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Tips for Traveling & Flying with a Baby: The Complete Guide
“Two of the greatest gifts we can give our children are roots and wings.” -Hodding Carter
Traveling with your children should not be avoided, it should be whole-heartedly embraced. My post today is all about our first trip as a family of three (Luca was 11 months at the time). I’m encouraging you to get out there and travel and I’m sharing all the tips and tricks I learned that will hopefully make your experience a bit smoother!
My husband and I LOVE to travel, we are grateful and humbled to have visited some truly amazing places in the world. If given the choice between a fancy car and a once-in-a-lifetime African Safari trip, we would always choose the trip! Traveling is something that we deeply value and will always invest in, especially for our children, for as long as we can.
Since having Luca, we have been on two trips requiring flying: Maui and Turks & Caicos. Between these two trips, we have flown on eight flights as a family of three. Our first ever flight with Luca was a daunting 11 hours. As nervous as we were to do it I also knew it was 100% possible. And now that we have that one under our belts, every other flight feels like a BREEZE in comparison!
We’ve definitely learned A LOT in a short time and I am excited to share my Complete Guide to Travelling With a Baby today!
Sidenote, if you’re looking for some mom-friendly swimsuits for your upcoming trip CLICK HERE to check out my Hawaii style post!
Make sure to reference the Table of Contents because there is A LOT in this post, you can skip to the section that suits you!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Getting Baby a Passport
- Documents Needed for Travel
- Timing Your Flights
- Tips for Time Change and Jetlag
- How to Book/Which Seats to Choose
- Tips for Getting Friendly With the Staff
- International Flights and Extra Costs
- Everything We Learned and Tips to Make it More Manageable!
- All the Packing Tips!
- Baby, Toddler, Mama and Carry-On Checklist Printable
- Travel Car Seat
- Affordable Umbrella Stroller
- All the Other Gear We Brought & Why
- Tips for Takeoff and Landing
- How to Keep Baby Entertained In-Flight
- Nursing In-Airport and In-Flight
- Calming Tools
TRAVELING WITH YOUR CHILDREN IS NOT SELFISH
Firstly, don’t be scared of flying with your baby. I know it’s scary to think “Oh my gosh what do I do if I can’t calm my crying baby on the plane!?” But listen, babies cry as a form of communication, it is inevitable. Most people understand this and the people who don’t (of which there are very few, I assure you) are jerks who think they are “holier than thou.” Not cool, do not pay them any mind. Honestly, the vast majority of people we ran into were extremely helpful, impressed with our poise and ultimately sang our praises. Plus YOU KNOW YOUR BABY and you know how to calm them and give them what they need! Have confidence in your skills mama!!
Secondly, someone said to me when we decided to travel to Hawaii that we were selfish because Luca wouldn’t remember the trip. DO NOT, I repeat DO NOT, let anyone tell you not to travel with your babies/toddlers/children because they “won’t remember.” That’s like telling you not to read to your babies or play with your toddlers, it just holds zero water. Significant brain development happens in children under the age of five, so the more (right kind of) experiences for young children, the deeper their brain development will be. I read a great article all about this which you can check out HERE.
Traveling opens up your eyes to new places, people, food, culture and more. Personally, it’s super important to Alex and me to provide these developmental experiences to our children from a young age.
I read somewhere that, again especially in young children but even in adult brains, these new and different experiences can stimulate growth in parts of your brain that have never been used before and therefore further advance its development. This is why you hear parents saying their baby hit a milestone while away on vacation.
Case and point – Luca cut two teeth AND finally began to crawl in Hawaii! Two weeks later in Turks and Caicos, he cut four more teeth!
I am here to tell you to do the hard things, travel with your family, even if it’s just for one night away in a nearby town. The experience is worth every ounce of the hard moments!
Passport for Baby
Getting a passport for baby is not hard. You can go to this website to download the form, it is super simple and straight-forward to fill out! To get a passport for baby, you will need to get headshots taken, your local post office should be able to do this but with ours, you had to make an appointment and they were booked out for a month! Luckily most big pharmacies do photos as well so we went over to our local CVS and did the photos in a matter of minutes – no appointment needed!
