It’s officially the busiest travel season of the year! It seems like many of you, like us, are trying to navigate seasonal travel with an added layer of complexity this year–with a baby!
I can’t say we are the biggest experts on the topic, but we definitely have quite a few overnight trips under our belt at this point, and as of a few weeks ago, our first flight with June! (Which was a cross-country flight out to Oregon with two very tight layovers–a doozy!) The good news is that we survived, it went better than expected, and yes, it’s absolutely possible to pull off!
Many of you have asked for any tips I can share, so today I have compiled not only my own tips, but tips from you all (more seasoned moms/travelers than us) as well as some helpful info my friend and infant sleep expert, Michele from Peaceful Littles.
30+ Tips for Traveling with a Baby
If it’s your first time traveling with a baby or your first time traveling alone with a baby, gearing up for that first flight can be incredibly anxiety-inducing. Whether the day goes perfectly or you experience a few hiccups, getting that first (or second, or third) trip under your belt is a huge parenting milestone- you’ve got this!
As always when it comes to motherhood, remember that every baby is different! If these ideas and suggestions serve you, great! If not, leave them! As much as you can prep and plan for traveling with a baby, things can and will inevitably go wrong — delays, missed naps, spills and forgetting things- it happens! Remember to breathe, go with the flow and decide which cocktail to order when you arrive at your destination.
Let’s jump in!
First thing’s first, let’s talk strategy:
There are a few strategic tips to keep in mind when traveling with a baby. Not all of these will apply at all times, but helpful to consider when possible!
Be strategic with travel times if possible:
Easier said than done, but when traveling with June, we try to time things up with her nap/feeding schedule. When booking flights, we opted for early morning flights rather than evening flights. She’s not one to easily fall asleep on us, so we knew there was a chance she might not nap–being home in time to put her to bed early was a much safer call vs. flying at bedtime risking her not getting a full night’s sleep.
For our trip to Oregon and back, our flights were at 7:50am and 5:50am respectively, so we obviously had to wake her earlier than normal (her usual wake time is 7am). Another thing that helped was that we held off feeding her until she got fussy/hungry (vs feeding her right when she woke up like usual) so we could keep her as close to her normal schedule as possible. Again, just following her cues! This helped a lot when we landed in getting her adjusted to the time zone!
When driving, we typically have everything loaded and ready to go before she wakes up from a nap. If we’re driving to the lake house, for example, which is about an hour to 1.5 hours away–we’ll aim to leave after one bottle and arrive before the second (she eats every 4 hours and naps every 2 hours). She will never take her full nap in the car, but it’s not usually a problem–we can put her down early for her second nap, or let her sleep a little bit later if needed so she can catch up on any sleep she missed.
On flying with baby:
Use a pacifier/bottle for takeoff and landing
Protecting ears and distracting from loud and foreign noises, arm yourself with a bottle or pacifier at the beginning and end of the flight. Also, do not even think about traveling without a Paci clip!
Consider when to board
If you’re traveling with someone, have one person board first and get everything settled (luggage, carry-ons). Whoever is with baby can board last to minimize being on the plane for more time than you need to. (Put a blanket on the floor and use this time to play as much as possible to tire them out!) If you’re traveling solo, however, consider boarding early during family boarding to give yourself extra time to get settled.
Lap baby or buy them a seat?
I don’t think there’s a right answer here. I think it depends on your budget and how much your baby likes the car seat. Flights to Oregon were already expensive and also June generally likes being worn a lot more than she likes her car seat, so we did not buy her a seat! However if your baby loves the car seat and sleeps well in it, and it will grant you a lot more peace of mind, it might be worth it for you to buy a seat!
Babywearing is your friend!
