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Essential Travel Gear For Families With Infants

by on September 24, 2013 · 17 comments

in Family Travel, TPG Contributors

Following our recent posts on family travel, TPG contributor (and father of two) Jason Steele gives his insights into traveling with infants and just what gear you’ll need to bring along your little bundle of joy on your next trip.

We all have our favorite travel gadgets to see us through the most arduous journey, but everything changes when you travel with an infant. My wife and I have taken our infant children on dozens of trips around the United States and across the world, and these are the items that we never leave home without.

The Baby Trend Snap N Go Stroller

The Baby Trend Snap-N-Go Stroller is lightweight and folds flat.

1. Car seat carrier: Before our first child was born, we purchased a very nice, large, and expensive “travel system” consisting of car seat and a stroller that attaches to it. We quickly realized that the stroller was so difficult to fit in the trunk of our car that we rarely left home with it! Instead, we purchased this Baby Trend Snap-N-Go car seat carrier that is lightweight, inexpensive, and folds flat. It is compatible with most major brands of infant car seats and has a storage area large enough to accommodate a diaper bag. There are other companies that make car seat carriers, but ours has survived years of use at home and on the road and costs less than $75.

This duffel bag is available from REI for $35.50 and comes with a handy storage sack.

This duffel bag is available from REI for $35.50 and comes with a handy storage sack.

2. Large duffel bag: It is difficult to overstate the importance of having one really large duffel bag. Its primary purpose is to hold our infant car seat and base when they are checked as luggage, but it is easy to stuff other bulky items in there as well. We have used ours to carry extra diapers and even returned home with a couple bottles of wine buckled into the car seat for safe keeping. Keep in mind that car seats can always be checked for free, and no gate agent has ever inspected its contents, so this is a great way to avoid some checked baggage fees. You can find inexpensive duffel bags in various places, but I find that REI has the best selection.

LeSportSac diaper bag

A diaper bag – like this one from LeSportsac  – can count as a personal item on a plane.

3. Diaper bag: We try to get by without a diaper bag around town, but it is essential for travel. At first, we tried to pack the baby gear in our carry on, but retrieving it from the overhead bins during flight was difficult. A good diaper bag will be small enough fit in the cargo area of your car seat carrier or stroller and can be placed under the seat in front of you during flight, only counting as a “personal item.”

A baby changing pad is a life-saver in airports.

A baby changing pad is a life-saver in airports.

4. Portable baby changing pad: It would be nice if every airport, restaurant, and tourist attraction had a suitable changing table like they have at the mall, but that isn’t the case. A portable changing pad folds up to the size of a paperback book, and is essential when your baby needs a new diaper, right now. I found this fun safari-themed one on Babies R Us for $14.99.

5. Air sickness bags: We have yet to find anything else as perfect for diaper disposal as a standard air sickness bag. Collect them on each flight, so you can have them available during any travel situation.

MIsspellings on a passport

You are never too young to have a passport.

6. Passport: I recommend applying for a passport as soon as possible after your child is born, as many airlines require documentation of your baby’s age in order to fly domestically as a lap child (a birth certificate or immunization record also works for domestic travel). Additionally, a passport is almost always required whenever a person of any age travels across the border (there are some possible exceptions with certain countries, but carrying a passport is the best way to be sure). Finally, it just makes sense to have a passport before you need one, rather than scrambling to obtain one at the last minute. My favorite part of the application is where they ask for the baby’s occupation!

7. Sling. We try to avoid gate checking the car seat and its carrier, as it can really slow us down. Instead, a small sling fits into our carry on and makes it easy to transport our baby through the airport. This is especially important when arriving on an international flight, when a delay of 10 minutes can mean that there will be hundreds of additional people in front of you at customs.

A blanket will keep your little one warm on cold flights.

A blanket will keep your little one warm on cold flights.

8. Small travel blanket: Airplanes can get very cold, as it is often below -50F outside at cruising altitude. Worse, many airlines have stopped offering passengers blankets, even in first class. Babies sleep better when they are warm, and blankets also work well when used to cover a car seat during nap time.

9. Liquid Tylenol: We find liquid Tylenol to be an essential travel tool. It helps when our baby’s ears get congested, and is invaluable in the case of minor illness. Remember, parents should consult their pediatrician before giving their baby any medication.

Enfamil formula

Formula such as Enfamil is a great back up in case of delays or diversions.

