Traveling has always been a passion of mine. When I got pregnant in 2015, I knew I wanted to share lots of trips and adventures with our little man, and baby or not. Before Max was a year old he completed more than 12 flights, including a trip from the US to Italy. While having a baby may slow things down a tad, with a bit of planning and a can-do attitude, I promise you can do it too!
Below I have updated a post I originally shared on the blog last summer, sharing my Top 20 travel tips for flying and traveling with baby. This original post is geared for babies one or under, but I’ll be doing a follow up post this fall about travel with toddlers too!
1. PLAN IN ADVANCE
Weeks ahead of time I start making packing lists. Rushing to pack mommy, daddy and baby (not to mention other kiddos) the night before sometimes can’t be helped, but odds are you will forget something. Make a list and create a small staging area in a closet or spare room where you can start to collect those things you want to make sure you remember.
2. PASSPORTS AND PASSPORT CARDS
For international travel baby will need a passport, which will be good for 5 years. You will also want to get the passport card for baby as a form of identification. Although the card can only be used for international travel to a few select destinations, you can throw this in your wallet and use for domestic travel to avoid lugging around a copy of the birth certificate or passport in your things.
3. STROLLERS ARE YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND
Take a stroller that that’s easy to use and comfy for baby, and sturdy enough to haul things around the airport. If you don’t have the stomach to gate check an expensive stroller for fear of it getting damaged, then don’t bring it. Its not coming in the cabin with you, but you can take it through the airport with you and check it at the gate. You will need to stop at the desk at your gate to get a tag to check your stroller. When you get on the airplane you will fold up the stroller and leave it at the end of the gate right as you board the plane, and it should be waiting in the same general area for you when you disembark the plane. The stroller is a great place for baby to nap while you enjoy a museum, seeing the sites, or use as a place to feed baby. It’s also an excellent caddy at the airport. It can be hard to manage getting all that crap through the airport, so I would wear my Baby Bjorn Carrier with Max and dump the diaper bag and carry on bags in the stroller. (Side note, Baby Bjorn is also a must have getting on and off the plane with your bags.)
A favorite stroller related packing hack of mine is to attach a large stroller organizer to the back of the stroller to stuff some emergency changes of clothes, some food and a plethora of diapers, which can save a fair amount of room in your carry on bags.
4. BABY BACKPACK AND CLUTCH
The days of a big handbag are now replaced with a diaper bag, but I still need someway to organize my necessities (wallet, phone, lipgloss, hair ties, sunglasses), so I use a small clutch to contain all my clutter and then stuff it into my carry on or diaper bag. I highly recommend a backpack diaper bag because you can wear it, keeping your hands free for holding your baby, carry on, pacifier, tickets, folding your stroller, car seat, and well, you get the point. :-). There are lots of cute ones out there, but I’ve coveted my husband’s Diaper Dude bag I bought him last year- it’s the most practical and comfortable hands down.
5. CHANGE OF CLOTHES
As a general rule, I pack 2 outfits a day for baby, assuming we will have a food or butt disaster at some point :-). Make sure to pack a few onesies in your diaper bag or carry on so you can do a quick change, or aren’t left scrambling if your luggage doesn’t arrive with you. Remember to bring plastic bags to put the dirty stuff into (doggy doodoo bags or produce bags are a good because they wrap around what’s inside pretty easily), although if it’s too gross and just a basic onsie, you may just want to cut your losses (no need to carry poop with you for a full day if you aren’t returning to your hotel). Also pack an extra shirt for mom and dad in the event that the baby messes spill over on to you (which they often do). You don’t want to start a flight for New York to Rome with baby poop on your shirt for the next 7 hours. No bueno!
6. DON’T STRESS!
A lot is going on at the airport, but try not to get stressed or rushed. There are lots of people without babies who fumble about and take forever to board. Don’t let anyone rush you or make you feel bad. You paid for this flight, and just because you take longer to unpack or may have some crying here or there, its OK. Other non-baby passengers can do the same thing. That guy farting up a storm across the aisle or teenager with headphones blaring for the world to hear can be far worse!! If your baby is a good mood when you board, let him baby smile and flirt with the other passengers around you. That way he’s that cute baby who just happens to be crying later on. And quite honestly, I have found most other passengers to be very understanding and helpful, with one college girl even offering to “babysit” on the plane for us on our flight to Italy last year! If someone does give you a hard time, just turn the other cheek and pay all your attention to cuddling and caring for baby!