The tricky part about getting a passport for baby is that BOTH parents need to be present (in person) at the post office when you are handing in your documents. We had to choose a day that Alex could leave work early because most post offices have a cut off on these applications of 2pm! Beware!
In addition, we had to expedite the processing since we didn’t know it normally takes 6-8 weeks. If this is your case you can look up what post offices in your area can expedite. In our case, Stamford, CT was the closest one that expedited. Make sure you have all your ducks in a row when getting a passport for baby and get there about an hour before their cut off time in case you run into a line or any other issues! And bring extra cash, this costs a bit more!
Also, heads up, you need to bring their original birth certificate when applying for a passport for baby And they TAKE IT to mail out with the application. You will get it back when the passport comes, if not sooner! And don’t worry all documents are mailed priority with insurance and all that jazz – the most secure way possible!
Note: If you are traveling domestically a birth certificate is totally fine for children, you would bring it with you to the airport as proof of who they are! Just make sure to keep it very safe while you travel!! Also, most airlines are very strict about the under two-years “lap infant” rule so you definitely want to bring your proof!
Timing Your Flights
If at all possible, book your flights at times that will work best for your baby’s sleep schedule. We had a choice between leaving at 8am or 11am to get to Turks. Single me would have definitely chosen the 8am flight because I love getting to my destinations as early in the day as possible. But 11am worked better with Luca because although we woke him up early he was able to sleep on the way to the airport and napped on the plane!
Also, I personally dislike red-eye flights but consider that it might work well if it’s long enough and at the right time. Try pulling the shades down, minimize activity, blast the sound machine (even though it’s already loud on planes) and synchronize your watch with the new time zone.
Traveling during sleep time will make the trip easier on everyone and would also be the least disruptive to your child’s schedule. You can also apply these tips to a shorter flight and try to book during your baby’s regular nap time!
Tips for Time Change/Jetlag
Jetlag can be the worst (for kids and adults alike) but I have some tips from going through it! We started pushing Luca’s bedtime back little by little during the week before we left because Hawaii is 5 hours behind. It definitely did not work perfectly and we had some adjusting to do when we arrived but luckily it only took a couple days.
Choose Travel Time Wisely: (see the section above!)
Get a Head Start: You can start adjusting your baby’s schedule in the week before you leave for your trip. Anticipate the new time zone and shift your baby’s schedule ahead or back little by little each day (think 15-20 min increments). If you are traveling west put them to bed a little later each night and wake up a bit later each morning. And when you arrive in your destination, stay awake and keep your baby up for as long as possible so you go to bed at a semi-normal time for that time zone. Also, something we did in Hawaii that helped was we kept the blackout curtains closed until it was officially wake-up time. We were on track on Hawaii time within two days because of these tips!
If you are traveling east…godspeed. Haha no but really, this direction has always been hard for me and it was almost a disaster coming back to NY from Hawaii. My suggestion is the same as above but backward: put kids to bed a bit earlier each night and wake up earlier each morning in the few days leading up to travel. Also, use the blackout curtains at night time when it’s still light and you’re putting them to bed!
And the same thing goes for nap times – adjust accordingly!
Give Yourselves Some Grace! It’s going to take a few days for you and your baby to adjust; the more time zones you cross, the longer it will take. Try to take it easy and be flexible with their eating and sleep schedules. Give cues to stay awake, even when their internal clock is saying it’s sleepy time. One great cue is natural sunlight – try to keep baby busy during daylight hours. You can eat and play outside or in sunny rooms. Then when it’s time to sleep (even if it’s still light out), dim all the lights, shut the blinds, talk softly, and do as much as possible from your normal bedtime routine.
Reassure and Comfort Your Baby. They are being bombarded with new experiences and might become extra clingy. They will appreciate it if you bring along some things that are familiar — a favorite toy, lovie or blanket, the wash and lotion you normally use, etc. Extra nursing or feeding sessions will also help soothe and comfort baby but don’t worry, they will eventually adjust and you’ll be able to enjoy your vacation!
