Before our first flight with my son, I read tons of posts about what to do, what to bring and what to leave behind when flying with a new little baby. I talked to any mom I could about their experience, yet, our first flight was still torturous!
It was nothing like the breezy experiences of some of my friends, and little I had read prepared me step-by-step of how to conquer the experience from start-to-finish, leaving me confused about how to use the bathroom when I was wearing my baby, or that I should have brought an extra layer of clothing for myself in consideration of the inevitable diaper leaks.
For all of that, here are my big takeaways for traveling with babies to make the experience more efficient and organized.
1. Pick the right flight.
Morning flights have a tendency to see less delays. Consider picking your flight based on your departure cities records and your airline based on their timeliness reputation. Also think about when your baby is best behaved. For us, our little one does best on morning flights when he is more low-key and likely to sleep. Don’t forget to think about your commute to the airport – is it rush hour? Are the streets plowed early in the morning during winter?
2. Get TSA Pre-Check.
My husband and I signed up for TSA pre-check before our kids were born as we were both traveling a ton for work. This process and price were well worth it now that we have kids. Make your appointment ASAP and make the rest of your airport experiences much easier, saving both time and effort in the security lines.
3. Choose your seat wisely.
Consider picking a seat near the bathrooms, even if that means way in the back. If your little one is throwing a fit, the back of the plane is louder and your baby’s wails are muffled a bit for everyone else. If you need to change diapers or just need to stand, the bathroom area is best. When traveling solo with my one of my sons, I also enjoyed being closest to where the flight attendants congregate. In my experience they have always been more than willing to lend a hand (like holding a baby!).
4. Make a List.
Make a packing list ahead of time. You’ll save your sanity when it is actually go-time. Instead of running around the house looking for the missing pacifier or favorite blanket, you’ll have your list of must-haves in order beforehand. You are less likely to forget the bottle tops or pajamas if everything is written down. Try using Coda to organize your different packing lists, personal guidelines, family rules of thumb, etc. Having this doc (that can be an app in your phone!) will make it easy for anyone in the family (caregivers, spouse, grandparents…) to lend a hand!
5. Get the right gear.
Lucie’s List has an awesome list of travel gear (Lucie’s List is my favorite gear comparison site, hands down!). Think through your needs for feeding, sleeping, strolling and more. Remember to call your hotel ahead of time to see if they offer cribs, mini-fridges, or highchairs. There are also plenty of baby gear rental businesses (try BabiesGetAway, BabysAway or google this for the city you are visiting).
*Note: Hotels sometimes have older cribs that can be really tall… which doesn’t work well for shorter parents like myself.
6. Leave behind what you can.
If there are things you really don’t need, don’t bring them! As a new-ish parent, I tended to overpack outfits they never wear and toys they never play with. I’ve learned that if there is an opportunity for me to borrow or rent gear from family, friends or companies (noted above), it is better to take that route. Consider investing in some things like affordable booster seats or pack n’ plays at places you go regularly (like grandma and grandpa’s house). This has saved us a lot of headache!
Note: I never leave behind my own car seat. I know it is safe, clean, secure and has never been involved in an accident or had a recall. Airlines are obligated to check them for free.
7. It’s all about the diapers.
Changing diapers on a plane is no small duty (haha!). I try to wait until landing at our destination to change only wet diapers (unless I really have to). A small trick – use diaper inserts for longer flights. It doesn’t help with soiled diapers but may get you further with wet ones.
8. Formula feeding on the fly.
Ready-to-go liquid formula is by far the easiest way to travel with formula. Though the actual brands/formula is not my preference day-to-day, it definitely is my #1 choice for flying due to the convenience. You can use a Dr. Brown’s collar and nipple directly on the bottle for most brands, or pour directly into your preferred bottle type.
Mixing your own formula is also feasible. Bring bottles that are perfect for mixing on the go. These kind of bottles (though there are different brands) allow you to put the right amount of formula in the bottom of the bottle beforehand. Once you are through security, buy filtered water bottles, pour the right amount of water in the top, and you’ll be ready to mix when you baby is ready to eat! Or, purchase to-go packets of formula and bring your regular baby bottles on the plane.
