Traveling with your little one, whether it’s to see family that’s far away or to have an adventure of your own, is a lot different than traveling without kids. Mostly, you’ve got to be prepared for any situation that might arise while in transit and have the necessary gear packed for your stay. But with the right preparations and tips, a laid back attitude, and an extra outfit (or two)—traveling with a baby is totally doable.
In this section, we’re going to cover tips for traveling with your baby in the first year. We’ll also cover advice about how to make the duration of your stay a bit easier too. Let’s get you adventure-ready!
1. Book your airplane seats strategically
The first step of any trip is booking your flight. As you may know, children under the age of two can fly for free as lap passengers which is appealing if you have family that lives far away. However, it should be noted that the Federal Aviation Administration does state that the safest place for your little one is in a car seat, not on your lap. So, if you can swing it financially it’s best to book baby their own seat and bring your car seat aboard. Take advantage of early boarding to get set up and situated before takeoff.
When you book your tickets, try to choose seat towards the front of the plane to reduce turbulence and likelihood of motion sickness. If you are taking your little one on a long flight (say, overseas) opt for a seat with a fold-down bassinet. It’s so worth it to have a place for baby to rest and sleep on a flat back for extra-long travel. Even with their own seat and a car seat, on a very long flight, you will want to have another space for them to be in. It’s unrealistic that they’d stay strapped in a car seat for many hours, and having this space will save you. You may need to call the airline to check about the availability of this amenity and make sure you can reserve it.
If you decide to bring baby on board as a lap baby, having an extra seat is still so helpful for spreading out, nursing, and all the baby stuff. When you arrive at your gate, I highly recommend going to the desk and speaking with the attendant. They may be able to move your seat (or someone else’s) to get you a seat next to an empty seat or in an otherwise empty row if the flight isn’t fully booked. Once when I flew alone with my firstborn the gate attendant secretly did this for me, it was the best surprise!
2. Pack lots of extras in your carry-on
Your carry-on will be your lifeline for the duration of your flight and time in the airport. Keep in mind that if your luggage gets lost (gah!) or your flights get delayed or canceled, you may be living out of your carry-on for much longer than expected. For this reason, make sure to pack WAY more than you think you’d need. Have double the amount of diapers, baby food, baby clothes, etc.
To be extra prepared, have a change of clothes for you and your partner in their as well. If baby vomits on you or has an unexpected blow-out, you won’t be stuck traveling in dirty clothes. I always make sure to keep a few zip-loc bags, or a reusable wet bag in my diaper bag/carry on too for soiled clothes and burp cloths.
If you are traveling with your breast pump, it’s best to carry this on the plane. You don’t want to find yourself without a pump and wind up with plugged milk ducts or an infection during your trip. Sometimes babies nurse less frequently during travel due to all of the distractions, so you may need to pump even if you usually don’t.
Additionally, pack the supplies you need to safely store breast milk during travel. Breastmilk is an exception to the limited liquid guidelines, so you just need to plan extra time to have it inspected at security.
3. Nurse during take-off and landing
If your baby is still breastfeeding, nursing during takeoff and landing can really help them cope with the ear pain that often occurs with the change in pressure. (Read this article for tips on how to breastfeed in public.)
Nursing your baby during the flight might also put them to sleep, which will make for a calmer, more relaxing flight for everyone. You can assess the pros and cons of nursing during take-off and landing vs. keeping them in their car seat to decide what makes you feel most comfortable and safe.
One thing to keep in mind is that I recommend not putting off feeding them to make sure they’ll eat during takeoff. You don’t want to board the plane with a hungry and fussy baby who can’t calm down to latch. Ideally, you can feed baby 30-60 minutes prior to takeoff, so that they aren’t starving, but aren’t so full that they won’t eat either. This can be tricky to predict in the event of delays, so if you’re unsure, just follow baby’s lead and keep them full and happy.