Which brings us to our next point! Through security, around the airport and on the plane, babywearing keeps you hands-free and promotes sleep/comfort for baby. This was absolutely key with June! (She likes being worn a lot more than she likes her car seat, so that helps! But you know your baby best!) Neal did a lot of walking up and down the aisle with her in the Babybjorn to get her to nap! (Tip: Face baby out so they can look around when it’s not time for sleep, but when it’s time to sleep, face them inward so they are against your chest to limit distractions and help calm them!)
Put baby in an easy on/off onesie (or pajamas!)
You do not want to be fussing with PANTS when you’re changing a diaper on a plane, or rushing in an airport bathroom. Put them in an outfit that is easy on, easy off! We put June in Hanna Andersson zippies for both legs of our trip! (I love these because they don’t have feet so they look more like a real outfit with some cute matching socks and a bow!) We also put her in them the night before so we could let her sleep until the last possible second and then all we had to do was change her diaper and pop her in the car seat!
On traveling with baby in general:
A lot of GG readers said to treat travel days like any other day and remain calm. Babies can feed off your energy! I can vouch that this is true. The more calm and collected you are, the more baby will go along with the flow!
Expect the worst, hope for the best
So many things are out of our control when traveling (even without a baby!), when you expect things to go wrong, you’ll be better prepared to take on mishaps and on the flip side, be pleasantly surprised when things go right!
Adjusting naps, time zones, and other sleep tips:
You can’t talk about baby traveling tips without discussing sleep! Michele was kind enough to pass along so much wonderful sleep advice — before, during and after travel. Need more help with baby sleep? You can book a sleep consultation with Michele right here! Can’t recommend her enough! Also see her guest post on newborn sleep 101!
Use an Early Bedtime on Travel Days:
Whether you are driving or flying, travel days can be exhausting for the entire family. The best way to make up for a lack of consolidated sleep during your travel day is to use an early bedtime when you arrive at your destination. This will help prevent your baby from becoming overtired and overstimulated.
Recreate the Sleep Environment & Routine:
The most helpful way to ensure your baby’s sleep stays on track while traveling is to recreate their sleep space. Bring familiar sleep associations from home, such as a sleep sack, lovey, and sound machine. I love this compact sound machine when traveling.
A dark, cool environment is also beneficial to uninterrupted sleep while away. If you are staying in a hotel where you will be sleeping in the same room as your baby, consider utilizing a blackout solution such as the SlumberPod. (Jess’ tip: For a more packable version–we have a SnoozeShade which also really helps block light and is more portable than a SlumberPod and requires zero setup!)
Jess quick tip: On this subject–we will often put June’s pack n play in the bathroom if we’re sharing a room with her! It’s often the darkest, quietest place, especially with the sound machine on!
Since babies cannot tell time, routines are very useful in helping them recognize that bedtime is approaching. If you are able to do so, keep your baby’s bedtime routine consistent. This might mean bringing a book along and singing the same song as you do at home.
If you are spending time with extended family or friends, I would let them play and love on your little one during the day, but it is helpful if it is you as the parent completing the bedtime routine (not grandma, auntie, etc). This is a great opportunity to reconnect with your little and lower stimulation from an exciting day before settling to sleep.
Use an 80/20 Perspective
Vacation should be a time to relax and unwind from the usual day-to-day. While traveling, use an 80/20 perspective with regard to your baby’s sleep schedule. What I mean by this is 80% of the time, try to make sure they are sleeping at their usual times and 20% of the time I would encourage you to go to the late dinner or scheduled activity during nap time. This perspective will allow you to enjoy your vacation, without derailing your baby’s sleep. If your baby is expected to miss a nap or nap on the go, plan an early bedtime. Likewise, if you have a late-night planned past their usual bedtime, make sure they have a solid nap during the day.
Time Zone Considerations
When making travel plans, it is helpful to proactively consider the time difference. If a 1-2 hour time change, you may consider keeping baby on their “home” time zone. If you are expecting a 3 hour plus time change, I recommend shifting your baby’s schedule 1-2 weeks prior to travel. Use 15-20 min increments backward or forward at a time (depending on the change in time) for a total of a 1-2 hour shift. By doing so, you will ease the drastic change and experience fewer sleep disruptions upon arrival.
