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Traveling with a baby for the first time? If the thought of taking your infant on a trip makes you break out in hives, we can help. Taking that first trip with a newborn can be a challenge, but one you can conquer. Here’s all the info you need to survive baby’s first plane ride or baby’s first road trip and come out the other end feeling like YOU also had a vacation.
These baby travel tips will work on everything from day trips nearby to international flights around the globe. They’ve all been tested by TravelingMoms who have been around the world with their babies!
Here, in one place, find all of our most helpful family travel tips, including what to pack for a road trip with little ones, essential air travel advice, how to handle naps in between sightseeing and why a baby carrier will be your best bet for traveling with a baby.
Road Trips with a Newborn
This is where most new parents start. It’s certainly where my husband and I started with our 2-month-old son. We bundled him into a car seat and headed 70 miles away to the grandparents’ house for a visit.
1. Start small
Take short car rides to acclimate your baby to spending time in her car seat.
You don’t want to learn, as TravelingMom Julie Bigboy did, that your baby doesn’t like car rides when you’re stuck in heavy traffic on the freeway. It made for a very loooooong trip as they idled in traffic while the baby screamed.
2. Travel light
Just going to my parents’ house on that first road trip seemed like a huge endeavor. We packed a stroller, filled a diaper bag and loaded up on baby toys. My mom (a first-time grandma) had already bought a high chair and crib to keep at her house, so at least we didn’t need to bring those.
Back then, I wish I had known TravelingDad Greg Stump’s trick for traveling without a crib. And, of course, now I know that small children don’t really need all of that stuff.
Just pack the basics: A few more diapers than you think you’ll need. At least two extra outfits because there will be diaper blowouts. Baby’s lovey and one or two toys.
Really. That’s it.
And, yes, you have permission to take everything you can carry the first and maybe even the second time you head off on a road trip with the baby. But on that third trip, leave behind all the stuff you didn’t use on the first two trips.
3. Drive while they sleep
When TravelingMom Anuja DeSilva was ready for a weekend getaway with her baby, she and her husband looked for places within a two- or three-hour drive from their home in Westchester, New York. They planned the drive to coincide with the baby’s nap time.
She and her husband looked at the trip as one in which they would scout the area for a return trip later when the baby was older.
They spent much of the visit to the Hamptons with a baby driving around while the baby napped. It might not have been as exciting as a pre-baby vacation, but at least they weren’t at home staring at the same walls. And the baby was getting used to sleeping in a different place. That’s the first critical step toward raising a committed traveler!
TravelingMom Tip: Before heading off on your first road trip with a baby, read our survival guide for road tripping with a baby. It’s got very practical tips on everything from breastfeeding in the car to changing a diaper in the car.
Getting Around with Baby
This is certainly personal preference — yours and your baby’s.
Some people swear by those big-wheeled jogging strollers that look like they could take on the Baja. My husband just liked to carry our babies in his arms. I preferred umbrella strollers because they are lightweight and easy to carry up and down the stairs of the L in Chicago.
4. Why you need a baby carrier
TravelingMom Nasreen Stump, who has traveled with all four of her kids since they were infants, swears by baby wearing. Why? Having hands. If you’re wearing the baby, you can pull a carry-on bag through the airport, feed yourself a snack, pack up the beach toys, and even just to give your arms a break when you’re standing in line for the rides at Disney World.
Carriers are like jeans, there’s a version for everyone. You’ll need to find the right fit for you. Nasreen keeps a Tula soft structured carrier in her car for emergency ups (even though her youngest baby is now a toddler). If you’re heading to the beach, look for a water carrier/sling to keep baby close and introduce them to water safely.
TravelingMom Tip: As a bonus, the carrier can be used to fashion a pseudo-high chair in restaurants if necessary!
5. Test your travel gear before the trip
From strollers to car seats to baby carriers to diaper bags, you’ll want to travel with the gear that makes baby and you the most comfortable. No one — you or the baby — wants to be a mile in to a 3-mile hike only to find that the baby doesn’t like the backpack you’re carrying her in.
And why do you want to test the diaper bag? Because you need to be comfortable with the bag when traveling with baby. Even more important, you need to know where everything is and know how to access it quickly when the blowout happens or the baby needs a binkie!
Read More: TravelingMom-recommended travel strollers, from budget to luxury.