4. Wear your baby through security
Most mamas who’ve traveled with infants and babies will tell you that wearing your baby in a baby carrier through the airport and security is the easiest. You don’t have to worry about germs, you’ll be hands free, and security is a breeze.
5. Gate-check your stroller
But even if you’re wearing baby, I still recommend bringing your stroller through the airport. Why? To hold all the baby things of course! Your stroller can become a holder for your carry on, car seat, etc. while you wear baby.
Most airlines offer complimentary gate check for strollers and car seats (if you’re not bringing it on board), this way you can get them right when you exit the plane at your destination. It also limits the likelihood of your stroller or car seat getting lost or damaged if you check them in the traditional manner.
Even when gate checking these items, I do recommend putting them in travel bags. This is another way to limit potential damage while they’re under the plane or being handled by airport personnel.
6. Use curbside check-in
Traveling with a baby usually means bringing along some extra items. If you are checking luggage, use curbside check in. It will make your life so much easier than lugging everything from parking, onto a shuttle, and into the airport to check in.
7. Follow diaper-changing etiquette on the plane
Before boarding, make sure to change your little one’s diaper and use the restroom yourself. If it’s a shorter flight, hopefully you won’t even have to deal with a diaper change in the air.
But if you do, it’s usually best practice to change them in the lavatory. Surprisingly, many airplane bathrooms actually have a fold-down changing table. You can call ahead or ask when you board to check. If you do change your baby at your seat, I’d recommend only doing so if you have an entire row to yourself and only a wet diaper, out of consideration for those around you.
8. Do some research ahead of time about the airport and airplane
On the same note about checking if your plane will have a changing table, do some other research about your airport and any airports where you’ll have a layover. Most airports have lactation rooms for nursing mothers. It can be nice to have a quiet, calm, baby-friendly space to nurse and snuggle your babe between flights. For more mobile babies that need to wiggle, airports often have indoor play areas for children.
If there’s not a lactation room in your terminal or close to your gate, private restrooms often referred to as ‘family restrooms’ can be a quiet respite. It’s a place you can turn off the lights and help your baby fall asleep in a carrier or wrap if they’re having a particularly tough time travelling as well.
9. Bring some entertainment for your older baby
If you’re traveling with an older baby, entertainment will be important. Pack some books, small toys, and even a busy board if you have room for it. For toys and books, ideally you would want them to be new and novel to your baby so they are a little more interested at first. Depending on your baby’s age, some toys I would recommend are:
10. Bring some snacks and solids
If your baby is already eating some solids, you should plan to bring along some snacks, homemade baby food, and/or organic baby food pouches, Putting snacks in snack containers that give baby a challenge can be effective at occupying them for some of the flight.
11. Keep everyone healthy
Before traveling with a baby — especially on an airplane — it’s smart to work on your and your baby’s immune system. If you give supplements such as baby probiotics and vitamin D, this is a good time to make sure you aren’t skipping days.
Throughout your flights and time at the airport, be diligent about hand hygiene to minimize your and your baby’s exposure to germs. Wearing your baby through the airport can help ward off strangers from touching or getting too close to your baby and spreading illness.
You can also use baby wipes or hydrogen peroxide wipes to wipe down your seats, arm rests, etc. when you board the plane. This may not be totally necessary because of the cleaning precautions already in place, but go ahead and bring some on board with you if you prefer to do this. (I pack a few in a little baggie rather than trying to lug the entire can around.)
Now You’re Adventure-Ready!
Having a baby isn’t a reason to stay home and avoid travel. Traveling with a baby can be fun and manageable. You can do this!
Using the tips in this section your airplane travel will be a little bit easier. Most important for a successful trip? Semi-low expectations, planning and preparation. If you have the right things at the ready, you’ll be prepared for whatever the trip throws your way! Remember to take lots of pictures (get in them, too!) and have fun making memories with your family. And if you need something you didn’t think of, you can always rent baby gear at your destination.