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

Apr 2, 2022

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About to take your 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’re planning a longer trip.

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 must check when it comes to your infant. Here’s our advice to help you prepare, pack and travel better with your baby.

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Choose accommodations wisely (and pack accordingly)

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

However, if you’re flying, choosing the right accommodation is the key to packing lighter, which is the goal. Toting around an infant is strain enough — staying somewhere that provides baby items means you can leave the extras at home.

Check with your hotel to see if it offers cribs or other baby items, as well as if it provides laundry services or facilities where you can do your own. 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 the right one. Airbnb allows you to filter properties by items such as “crib” and “high chair.” 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 show only rentals that included 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.

Some rentals I’ve stayed in even provided baby toys, books and cutlery. The key is communication. Don’t hesitate to message and confirm the equipment again with hosts as you pack. You can also request or confirm that everything will be set up and ready for the baby upon your arrival.

Access to a washer and dryer is important since babies tend to have accidents or leaky diapers. Being able to do laundry also lets you pack fewer clothes. Also, if your rental is not a stand-alone house or a unit on the first floor, check that there is an elevator. A five-floor walk-up in a multi-unit building can be difficult with a stroller, shopping bags and baby in your arms.

Call your airline to understand the regulations

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

Those regulations can also vary depending on whether you’ve purchased a lap ticket versus a separate seat for your baby. In almost all cases, airlines allow travelers with an infant to gate-check a stroller or buggy, and some may also allow a car seat. Check with your airline ahead of time to understand baggage rules for your little one to avoid getting caught off guard at the airport or paying extra, especially when flying low-cost carriers like Ryanair or Spirit.

Flying with an infant in a car seat and hoping to bring it on the plane? Make sure it’s approved for air travel. You may also want to request a bassinet for your baby, if the aircraft you’re flying offers one (check the weight limits, however). Ask for an aisle seat, as it makes standing up with your baby much easier.

Invest in travel-friendly baby items

A travel stroller can really lighten your load. (Photo by Zia Soleil/Getty Images)

Having a dedicated (foldable) travel stroller will be useful beyond air travel. It’s the perfect item to have when exploring a new city. Other key travel baby items to consider taking along are:

  • Travel diaper backpack.
  • Portable changing pad.
  • 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 ‘n Play or travel crib.
  • Travel neck pillow (use it while feeding your baby).
  • Baby chair strap.
  • Disposable bottle liners.
  • Disposable bibs.
  • Portable blackout shades for travel cribs or strollers.

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 over-calculate) how many diapers you’ll need for the trip.

If your baby uses 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, so you won’t have to load up your suitcase with diapers or formula.

Don’t worry if you forget baby socks or another basic item. Babies live all over the world, so you’ll likely find many basic items available for purchase wherever you are. If your baby requires something specific, though, pack it just in case.

There are also companies that rent baby gear in many destinations around the world. Research ahead of time to find out exactly where and how to obtain these necessary items, especially when traveling abroad.

Carry on the essentials (and extras)

Always pack your baby’s key essentials in your carry-on. This includes comfort items like their favorite toy or pacifier, and extra clothes for both your baby and you (in case their wardrobe disaster becomes yours, as well). You should also pack enough food, diapers and other key items to last you through the trip, plus more for any possible delays and/or cancelations.

Here’s a list of items 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(s) or blanket.
  • Extra diapers.
  • Formula.
  • Breast pump.
  • Snacks (for you and your baby).
  • Baby wipes.
  • Sanitizing wipes.
  • Bottles.
  • Extra bibs.
  • Ziploc bags for stowing 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, like additional clothing, blankets and more, can go in your checked bag. If you’re checking more than one bag, split your baby’s items among different checked suitcases. That way you’ll be covered if the airline loses one of your suitcases.

Know the security regulations and have a backup plan

On a recent call to Iberia Airlines, I was told 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 might 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 do use formula, take your bottles already mixed, but also bring extra powder in case you need to prepare new bottles on board.

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 as you might have in your pre-baby days. Everything takes longer with an infant, so having that extra time can ensure a low stress travel experience. Take advantage and board the airplane first to give you extra time to get settled. If your airport has a family security line, use it.

Make sure you understand any remaining COVID-19 regulations

As mask rules and COVID-19 testing, entry and vaccine regulations continue to evolve in countries around the world, stay on top of exactly what you need to know and bring for your baby to get to your destination (and back home again). It’s important to understand whether you’ll need masks for your 2-year-old or need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 tests upon arrival at your destination or re-entry into the U.S. when traveling abroad.

Remember that airline staff members also struggle to keep track of ever-changing rules, so if you know something has recently changed or a rule seems specific, make sure to bring along proof of this information and whatever documentation you need in case you have trouble when boarding.

Photocopy important documents and always have extras. I loathe having to take paper documents along when traveling. However, having them may mean the difference between getting through customs, being able to board or being stranded at the airport. This is especially true if your phone battery dies or you’re left without service for any reason. While being denied boarding is always dramatic, it’s even worse with a baby in tow.

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.

A white noise app is key for better sleep for your baby — and therefore better sleep for parents — and allows you to leave a white noise machine home. Nightlight apps are also helpful during travel.

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

Parents 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 Adene Sanchez/Getty Images)

This one is obvious, but you’d be surprised. Don’t forget your baby’s passport when traveling.

Look into identity and consent documents, as each country has its own requirements, especially if your partner isn’t with you. If you have any older children, make sure to check that their passports are valid, as children’s U.S. passports expire in just five years.

Stay calm

Traveling with a baby might seem like a lot. However, once you get the hang of it, packing, prepping and traveling with your infant becomes second nature. Ask for help when you need it and accept help when offered.

And when things don’t go quite right, stay relaxed (remember, baby can feel your moods) — you’ll figure it out. While it may seem tragic in the moment (like that major diaper blowout on board a plane), it will be an epic story to share one day.

Bottom line

When in doubt, bring enough baby supplies for a few extra days or a flight delay, but don’t overpack. Make sure to be clear on any and all regulations that will cover your travel, from having the right documents to understanding what baby items you can bring through airport security. With these tips, packing and traveling will be a more enjoyable experience for the entire family.

Featured photo by Nikola Stojadinovic/Getty Images.

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