How to Travel with a Baby

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Thinking about travelling with a small baby is stressful and can seem like a very daunting task.  And it is, if you’re not prepared and haven’t thought about how you’re actually going to get from your house to the plane with all of that stuff.  My husband and I used to be pro at travelling – one carryon suitcase is all we brought and we never checked anything.  That all changed with the addition of baby Layla and the first time we travelled with her, we brought way too much stuff and were completely stressed about it.  Her are my top 11 tips for travelling with a little one.

  • First and foremost, consolidate. 

o   Most airlines allow for one free checked bag, but check on-line regardless.  Share a large suitcase with your little one (I use packing cubes for our clothes and then throw in toys, food, toiletries, medicine, etc.) and pack it with everything you’ll need. 

o   Think about the car seat.  Are you going to be renting a car?  Most car rental agencies charge around $10-$15 a day for a car seat, so you can decide if you want to pay for that or bring your own.  We usually bring ours and most airlines will check it for free (one free baby item!) once you get to the airport.  Side note: if you’re travelling to NYC, you may not need the car seat at all depending on what your plans are.  In the city if you’re wearing your baby in a carrier you can sit in the back seat of a yellow taxi.  So if you’re planning on only taking public transportation or a taxi once or twice, this may be an ideal option.

o   If you have an umbrella stroller, this is idea for travel.  If you don’t, see if you can borrow one from a friend or purchase a cheap one.  The stroller does need to go through the scanner at security, but you can use it to tote around your little one and gate check it before boarding the plane. 

o   Bring your baby carrier (such as Ergo, Boba wrap, etc.)!  You can wear your baby through security without taking them out and keep both hands free for pulling luggage or pushing a stroller.

o   Here’s how I airport travel: shared large suitcase that we check, wear baby through security, place car seat in stroller to push.  Remember the longest distance that you’d have to push a stroller and pull a suitcase (if traveling alone), is from the parking lot (or curb if being dropped off) to the bag check, which is not too far.  Once you’ve checked the car seat and suitcase, all you’re left with is the umbrella stroller, diaper bag, and baby!

  • When booking your flights, take naptime into consideration.  If your baby is like mine and sleeps on a relatively strict schedule in a crib, then you’re going to have trouble getting them to sleep on your lap in an airplane.  If you have a baby that loves falling asleep on your and/or are still nursing, you’re in a much better boat.  For the toddler who’s on one nap, plan to take a flight first thing in the morning so they can nap when they arrive, or after their first nap.  In general, early morning flights often work best because then you have the rest of the day to recover with additional naps.  I’ve had 50/50 luck with getting my daughter to fall asleep in the Ergo (facing in on my chest) while rocking and singing to her at the front or back of the plane.  Each time we’ve only gotten one 45-minute sleep cycle and she’s needed a second nap at some point during the day.

o   If you’re taking a longer flight (3+ hours), call ahead to the airline to see if they have bulkhead bassinets, and if you can get the bulkhead seat.  A bulkhead seat means that you’ll get a seat with a wall directly in front of you instead of another row of seats.  Some airlines have bassinets that attach to this wall for lap infants/children (ages 2 and under).  Check the weight limit and know your child’s height to see if they’ll fit.  Even if you don’t think your child will sleep here, on a long flight it will be worth getting for the extra space and somewhere to play.  Some airlines will allow you to pay extra to reserve the seat, which can be well worth the money.

o   Side note: if you’re flying Southwest, families board between A and B groups, so usually you can get on the plane while there are still entire rows open.  If traveling with a second adult, you can often take over the entire row because nobody wants to sit next to a baby on a plane (as long as the flight isn’t completely full).  We’ve had a lot of luck with this.

  • Get pre-check.  Take time out one day to make an appointment to get pre-check (you have to go to the airport to do this).  You get to skip the long security lines and don’t need to remove your shoes, jacket, or laptop from your bag.  It’s a lifesaver because we all know babies and kids hate waiting in line!
  • You can travel with breastmilk with or without your child, and any kind of milk if your child is with you.  They may “test” it by waving a wand around it, but for the most part will just let you through.
  • Bring a ton of snacks!  I pack milk, water, 2 food pouches, and then finger snacks like cheerios and goldfish for her to munch on and keep her busy.  This is also essential for take-off and landing.  If you’re still nursing, plan to start nursing as soon as the plane accelerates to takes off.  Don’t start nursing (or give liquids) before the plane is actually accelerating because too often there are gate delays where you’re waiting on the tarmac for what seems like forever while your baby fusses.  Babies don’t know to swallow to regulate the pressure in their ears, but if they’re sucking, drinking, or eating, this will take care of relieving the pressure for them.  Do the same for descents as well to try and prevent ear infections.
  • Don’t forget a change of clothes to carry on for you and baby.  Baby could get airsick or simply spill food/liquids all over you, and you’ll be happy to have a spare set just in case.
  • Airplanes will have one bathroom with a changing table included (unless it’s a super tiny plane).  So just make sure to bring a changing mat, wipes, and hand sanitizer! Side note – most flight attendants prefer you to dispose of poopy diapers outside of the bathroom in a separate trashcan to prevent the bathroom from stinking up any more than necessary – so just check in before going in.
  • Bring activities for your baby to engage in, like a few books, cause/effect toys, or whatever your baby likes. 
  • Some airports have a kids play area that you can go to during layovers or when waiting for your flight.  You can check each airports website before travelling.  If you’re going to have access to a VIP lounge, these often have special kid’s areas with games and activities to use as well, just ask when checking in.  International airports and lounges are the most likely to have these types of amenities.
  • Most airports will have dedicated “family restrooms” and/or nursing rooms.  You can use these to change your baby, get away from the chaos, nurse, or pump.  You typically just need airport staff to unlock the doors for you.
  • If travelling to a new time zone (4+ zones), get you and your child up early in the morning and expose them to natural sunlight as soon as possible.  This will help to regulate their circadian rhythm.  Keep schedules and routines as consistent as possible for the smoothest transition.

Traveling with a baby doesn’t have to be all bad, there are steps you can take to make the process as smooth as possible for everyone involved.  The best time to travel with a baby in general is before they’re mobile, because then they’re not trying to get away and run around as much.  Plus, if the baby is still eating just milk then you can time take-off and landing to be nursing to prevent their ears from popping and they’ll usually just fall asleep for the rest of the ride.  Safe travels!