Whether they get there by car, train or plane, parents are likely to face a few extra obstacles both packing and traveling to a new destination. But being a parent doesn’t mean the end of global adventures! And why not spark the travel bug only months into a little one’s life? Resorts like the Club Med in Ixtapa, Mexico, or the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia, welcome families with open arms (Club Med even has programs for babies as young as four months) — and nearly any destination can be made infant friendly with the right preparation.
When traveling with a baby, packing is all about organization. Prioritize the packing list, keep the most important things within easy reach, and don’t waste valuable space with baby gear that can be borrowed or rented.
- Carry a fully stocked diaper bag onto an airplane.
When flying, plenty of diapers, plastic bags (to contain dirty clothes and diapers), a changing pad, bibs and burb cloths will help keep everyone clean and tidy. Especially if traveling internationally, including enough food, formula, or breastmilk is also important!
- Not everything has to go in the carry-on.
This step-by-step packing guide breaks down which items really belong in a carry-on versus checked baggage. Some things (outerwear, tons of blankets) should definitely be packed in a checked bag so as not to take up valuable space.
- Don’t sweat the big stuff
Large items such as cribs, high chairs, and large toys (think bouncy seats) are almost never worth it to pack — whether driving or flying. Call the hotel concierge to find out what type of sleeping setup they offer for infants. Most have a Pack ‘n Play or other play pen set up (be aware that hotel cribs may not meet safety standards). The more high-end the hotel, the better amenities they’ll offer for babies. Staying in a condominium or Airbnb? Rent cribs, high chairs, and more from services like MV Baby Rent or Rockabye Baby Rentals. These services also rent to hotels!
- Research the airline policies
Each airline may have a slightly different policy when it comes to checking strollers or car seats. Start research through the TSA website, which has a Traveling with Children page, then move on to specific airline research. Do parents have to check strollers at the ticket counter? Or can it be checked at the gate? These are the kinds of questions to ask.
Flying? Prep for the Plane
Parents have a few options when it comes to flying with babies and toddlers two years old and younger (what most airlines consider a “lap baby”). Know the facts and consider a few tips to make plane travel as easy as possible.
- Most airlines allow lap babies to fly for free
Worried about paying baby’s way? Tots under two years old are permitted to sit in mom or dad’s lap on most flights within the United States. Taxes, fees, or fares may apply. Some airlines, like United, do require a ticket for babies on international flights.
- But the safest way for babies to fly is in a car seat
Buying an extra seat for a baby is not possible for everyone, but airlines like Southwest do offer affordable infant rates. If you do decide to purchase a ticket for a baby and his car seat, ensure that the seat is FAA approved by checking out a few questions, answers and tips (including how to install a car seat on a plane) here.
- Even a lap baby may need documentation
When traveling with a child that does not require a ticket, the airline might still require a government-issued birth certificate or passport. All babies flying internationally require a passport, so be sure to apply for one in due time.
- When bringing a stroller…
Bring the smallest, most compact stroller for any kind of travel, but especially plane travel. Most airlines allow passengers to check collapsible strollers at the gate when boarding, and to pick them up when exiting the plane, but they will have to go through an x-ray at security. Any large, bulky strollers will likely need to be checked at the check-in counter.
- Breastmilk and formula have different rules
When it comes to packing a carry-on bag, as long as a child is present, parents can pack more than the restrictive three ounces of breastmilk, formula, or juice. Simply declare that you’re carrying breastmilk or formula onto the flight at the beginning of the TSA screening process. Some parents have found it helps to have the rules printed out, which can be found here.
- Don’t be shy
Ask about bottle warming, if bassinets will be available, if there is family pre-boarding, and if there is a diaper changing station on the plane. Take advantage of any benefits offered for families, especially if it will keep the baby calm. Everyone appreciates a quiet baby on board.
- Concerned about breastfeeding in the airport?
Don’t be! In the U.S., women are permitted to breastfeed in any space they are legally allowed to occupy. Many airports now have lactation suites from companies like mamava, where mothers can nurse in both quiet and clean spaces (because no mom should have to nurse in an airport bathroom).In many other countries, Australia, France, and Iceland for example, mothers will find more acceptance of public breastfeeding than in the U.S. But others, like Saudi Arabia, ask that mothers be very discreet about breastfeeding. Respect the culture, wherever you travel.
What About a Road Trip?
Aspects of traveling by car may especially appeal to new parents. Worrying about a crying baby on a cramped, long flight could be a source of a lot of anxiety. Driving will take longer, and may involve a certain amount of “crying it out,” which is something to remember.
- Check the car seat
Before driving long distances, it doesn’t hurt to double-check that baby’s car seat is properly installed. Read up to find out the best car seat by age, how to safely install one, and read about safety ratings for various brands and models.
- Plan for messes
Keep a roll of paper towels, a change of clothes, wipes, and even a plastic grocery bag (for trash) handy when traveling with babies and toddlers.
- Stay organized
Organizers which hang on the back of a (grown-up) car seat make toys, wipes, change of clothes, and such, much easier to access.
- Plan rest stops in advance
Take time to get out of the car, walk around and breathe in the fresh air. A little wiggle room will do everyone wonders before the next leg of the trip. Feeding breaks are also
- Drive through the night
Many parents find that driving through the night, when babies are (hopefully) sleeping anyway, to be the best way to travel. Just be sure to take shifts and get plenty of sleep yourself.
- Keep baby engaged
Consider (if there are two adults on the road trip) taking turns sitting in the back with a hand comforting the baby while he or she is still in the car seat. Read, talk and play together so the baby stays engaged, which is beneficial to their growing brains and keeps them calm.