Flying with a Baby
Julie’s first flight with her baby was a 5-hour flight from California to Florida. Alone. She’s braver than I ever was. But she’s a mom warrior.
These are her tips for making that first flight as easy as possible, on both of you.
6. Start small
Just as with road trips, if you can, start with a short flight of less than two hours. It will give you and the baby a chance to test the whole process.
Was she intrigued by going through TSA or freaked out? Did she like the feel of takeoff and landing or did she scream in pain? Was it easy to hold hold her on your lap or do you wish you bought the baby her own seat?
7. Choose a direct flight whenever possible
Getting on and off the plane with a carry-on and a baby is less stressful when you know you only have to do it once. Avoid the layover and go straight to your final destination whenever possible!
8. Book the right seat
For some, this will be the window seat. For others, the aisle seat. It’s not just personal preference. It’s really a question of how much you expect to get up.
Will your baby need to be walked up and down the aisle whenever the “fasten seat belt” sign is off? Or is he happy in his car seat or on your lap? Is the flight long enough that it will require at least one diaper change in the lavatory?
TravelingMom Tip: Before you fly with your baby, read Nasreen’s amazing guidance on changing a diaper on a plane. You’re welcome.
9. Choose a red eye if it’s a long flight
Your baby likely will sleep for a greater portion of the flight.
10. Board as soon as possible
If the carrier offers early boarding for families, take it. You’ll be able to store everything in the overhead bin and get yourself and the baby settled before the crowd descends.
11. Book the bulkhead seat
On the wide-body jets commonly used for international flights and cross country domestic flights, bulkhead rows are set up so a bassinet can be mounted to the wall. And there’s more legroom, which means more room for easily accessing baby gear.
The downside is no under-seat storage for that baby gear so you’ll need to find space in an overhead bin during takeoff and landing. (Remember what we said about jumping at the chance to board early?)
12. Buy baby his own seat
Airlines still allow kids under 2 to ride as a “lap child,” but we don’t recommend it. Yes, it costs more to buy another seat, but your baby will be secured in his rear-facing car seat and tethered by the seat belt. Equally important, you’ll have your own hands free during the flight.
If you don’t want to pay upfront for your baby’s seat, Julie says you can try getting in the good graces of the flight attendant, who can rearrange seating so you have an open seat next to you. It happened to her on every flight she took with her under-1-year-old!
TravelingMom Tip: Check the car seat rules for your air carrier to be sure your car seat will fit in the airplane seat.
13. Keep the pacifier handy to manage ear pain
On a recent flight, a newborn three rows up started to scream just as my ears started to pop with the increased cabin pressure. The new parents tried mightily to comfort her, but the screams just grew louder. We all listened with sympathy for that poor little one.
Finally, a male voice from the front of plane said loudly, “Give that baby a bottle!”
The dad replied, less loudly, ” She won’t take a bottle.”
To which the first man responded, “Then give her a boob. That baby’s in pain!”
And it is painful for those little ears. Have a pacifier ready for takeoff and landing. If that doesn’t work, try a bottle — or a boob. The suckling tends to equalize the pressure inside their tiny ears.
Consult your pediatrician before the flight for additional tips and ideas that might work for your baby.
Have a Sleep Strategy When Traveling with Baby
Getting your baby or toddler to fall asleep in an unfamiliar place like a hotel or Airbnb can be tough.
Here are some helpful suggestions that you might try to help your baby sleep on vacation:
14. Book a multi-room Airbnb or hotel suite
When traveling with baby, don’t settle for a plain old hotel room. Booking something bigger with a separate bedroom means the baby can be in a quiet, still place. Bonus points: You can look for a vacation rental that supplies baby gear such as a crib and high chair.
If you must book a hotel room, at least look for one with a balcony. Put the baby to sleep, then head to the balcony with your partner and a glass of wine. Leave the door open a crack while you two have a little “us time” while keeping one ear open for any cries from the baby.
15. Do what works at home
Whatever calms your baby at home might also calm him on vacation, whether that means putting baby in a carrier and pacing the room, walking with baby in a stroller up and down the hotel hallway or using a white noise machine.
16. Test out different sleeping spots
Again, a week at the beach house is not when you want to learn that your baby will only sleep in her own crib in her own room.
In the weeks leading up to the trip, have her sleep around — put her down for naps at your best friend’s house, do an overnight visit at Grandma’s, even try getting her to sleep in a different room at home.
