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If you want to avoid cartoon characters, you can always purchase kids' luggage that is bright and colorful, with easy-to-use features.
A key point to remember is to make sure that the bag works well for the child. An inexpensive kid's bag may have zippers that stick or compartments that are hard to open, which can be frustrating if your fingers are little and absolutely need one special toy in the middle of a cross-country flight.
If possible, have the child explore the bag before you depart, getting used to the available places to put things and manipulating the zippers, clips and other fasteners. Many kids will spend days planning which things they want to put in which compartments.