Traveling with a baby can be overwhelming and downright stressful. But the more prepared you are, the more fun you’ll all have. It’s a balance between thinking ahead and improvising when necessary.
One question will have a significant impact on what you pack: Are you traveling by car or by plane? If you’re road tripping, you have more packing flexibility. When you fly with a baby, you have to think more strategically about what and how to pack. The good news is that there are plenty of smart products on the market to make traveling easier (plus services that allow you to rent things you need).
Here are our must-haves for some of the bulkiest (and most important) items for travel. We also included a baby suitcase packing list at the end of the article.
Baby Travel Must-Have #1: Portable Travel Crib
No matter where you’re traveling, your baby will need somewhere to sleep. Many large American hotel chains offer cribs, but you’ll probably need to bring something if you’re staying in a rental house, camping, or traveling outside the country.
For a long time Pack ‘n Play was synonymous with the idea of a portable crib. They’re still a great option, but they can be bulky for air travel. There are lots of smaller, travel-savvy choices on the market now. The Kidco Peapod Plus can fold up to fit into a suitcase. The Lotus Travel Crib is lightweight, easy to assemble and folds into a backpack. If your baby hasn’t moved into a crib, you could even opt for a travel bassinet.
Baby Travel Must-Have #2: Car Seat
If you’re flying to your destination, and you don’t anticipate getting into a car once you’re there, you could forgo a carseat. But for most trips, the car seat will be one of the biggest, most cumbersome items you pack. Of course, if you’re driving, you’ll just leave it where it is.
If you’re flying, you have three options:
- Bring a car seat with you, and check it. Most airlines will allow you to check a car seat for free. You can do that when you get to the airport. Or, if your child’s car seat is part of a travel system that you’re using as a stroller, you can gate check it with the base.
- Bring a car seat with you onto the plane. If you have a FAA-compliant car seat (make sure to check), you can purchase a seat for your baby and have them ride in their car seat rather than on your lap. For some families, that means baby takes a nice nap during the flight.
- Leave the car seat at home, and rent one at your destination. Most car rental companies have an option to rent car seats, including infant seats. Just be prepared that it won’t be a high-end Britax, and you’ll need to install it yourself.
Baby Travel Must-Have #3: Baby Carrier or Travel Stroller (or Both)
You’ll want to bring something to carry your baby around in — either a stroller, a carrier, or both. Strollers can be bulky for travel but also extremely useful. Having a baby strapped to you can get exhausting after a full day of sightseeing. And if your baby has been taking their afternoon nap in a stroller for the last four months, now is not the time to try and change it up.
Plus, strollers is especially helpful in airports. That’s particularly true if you have long walks between terminals or layovers where a stroller nap would be ideal. Most airlines will allow you to gate check a stroller for free.
Travel strollers combine the conveniences of a larger stroller (think canopies, storage, adjustable seats) with the lightweight foldability of an umbrella stroller. The gb Pockit+ All City folds up small enough to be worn as a backpack and still has room for a sun canopy and a storage basket underneath.
If you’ll be somewhere with more difficult terrain (like the beach or more rugged hiking trails), make sure to bring your carrier. The Ergo Omni 360 Cool Air Mesh is comfortable to wear and good for the summer heat.
Baby Travel Must-Have #4: Portable High Chair
If your baby is still nursing or drinking formula, you may not need to bring anything besides a nursing cover (if you use one) or bottles and formula. For a baby that’s eating solid food, you might want a portable high chair. When taken apart, the Inglesia Fast Table Chair takes up very little space. The Summer Pop ‘n Sit folds up into its own carrying case and can be strapped to a chair.
Alternative option: some families avoid packing a portable high chair at all by using the stroller as a seat during meal time.
Baby Suitcase Packing List
What’s in your baby’s suitcase? Here’s our rundown:
- Two days of diapers (In case you get stuck somewhere. You can buy more at your destination.)
- Diaper cream
- Two changes of clothes for each day
- Sleep sack, if you use one
- Muslin blankets or cloths for covering the stroller, putting down for diaper changes, etc
- Formula, if using
- Breast pump, if using
- Bottle or sippy cup
- Feeding utensils, if needed
- Baby monitor, if needed
- Necessary weather- or activity-specific clothing, like rain gear, swimsuit, etc
Don't forget to put a change of clothes for you and the baby in your carry-on. Spit up and diaper explosions can happen at any time.
Packing for a baby can be overwhelming. There are some time-saving options out there, like renting baby gear that you pick up when you arrive. Research the area where you’re traveling to see what their options are. In some places, you can rent everything from car seats and portable cribs to blocks and light-up toys. If you’re staying in a hotel, the hotel concierge may have recommendations for a local baby gear rental company.
Remember that this trip won’t be like trips you’ve taken before, but it will start a new phase of fun family adventures.