Listen, I used to be able to travel for a week with just the contents of one small backpack. Then I had my son and traveling light went out the window. Babies can be so unpredictable with their demeanor, appetite, spit up, and poop, which makes packing light almost impossible because you really have to be prepared for anything and everything. But fear not, reader! I have taken over 40 flights with my little guy and have (mostly) mastered how and what to pack, so I’m sharing exactly how we do it in hopes that you feel better prepared and less stressed when you take flight with your little bebe.
For a complete list of what we use when we travel, take a look at my other blog post, Travel Products We Actually Use.
First things first, most airlines won’t count a diaper bag or breastpump against your allotment of carry-on baggage… but it’s your responsibility as the passenger to double check what is permitted by your airline before arriving at the airport. Being prepared is the best way to eliminate stress when flying with a baby. This information is available on your airline’s website or by calling the respective customer service number. When it comes to packing your carry-on bag, remember that less is more. We have a large backpack-style diaper bag that we use as our carry-on, and that’s it! Here’s what we put inside:
Blanket. Airplanes are usually extremely cold or extremely warm. I don’t know that a “middle-ground” temperature exists, but the blanket serves two purposes: to keep the baby warm if the flight is cold and to offer protection from the uncomfortable metal belt buckle while being held on your lap. To save room in the bag for everything else we’ve packed, I loop the blanket over the top handle on the outside of the bag.
Food/Snacks. My son started on solids at six months, but wasn’t really able to feed himself Cheerios and such until about 10 months. If your baby is still formula- or breastfed, just pack enough for one or two extra days in case of delays or cancellations. If your little person has graduated to some purées, I recommend packing a few pouches of puréed fruits and vegetables to carry onboard. Food for baby’s consumption is exempt from the 3-1-1 liquid rule “in reasonable quantities” at TSA. I like traveling with the pouches because they are easy to slip in small pockets of our travel bag, they are resealable, and baby can drink the puree all by himself through the spout.
If your baby is currently exclusively formula- or breastfed, you don’t need to pack every bottle under the sun that you own. Bring two or three and rinse them out in-between flights and feedings. You can also purchase cleaning wipes that are safe to use on bottles. I always had a hard time mixing formula in-flight, so I recommend bringing some pre-made formula (we used NeoSure, they came in 2 oz. packages) so all you have to do is pour the contents into a bottle and voila! Baby has lunch without formula powder all over the seat!
If you’re bringing breastmilk from home, note that a cooler of milk may or may not count against your carry-on allotment. Again, double check with your airline prior to arriving at the airport. When going through TSA, remove the breastmilk from the cooler and put in a screening bin with the cooler and ice packs. Frozen milk does not need to be screened individually. Milk in liquid form is subject to additional screening by TSA, which can be time consuming. I know because I’ve had to wait while each of my 20 bags of milk was screened. Just remember that TSA is doing its job to ensure everyone flying is safe; they aren’t trying to make flying with breastmilk a hassle and they don’t have a personal vendetta against breastfeeding moms, I promise.
Drinks. Having something to drink for takeoff and landing will help relieve painful ear pressure for your baby. Again, drinks for baby’s consumption are exempt from the 3-1-1 liquid rule “in reasonable quantities” at TSA. I like to buy the 8 oz. apple juice bottles and bring two of them with us. I water them down pretty heavily when I put them in the sippy cup so they last longer and so Gavin doesn’t have a sugar rush meltdown in-flight.
Spoons. If we’re ever on a long layover, I like to get Gavin a fun treat from the terminal while we wait. He enjoys the new tastes and I enjoy the quick passing of time while we wait. Spoons help contain the mess and also double as a chew toy.
Toys. I keep our carry-on toys very minimal, typically just bringing his favorite stuffed animal and some kind of rattle or chew toy. I bring a variety of teethers with a clip-cord so I don’t have to worry about my son dropping them on the airplane floor. I have a few baby apps downloaded on my phone and iPad if I get desperate too.
Books. I bring one touch-and-feel book because they’re his favorite, but they are also compact enough to leave extra space in the bag for other necessities.
