My husband and I have traveled many times with our daughter Stella. My first flight with her was by myself when she was only 3 months old, and we flew across the country from Boston to Tucson - including a layover. Since then, we have made that journey several times, plus several other destinations including Europe last. It was Stella's first time abroad, and our first big trip with a baby!
In her first year and a half of life, I think Stella has been on almost 40 flight segments (individual legs, not 40 trips!). I want to share some tips and tricks we learned along the way about traveling with a baby on an airplane and abroad, from infant to toddlerhood. Obviously every child is different, so what worked for us might not work for you, but hopefully you will be inspired to go on your own adventures!
1. Pack light
I love to travel, but I hate to lug around a lot of stuff. Add a baby to the equation and the amount of stuff you need compounds! I’ve learned to pack as minimally as possible and have found that it’s not only easier, but more enjoyable. Plus, if you start with extra room in your bags then you have room for a few special souvenirs!
It takes me a long time to pack, usually a couple of days. The less stuff you bring the more thoughtful you have to be. I usually start thinking about outfits and activities we are going to do way before I actually start to pack. Then, once I’ve checked the weather for our destination I begin the process.
First, I take out all the clothes I think I want bring and see how many outfits I can make out of them (for myself and Stella, my husband packs his own clothes). I try to pick things that I really like to wear, and can easily be washed. The other important piece of advice is to make sure all the clothes you bring go well together, so you can mix and match. Most of the time all of my tops go with all of my bottoms. That way, I actually have several outfits but I might only bring a couple pairs of pants and a couple tops.
If you bring an outfit you really like, you should wear it multiple times during your trip and get good use out of it. That way, you’ll feel good in what you’re wearing all the time. If you don’t overpack and know exactly what you brought, it’s way easier to pick out what you’re going to wear each day! For me, fewer options are less stressful.
So, once I have a pile of clothes I really like and outfits all planned out, I lay them all on my bed and start to pair down. I remove a few things, see how much space I have, and rearrange a couple more times. I might do this a couple days before we leave just so I have time to think about it. I’ll add and subtract items before finalizing, and definitely make some last minute decisions (especially with jackets….I have a really hard time choosing which one(s) to bring)!
2. Packing for baby:
I pack the same for our baby, Stella. You never know how many outfits a baby will need, but her clothes are small (although it’s hard to pack light for her because I want to bring ALL her cute outfits!). I bring a lot of diapers and a couple outfits on the plane in case we get stuck somewhere, but otherwise plan to buy what we need when we get to our destination. For one short flight you don't need much, but for longer flights and layovers it's better to be on the safe side and pack a little extra!
Unless you are traveling off the grid, or have a baby with specific needs, you can buy everything from diapers to food at your destination. You can get Pampers and Huggies everywhere, all over the world. You might not find your favorite brand, but who cares?
I forgot baby wipes once on a plane, but thankfully there was another mom on board who gave some to us!
When Stella was an infant I traveled with noise canceling headphones for her to wear so she didn’t wake up on the plane. They worked great and I highly recommend these...However, now that she’s older they take up too much space and she can pull them off.
We have two diaper bags for Stella. We mostly use a duffle bag from Lululemon (its not officially a diaper bag) with an insert with lots of compartments. If I'm traveling alone I prefer to use a diaper bag backpack, and love ours from Jujube!
For all of our trips (including Europe) before Stella turned one, I had an extra challenge because I needed to be able to breastfeed in all my clothes. I love to wear dresses and needed to bring ones that had easy access for baby Stella. I also don’t like to lift my shirt up when I’m nursing, I prefer to pull them down. So shirts with nursing access were a must.
In pretty much every airport I've been to, there are nursing/feeding rooms. Some are private pods, others are private rooms, but all usually offer a place to change and feed your baby, pump, or just regroup. Family restrooms usually offer a changing station, plus a place to strap your baby so you can use the toilet!
If you are breastfeeding, make sure you bring enough water on board with you. Same goes for parents using formula, bring at least some water on board to make a bottle so you don't have to rely on in-flight service. We've been on flights that were too turbulent to ever have the drink cart come around, plus, if you are traveling by yourself with a baby it's really hard to have your tray table down with a cup of liquid and not spill it!! So a water bottle is a must!(and a great toy!!)
Modesty can be a challenge while breastfeeding on a plane. If you are traveling alone you can obviously drape a blanket or nursing cover while the baby is an infant. Once they are bigger and mobile its more challenging because draping doesn't work as well and they take up a lot more space on your lap, generally crowding the person next to you with their feet! It can be awkward, uncomfortable, and messy. I just kept my head down and looked at Stella, while avoiding eye contact with anyone! I was on a flight once with a ton of babies, and the mom sitting in front of me fell asleep while her toddler was nursing and had her boob exposed for quite a while. Needless to say she survived and so will you!
