How to pack — and prepare — for travel with a baby

Oct 17, 2021

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First trip with a new baby? Or maybe this isn’t your first time traveling with your little one, but you’d like to pack more efficiently this time around.

It can be hard to know how to prepare and pack when you have a baby in tow. Babies often change so quickly that anticipating their needs can be complicated — especially if you have a longer trip planned.

In addition to typical packing concerns (such as the weather in your destination or luggage size restrictions), it’s not always clear what you can carry on or check when it comes to your little one. This guide will help you prepare, pack and travel better with your baby.

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(Photo by Rubberball/Nicole Hill)

Choose accommodations wisely (and pack accordingly)

If you’re traveling via car, you can easily pack a travel crib or other larger baby items.

But if you’re flying, choosing the right accommodation is the key to helping you pack lighter, which is the goal. Toting around your infant is heavy enough, so staying somewhere that has baby items will help you leave the extras at home.

Make sure to check with your hotel to see if there are cribs or other baby items available — and if there’s laundry. Some hotels will even provide an extra fridge for milk storage upon request.

Often, a home rental might be a better choice than a hotel, assuming you pick just the right one. Airbnb allows you to filter properties by items such as “crib” and “high chair,” and you can also message hosts to see if they have any other baby-friendly items available.

For example, I recently filtered an Airbnb search in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic, to rentals that include a crib, high chair, washer and dryer. I ended up picking a rental that included not only the aforementioned items but also a bottle sterilizer, bottle warmer and a few other infant-friendly items, which allowed me to pack less.

Having access to a washer and dryer is important since babies tend to have accidents or leaky diapers. Being able to do laundry will allow you to pack fewer clothes. It’s also important to check for an elevator — a five-floor walk-up with a stroller, shopping bags and baby in your arms is difficult if you’re staying in a multi-unit building.

Call your airline to understand the regulations

Depending on your airline, fare class and destination, you may have to adhere to different regulations when it comes to traveling with an infant.

If you’ve purchased a lap ticket versus a separate seat for your baby, there could be an entirely different set of regulations. In almost all cases, most airlines allow travelers with an infant to gate-check a stroller or buggy, and some may also allow a car seat. Make sure to check with your airline to understand baggage rules for your little one to avoid getting caught off-guard at the airport or having to pay extra, especially when flying low-cost carriers like Ryanair or Spirit.

If you’re flying with an infant in a car seat, make sure your car seat is approved for air travel. You also may want to request a bassinet for your baby (if the aircraft you’re flying has one) or ask for an aisle seat, which makes things easier for standing up with the baby.

Invest in travel-friendly baby items

A travel stroller can really lighten your load. (Photo by Orbon Alija/Getty)

Having a special travel stroller that’s foldable will be useful beyond just the airplane. It’s the perfect item to have when exploring a new city so you’re not carrying around too much stuff. Other key travel baby items to consider taking along are:

  • A travel diaper backpack
  • A portable changing pad (change them with ease anywhere)
  • A travel car seat
  • A bag for a car seat or stroller so these items aren’t damaged if checked
  • Portable baby monitor
  • Baby carrier or wrap
  • Swaddle or baby blankets
  • Inflatable bathtub
  • Pack-and-play or travel crib
  • Travel neck pillow (you can use this while feeding your baby)
  • A baby chair strap
  • Disposable bottle liners

Purchase (or preorder) diapers, formula and more at your destination

Depending on how long your trip is and where you’re headed, calculate (and it’s always best to overcalculate) how many diapers you’ll need for the trip.

If your baby is using a specific formula or baby food, make sure you know where to buy it at your destination. Amazon and other delivery services can be useful for ordering these items — and remember, these services are available internationally, too. You can also compare ingredients to see if you can get a similar formula or food at your destination. If you can, that means you won’t have to load up your suitcase with diapers or formula.

And if you forget baby socks, don’t worry. Remember, babies live all over the world, so you can typically buy basic items you’ll need in your destination, but if your baby needs something specific, it’s best to pack it just in case.

You can even find companies that rent baby gear in many destinations around the world. Researching ahead of time to find out exactly where and how to obtain these necessary items will make it easier for you upon arrival, especially when traveling abroad.

Carry on the essentials (and extras)

(Photo by Jamie Grill/Getty)

Make sure to always pack any key essentials for your baby in your carry-on. This includes comfort items like their favorite toy or pacifier, extra clothes for both your baby and you and enough food, diapers and other key items to last you through the trip plus any possible delays.

Always overestimate here, and consider factors like weather (if a snowstorm is predicted, pack more diapers!). Here are some of the things you may want to keep in your carry-on bag:

  • Extra clothing for you and your baby
  • Layers of clothing or blankets (plane temperatures are often extreme)
  • Pacifier and clip (and backup)
  • Comfort toy or blanket
  • Extra diapers
  • Formula
  • Breast pump
  • Snacks (for you and your baby)
  • Baby wipes
  • Sanitizing wipes
  • Bottles
  • Extra bibs
  • Ziploc bags for soiled clothing (or a reusable, waterproof bag)
  • Baby Tylenol or any infant medications
  • A basic first aid kit
  • Small toy(s)

The rest of your baby’s items, such as additional clothing, blankets and more, can go in your checked bag.

Know the security regulations and have a backup plan

On a recent call to Iberia Airlines, I was told that I could bring “reasonable quantities” of formula and breast milk through security. However, the representative also told me that in some cases during security checks, certain agents may not allow me to pass these items through security at the Madrid-Barajas Airport (MAD). What?

Not all security checks, Transportation Security Administration agents or customs agents are alike, and each country, airport or airline may have specific regulations. Call ahead of time and prepare for things to not go as planned.

If you’re pumping, it might also be a good idea to bring both a hand pump and an electric pump in case you have limited access to electricity or encounter issues with electrical outlets or voltage when traveling internationally.

Arriving at the airport early is always a good idea, because you may not breeze through security like you might have in your pre-baby days. Everything takes longer with an infant, so having that extra time will ensure your travel experience is low stress. And if your airport has a family security line, use it!

Download the right apps

Mobile phone apps can help you anticipate what you need, as well as keep your baby (and yourself) comfortable during travel.

Using an app will help lighten your load, as you can leave some other items at home. A white noise app is key for better sleep for your baby — and therefore better sleep for parents — and then you won’t need to pack an entire white noise machine.

You can also connect most baby monitors to your phone and use an app to access the video of your baby so you won’t need a separate device.

Parents also may find an app to track sleeping and feeding especially helpful during travel, particularly when switching time zones. A general packing app could help you keep track of what you need to bring for your infant, as well as the entire family. Make sure these apps are accessible offline if you need them while flying.

Don’t forget their passport

(Photo by LightFieldStudios/Getty)

This one is obvious, but you’d be surprised. Don’t forget your baby’s passport when traveling! Make sure to also look into identity and consent documents, as each country has its own requirements, especially if your partner isn’t with you.

Bottom line

When in doubt, bring enough baby supplies for a few extra days or a flight delay, but don’t overpack. Using these tips, packing and traveling will be a more enjoyable experience for the entire family.

Featured photo by Tatyana Tomsickova Photography/Getty.

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