7. CAR SEAT
You can use a TSA approved car seat on the plane if you buy a ticket for baby, or you can have a lap child up to 2 years of age. If you intend on getting a car when you land, you will need a car seat, so you will need to bring one along or rent one from the rental car company. Car seats can be very heavy, so I recommend investing in a lightweight travel car seat that’s easier to bring through the airport. I bought this Costco Carseat that was recommended for travel on a number of websites – we still love it today. Keep in mind, you your baby a ticketed seat, your little one it is required to sit in the car seat or an approved harness like this one. Install the seat the way you would in a car- rear facing is ok!! Car seat hack: Buy a container of bungee cords (which can also be super helpful around the house), and use those to attach your car seat right over a wheely carry on bag – no carrying or lugging anything awkward then!
8. BASIC BABY STUFF
Don’t bring 50 bottles with you – you can only use one at a time. I’d recommend maybe 2 bottles in your carry on and then maybe another one in your checked bags if you are nervous. Always have a fresh bottle or sippy cup ready for takeoff and landing- keeping baby swallowing often will help regulate the pressure in ears during takeoff and descent. Remember, anywhere you travel will generally have bottles and diapers. Anything that you can buy locally, leave at home and take only the travel day essentials with you. If you need a specific formula or medicine, make sure you bring along. Bring pacifiers, one or two small toys and a book – babies don’t need a huge variety to be happy. I highly recommend stocking up on a few of these Baby Rings too. They have great textures and colors for baby to play with, look at and chew on, and you can also loop some of their favorite smaller toys or pacifiers through one end and attach the other to you, the stroller or the baby carrier – that way when baby chucks that toy it won’t land on the dirty airplane or airport floor!
9. SEAT OR NO SEAT
As a general rule, I’ll fly up to 3 hours holding a baby in my lap on a plane, but after that I’ll purchase a seat. Some airlines offer reduced fare for babies, so be sure to call and ask the airline to see what they may offer. Another plus of buying the extra seat is two more possible bags you can carry on board (although that also means two more bags to manage through the airport). If you don’t buy a seat, you will still need to check baby in and get a boarding pass to proceed though security and onto the plane. Even if you don’t buy a seat, still bring that car seat and ask to see if there are any open seats – you can possibly get that baby in a seat free of charge!
On whatever mobile device you may have, download some visual apps to distract baby, and some noise maker apps to help sooth baby wherever you travel, and some more interactive ones like the Sesame Street app. These days, we don’t leave for a trip without our Ipad filled with Moana, Secret Life of Pets and Trolls. Remember to bring your charging cord in your carry on to power up in the airport, and a few battery backups if you have a long flight!
11. RENT A CAR
After flying somewhere new, taxis and trains can sound appealing especially in Europe, but with a small baby and lots of baby gear I think renting a car is the best way to get around on the ground after you get to your destination. Make sure to get one big enough for your stroller and extra baby bags. Having a car will allow you to stop when baby needs to stop and take a break, or have baby’s diaper changed, and is less stressful than trying to rush baby, stroller and a million bags on and off a train before it takes off for its next stop.
12. PACKING CUBES (AND NOT JUST FOR BABIES)
These things are amazing for travel with or without babies, but are especially nice for corralling all the little tidbits like socks, washcloths, onesies, food packets, ect. It allows for easy categorization and organization, especially if mixing mommy and daddy’s clothes in the same cases. I have found the ones on Someebags to be really nice and have several – they also have lots of other great diaper and travel bags as well.
Stay close to the sites you want to see so you can make pit stops back at the hotel pretty easily for meals or naps if you like. It’s also nice to have someplace where baby can crawl around in the grass at the end of the day and stretch this legs. Staying in a rental house or apartment is ideal so you can have access to a kitchen and more space to move around. It’s also great to have a separate sleeping area for parents and baby, and a bonus if there is a washer/dryer inside. If choosing a hotel, call ahead to make sure they can help provide a crib and the room will be big enough. If you are driving (or don’t mind lugging one more item when you fly), I recommend bringing your own portable crib, that way baby has the same bed night after night and you know it’s clean.
14. INFLATABLE TUB
This is a great option to help contain a young baby in a clean space. It’s a good idea to bring along when traveling in Europe, because not all hotels will have a bath tub. This one is less than $10 and packs easily!