Try to nurse, give a bottle, or at least a pacifier during take off and landing. Stella was fast at breastfeeding, and way faster than the time an airplane descends. Using a paci helped to keep her swallowing and popping her ears. When traveling with a newborn, if they aren't asleep when you get on board, they probably will be by the time you take off. You can nurse during take-off easily to manage ear pressure, but I found descending to be more challenging. If it was too soon to nurse again or Stella was asleep, I would use Stella's paci and start to pull it out of her mouth to initiate swallowing, then do this every minute or so while descending until we landed. I used to bring a frozen bottle of milk in her diaper bag too just in case she was hungry or needed to swallow but I couldn't breastfeed. You can do this too if your baby doesn't use a pacifier. If you put a frozen bottle in your bag when you leave your house it will thaw during your flight and be ready pretty quickly if you need it. It can stay at room temp for a few hours, then if you don't use it you can toss it. But it's nice to have! If you exclusively bottle feed, bring ice packs to keep frozen breast milk fresh for as long as possible! If you use formula, I have seen really cool stacking storage containers that are small and easy to travel with.
I didn't start bringing toys on the airplane until Stella was about one years old. Before that, she was easily entertained by anything and everything! We would bring some small pieces of recycling (like a water bottle or small cardboard containers, paper to rip up, etc) that she would play with until she was bored, then we would toss them in the recycling in the airport. That way you don't have to lug around toys she has lost interest in. The tray table and seat back information cards have always been, and remain to this day, great entertainment (I usually wipe these down quickly when we get on board).
Now that Stella's a toddler, for the airplane I bring a couple of small books I know she currently loves to read, maybe a stuffed animal or doll, and 1 or 2 toys. I bring a small toiletries bag filled with a few toys that she likes to to take out and put back in over and over. I've also brought new toys she's never seen before, which definitely helps take up some time!
5. Stroller & car seat:
We use the Babyzen Yoyo stroller as our everyday stroller, and bought it when we lived in a brownstone walkup in the South End of Boston. It doubles as the perfect travel stroller and fits in the overhead compartment of the airplane (most), and under the seat in front of you too (again, most). It can have a bassinet for a newborn, a regular forward facing option, and adaptors for an infant car seat. We use the Maxi Cosi infant car seat because it is super light (and was super on sale)!
When traveling with Stella as an infant, we brought the car seat and the stroller to the gate, then gate checked the car seat and carried on the stroller. Sometimes we gate check both, but sometimes we were lucky and an open seat next to us allowed for us to bring the car seat on board for Stella to sleep in (check with your flight attendant to see if you can have an extra seat for your baby! usually they are more than accommodating).
Now that Stella is a toddler, we check her bigger car seat and bring just the stroller through security. Once I brought only the Ergo carrier and checked our running stroller, but it got damaged so I won't do that again!
6. Baby Carriers
When Stella was an infant, I used a soft carrier (Solly or Moby wrap) while on the airplane. I would put her in the carrier while getting on the plane and getting situated. Once she got bigger we mostly used the Ergo to carry her and get her to sleep on the plane. I like the soft carriers but it can get uncomfortable and hot to wear one for hours on a longer flight. If you can, I also highly recommend learning to breastfeed while wearing your baby in a carrier!
Some TSA agents will make you take your baby out of the carrier to go through security, some won't. Some flight attendants will pester you to take your awake or sleeping baby out of the carrier for take off and landing. If you wear an Ergo, all you have to do is unbuckle the back clip so you're not "wearing" it to get the flight attendants to stop bothering you, and we found we could often keep Stella asleep while doing this. In America, your baby cannot be buckled in or attached to you for take off and landing. In Europe, your child has to be buckled to you for take off and landing. Totally annoying. But the only thing that really pisses me off is if I have to wake up my sleeping baby!!
Avoid them if you can. If you can’t, bring a blanket that you don’t mind putting on the ground at the airport and let your baby crawl around to get their energy out! If they can walk, let them get as much energy out as possible! Most airports have a kids play area too. Just wash everyone's hands after!
We found that redeye flights were actually pretty easy, because Stella will sleep the entire time.
Get used to them. Your child will be fine.
I like to keep Babyganics hand sanitizing wipes in the diaper bag for really gross moments!
9. Accept help:
I have a really hard time doing this. However, traveling with a baby often requires more hands than you have, and there are usually really nice people who are happy to help you. I was on a flight once that was mostly dads commuting for work from Boston to DC, and so many of them stopped to help me and told me they were parents too, and remember what it was like to travel with an infant.