Nursing and Feeding Your Baby
If you are a breastfeeding mother you have rights. Read these breastfeeding tips for traveling before you fly.
This is another time when it’s important to know your baby’s temperament and schedule. With time zone changes, it can be easy to lose track of a feeding schedule. Your baby also may be cutting nursing sessions short because he is distracted by what is happening all of the new stimuli around him.
17. Take care of yourself
With the possible change in schedules and timing, be sure you bring some type of relief for yourself in case baby isn’t feeding well.
Even if you don’t usually pump breast milk, having a small manual pump could be a vacation-saver if baby is leaving you engorged. No one wants to have mastitis at all, let alone when you’re away from home.
18. Breastfeed everywhere
If you mostly feed your baby in a rocker in a quiet room, you might want to mix that up a bit in the weeks leading up to your trip. It’s important that both baby and you get comfortable breastfeeding in other places.
19. Keep track of wet diapers
Make sure you’re still keeping track of wet diapers, just like at home. That way you’ll know if baby is dehydrated (especially if you are traveling in a warm locale).
20. Make mixing formula easier
Traveling with formula for baby? We’ve got a few tricks for that, too.
First, you can bring water through the security checkpoint. Be sure to pull it out of your bag and let TSA know it’s for baby. Nasreen says she always brought a bottle of room temperature water and pre-filled bottles.
Bring a sectioned formula holder so that you don’t have to measure while you’re on the go.
To prevent spills in your suitcase, pack a new sealed container of powdered formula. If you can’t do that, stretch a piece of plastic wrap over the container before you put on the top and then put the whole thing in a zip-top plastic bag before tucking it into your suitcase. Nothing ruins a vacation like formula powder all over everything!
Lastly, those shaker bottles that you can get for protein powder? They’re perfect for mixing formula on the go. They can even function as a bottle warmer. Just fill the shaker with hot water and pop the bottle in to warm it.
I remember a coworker years ago grumbling about his pending trip to France with his wife and newborn. He was angry because his wife was planning to bring along a case of diapers.
“Doesn’t she know that babies everywhere poop?” he asked of no one in particular.
21. Bring Only What You Need
My coworker was right. Babies everywhere poop and pee. So you’ll be able to buy what you need once you arrive. But remember what we said about preparing for blowouts: Bring twice as many diapers (and two extra outfits) for the flight or car ride.
22. It is Possible to Travel with a Cloth Diapered Baby!
Nasreen has done it. My hat is off to her. But she says it’s easy if you follow these 3 steps:
- Plan on doing laundry during the trip. Don’t pack every single diaper you have.
- Bring a travel pack of Handy-Sacks or a bunch of plastic bags for possible blowouts when you are out and about.
- When you arrive in your hotel room set up a diapering station similar to what you have at home.
You can get all of the details on her cloth diapered adventure here.
Become a Minimalist
Remember what we said at the beginning? It can be tempting to bring every single thing you think that your baby might need while you’re on vacation. We understand. We did, too, on our first one (OK, first two) trips with baby. But you won’t need it all. Really.
For now, give yourself permission to bring every little thing you think you might need. Better to be safe than stressed. But when you get home, make a note of the things you brought but didn’t use.
When you’re ready, here’s what we recommend:
23. Use a backpack as a diaper bag
We recommend packing baby’s essentials in a backpack rather than a diaper bag. Then, if you wear the backpack on both shoulders, you can be completely hands free.
24. Pack only the bare necessities
- Diaper supplies (changing pad, diapers, wipes)
- Wet bag (for storing wet or soiled clothing)
- Two changes of clothing per day (more if you have a baby prone to spitting up or diaper blowouts). Pack these outfits in gallon-sized Ziploc bags and you’ll have extra bags on hand for any incidents.
- Baby-friendly sunscreen
- Protective hat
- Swaddle cloths/muslins for wrapping & covering from sun
- Baby food/bottles/formula/baby spoons
- Front carrier and/or stroller with car seat
25. Don’t forget about the power of Amazon
Worried about running out of things? Realize that you used half your diapers on the first day alone?
Don’t underestimate the healing power of Amazon. A couple of clicks and you’ll have diapers, formula, extra bottles, a few changes of clothes and more headed to you at the hotel or Airbnb.