next thing I knew, they started talking about their visit from the backpack fairy, and the tradition was born.
The night before we travel on a big international trip, the kids leave their carry-on bags open next to their beds and when they wake up, they are closed and filled with new goodies for the trip. It is in a way more exciting to them than Christmas. It makes the night before traveling a joy for me because they want to go to bed so the fairy can come sooner. However, the next morning can be a bit chaotic as they excitedly unpack their bags to see what treasures they received and I have to try to make them keep it in the bag and not lose it before the trip.
As we haven't travelled back home in a while and we were moving, this was a BIG visit from the backpack fairy. Here is a picture of the goodies lined up on the table before I went to fill the bags. Normally, there is not this much stuff, but since we were moving from our home and all the fun goodies that are available in Japan, I couldn't resist the extra stuff.
Some items that I have put in the bags in the past are:
the plastic bubble toys you get at the outside of the grocery store (I never usually let my kids buy them, so they are a real treat for them to open)
scratch and sketch books
invisible ink books
new markers or crayons
a glo stick
a book to read
a small stuffed animal
new toy matchbox car
sticker book with stickers
pez dispenser with refill
new Nintendo DS game (if they are REALLY lucky)
book of puzzles
Here is a bag open at the airport, while we were waiting to check in: