When my son Lucian was born, my fiancé and I were still in a long-distance relationship. While he was commuting between Austria and the UK on a weekly basis, we also agreed that I should come and visit him with the baby once a month. In addition, we were also traveling with the baby a lot to see friends and family. And we also flew to Chicago Marathon when the baby was only 4 months old. Let’s say baby Lucian was an experienced frequent traveller before he was even one year old.
But all this traveling with a baby didn’t come easy. It was actually the result of lots of planning, great baby travel gear and also some trial and error. (Lot of errors actually). So here I’ve compiled all our tips and tricks for traveling with a baby.
Plan your trip wisely to make traveling with a baby easy
As parents you probably know one thing by heart: with small children planning is key. This is especially valid when it comes to traveling with a baby. So here are the most important things to consider:
- What place am I travelling to? Is it safe? Does my child need vaccines?
- What is the weather going to be like? What clothes should I bring for the baby?
- Do I need to bring diapers or can I shop them somewhere?
- How will I cook baby food? Is the water potable?
Once you’ve thought about your trip and planned everything, I highly recommend making a packing list of all items you need. I now have one complete packing list of all items that I go through even though I might not pack some things in the end. Before having such a list, I was forgetting lots of small minor things that I then had to buy somewhere else. At the bottom of this article I’ve compiled a list of my favourite products to bring.
At what time of the day should you travel with a baby?
For short distance travel we now always schedule traveling around our baby’s nap times. This is especially useful when I am driving on my own for 2+ hours. But also, when flying we try to book flights that fall around his nap times. The worst times to travel are actually early mornings or late evenings, because it means disturbing his normal sleep schedule. And traveling with a cranky baby is definitely not fun.
For long distance flights however, it is just not possible to book them just around nap times. We there prefer to book them so most of the flight falls into the baby’s regular sleep time. This makes our life a bit easier.
Should I book a hotel room or an apartment?
I personally prefer to book apartments when traveling with a baby. The main reason is simply because preparing food and cleaning the baby’s things is so much easier if you have a fully equipped kitchen. However, not all of the apartments will have a baby crib. So we usually bring our own super light travel cot and travel high chair.
In case we have to stay at a hotel we let them know in advance that we will be coming with a baby. Most of the hotels will have baby beds available, and some also have kettles, diaper trash bags, and bottle warmers if you ask for it.
Another tip, no matter if you stay at a hotel or apartment is to bring a baby nest that fits into your suitcase. In your room you just move the bed towards the wall, and let the baby sleep in his nest between you and the wall. Therefore, they will can’t fall off the bed, and they still feel comfortable in their own nest with you being close.
Flying, driving or taking the train?
Sometimes you don’t have the option to choose between various means of transportation. But when you do, it is better to take the car, the plane or the train? Generally, each of them have advantages and disadvantages for traveling with a baby.
Traveling by car is the most flexible way of traveling with a baby. You can pack everything you need, which is usually a lot with a small baby. However small babies should not stay in a car seat for an extended time. They need to take frequent breaks where they can move freely. But in case you are traveling by car you can always take as many breaks as you want.
Traveling by train with a baby is also a comfortable way to travel. You can walk around as much as you like. But one major disadvantage for me is that you can only bring limited stuff. If the train access is not step free, you have to lift everything on and off the carriage. And I also found the diaper changing facilities not always very convenient. Some trains have great facilities where the baby also can’t fall off the changing table. On other trains I found the changing tables not safe at all, especially when the train is moving fast.
Flying is definitely the best way to travel long distances. However, the process of going through security and boarding the plane is quite stressful with a baby. All parent’s nightmare is a crying baby due to pressure changes during take-off and landing. However, I found that this was not a problem for us at all as I generally nurse the baby during take-off and landing. What was a big problem however was that we had to change his diaper right when the fasten seat belt signs were on. And even then, the diaper changing facilities on planes are usually very small and not practical.
