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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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.