I don’t know what makes one an expert on any given topic – but according to Wiki, “An expert is somebody who has a broad and deep competence in terms of knowledge, skill and experience through practice and education in a particular field expert in travel and flying with kids, using this definition!
I started using this neat app called My Flight Radar 24 where you can log all your flights, and it gives you statistics and summaries. In 2020 (yes, in a year of a global pandemic) I took 27 flights (24 domestic, 3 international) for a total of 23,797 miles and 79 hours of in flight travel time. I believe all but 4 of those flights, my two boys were with me. We started 2020 with a 3 month old and a 5 year old. I’ve also flown with my 5 year old since he was six months old.
I do feel safe to give advice on traveling with both a baby, toddler, and little kid at this point! So, that is exactly what I intend to do. I’ll be linking the gadgets and products I own and have found most useful – and would of course, recommend.
1. What to pack in your carry on/diaper bag
a. The usual is needed: A portable changing pad (these days, most baby bags come with one), 5-10 diapers (depending on how long of a day your travel is), wipes, hand sanitizer, two changes of clothes, bottle/food
b. Extra tips
i. Bring 1-2 empty gallon size Ziploc bags so you have somewhere to put dirty clothes in case that happens in flight.
ii. Bring a changes of clothes for mom (and dad). This should be a basic tee and shorts, something small.
iii. Bring a muslin blanket for nap time to keep harsh lights off baby’s face. I love these adan and anais ones.
a. 100% I would suggest wearing your baby through security, then again when boarding the plane. You really could use both hands to carry the bags, put stuff in the overhead bin, and not have your baby hit every person on the plane while walking down the center aisle. I know they have the $100+ carriers, but this Infantino 4in1 has been perfect for what we need and allows for infants to baby, 4 different ways. It is very lightweight, and you can bunch it up and stick it in the overhead bin during the flight.
b. Whether or not we check the stroller depends on where we are going. If we do expect to use a stroller – I will gate check it, meaning I take it through security and use it up to the gate. I then switch the baby into my carrier, and leave the stroller at the end of the jetbridge. We then pick it up right there when we land. This can be super convenient to help carry all the things through the airport.
3. Car seat
a. We always bring our carseat. The infant seat, we will leave clicked into the stroller and gate check. The toddler seat we check at the desk and pick it up with the rest of luggage at the destination. We do use a car seat cover just to keep the yuck off the seat!
i. Extra tip: you could always throw a packing cube of clothes or a sleeve of diapers into the car seat cover = free baggage, yay!
4. Luggage systems and packing
a. I have the Away luggage suitcases, and depending on the length of our trip, I usually pack the baby items with my stuff in the medium size. I use these packing cubes to help keep all the small baby clothes together and easy to pull out. I have used packing cubes for travel for 5+ years now and would never do it another way!
b. I also have had this travel scooter for my big kiddo since he was five. We get asked a TON in airports about it. When he was five, it was a little chaotic, but now almost seven, it really helps him keep up with us through those long airports jaunts!
c. I will typically only pack (check) enough diapers to get me through 1-2 days, and will visit a store and grab a small pack once we get to our destination. I hate to take up that space if I can avoid it.
d. I also pack a few toys (things like stackable cups, balls, etc) but nothing crazy, and depending on baby’s age, some mealtime items like sippy cup, utensils, plate, teether – one of everything you currently use during meal time. Don’t forget a bottle brush!
a. This is another item that depends on where you are traveling. If you are staying in a hotel, call and ask if they have a roll away crib. If they do – all you then need to bring are some sheets. Even some airBnb’s now keep a pack n play in the closet – so be sure to ask before you go.
b. If you are visiting a place with no crib and you don’t have friends to borrow one, you can always check your pack n play for free with all airlines. I have seen on many blogs, the Lotus Travel Crib posted to use as a place for baby to sleep. While it looks beautiful and has great reviews, I just don’t think it is that much better than a traditional pack n play to make the cost worth it. (Lotus crib is $200-$250, Graco pack n play $40-$60)
i. Extra tip: If there is room, put your baby to sleep in a closet of where you are staying. It allows you to tip toe around less if you are in a shared room, and creates a buffer for baby to sleep uninterrupted
c. I highly recommend this Rohm travel noise machine. We don’t go anywhere without it, and it helps to keep the noise level down for naps and night time.
6. Feeding time
a. If you breastfeed, try to time it where you are feeding during take off, or give the baby a bottle during take off. All airports allow you to bring on your own water bottles, pouches and other liquids if you have a baby. They will pull your bag for a few minutes of extra scanning, but worth it.
i. Extra tip: These ChooMee food tip pouches attachments prevents pouch explosions with a flow-control valve. Most amazing invention - and reusable.
b. To do the above, your baby should be OK with room temp water to mix a bottle with. I would get baby used to that leading up to a trip if you currently warm your bottles.
c. Always bring extra formula/pouches/snacks. You never know when your flight will be delayed and you are stuck on the tarmac for an unexpected amount of time. I’ve been delayed for 3 hours sitting on a plane before they let us get off – go with enough food to feed your baby for 2-3 times the duration you may think you need.
d. This travel high chair makes feeding time easy when you travel with ~6month old to 1.5 (depending on how big your babe is!)
7. Flight entertainment
This one is tough with a baby under the age of two! I always say the very easiest age to travel is about infant to 9 months. They are typically content to stay in your lap, ideally sleep most of it, will take a bottle during take off/landing, and you may even get to rest a little. Here is what has generally worked for us at the various baby ages. Infant: there is not much you can do other than have bottles, pacifier and comfy clothing. Be sure you don’t overdress your baby and they are hot – better to bring some layers
9mo-12mo: Sanitizer wipes and snacks! Sanitize the headrest, sides, arms, the chair in front of you, tray table etc. My babies have loved to stand on me, put their mouth on the seat, and have staring contests with people. Entertainment is hard here because they don’t focus on one thing for very long. My babies have loved playing with the pamphlets in the back seats, putting the window up and down, and we always take a walk or two up and down the aisles (me holding them). The ideal flight would be your baby eating at take off, and having a lovely 2 hour nap to get through most of the flight. We’ve lucked out many times for this to happen – but also have the rambunctious toddler/energy and we’re exhausted by the end.
1,2,3 year old: In our family, we saved screen time to be only when we fly or have a long road trip. We have no screen time (other than TV) when we are at home, so for my oldest, he LOVES traveling because it means iPad time! If your child is one like mine, then ideally an iPad at this age will keep them occupied for a good amount of time. We do bring some extra items at this age just incase the iPad dies or they get tired of it. Some fun plane items we have brought: wipe clean activity book, window clings, mini trains and cars.
4+ year old: My advice here, bring the things that are a treat for them (like the iPad). My #1 goal for flights is to leave with my sanity intact. So several hours of screen time doesn’t bother me. Other than that, just be mindful of anything with small pieces, things that can make a mess, noisy things. Flying only gets easier from here!
Bottom Line: Some babies just hate the cabin pressure, or only want to squirm and run around unsafely – so you will have a screaming baby. As long as you are trying different things to help get them calm, not a single person should be aggravated with you. Everyone else should know by now to bring a nice pair of headphones, so don’t sweat it if you end up with a total shit show. We’ve all been there.
Be proud of yourself for getting out and having this experience with your kids. They will grow and learn and continue to become better travelers - and hopefully one day thank us!
I have combined all items mentioned into this handy checklist you can print and use!