Tips for flying with a baby
After flying over 10 times with a baby less than 6 months old, most of the time on my own, I think I am now quite experienced. And here are my top tips:
When you book your flights check with airlines on what terms you can check in baby’s stroller or car seat. Some airlines like British Airlines let you check in two items for free, whereas others like Ryanair charge extra for every piece. Book flights during the middle of the day, where there are less travellers. Be there with lots of times in advance. I generally bring a light travel stroller, a car seat that fits onto the stroller, a baby-wrap or baby carrier, a big backpack. and If I need to check in extra luggage, I bring one big suitcase on wheels.
One of my key items for flying with a baby is a cabin-size stroller. It just makes everything so much easier because you don’t have to carry the baby all the time, you have somewhere to put him when he needs to sleep. Also, if you can bring it onto the plane it doesn’t get damaged as often compared to checking it in. Especially when traveling alone I always bring it.
I also have perfected my routine when flying with a baby. First, I check in the baby’s car seat in its travel cover. There is enough space under the travel cover that I can also put the foot muff or blanket inside it. After the flight I put the car seat onto the stroller so I don’t have to carry it.
Going through security with a baby
When going through security I find it very important to have everything ready so you don’t lose time with the baby. When I am alone, I first put on the baby into his travel stroller so I have my hands free. I then pack everything in to my boxes. The last thing I do is take the baby out of the stroller and onto my arms, fold the stroller with one hand and lift it up onto the conveyor belt. In case you can’t handle the stroller on your own there is usually someone there to help you, but it might be difficult to explain to strangers. I’ve also found security personnel really helpful when the baby was sleeping. Sometimes they just checked the stroller without waking him up.
In case you don’t want to bring a stroller, you can often borrow one for free at the airports. I also always bring a baby carrier or baby wrap, but during security I found them not helpful at all when traveling on my own. You will have to take them off during security, and I find it hard to put them off and on again while holding the baby. (Yes, I could give the baby to someone else and put on the baby carrier, but I don’t like the idea.) However, after security, once the baby is back in the stroller and I have packed everything up again, I put on the baby carrier or baby wrap to be prepared for boarding.
After security I generally try to find the diaper changing rooms and toilets first. Most of the time the disabled toilet will also have a diaper changing table. In some of the airports there are some bigger toilets especially for people with luggage where I can fit the stroller into the toilet. I then try find a quiet spot in between the boarding gate and the diaper changing facilities.
Boarding a plane with a baby
I generally try to be at the boarding gate some time in advance, to let the staff know that the baby and I are here. I ask them to have pre boarding (which they generally do for families with kids) and that they could let me know some minutes before so we can get ready. It once happened to me, that when they announced pre boarding, I was not ready in ten seconds, and then they let everyone else board. I then had to wait at the back of the line with a crying baby, and ask other passengers if I could go in the front. That’s why I recommend that you always let staff know that you are there first.
When boarding starts, I pack up everything, put the baby into the baby carrier or baby wrap, fold up the stroller and board the plane. I generally book an aisle seat at the back of the plane. The advantage there is that you have no pressure when packing up your stuff when going on and off the plane. Also, you are close to the toilets and diaper changeing facilities in the back of the plane.
So when I arrive at my seat, I lift the stroller into the overhead bin or I ask the flight attendant to help me. This is also a great opportunity to say hi to the flight attendants. They usually love cute babies and are super helpful. At my seat I then prepare a nappy change emergency kit, which consist of changing mat, a diaper, wet wipes and one spare outfit.
During take-off and landing
The flight attendants also have to hand out a baby seat belt and life vest for the baby. Putting on the seat belt for the first time can be a challenge, but you will soon get used to it. During take-off and landing I generally breast feed the baby to help him with pressure changes. In case you are not breast feeding you can also give him a bottle of pacifier. Whatever means you choose, it is important to find the right time window to let the baby suckle. If you start too early before take-off he will be done before the main pressure change happens, which can lead to pain in his ears. Also, you should start early enough during the decent phase, as this is where most of the pressure change happens. You can ask the flight attendant to let you know when the decent starts, so you get the timing right.
