The first year with a baby is full of learning curves, not least of which is figuring out how to transport him or her around (it can be a struggle to get to the grocery store in one piece, let alone fly across the country). Even the savviest of travelers will be taken by surprise by how much trickier it is to travel with a baby in tow. Nine months in, I’m certainly not an expert, but with a few trips under my belt I’ve picked up some tips that may save you stress when planning for your first trip with your little one!
Keep reading for my guide to traveling with a baby under the age of 1…
For babies under 5-6 months, a lap seat is just fine. They’re so little and sleepy they will (fingers crossed) spend most of the flight sleeping on you. But for us at least, once we crossed that 6 month mark (and the flight is more than 2.5 – 3 hours) a separate seat was necessary. It’s a splurge, and not feasible for every flight – but think of it as an investment in your sanity! Even if you end up holding him for 70% of the flight, it’s nice to have the extra under-seat storage, and a place to put him down if he dozes off and your arm needs a break.
If you’re flying with your car seat onboard, you’ll be required to have it in the window seat due to safety regulations. This is ideal if you’re traveling as a group of 3, (i.e. with your partner or caregiver), where you can take up the whole row. If you’re not bringing the car seat, or have the baby as a lap-child, then choose an aisle seat for sure, you’ll want to be in and out!
When flying internationally, try to get the bulkhead seat, most aircrafts will have a bassinet attachment that you can request at booking.
Wear your baby. Our babe unfortunately does not love the carrier as much as some babies do. But if you are traveling alone especially, this is a must to be hands-free.
If you are gate checking your stroller, put it in the bag before going down the jetbridge. You’ll need to be on your hands and knees to zip it up, and it’s much easier to do this (and get help from strangers) in the waiting area than it is at the aircraft with a line of 50 people bristling for you to hurry up. (Note to first-time travelers: you won’t have to fold your stroller to go through security – the TSA agents can bring it around the machine and check it for you. You will simply carry your baby – in your arms, not the carrier – through the metal detector.)
Don’t pack too many toys for the plane. They’ll fall on the ground immediately. We found that plastic cups from the beverage cart are just as entertaining as a real toy. Empty water bottles, and paper bags work just as well.
Wipe down EVERYTHING with disinfectant wipes before you sit down and let your kiddo touch anything. Seatbelts, seat pockets, and headrests are particularly grimy. And continue to wipe down his hands (with baby wipes) throughout your travel day. I’m not particularly germaphobic personally, but airplanes are gross and your little one doesn’t have the same immune system that you do yet!
Bring extra clothes in your carry-on – not just for baby, but for you too! Blowouts and barf happens, and it doesn’t always stay confined to baby’s own clothing. We also keep multiple empty Ziploc bags in the diaper bag to put said soiled clothes in and keep the mess to itself.
Be sure to dress your baby in comfy clothes that are easy to get on and off. It’s hard enough to fit yourself in an airplane bathroom sometimes, so picture standing up and changing a baby. Now picture dealing with buttons, shoelaces, and things that need to be pulled over the head. Zip-up footie pajamas are the simplest travel outfit. You don’t have to deal with shoes or socks to keep their feet warm, and can change diapers in a second.
Load up your iPad with age-appropriate videos from Netflix or iTunes. Their attention span is short at this age, but even 5 minutes of distraction can help on a long flight.
Breastfeeding can be a godsend while flying. If you’re bottle-feeding, make sure to pack extra formula for the flight. God forbid you get stuck on the runway or in an airport for 8 hours and run out of food! Shockingly, airport concession stands sell many things, but not baby formula. We fill a Ziploc gallon bag and bring an extra scoop just in case. If flying with breastmilk, do know that they may test it if you’re carrying over 3.5 oz.
Give yourself extra time for security and check-in, especially for your first trip. If flying domestically, bring a photo (on your phone) or a copy of baby’s birth certificate and/or social security card. If flying internationally, baby does need a passport!
PACKING & GEAR
It takes 1-2 trips to personally experience this, but try to take as little as possible!
What did moms do before Amazon Prime? Ship diapers, wipes, formula, and other disposable (heavy!) items ahead of time. But do pack enough for the first couple days, or to get you through to when you’ll be able to find a store in case anything gets lost in transit.
If you’re renting a car at your destination, get one with a car seat. If not and you have to bring your own, travel with the stroller that your car seat clips into – it’s probably not the most compact, but it will be easier than lugging that car seat around on your back.
If you’re staying at a hotel, chances are they will be able to provide a crib in the room, so you can skip hauling a travel crib on the flight (just call ahead or check with your travel advisor to make sure they can and that they’re not charging a crazy feel). But if you’re staying at a family or friend’s house or an Airbnb, you may need one.