The best way to reset our circadian rhythm is with exposure to natural light. Wake your baby at the desired new time and let the sunlight in. Getting outside with your baby during the day and keeping their sleep space really dark at night will help them quickly adjust to the new time zone.
With this, also consider the duration of your trip. If it is 3 days or less in a new time zone, it is most likely not worth the shift in your little one’s schedule. In that case, you might instead experience an earlier/later schedule for a few days.
(Jess’ note: On our trip to Oregon we just followed June’s lead in terms of her schedule, and she adjusted with flying colors! No issues going or coming in terms of time zone changes. She pretty much adjusted to keep to her same schedule both on the west coast and when coming home. Babies can be a lot more adaptable than you might think!)
Get back to a consistent routine upon returning home:
If sleep becomes difficult on vacation and you experience a regression upon returning home, do not worry! Utilize the consistent routine you were using prior to traveling and most times your baby will return back to their normal sleep habits usually within a week.
Some important items to remember to bring with you on your trip aside from the most obvious diaper bag essentials! (For my diaper bag details, see this post!)
Consider what you can buy/borrow at your destination:
If you’ll be visiting family, it’s worth asking if they have any friends/family they can borrow a pack n play and other baby gear (strollers, bouncers, anything you typically need at home). Not having to schlep that will save a LOT of headaches. Consider buying diapers at your destination as well (or Amazon/Instacart them!). We have a borrowed Pack n Play we keep at Neal’s parents lake house, as well as diapers and wipes. Same at my mom’s house–we borrowed a Pack n Play from my sister and my mom picked up diapers so we didn’t have to pack many! This allowed us to avoid checking bags!
Pack light for everyone involved (if you want to):
Some people don’t mind checking bags or bringing a lot of stuff, and if that’s you, great!
Personally, the more stuff we have, the more anxiety-inducing it is, so we chose to pack super light for our first flight trip with June. Between two backpacks (one of them being her diaper bag) and two carry on roller suitcases, we packed everything we needed for our 3 day trip. I brought only enough clothes for what I needed there and wore the same outfit on the plane there and back. (It helped that I knew I could do laundry there if I needed to, but I didn’t need to!) I packed thin layers and wore my one sweater, only pair of jeans, and only pair of shoes on the plane. Luckily, June’s clothes take up zero space–so that helped too, haha!
Basically what I’m trying to say is–if you are a light packer, you will find a way to continue to be a light packer. Don’t let people scare you with “how much crap you’ll have to travel with now that you have a baby” if that isn’t your jam.
Pack extra clothes in your carry on/diaper bag (for everyone!)
This was by far the #1 response by GG readers! Make sure your carry-on has a change of clothes for baby, you, and anyone else you’re traveling with. Spit up, spills (and more) can transfer to you, and it’s no fun to wear that around all day! If you’re tight on space, just layer. Wear a tee underneath your sweatshirt so if baby spits up on it, you can take the top layer off, tie around your waist, and still have a clean bottom layer. Having a Tide Pen or Shout wipes on you will also be a godsend!
Pack extra diapers in your diaper bag:
Pack the number of diapers you think you’ll need, and then add a couple more just in case. They don’t take up much room and you’ll be very thankful they’re there if you need them!
Extra formula + bottles + bottle brush:
If you bottle feed! You absolutely CAN travel through TSA with liquid formula. You just have to let them know ahead of time! Make sure to pack extra for the journey! It helps to feed baby a little at takeoff and landing (so account for extra if you need to for that) and also enough formula for extra bottles in case you get delayed. Many formulas come in liquid form which you may find easier–see my bottle feeding post for more tips on bottles on the go!
In terms of the number of bottles to bring, I think you only need 3. Neal says 4. We brought 3 in her diaper bag so we weren’t having to wash bottles on the go, and packed one more in one of our carry-ons! Don’t forget the bottle brush!
