Well, we had our first experience traveling with Sophie a couple of weeks ago. We tried to be as prepared as possible, but obviously you can’t plan for everything. We used these suggestions as a guide to give us some ideas on how to prepare, but there are just too many variables to be totally ready for your first time traveling with a baby.
The general advice for flying with baby is to try to avoid booking travel during their usual sleep time, particularly for longer trips, as air travel may keep babies awake and make them fussy. However, that advice isn’t always applicable, especially right now when the number of flights is much lower than it was pre-pandemic so there are basically fewer cross-country flight options.
I will preface this post with the fact that we got really lucky with Sophie as she was a complete dream throughout the entire trip. She loves eating and sleeping, so those parts were easy enough. She also doesn’t mind being in her car seat (I mean, to a point… if she’s been in it for too long she definitely gets uncomfortable and fussy) so that’s helpful too. This trip went as smoothly as it possibly could have for us newbies. However, we did learn a few things in real time and I’d love to share our learnings with you!
These tips are for first time parents traveling (specifically flying) with babies.
We got to the airport two hours earlier than our flight was scheduled to board so that we had plenty of time to get through security. Since it was our first time going through with a baby and all of the extra baby stuff (like her stroller and car seat) we wanted to make sure that we had abundant time for the worst case scenario. Thankfully, the lines weren’t very long, getting everything through security was relatively smooth, and everyone around us was very kind and understanding.
I recommend bringing a baby carrier of some sort with you to take baby through security (I LOVE my SollyWrap). This makes it easier to wrangle baby in the crazy shuffle of airport security and gives you the mobility of your hands to remove / replace your shoes, liquids from your bag, electronics, etc. Because of Sophie being in the carrier I was asked to do an extra screening (they tested my hands for explosive debris?) after carrying her with me through the scanner. It was a quick pause (results in <30 seconds) so it didn’t hold us up for too long, but just be aware that you will likely be subjected to additional screenings if you wear your baby through security.
*Top Tip: If you are using a wrap, I recommend already having it already secured on your body before you get to the airport and place baby in the carrier prior to your interaction with the TSA agent so it’s one less thing to deal with while you’re scrambling to unpack (and then repack!) your life while going through security (ugh; the pressure of going through security quickly and efficiently always gives me so much anxiety!)
Also worth noting: if you’re traveling solo with your baby internationally, in addition to a passport (and possibly a visa, depending on the laws of the country you are visiting) you will need a signed letter of consent from the child’s other parent to take the baby out of the country. You may even need to provide baby’s inoculation records (not just against COVID-19, but others such as polio and Hep B as well).
Be prepared to take out your formula (liquid and powder) when you go through security. I personally prefer to take powder for longer-term trips for two reasons: (1) bottles of liquid formula should be refrigerated after opening, so depending on how much volume your baby eats per meal, that could be wasteful (for example, Sophie currently takes 4oz every ~4 hrs), and (2) liquid formula is heavier to carry. I like traveling with powder because you can always pick up a bottle of water to make baby bottles beyond airport security. (See my Baby Packing List post for more tips on this!)
I do use bottles of liquid formula for our day-to-day ventures out of the house (such as doctor appointments or running errands), but aside from that I’m all powder, all the time.
Additionally, pack more formula than you think you’ll need; like ~3 extra bottles’ worth, just in case. On one flight we got stuck in the airport terminal for hours as our flight was delayed and I was so grateful to have that extra formula, knowing that I wasn’t tapping into the supply I had packed for our trip.
*UPDATE* On a later trip I decided to bring a few bottles of liquid formula we had at the house so that we could use them before they expired and it was [understandably] a LOT more challenging trying to take liquid formula through security. The TSA agent wanted to open all of the bottles to test them which would then cause them all to expire before we even landed at our destination. When we explained why it wouldn’t be ideal to do that, he told us that instead he would have to give one of us a full pat-down exam so my husband got a complete once-over from the agent which caused a pretty significant delay in getting to our gate on time. If you’re already using powdered formula, just skip the added stress of bringing the liquid and if you aren’t already using the powdered version, I urge you to consider it for travel days.
*Top Tip: You can find more details on what else is in my diaper bag here.
Be sure to visit your airline’s desk agent as soon as you get to your gate to get your stroller / car seat tagged for gate check ahead of boarding. We didn’t realize we had to do this pre-boarding on our first flight (we thought that it happened as we were stepping onto the plane 😬) and it delayed us from getting on the plane during the “families that need extra time to get situated” boarding phase that we desperately wanted to take advantage of to get settled before the other passengers began to board.