If your baby is under 3-4 months and still swaddled (not rolling over), or sleeping in the bassinet, we actually preferred to bring the DockATot and have him sleep in there, much easier than flying with a bassinet!
Be sure to have a portable sound machine or an app on your phone (we like the Baby Shusher App) for both the plane and on-the-go naps.
Once baby is over 6 months, black-out curtains were a must for us. There are great portable options, or you can invest in the SlumberPod, which is basically a black-out tent that can be set up around the crib! This is awesome for sharing a room with your baby. We unfortunately found out the hard way that even if baby is sleeping 12 hours at night in his own room, if he’s in a crib next to mom and dad he’ll probably be up every hour.
I’ve linked my favorite products here, but the options are (literally) limitless!
- Travel crib / pack and play (if you’re staying at a hotel they will likely have one for you so you can skip this)
- Crib sheets x2 (hotels may provide, but I still prefer to bring our own – and usually best to bring 2 in case one gets spit up on!)
- Travel stroller (or the stroller that your car seat clips into)
- Car seat (unless you can rent one on arrival!)
- Stroller travel bag (if gate checking — I recommend getting the official stroller brand, as they protect any damage under warranty)
- Car seat travel bag
- Baby carrier (even if you’re bringing your stroller to the gate, there will definitely be a point in time that you’ll want to be hands-free)
- Travel blackout curtains
- Sound machine (also download the BabyShusher iPhone app in case batteries die)
- Diapers and wipes (bring enough for 2-3 days, Amazon Prime or buy the rest once you arrive)
- Travel bottle drying rack and brush
- Travel dish soap
- Disinfectant wipes (get these hardcore kind for wiping down your seats on the plane)
- Bottle/pacifer wipes
- Pee pads (disposable for airplanes and messy situations)
- Changing mat
- Travel shampoo and lotion (if you’re staying at a 5* hotel, likely they will have a little baby kit for you in the room. But if not, and if your baby has sensitive skin, I prefer to bring products that I know won’t irritate him)
- Ziploc bags (bring extra empty ones for blowouts and wet clothes)
- Steamer bags (microwavable to clean bottles or pump parts)
- Baby monitor (if you’re planning to leave the baby with a sitter, bring one that will hook up to WiFi for peace of mind — we bring our Nanit with its travel stand)
- Medicine bag (baby Motrin, gas drops, NoseFrida, thermometer, nail clippers)
- Sleep sack (or swaddle — and any bedtime essentials like his lovey)
- Blankets (for extra warmth, and also for playing on the hotel floor)
- Burp cloths
- Extra formula (bring a dispenser and an extra Ziploc bag + scoop; buy purified water at the airport) or breastmilk
- iPad (because sometimes screen time is just necessary)
- If you’re breastfeeding or pumping… (Check with TSA for the official guidelines before you fly).
SLEEP & GENERAL TIPS
If possible, and if you’re traveling for less than a week, try to keep your babe on your home time zone. Granted, this is MUCH easier when going from west to east (it’s honestly great not having to be home for a 7pm bedtime when visiting NY from LA!). It’s another story waking up at 4am everyday in Hawaii if you’re visiting from LA, so try shifting even only an hour or two to make the transition easier.
Try to get one good nap in a day. Personally, I try to be “home” so the first nap of the day is in his crib, in the dark. This is easier in certain time zones, but even if you go out for a morning tour and come back to your hotel for the first nap, it will be worth it not to have a crabby baby all day and night. We find that getting that one solid nap is key, and then having him doze on the go for his afternoon nap works out fine.
If you can swing it (once babe is sleeping in his own room at home), book a suite with a separate living area. Babies get used to their own space, and they can sense you, so sharing a hotel room can be unenjoyable. And if you’re staying at someone’s home, see if he can sleep in an office or spare room. (If that’s out of the question, see previous section on the SlumberPod!)
Be flexible, and give your kid some credit. You can probably still try that cool restaurant you’ve been wanting to visit – it just may be at 6:00 instead of the prime 8:30 reservation (but know your limits – don’t try to bring your 6 month old to a 12-course Michelin restaurant either). Lots of cultures are super accepting of children being out and about, so don’t feel like you’re forever confined to the kids’ club at the hotel. The more you expose them early on, the better they’ll behave in the long run (at least that’s what I’m telling myself!).
Do less. As a travel professional, I like to see as much as I can in the time that I’m there, often changing hotels every couple of nights to pack it all in. But with a baby, changing hotels and cities every night just isn’t worth it.
Remember to breathe. When your baby is crying and all your gear is slowing you down it may seem like everyone around you is glaring or in a rush, but the reality is that most travelers are more understanding than you think. Especially when you’re traveling alone with your babe, I’ve found people to be super sympathetic and friendly, even offering to help. Don’t feel guilty or worried that you’re bothering anyone — everyone’s been there, or will be at some point. You’re killing it, mama!