Extra clothes. Always be prepared for delays or cancellations. Having worked for an airline, I can attest that the majority of the traveling public never anticipate delays or cancellations, and don’t pack prepared for those circumstances, which just creates more stress. Bring two extra day’s worth of clothes so you’re prepared for a delayed arrival (and/or a blowout).
Extra diapers. This one goes along with the reasoning behind packing extra clothes. I always pack at least a dozen extra diapers because there really isn’t anywhere to buy them in an airport. If you do run out of diapers, I suggest hanging out by a family changing room and hoping someone has extras in your baby’s size. You could also use an unscented feminine pad if you get really desperate.
Medicine. I didn’t really make a habit of traveling with medicine for Gavin until one day I needed it and didn’t have anything for him. The mom guilt was real. While you can buy medicine for adults in the airport, you will be hard-pressed to find anything suitable for infants. My essentials when flying are gripe water for an upset tummy and Tylenol for fevers and teething. Baby medicine in its original container, even if it’s opened, are exempt from the 3-1-1 liquid rule at TSA.
Stroller. You can check your stroller for free at the ticket counter, but the stroller will go all the way to your final destination. I recommend gate-checking the stroller, which is also free, because you are able to pickup your stroller plane-side in between flights.
Tula (or other baby-wearing contraption). This makes the TSA checkpoint, boarding, and de-planing a breeze. The baby is comfortably and securely worn against your body and gives you the ability to use both of your hands in the meantime.
Extra outfit. Maybe your child loved his lunch so much that he wants to see it again… in warm, tiny, juicy, acidic pieces all over your shirt. Trust me. Pack the extra outfit for yourself.
iPad/Tablet. The airline partners I work for both offer free in-flight entertainment if you bring your own personal device. Usually my child is too wild for me to enjoy an uninterrupted in-flight movie, but I always come prepared just in case he decides to take a nap.
Blutooth headphones. What do babies love more than anything? Long, dangling, choking-hazard chords. Save yourself the trouble and get a pair of AirPods or other blutooth-enabled headphones. I may not be able to watch a movie while keeping my baby busy, but I can at least listen to a movie or enjoy music while en route.
Carseat. Carseats (and strollers!) can be checked for free. Woo! In our 40+ flight journey, the airline has yet to misplace our carseat. And, since we pack it inside a padded carseat bag for traveling, we are also yet to receive the carseat damaged after pickup from baggage claim. Rest assured that if you checked the carseat and it doesn’t arrive at your final destination with you, you can tell the Baggage Services attendant for your airline and they will supply you with a replacement until your carseat is recovered. If you’d prefer to not have to deal with a carseat when flying at all, you can rent them (usually for an additional cost per day) from your selected rental car company as well.
Extra diapers. You know your baby better than anyone else, so I’m not going to throw out any specific number of diapers here. Take an inventory of how many diapers you typically use in one day, multiply that by the total number of days you are traveling, and then pack an extra dozen. I always pack our extra diapers in the car seat bag so I can maximize my checked bag space. If you don’t have a car seat bag and you don’t have enough space for diapers in your checked bag, you can always buy diapers upon landing at your final destination.
Clothes. No need to go overboard. In my early days of flying with Gavin, I would pack a set of jammies for every single night we’d be gone, plus double the number of outfits we actually needed. I quickly learned how unnecessary this was, especially if we were flying to visit Grandma, where I could easily do a load of laundry if necessary. Now I pack one fleece pajama and one cotton pajama, plus enough outfits for every day of our trip with two extras for backup.
This one’s easy. You get to pack like your normal pre-mom self. I always pack a nursing hoodie and an extra nursing tank, but that’s more of a preference for myself than a necessity. If I’m running out of room in my bag, I will just re-wear the travel-day outfit for my return trip home.
Deep breaths, you got this!
If you feel a little overwhelmed, just take a deep breath. People travel every day, all over the world with babies. Remember that your baby is incredibly in-tune with you and your emotions, so keeping calm is a great way to have a calm baby while you travel. You may be surprised that strangers in airports are incredibly kind and will offer to help you along the way too. I’ve had people help me with bags, carry our carseat between gates, offer me food and water, and even escort us to our rental car. Yup! People are awesome! If you want a little more in-depth information about what products we use specifically, definitely check out my other blog post, Travel Products We Actually Use.