On the plane
In case it is a short distance flight, you will be busy most of the time with taking care of the baby, helping him during take-off and landing, changing a diaper etc. Most of the babies also nap during the flights. In case they get fussy you can put the baby into the baby carrier and walk to the back of the plane. The noise there will help them to calm down and fall asleep. And before you realize it is time to go back to our seat for landing.
On long distance flights, I recommend you book front row seats in advance. Most of the airlines offer infant beds that can be attached in the front rows. However, only some airlines reserve these seats for free for families with infants. At other airlines you have to pay extra for these seats. Also, the quality of these infant beds varies a lot. On our flight to Chicago we had one of these cots for baby Lucian, but he was already too big for it. As a result he was very uncomfortable. In the end we were taking turns in letting him sleep in our arms or wrapped up in the baby carrier.
Some airlines allow you to bring your car seat onto the plane, if it is certified to be attached to the plane seat with the seat belt and if you book an extra seat. The advantage is that you baby can sleep in the car seat during the flight. However, this is another piece that you have to carry. Also, if the baby is able to sit upright, you can buy a special seat belt system.
How to deal with jet lag when traveling with a baby
Just like adults also babies can have jet lag. And trust me, it is not fun. Because not only can the parents not sleep because of their own jet lag. Also, the baby is keeping them awake. My tips for dealing with baby jet lag is just the same as for adults. Before traveling try to adjust your schedule for 2 hours towards your destination. At your destination try to set you circadian rhythm with light and darkness. If you and the baby need to sleep, make it as dark as possible. During daytime, try to get lots of fresh air and sunshine. And most importantly: always give yourself enough time to adjust by maybe taking off two more days after your trip. The more you stress about jet lag, the more your baby will.
My favourite products for traveling with a baby
A collapsible cabin size stroller
In the past, the Babyzen Yoyo has been the first stroller to fit onto a plane. This is also why we got it. It also has a new-born kit for babies under 6 months. However now several other brands came up with collapsible travel strollers. For example the Bugaboo Ant and Bonavi Air.
Diaper changing mat
Another thing that I love is this diaper changing mat, which also has pockets for diapers and wet wipes. It has a really practical size, and I generally just toss it into my backpack. When we need a diaper change, I then just take it out instead of taking the whole bag with me.
Travel high chair
This booster seat is great when you have booked an apartment that does not have a high chair for your baby. You can attach the booster seat to most of the chairs. Your baby can then sit in this seat attached to the seat belts and it cannot fall off. Also, you can save space and put your baby’s food into the bottom of the seat. This makes it perfect for traveling with a baby.
Baby carrier or baby wrap
I am a huge fan of baby wearing (you can check out my article here) and having your hands free while traveling is one of them. I personally use a Baby Bjorn baby carrier in summer and a bamboo baby wrap in winter.
We have bought this super light travel cot for baby Lucian. It is quite expensive, but super practical. Setting it up and taking it down is super easy and takes less than a minute. While the baby is small it can sleep in the top crib. Once it gets too big you can detach the crib and have bigger bed that also doubles as a day cot. If you open the zip on the side, the baby can also crawl out if he wants to. We love it so much, that we even got a second one as his permanent bed in London.
When traveling with a baby you will also need to bring toys to keep him entertained. However, bringing lots of toys can take up a lot of space. That’s why I prefer multifunctional toys that don’t take up a lot of space and can be used in various occasions. My favourites are stackable cup toys with holes that can also be used during bath time.
UV sterilizer and travel kettle
While your baby is still small you will have to sterilize baby’s pacifiers, teething toys and bottles regularly. At home I have a big steriliser, but I can’t take it with me while traveling. That’s why I got this handy UV sterilizer. And if you still prefer to you boiling water, you can buy a small travel kettle instead.
Do you have any more tips for traveling with a baby? Just leave me a comment!