If your baby takes a Paci. We always have way too many paci’s with us, just in case! Make sure you bring a pacifier clip or two so you don’t run the risk of dropping/losing them! Also helpful to have are Dr. Brown’s pacifier and bottle wipes to clean them with!
Travel baby monitor:
I don’t have a recommendation for a travel monitor because I hate ours but what I HIGHLY recommend is this detachable arm you can put on the pack n play to hold your monitor.
Have a baby carrier handy
As mentioned earlier, baby wearing during flight is KEY. (This is what helped with June SO MUCH!) Make sure your carrier is easily accessible and not accidentally packed in your checked luggage! We wore June the entire time, through the airport and on the plane–in our Babybjorn mini! (The more minimal the carrier, the more comfortable it will be to sit in for longer periods of time, which is why we chose to wear this one over our Babybjorn Free–which has a lot more back straps/support, but would be uncomfortable to lean back in against the seat!)
Bring all of baby’s sleep essentials:
We made sure to pack June’s sleep sack and Hatch (which is what we use for a noise machine–it’s much more powerful than the little travel one!) The more sleep cues/associations you can bring from home, the easier it will be to get baby to sleep!
Make sure to have a baby blanket on you, both for warmth but also for draping over your shoulder to block out light and help encourage baby to sleep! It’s also helpful to lay on the ground for baby to play on if you need to kill time during a layover.
In case of blowouts, have some of these in your diaper bag! You want a way to completely seal dirty clothes so they don’t contaminate everything else in your bag!
Clorox wipes to sanitize everything
Wipe down seats, trays and anything else needed throughout your travels!
Bring a variety of toys/books for entertainment
Pack toys and entertainment in easy-to-reach pockets in your personal luggage. You can use a pacifier clip to clip toys to so they don’t fall on the ground!
Don’t forget snacks!
If your baby is eating, load up on snack options for your travel day! Pouches, bananas, puffs, pasta and cheese are good low-mess options!
Do not be above screen time:
Bring your iPad and download Sesame Street episodes (on HBO max) to pull out if you need to! Other readers swear by “Little Baby Bum” I have no idea what this is but apparently little kids love it–you can download episodes to your iPad on Netflix! Now is not the time to be a martyr about screens! You gotta do what you gotta do!
Consider a Doona if you travel a lot:
We have a Doona as our main car seat at home, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint when it comes to travel. We checked it when flying as we had carry on roller bags (so our hands were already full) and we didn’t buy June a seat since tickets were so expensive (we opted for baby wearing instead), but it’s so nice to not have to schlep a stroller AND a car seat wherever you’re traveling to! It’s an all-in-one. Another thing that’s great about it: you don’t need a base, so you can use it in any car/uber/taxi/etc–making it an on-the-go essential!
Other options we could’ve done: checked our luggage, kept the Doona with us and gate checked OR bought June a seat and put the Doona in the seat as her car seat.
(Below) When my friend Ally visited us recently from Memphis, she checked all their luggage and brought the Doona on board with her. It was so easy rolling the girls all over the neighborhood and makes it super easy when going out to eat at restaurants!
A final pep talk:
I know it can be daunting to consider a situation in which your baby is screaming in an airport, on a plane, and you can do absolutely nothing about it. But guess what? You can’t control what you can’t control. We have found that people are ALWAYS understanding. If anything, people don’t get mad–they just feel for the parents! (And if they do get mad–you’ll never have to see them again! So who cares?)
The best piece of advice I can give is to rip off the band-aid. Just do it. Don’t put your life on hold because you have a baby. Take the trip. Make the plans. The more you get out in the world with baby, the more adaptable they will become! They will often surprise you with how easily they can go with the flow. Stay positive–it’s an adventure! When you can’t do anything else–laugh. It’ll be great! And if it’s not, you’ll laugh at the memories for the rest of your life.