Is less really more? What you actually need to bring when traveling with a baby

Mar 28, 2022

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When it comes to traveling with baby gear, is less actually more?

The answer isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. Babies don’t actually need much, but there are some must-haves. And then there’s a much longer list of nice-to-haves if you are the one caring for the baby. As such, it can be difficult to know exactly what to bring when traveling with a little one.

Read on to find out what the essentials are when traveling with a baby and what you can leave at home if you want to try out your own less is more approach.

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a mom packing baby's suitcase
(Photo by Nikola Stojadinovic/Getty Images)

Must have items when traveling with a baby

Don’t leave these key items at home

Don’t forget to bring these items — and make sure they’re easily accessible in a carry-on when flying or not buried in the trunk during a road trip.

  • A baby carrier that allows your baby to face in or out.
  • A sleep sack if your baby uses one.
  • A pad for diaper changes.
  • A blanket (this can double as a swaddle if needed).
  • A lovey or comfort item for sleep.
  • Medications like baby Tylenol.
  • Extra clothes for baby and parents (in case of messy accidents).
  • Diapers and wipes.
  • Formula and/or snacks, if needed.
  • Pacifiers and bibs, if needed.

Consider taking these items along, too

There are some items that may be helpful depending on your travel style, destination and family situation.

  • Stroller clips for long days of touring.
  • A travel stroller.
  • Sunshade and car seat for a rental car.
Parents pushing luggage rack with toddler on board
(Photo by Westend61/Getty Images)

When, where and how to cut corners on gear

There are many ways to reduce what you’re taking when traveling with a baby. Here are some tips:

What to know about diapers, wipes and formula

These are essential items that you should have enough of to last during your journey, plus extras.

However, a little research on where to purchase these items at your destination can really help save space in your suitcase. Pack enough for your plane ride or road trip (plus extra) and enough to last you an additional 24 – 36 hours, giving you time to settle in and shop later at your destination.

When traveling abroad, make sure the brands you love (or something similar) are available and that you know exactly where to source them, especially for formula. Many countries also have Amazon, so you could consider ordering items and having them sent to your destination ahead of time. And of course, when traveling domestically, using an Amazon or Instacart order could be the perfect way to travel with less while still having plenty of what you need.

Rent baby gear at your destination

It’s possible to rent baby items in many destinations — things like high chairs, cribs, car seats and strollers don’t have to be brought along for the ride. Obviously, it’s best to arrange this before traveling to ensure everything you need is available and reserved pre-arrival.

Anything can be a toy

Remember, your baby doesn’t need that many toys, because almost anything can be a toy.

You can probably use most of your baby’s toys at home and instead find things for them to play with from your hotel room or vacation rental. Get creative, but make sure that whatever you use in lieu of a toy is safe for them — nothing breakable or with small pieces. Also ensure you have enough entertainment for your baby on the plane or in the car.

Toddler reaches for toys in clear bin
(Photo by tomazl/Getty Images)

Check with your vacation rental or hotel to see what’s offered for babies

I’ve stayed at rental properties that have offered everything from Pack ‘n Plays and kids books to bottle warmers and baby cutlery. In fact, there are home rental companies that specialize in meeting the needs of families.

Check what your hotel or rental property offers so you can leave items at home. In fact, go a step further and search specifically for vacation rentals and hotels that have extras for babies and children. Always make sure to confirm with hosts beforehand to remind them that you’ll need these items.

Consider laundry options

I won’t stay anywhere for longer than a few days without the option to do a few loads of laundry (and not at pricey hotel standards like $20 per shirt). This often means I end up staying at apartment rentals rather than hotels, or in destinations where backpackers commonly send out their laundry for very low prices, like Thailand.

Staying with family or friends, or even finding a laundromat at your destination if necessary, can help minimize the amount you’ll need to pack for your baby and the whole family, too. Plus, when it comes to the aforementioned messy situations, it’s nice to be able to wash soiled clothes right away.

If traveling to various destinations, select ones with the same climate

I recently traveled to Chicago, Arizona and the Dominican Republic all in one long trip during the months of November and December. Packing for that trip was a nightmare, especially considering my baby was between 4 and 5 months old and rapidly growing.

Additionally, I had to take everything — winter clothes for Chicago, layers for Arizona (which can be chilly at night and hot during the day) and a full-on summer wardrobe for the Dominican Republic’s heat and humidity — all in varying sizes to make sure he wouldn’t outgrow things.

This was not a trip that was easy to pack for and I learned my lesson. Going forward, I’ll only travel for longer periods of time to destinations with similar climates.

Use apps on your phone for a night light, white noise and baby monitoring

Baby sleep music on Spotify or Calm, baby monitor apps such as Annie and night light apps can actually help you pack less. Leave the bulky baby monitor and sound machine at home and consider using your phone apps instead to save space.

Baby sleeps on mom's lap during plane ride
(Photo by Tang Ming Tung/Getty Images)

Ship your luggage if necessary

This article is mainly about what you need to pack and what you don’t.

Even if after taking this all in, your suitcases are still overweight or unmanageable, consider shipping luggage to your destination. It can save you money on excessive checked bag fees, too. Alternatively, if you are OK checking your bags at the airport, you can also simply have them delivered to your hotel or home rental a few hours after you land and not worry about them once you check them in at the airport.

Bottom line

Packing can be intense when you have a baby, especially for your first big trip with the little one in tow.

Less may actually be more when it comes to bringing the things they need. It’s true that you don’t want to be stuck on a long flight without some important baby items, but that doesn’t mean the whole nursery has to come along for the ride.

Remember that babies live all over the world, and you can likely source much of what you need at your destination. This is especially true when it comes to bigger items like a crib, car seat or baby bathtub. And using apps on your phone, getting creative with playtime and shopping for diapers and wipes upon arrival (or having them delivered) can really help lighten your load when traveling with a baby.

Featured photo by Dmytro Varavin/Getty Images.

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