The scariest part about having my son wasn’t his delivery… it was figuring out what did and didn’t work for us when traveling. I used to get by with one backpack (yup, one) for trips lasting 7+ days, complete with camera gear and computer equipment. But when my son was born, man, did my world and ways of packing change. We’ve taken over 40 flights together so far with many more on the horizon, so I’ve learned a thing or two about what you actually need when traveling with an infant. Minimalist packing saves you the stress of carrying extra bags, saves you money from having to check extra bags, and also gives you peace of mind knowing you have everything you need without going overboard. This post is a more-wordy-supplemental-post to the original blog post about what to pack when traveling by air with a baby.
Whether we are taking an overnight trip or weeklong getaway, I can pack everything for Gavin and I in three bags: a carseat bag for the carseat, his backpack-style diaper bag as our carry-on, and my backpack that I check to the final destination. Most airlines will state that a diaper bag is exempt from your carry-on allotment, so you are more than welcome to carry your own backpack or rolling bag if that better suits you. But you are responsible for finding out what your airline allows by checking their website or calling customer service before arriving to the airport.
I prefer to check my bag to the final destination so I don’t have to keep track of it along the journey and carry the extra weight around. If you’ve read my other blog post about travel products we actually use, you’ll know that we travel by the saying less is more. The fewer bags I have with me while in transit, the more intact my brain. So what goes in our bags exactly? Here’s a quick peek inside:
CLOTHING. The stuff I need for the trip isn’t really necessary to divulge here, but I bring exactly the number of outfits and undergarments I need for the trip plus one extra outfit in case we get stuck somewhere flying standby. I wear the same travel outfit when I leave as I do coming back. Whatever shoes I pack for the trip, I am sure to where the bulkiest/heaviest of them all to save room in my bag for more important things. Like diapers.
For Gavin, I bring enough outfits for each day of travel plus two or three extra to account for any spills or leaks from his mouth… or hind-end. Layers are the key here no matter where we go, packing mostly short sleeved tops and then one zip-up jacket for chillier days. And no more than two sleepers (one fleece, one cotton). When we first started traveling together, I would pack one pajama per night plus two outfits per day for him, which was totally ridiculous and absolutely unnecessary. After all, he’s on vacation, just playing and sleeping, not walking the runway. If your baby has reflux or another medical condition that warrants a few extra changes of clothes, by all means, pack some extra clothes. You know your baby better than anyone else.
PRO-TIP: Pack one extra outfit for yourself and your child in your carry-on bag in case of emergencies like blowouts or vomit explosions.
DIAPERS. You have a few options when it comes to packing diapers: you can either buy them once you land at your final destination, or buy them ahead of time and put them in your checked carseat bag. Be aware that some airlines will ask you to open the carseat bag to verify the carseat’s contents and may not permit the extra diapers. Shrug. So I recommend contacting the customer service line of the airline you’re flying to double-check that you are compliant with their baggage rules as it relates to diapers. If they accept diapers in the carseat bag, pack ’em in! As for how many diapers you’ll need while en route, my rule of thumb is always one diaper per flight hour, plus an extra stash of one dozen diapers in case of delays or cancellations at the airport.
Not all aircraft types have changing tables inside the lavatory, and those that do, bear in mind that they are very teeny-tiny. I recommend changing the baby’s diaper right when boarding begins so you know he’ll have a fresh bum for most of the flight.
PRO-TIP: Pack a “Seatback Pocket Bag” that has two or three diapers, wipes, an extra outfit, and a burp cloth for baby. Pack the contents into a gallon-size ziplock bag and place it in your seatback pocket for the duration of your flight. You never know when you’ll need to get to the lavatory fast and there’s nothing worse than being stuck in a middle seat trying to dig out the diaper-changing supplies you need while poop is running down your child’s leg. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience here. Ahem.
ELECTRONICS. I bring a fully charged iPad + fully charged blutooth keyboard so I can work on writing projects when time permits, plus the iPad doubles as a sound machine once we’re at our hotel using the Relax Melodies app when Gavin goes to sleep. I recommend putting the iPad in airplane mode if you use it at your final destination, so notifications don’t interrupt the soothing sounds playing through the speaker while baby sleeps at night.
I also bring my fully-charged camera so I don’t have to pack the bulky charger (unless I’m shooting something like a wedding, then I definitely have backup batteries and chargers). I also like to pack a cigarette-lighter-plug USB charger, just in case my rental car doesn’t have built-in USB chargers.
I do pack blutooth headphones (with jack attachment) in case we’re flying on a plane outfitted with TV screens on the headrest, but typically I just turn on the closed captioning. Gavin is pretty active and doesn’t give me much reprieve on flights these days, so unless he’s asleep, I don’t usually bother with the in-flight entertainment.
TOYS. All the toys and distractions you’ll need should fit in your carry-on bag. Anything that doesn’t fit is unnecessary. Sometimes I will purchase a new book or stuffed animal, hiding it in the bag until my child gets cranky in-flight. The surprise new item of interest works like a charm in calming him down.
When Flight Attendants are passing around snacks, ask for one for your infant as well even if they aren’t eating solids yet. The shiny, crinkly food packaging has worked wonders in keeping my son distracted. I’ve also asked for an empty plastic cup as that has charmed my son’s natural curiosity too.
Bring a few of those teething link toys if you have them. I use the links to hold toys on the outside of the seatback pocket so they’re easy to grab without being germ-infested from being stored inside the pocket. I used to clean planes, remember? Yuck is all you need to know. Plus, having those items on the outside of the pocket leaves room for your seatback pocket bag I was talking about earlier.
Definitely bring some pacifiers or teething toys as well. Store them in a pocket that is easily accessible. Chewing and sucking will help “pop” your child’s ears during takeoff and landing, so give them one of these items or offer a drink during the ascent and descent.
FOOD/SNACKS. Gavin was breastfed until recently (yay, weaning!), so now I travel with formula just in case he gets hungry en route or needs something to help “pop” his ears when we fly. I pack two bottles just in case we need it and about half a dozen of the miniature pre-made formula bottles. This is a good time to let you know that the 3.4 ounce liquid rule at TSA doesn’t apply to baby items (medicine, drinks, water, purees, etc). I bring extra powder formula in a ziplock bag just in case to help conserve space since we’re only using one backpack.
As for solid foods, I bring stuff that doesn’t need to be refrigerated because I don’t want to carry a cooler around, like Puffs, Goldfish, veggie straws, and crackers. We also bring a pouch or two of pureed foods or applesauce to give Gavin some variety when we fly. I give him pouch-style foods in-flight only when I’m able to help because they have the potential to be messy quickly. We fly standby as employees, which means we are usually the last people to board, so when a flight begins the pre-boarding process, I’ll feed Gavin a pouch while we wait for our seat assignment.
Gavin likes to drink water, juice, and regular milk when we’re at home. Since I don’t want to worry about keeping milk cold, I travel with a few small twist-cap-style apple juices in their original plastic container (I don’t trust that a juice box won’t puncture, rip, or squish in transit). Bonus, they don’t need to be refrigerated until after opening, so there is little to no waste when we fly. Remember that juice for your baby is exempt from the 3.4 ounce liquid rule in “reasonable qualities” so definitely skip bringing an entire gallon with you. I do water down the juice to make it last longer by finding a water fountain, water bottle refill station, or airport restaurant.
Don’t forget to have fun when traveling with your baby. Taking them across the country or around the globe is the most wonderful gift you can give your child. Don’t ever let the fear of infant air travel scare you away from the beautiful memories and experiences waiting for you. You can do this!