If you're traveling by yourself with a baby, its really hard to eat a meal on the airplane. Pack snacks you can easily eat with one hand (apple, carrots, bar, pouch). I usually try to eat something substantial right before getting on a flight, or during a layover if there's time. If I'm traveling with my husband, we take turns eating on the flight while the other parent plays with Stella (who usually wants to eat all our food!). Bring snacks you can share with your toddler, preferably ones that don't make a huge mess!
When we went to Europe, Stella was 8 months old and and was eating mostly pureed foods a few times a day, plus breastmilk. We brought several pouches with us on the plane, mostly just to have in case we got stuck in some airport while traveling. Our first stop was in Gatwick airport, which has a Boots inside the terminal where you can buy everything you need for a baby, including food pouches of all varieties (like lamb ratatouille and spaghetti bolognese) and diapers!
The baby food options were limited in Italy, but very fun and interesting. The options were pretty similar in every store we were in...some sort of fruit pouch, usually apricot, and a lot of meat options - jars of rabbit, turkey, beef, lamb, and chicken.
It's nice to have food pouches or jars on the go, but while in Europe we mostly fed Stella what we ate. She had just started really chewing/gumming (no teeth!) more soft solid foods, and was always very interested in trying what we were eating. She was not always interested in a fruit pouch, but real pizza with ricotta and spinach...yum!
This might seem gross to some people, but we had great success with Stella trying our food by us chewing it up a little first, then giving her small bites (like a baby bird!). In Italy it was easy to cut up small pieces of pasta and soft vegetable like zucchini and feed them to her.
We try not to travel with a pack'n'play. Pack light remember?
For our Europe trip, after careful research we were able to book airbnb or hotels that all had cribs ("cots") available. Italy and Austria were particularly family friendly. It has not always been easy to get Stella to sleep in a travel crib, but by the time we went to Europe. she had been on a few trips and never really had any issues. Stella's bedtime routine includes a bath, a feed, then snuggles or singing before going to sleep. She knows it's bedtime (no matter what time it is) once she gets in the shower or bath, so I think this routine helped in terms of getting her to sleep successfully in new places. She was also usually so tired from our daily adventures that she fell right asleep!
Changing time zones can be tricky, but I think babies adapt more easily than adults do! If your destination is only a couple hours different, your baby will adjust in a couple days, or you can keep to your home time zone schedule. Traveling to a place with drastic time change requires adjustment. One mom I know recommended traveling to Europe with either black trash bags or a blackout curtain for the windows to keep your room dark for sleeping in in the morning! If you can get your baby to sleep in later, then going out to dinner in the evening is much easier because your baby won't be as tired and melting down!
12. Napping & Traveling
At home we have Stella on a schedule. We don't keep her on a rigid schedule, but I think Stella (and mom probably the most) benefits from knowing what to expect during the day.
Our typical 8 month old schedule was as follows:
6am-7am: wake up and feed
8am: solid food
9am: nap 1
12pm: solid food
12-1pm: goes down for nap 2
4pm: solid food
6:30pm: bath time
7pm: feed and go to bed
I asked myself, how the heck do I continue Stella's schedule during vacation? Visiting family or friends is easier because you have a home base. But on vacation, you don't want to miss out of fun activities and exploring!
In Europe, we planned to go back to our hotel or airbnb for at least one of Stella's daily naps. I made sure all of our accommodations were centrally located and had either a nice view or a relaxing space for her parents to hang out while she napped. In reality. we never went back for a single nap! We also threw the schedule out the window, which was so liberating. That being said, her routine was pretty much to breastfeed, eat solids, play, and nap in roughly 4-5hr increments. We were able to keep that the same time-frame most days, just on the go.
Truth be told, Stella also didn't nap very well pretty much the whole trip. She also went to bed late every night.
While in Europe, Stella mostly slept in the Ergo for naps (we use the Ergo baby 360 and LOVE IT) and occasionally the stroller. It seemed like she would have 2-3 days of a couple 30-60min naps, followed by a day of long naps (two naps 2-3hrs long). While out and about exploring different cities, Stella would fall asleep, but often get woken up by loud noises, movements, or was just too excited to be awake. We rented a car a couple times, and on days where we were driving a lot Stella was able to catch up on her napping.
We put her to bed when we went to bed. This worked well for most of the trip. When we stayed in places that had curtains to keep out the light she slept in longer, otherwise she would wake up when the sun came up. By the end of the trip she started to wake up early (5-6am) like she does at home, so going to bed later didn't work very well because she was so tired. The last couple nights when we went out to dinner she was pretty fussy and sleepy. By the end of the trip she had put herself back on her schedule!
you're off to great places!
today is your day!
your mountain is waiting, so...
get on your way!!