A Guide to Traveling with a Baby

Medically reviewed by Karen Richardson Gill, MD, FAAP on May 13, 2016Written by Megan Lentz on May 13, 2016

Overview

I’m no stranger to traveling. But when it came time to take my first airplane flight with my baby, I felt like a first-time flyer. I scoured the internet searching for all the things I would need and what to expect while traveling with a baby.

Traveling with a baby creates a whole new set of challenges. I won’t lie. Some of those challenges are not so pleasant. Keep an open mind and plan as much as you can ahead of time. Once you’re at your destination, be willing to throw that plan away and live in the moment.

Babies are unpredictable, and traveling babies who have been pulled out of their routines are, if possible, even less predictable.

Packing for baby

Suitcase

I love to travel as light as possible, so I spent countless hours panicking over the amount of stuff I’d need. Could I get by without the full stroller? Did I really need a car seat? What about diapers and bottles of milk? And speaking of milk, could I take it through security? (The answer: yes!) Do I need to pack my breast pump as well?

In the end, here’s what I packed for a three-day trip:

  • baby transportation
    • stroller travel system with car seat
    • soft backpack-style carrier
  • baby clothes
    • 5 onesies
    • 1 pair of shorts
    • 1 pair of leggings
    • 1 pair of lightweight pants
    • 5 pairs of socks
    • 1 footed one piece
    • 2 hooded sweatshirts in different weights
  • diaper supplies
    • diaper backpack
    • 16 diapers
    • 1 full pack of wet wipes
    • 2 packs of travel-size wet wipes
    • 1 changing mat
    • 1 disposable changing mat
  • entertainment
    • 5 toys
    • 1 security blanket
    • 2 books
  • miscellaneous supplies
    • lightweight travel mat
    • 2 lightweight blankets that double as large burp cloths
    • 2 sleep sacks
    • 1 pair sound-canceling earmuffs
    • 1 bottle of frozen, expressed breast milk
    • 1 baby hat
    • 1 pair of baby sunglasses

This may look like a lot of stuff, but it didn't take up that much space in my luggage.

I didn’t need the full-sized pack of wipes. The two packs of travel wipes would have sufficed. I also could have done without the pair of shorts, but the extra onesies and pants were useful. I wish I had remembered to move one of the spare outfits to my diaper bag instead of having everything in the roller board. More on that later!

Managing a car seat and stroller at the airport

Stroller

If you are planning to be in a car at any time while on vacation, I recommend bringing your own car seat.

Some car seats can be safely installed using the European system, so you may not need your base. The European system secures the car seat using a seatbelt instead of the base. Check with the manufacturer before leaving the base at home to confirm that your car seat will still meet all safety standards. If you haven’t installed your car seat using the European installation system, practice it a few times before traveling.

You can gate-check your car seat and stroller. A lot of airlines will also let you check a car seat and stroller for free. If you do plan to gate-check, expect to have to put your stroller through the X-ray machine. I wasn’t prepared for this, and was thankful to have my husband with me. If you’re traveling alone, you may want to check the car seat and stroller to make it easier to get through security.

I was very nervous about protecting my car seat and stroller, so I purchased a padded travel bag for the car seat and a separate bag for the stroller base. The gate staff happily took my car seat and stroller in their bags, and nothing was damaged during the flight.

Tips for traveling with a stroller and car seat

  1. If you gate-check your gear, get luggage tags from the gate attendant prior to boarding.
  2. Consider putting your stroller and car seat in bags to protect them.
  3. If you can manage the airport without your gear, consider checking your stroller and car seat. Most airlines will let you check them for free, but contact the airline to learn more about their policy.

Diaper changes at 10,000 feet

I didn’t think I would have to change a diaper during my 50-minute flight. Fortunately my baby waited until the fasten seat belt sign went off. Unfortunately, he had a massive blowout.

Changing a diaper on a plane takes some creativity. I tried changing my baby in the bathroom, but the counter was too narrow. I ended up changing him on top of the toilet seat lid. This would have worked had it only been a pee diaper. Trying to clean up the blowout while holding my baby was a challenge, made extra difficult once you added in some light turbulence. In the end, his pants ended up on the bathroom floor (yuck), his changing mat and my hands were covered in poop, and his diaper was only loosely secured.

Once back at our seats, I removed his clothes, tightened his diaper, and he spent the rest of the plane ride wearing only a diaper and a zipped up hoodie.

This experience taught me some valuable lessons about diaper changes at 10,000 feet:

  1. Keep extra clothes with your diapers, and keep all diaper changing supplies under the seat for easy access.
  2. Bring a bag for wet clothes.
  3. Don’t be shy about changing your baby on the floor outside the bathroom, though you may want to ask the flight attendant if this is all right. Most airplane bathrooms are too tiny to manage all the acrobatics involved in changing a diaper.

You’ve arrived, now what?

Babies are unpredictable. Traveling will mess with their schedule. Even if you haven’t properly scheduled your baby, they will notice that something is off. This can make your baby even more unpredictable.

Baby-friendly activities

It’s a good idea to research baby-friendly activities at your destination ahead of time, but don’t get too attached to any one activity. Once you have arrived, play it by ear. Ultimately you want to have a fun trip. Forcing activities can just add unnecessary stress.

Sleeping on vacation

Luckily my first trip with my baby was to see family, and one of those family members has a baby that’s only a month older than mine. I was able to use her extra travel crib for bedtime.

If you don’t have that luxury, most hotels have cribs available. Call ahead to see if they have them, and request one early to make sure they don’t run out. Another option is to bring a travel crib with you. There are many options available, and most fold up into bags for easy transport.

If your baby is used to sleeping with a security blanket, in a sleep sack, or with a sound machine, bring these items with you. Whatever you can do to recreate your baby’s normal sleeping environment will make for a better night’s sleep.

Bathing baby on the go

My baby loves bath time, and it’s part of his bedtime routine. Bringing his baby bath wasn’t an option. Instead, my husband and I partnered up to bathe him in a normal bathtub.

I added a small amount of water to the bathtub and my husband held our baby’s head up while I bathed him. It wasn’t as easy as bathing him at home, but it got the job done.

Takeaway

Traveling with your baby can be a lot of fun, but it will require some extra work. Here’s how you can plan ahead to make the trip smoother:

  1. Notify the airline ahead of time that you’ll be flying with a baby in your lap. Babies 0 to 2 years old fly free on a parent’s lap.
  2. Research baby-friendly activities. Find a variety of activities so you can tailor your day to your baby’s mood.
  3. Contact your hotel to see if they have cribs available. If not, consider purchasing a travel crib.
  4. Be ready to go with the flow. Your trip may not go quite how you planned, but if you go into it with an open mind, you will come away with some great memories.
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