Pre-mixing bottles in bottle coolers with ice packs, is totally doable (but the most inconvenient in my experience because of the extra scrutiny through TSA).
Note: Liquids such as pre-made formula go through extra security measures with TSA. This has added 5 minutes at minimum and 25 minutes at maximum to our security screenings depending on lines and availability of agents.
If you are a nursing mother, you may have it easiest with a baby who feeds on-the-go. Not all of us are so lucky. My baby had a hard time nursing on the plane (clogged ears, new environment, general miserableness) so I brought breastmilk in bottles for our trips. TSA allows you to bring as much breastmilk as you need, so don’t limit yourself. I packed pre-measured breastmilk bottles in a cooler bags with plenty of ice packs. Breastmilk lasts 6-8 hours out of the fridge, so even though I kept them cool in the cooler bags, I wasn’t super worried about the temperature knowing my milk would last the whole travel time anyway. However, this isn’t the most convenient route, like pre-mixed formula, this route will take longer at security as they have to put liquids through a more rigorous screening process.
See my post about transporting breast milk for this topic more in-depth.
10. Packing your diaper bag is key.
You will include the normal diapers, wipes and creams, obviously. I like to keep these things in their own bag inside my bigger diaper bag for easy trips to the airport bathroom. I also bring along disposable changing pads.
How many diapers, you ask? A good rule of thumb is a diaper for every hour and a half of travel. That might be overkill for your baby or toddler, but at least you won’t run out in case of an unexpected delays.
Other key items? Wet Ones, hand sanitizer and/or hand wipes, pacifier cleaner, extra pacifiers, a change of clothing for your wee one, pacifier clips, toys, disposable bags (for dirty diapers or dirty clothes!), a ziplock bag (for dirty bottles and pacifiers to wash when you get to your new location), your milk/feeding supplies, a stroller blanket and/or receiving blanket, car seat cover, and any baby favorites like a ‘lovey’, blankie and/or small toys. We also bring our baby carrier. Your stroller cover can do double duty as your privacy blanket for feeding (if you use such a thing). For pumping mamas – you might also want to bring a hand pump, milk storage bags, nursing pads, nipple cream, and cleaning wipes, depending on the length of your flight or chance of a delay.
11. Bag your bags.
Packing for little one calls for lots of organization. We use these cube packs to make packing easy and efficient. Since I share a suitcase with my kids, this helps keep things sane and divided. I use one for their clothing, one for their accessories and the others for my things. Baggu make some great size bags for other uses. We use this size/kind of bag for diapers/wipes/creams inside the diaper bag, and another one for toys on-the-go. These bags are perfect to throw in your suitcase and unravel in your new location (throwing a bag together to take little to grandma’s for the day? To the beach? You’ve got it). We always bag our stroller for the gate check, to keep it protected. I also bring a few ziplocks (just in case) and disposable diaper trash bags, of course.
12. Dress for the trip.
I almost always put my small baby in comfy zipper pajamas (with feet!) for the flight. Why? It is so much easier to change diapers for us in small, cramped places with quick zipper outfits verse the complexity of buttons and various clothing pieces. Trying to put pants back on, button a squirmy baby in a plane bathroom and not lose a sock in the process is a tough job. It is also really easy for a pajama onesie to be the back-up outfit in the diaper bag verse a few loose items. If your baby is prone to diaper blow-outs, however, put a onesie under the pajamas outfit to add an extra layer of protection (for both of you!). As for mom’s outfit? Consider an easy breastfeeding outfit and layers – if your baby’s diaper blow-out or throw up lands on your shirt, layers are your best friend. I always dress for comfort and convenience when traveling over style!
13. Have an airport strategy.
A lot of friends recommend wearing your baby through the airport as if that is easy as pie. That might be the case for you! For me? Not so much.