I usually being a soft snuggle blanket to help Max fall asleep and cuddle with, and an when he was tiny, an old swaddling blanket or two for something to put down on the ground when baby needs to stretch his legs.
16. CHANGING DIAPERS IN EUROPE
Get ready to change baby anywhere and everywhere. In countries like Italy, there are not as many public bathrooms with changing stations readily available. Get a cushy changing mat and get ready for some baby buns in the piazza. No one seems to mind at all, but it becomes a little bit more tricky when changing a diaper explosion. Just bring lots of things to lay baby on, as well as wet wipes.
17. DOCTORS AND MEDS
Before leaving, try to locate through your doctor, recommendations from locals, or even the internet, a pediatrician and/or hospital in case baby needs to go to the doctor. My doctor said if you are flying blind, generally speaking she would recommend going to a university hospital because they tend to have better care and services. Bring a digital thermometer (I like the ones that you can scan their ear or forehead) so you can easily check if baby is just tired and a little off or actually sick. Always have a fever and pain reducer like Tylenol or Advil on hand, some teething aids, and a nasal bulb. If going to a foreign country, also bring any other regular meds with you that baby often takes because it can be difficult to find the same brands that you are used to, not to mention trying to figure out the dosage. In addition to his ear infection, out little dude also got pinkeye, and trying to find drops was crazy (we eventually did succeed in convincing a pharmacist what to give us after going to med school at WebMD). Another great thing to take along to help with dehydration if baby isn’t eating or has tummy issues are these easy to pack powder packets of Pedialite.
18. FLIGHT TIMES
Try to book your flights that work well around baby’s schedule. While you may be up for a 6am flight, baby might have different ideas woken up at 3am from a cozy snooze to get ready and packed in the car. if traveling internationally, doing an overnight flight where baby can sleep most of the time can be great!!
19. TIME ZONES
When we flew to Italy the time difference was 6 hours ahead of our usual time zone. Max slept most of the way over on the flight, but his schedule was still a little off those first few days. The first night it was tricky to get him to go down to bed because for him it felt pretty early to him, but night by night we backed it down a little, and by the 3rd night he adjusted and seemed to be sleeping and napping close to his regular schedule. On the return he seemed to bounce back in a couple of days as well. Pushing the bed times back or forward just a little for a few days should help them adjust to the new time, and they will be sleeping well before you know it. If only changing an hour here or there, I’d recommend sticking to their regular schedule to make it easier on everyone on vacation and upon return.
20. GREAT EXPECTATIONS
It is good to have realistic expectations before embarking on a trip with baby and plan accordingly.
If you are day dreaming of a relaxing trip to the south of France, it is healthy to embrace the fact that as you bask in the sun of the French Riviera, you will be trying to balance a glass of rose in one hand as you apply copious amounts of sunscreen on a wiggling little critter with the other, desperately looking for shade, lugging a beach bag and a diaper bag, chasing baby around quickly blocking baby’s attempts to eat yet another pebble on the beach. This year, you will not be the person on vacation sipping delicious cocktails, gazing out at the sea for hours on end, drifting in and out of a lovely sleep while reading their new favorite summer novel. But that’s OK, because you are an amazing mom or dad who is still rocking a vacation in the south of France and having a great time with your kiddo. They are only little for such a very short time…
Get ready. Babies can cry, get tired, get cranky, require extra equipment, and can get sick (ours got a double ear infection and cold when we went to Italy). That being said, I would take a vacation with baby over staying at home any day of the week. Hands down. I am so excited to share this planet with my little dude and watch him experience all the amazing things this world has to offer. I will never forget watching him crawl around in the grass under a giant lemon tree in Tuscany, watching the world whisk by him in a busy market in Florence, sitting at an Italian restaurant teething on a hunk of delicious crunchy bread, and going for a boat ride on Lake Como. Vacations, big or small, are moments for families to come together and make memories, and I promise as soon as you are back you will forget the hard parts (well, for the most part anyway), and just look back at those photos and smile.
To make it easier on yourself, pick an itinerary that is more suited for a baby lifestyle. Choose one or two key places and set up camp for a few days at that destination to minimize unpacking and repacking your and baby’s things. Pick a few items on your agenda that are must see and leave the rest of your schedule open for walking around and just taking in the sights, or playing at a park. A more relaxed itinerary will lend itself to a more relaxing trip for the mommy, daddy and baby.