If you care about the appearance of / maintaining the integrity of your stroller / car seat and plan to gate check them, be sure to bring protective travel bags; our poor stroller got scratched to shit in the cargo hold area of the plane. 😞
I tried to plan Sophie’s feeding times to coincide with the plane takeoff so that the act swallowing of formula would help prevent the change in cabin pressure from building up in her ears. If we had been delayed I would have given her a bottle of just two ounces during both our ascent and descent instead of the usual five ounces she gets for each meal (I wouldn’t want to give her the full five ounces and risk her spitting up what couldn’t fit in her tummy since she had already eaten recently). Thankfully, it seemed to work as she did not get upset while we were gaining / losing altitude. 🙌🏼 Using a pacifier can help with this too, but the act of swallowing helps to relieve pressure that builds in the ears so drinking is more ideal.
Even though Sophie is young enough to be considered a “lap infant” and does not require a seat to be purchased on the plane, we bought her a seat anyway so that we had the whole row to ourselves. We put her car seat in the seat (it’s air travel compliant!) so that my husband and I could have the opportunity to both be hands-free during the flight. However, if you choose to gate check your car seat (I recommend that you bring your own and not rely on the ones offered by rental car companies 😬), be sure to bring a travel bag for it.
*Top Tip: If you plan to book three seats together on the plane like we did, I suggest booking with as much advance as possible because getting three seats together is nearly impossible the closer you reserve to the date of your travel.
If your infant car seat is typically installed in your vehicle with a base, I suggest familiarizing yourself with how to secure it with a seatbelt ahead of your travels for instances where you are in Ubers / rental cars, as well as with an airplane lap belt!
We used this stretchy car seat cover to make it darker for her naps (when the cabin lights were turned on on the plane) as well as for using it as a layer of protection from any germs being distributed by our fellow passengers.
Make a little bundle of: a pack of wipes, a diaper, diaper cream and a containment bag so they’re a quick grab on your way to the airport bathroom or the airplane lavatory! It is so stressful trying to triage a blowout / crying baby while also digging through your bag to get all of the supplies you need. I always keep this elastic hair tie on one side of my pouch of wipes because it prevents more than one wipe from pulling out at a time, but it sure came in handy for bundling all of my diaper changing items together for trips to the lavatory! Not shown is our rolled up changing mat (included with my tote organizer) that I also took with me to lay out on the changing surface.
I packed more diapers than we expected to use while in transit and I’m so glad that I did — Sophie had not one, but two big, dirty diapers before we even arrived at our destination (one at the airport and one on. the. plane. 😬). We had always planned to pick up a box of diapers after we landed, but I wanted to have way more than enough in my tote (and extras in my carry-on!), just in case.
FYI: our aircraft lavatory had an unmarked changing table, which I found out about after having changed a screaming, squirming baby with a very poopy diaper on the toilet seat lid during a period of turbulence. 🙃 Be sure to ask an airline attendant for guidance regarding the lavatory changing table (read: which lavatories have one and where to locate it) before you find yourself in a tricky situation like I did.
MISCELLANEOUS TRAVEL TIPS
This may seem like common sense, but I recommend that you call ahead to your hotel to see if they have cribs available (so you’ll know if you need to bring your own). This is only if you weren’t able to make the election / request as part of booking your room. Recently, my husband accidentally chose a boutique hotel with the worst possible amenities and room layout for us to stay at (as far as the needs of babies and new parents go). In addition to the myriad of terrible things about this hotel, they did not provide cribs for their guests so at the last minute we ordered this travel bassinet that is ultra light and folds completely flat when not in use. While it wasn’t a long-term investment that we plan to use often, it certainly did the trick for this trip (needless to say, I will be checking all of our hotel details going forward… 🙃).
*Top Tip: If your hotel does offer cribs, be sure to note with the hotel (at time of booking or any time prior to your arrival) that you would like one in your room so that they can have the opportunity to have one ready in your room when you check-in. Additionally, the “crib sheet” used at the hotel is often just a flat sheet from a regular adult bed; I know it’s one more thing to remember to pack, but it wouldn’t hurt to bring a crib sheet from home (just for safety reasons).
If you are staying at family’s house, at an Airbnb, or at a hotel that has the space and doesn’t offer cribs, OR you just want to use your own crib, may I suggest this travel crib. It will grow with your baby and has the option for a higher bassinet position for easier access when they are small. We have it for the aforementioned circumstances and love it!
Repurpose a drawstring bag (exact here and other options here, here, here, and here) or use a mesh laundry bag to keep especially small baby items (like socks, hats, hair bows, etc.) from getting lost in your luggage. Sure, you could always use a gallon Ziploc bag, but where’s the eco-friendliness in that?? 😉
You can also continue to practice Tummy Time no matter where you go! Sophie found our new environment so interesting that she was eagerly looking around the room and stayed engaged for a bit longer than she typically does at home. I just love her curiosity!
I shared more details on all of our favorite travel products for baby in this post.
If you’re traveling with your baby soon, I hope you find this advice to be helpful.
Mostly, just try to stay calm during challenging moments — people are more understanding and helpful than you’d expect. And just remember: you’ve got this!
Sending hugs —