10. At least 24 hours worth of powdered formula: I have yet to be on a plane that was diverted, but I know people who have. A medical, mechanical, or weather problem can force pilots to land aircraft in remote locations and passengers can be even be stuck on the plane for hours during regular delays. Keep this inconvenience from becoming an emergency by carrying on board at least a day’s worth of powdered formula. We have found that Enfamil powdered formulas that come in single serve packets that work really well for us. Carrying 24 hours worth of diapers also makes sense.

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  • Stogs2

    One more thing I recommend is the CARES airline child safety harness! So much easier than installing a car seat in a plane. We just check our seat and use the harness! It also keeps the kids seated further away from the seat in front, so they’re not kicking your neighbor! We’ve been very happy with ours, and other parents are always asking about it! Can be found on Amazon, Diapers.com, as well as others…see who’s offering the most bonus points!

  • mrsnarbonne

    I like the Skip Hop pronto changing pad because of the strap that can go around the wrist, and pockets that hold diapers and wipes. For light blankets, I find the Aden & Anais muslin ones very versatile, although I can always pare down & travel with a nursing cover because the built-in wire means I can shield baby’s face from lights on the plane while ensuring airflow.

  • James Moron

    you left out the “bubble bum” – an overpriced but outstanding inflatable car seat to avoid the absurd charges from rental car companies

  • Jason Steele

    I agree! We have one I am working on a follow up article about travel with kids 2-6 yo, that includes CARES, which is not made for infants.

  • Jason Steele

    That looks great. I will try to include it in our next piece on gear for travel with older kids.

  • ErinPW

    Which size REI duffel is that? Don’t see any for $35.50.

  • Jason Steele

    this medium is $34.50: http://www.rei.com/product/795136/rei-classic-duffel-bag-medium, but I would consider their large is $40 or the extra large for $45

  • Kimberly Rotter

    Very practical tips! And for travel lovers who are thinking of having a baby – breastfeeding quiets an infant, unplugs his ears, and provides a never ending supply of food during delays. Just sayin’.

  • http://www.runningwithmiles.com/ Charlie

    Just a logistical note for thinking (far) ahead – we always tried to get past 1 year old for our kids before getting them passports. That way, for their third renewal, they will receive a 10 year passport instead of a 5 year passport (which would happen if applying under the age of 1). Children age 16 receive 10 year passports.

  • Laura Temes

    Another excellent and well-researched piece by Jason. Make sure to check out his “Most Family-Friendly Airlines For Domestic and Short Haul Flights” blog entry and the one on planning Award Travel with an Infant or Lap Child. They’re both invaluable for parents traveling with children. I would add one more item to this list, in fact a replacement to the suggested duffel bag when traveling with a car seat, and that is, the J.L. Childress Ultimate Car Seat Travel Bag — http://bit.ly/19xfoXA. It fits most infant and convertible car seats perfectly, and it has thick padding that protects your car seat from rough baggage handling when you gate check it. We used it twice, both times on international flights, and our car seat was in perfect condition. It also has backpack straps so it’s easy to carry and get out of the way. Finally, it’s made of sturdy material. I’m only recommending it because I’ve used it and it took me a long time to find it. I finally read about it on a mommy blog.

  • Laura Temes

    Absolutely! Tried and true!

  • http://dadtogo.com/ Gary (Dad to GO)

    I would highly recommend the Chicco Liteway Plus stroller. It can be used as a “Snap N Go” or also an umbrella stroller. It also folds down flat like an umbrella stroller which makes it easy for xray machines and gate checking. We had the one you recommended and returned it for the Liteway Plus. It went with us all over Europe and was a lifesaver! http://www.chiccousa.com/liteway-plus/home.aspx

  • Jason Steele

    Thanks Laura. I like the plain old duffel so I can put one or two car seats inside, plus other stuff as necessary. Still, traveling parents need as many options as they can find.

  • Jason Steele

    Looks like a nice product.

  • Jason Steele

    That takes some foresight!

  • ErinPW

    So I went and bought one on your recommendation…and I’m utterly perplexed as to how a carseat AND base would fit in the medium duffel, let alone a carseat. Mine (Graco Snugride 25) certainly doesn’t fit. Now I have to return it. Review fail.

  • ErinPW

    Just kidding — I bought the large, not the medium. Now I’m even more perplexed. I’d appreciate a response and some guidance, especially as I have a flight tomorrow…

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