My best airport strategy is checking my roller bag, and bringing my little one in his stroller through the airport. I use the undercarriage of the stroller as a ‘catch all’ for the diaper bag and my backpack. Once we get to the gate, I ask the desk for a stroller tag ahead of time and wait to board (early). At the bottom of the jet bridge, I pop out my wee one’s car seat out of the stroller base, and toss the stroller in my gate-check stroller bag (Type A Tip: I write my name and cell number in sharpie on my stroller bag, just in case…). I throw on my backpack, toss the diaper bag over my shoulder and carry the carseat (with my babe strapped in) onto the plane. This strategy is do-able for parents traveling alone with a baby too – since wearing your baby poses some problems going to the bathroom or carrying extra bags. I always bring my baby carrier with me, nonetheless. It is helpful to throw your baby in the carrier when you need to pace the plane to keep him/her calm or even when you are loading your things through security.
14. Wet Wipes are your best friend.
As soon as you get to your seat, wipe down everything with wet ones! The arm rests, the window (the window shade), the tray table, the seat belts! When your little one tries to eat the armrest or licks the seat in front of you (yes, this happens), you won’t feel so bad about the thousands of hidden germs. Some people disagree, but I am a stickler with this one for my kiddos who like to wash the windows with their tongues and taste test the seatbelts.
15. Let the schedule go.
Let your baby sleep when he/she needs to sleep, and eat whenever he or she wants. I tend to bring extra milk, just in case. Heaven forbid you run out of that golden liquid midflight! Then it is toys, pacifiers and lots of peek-a-boo whenever they want.
16. Bring earplugs.
If your baby decides to scream the entire flight and the person across the aisle gives you the side-eye, offer them individually wrapped ear plugs. It might not solve the problem, but it is a nice gesture as you all suffer through the screams. Also, it happens. We live in a world with babies that is how life goes on, folks. Your welcome for carrying on humanity as we know it.
17. Have Tylenol/Motrin handy.
The pressure can be tough on a baby’s ears and sinuses. Talk to your child’s doctor before traveling about bringing pain medication for them and which option/dosage would be best. If your baby needs it, you’ve got it. Don’t hold back – it will be well worth solving this problem. I also find it relevant to have headache medication for me and my husband – dehydration and the stress of a long travel day can easily take one of us out.
18. Have Entertainment at hand.
@Busytoddler did a great post (as always) about some good activities to have on-hand with toddlers while flying. For babies, I found peek-a-boo and chew toys a win-win. I avoid things that make annoying sounds, for the sanity of myself (and my fellow travelers). My kids also liked me to wear them and walk-up and down the aisles so they could goo-goo and gah-gah at all the strangers.
Some easy baby food is great entertainment for longer flights. Bringing toys they have never seen before keeps things novel and interesting. I also found it helpful to switch back-and-forth with my partner every 30-minutes so each person got a “semi-break.” Alas, now that we have two, no one gets a break.
19. Be bold in asking for help.
This one goes out to any parent traveling solo with your tiny tot. People love helping people with little babies (okay, not all people). Don’t be afraid to ask a stranger on your flight to help you get your stroller in its gate-check bag or to help you carry the diaper bag down the aisle. I’ve had people offer to carry all my bags. I have offered to carry someone else’s baby onto the plane – and they took me up on it! Traveling is hard and other travelers have sympathy for parents. Take advantage of the help when you need it.
20. Take your time.
Leave for the airport early. Stroll through security. Give yourself extra time to go to the bathroom and change diapers before you get on the plane. Grab a snack for yourself and a bottle of water without a hurry in your heels! Most airlines let you board early with kids under two (even if your airline doesn’t offer this, they will probably let you if you ask). This eases the rush of getting down the jet bridge and onto the plane – just take your time! Even when it is time to deplane, don’t give yourself anxiety getting your things together quickly, just worry about keeping your baby calm and happy and get off when you are ready (even if that is dead last). The calmer you are, the happier your traveling clan will be.
- Pick the right flight.
- Get TSA Pre-Check
- Choose your seat wisely.
- Make a list.
- Get the right gear.
- Leave behind what you can.
- It’s all about the diapers.
- Formula feeding on the fly
- Packing your diaper bag is key.
- Bag your bags.
- Dress for the trip.
- Have an airport strategy.
- Wet Wipes are your best friend.
- Screw the schedule.
- Bring earplugs.
- Have Tylenol handy.
- Have entertainment at hand.
- Be bold in asking for help.
- Take your time.