Extra Room: If you can afford it purchase seats with extra room. I’m used to doing this because Alex is so tall we’ve always gone for these seats (on JetBlue they’re less than $100 more per seat usually). This is how we booked for Hawaii, we did not book an extra seat for Luca.
Book an Aisle and Window Seat: If you’re bold enough, book an aisle and window seat. The idea is that the majority of the time no one will choose to sit in that middle seat. I was not brave enough for this but I have heard success stories!
Book an extra seat: If you know your going to be on a full flight you can book an extra seat for your baby, we will probably do this with future flights as Luca will be bigger and older and we would want the space!
Get friendly with the staff: If you have an empty-ish flight try to get a row to yourselves. Everyone loves a cute baby and will also be very understanding that you’re just trying to keep him entertained! I’ve heard advice that you should go up to the flight crew before you board and ask but we did not do this. I wanted to be friendly but I didn’t want to step out of line. Most airlines board people with disabilities and families traveling with children under the age of two first (which is SO HELPFUL). So when we were some of the first people on the plane I would just be friendly and have Luca interact with the staff in hopes they’d think of us if an empty row popped up later.
We were super lucky on our 11-hour flight to Hawaii and ended up getting our own row. The flight staff was honestly SUPER helpful and accommodating and offered it up to us as soon as we got in the air. Also, most people surrounding us were very nice and loved smiling/making faces at Luca which helped entertain him. There was only one guy who made a negative remark about him but he was just an unhappy man – Luca honestly did super well. He had one crying bout for literally just a few seconds when he was tired and yelled loudly out of excitement a few times (what baby doesn’t!?).
A Note on International Flights…
Children under the age of two are not required to have a seat purchased for them as they are considered “lap infants.” However, for international flights, you should expect to be charged a small fee for your lap baby! The charge for Luca on the trip to Turks was $75 each way.
Also, be prepared for long lines at immigration and customs unless you get Global Entry or Mobile Passport. I HIGHLY recommend applying for these to save your sanity (and time)!
I’m no pro, but at this point, we’ve traveled through 12 airports! Below are my tips outlining what worked for us and what made airports a little less of a hassle.
- Wear your baby!!! This is my biggest tip! It made things so much easier walking (and rushing) around the airport! It was about 50/50 with having to take him off or not when going through security, which was no big deal but I definitely appreciated when I didn’t have to take the whole thing off!
- Snacks & Liquids: Don’t worry about the snacks, breastmilk, formula or water for the baby. We had no trouble getting through with our foods and liquids for Luca! For more specific questions, I found some great info on the TSA website HERE.
- What to Wear: Comfy clothes (if nursing, see “Nursing In-Flight” section below), limit jewelry and wear slip-on shoes.
- Get TSA Pre-check: Skip the long line and leave your shoes on! It’s stressful enough to travel with kids, this is a total time and sanity-saver! CLICK HERE for the website!
Don’t worry, I got you on this! See just below to download my FREE comprehensive mama/baby/toddler and carry-on packing lists for travel!
Packing for multiple people is HARD, I give my mom so much credit now haha. I suggest using my free download of lists as your base and adding to it as needed! I also recommend leaving these lists in plain sight during the weeks before you pack as sort of a running list. This way you can add to it or purchase items as you think of them. See below to download your freebie!!
What to Pack for Baby
First of all, I LOVE utilizing packing squares! They organize my life and now I pack all the things in them when traveling; it was especially convenient to keep Luca’s toys and clothes organized. For my own clothes I, of course, treated myself to THESE beautiful Calpack blush ones 🙂
Ok, so what to actually pack for baby while away. This depends on a couple factors: how long will you be away, will you have access to laundry, where are you going, what are you planning on doing, how often does your baby have blowouts? But seriously, these are important questions!
I’m not going much further into this topic here in the blog post but download your free list of what to pack for baby and toddler below to see ALL my top recommendations without overpacking! It is a comprehensive list of what we actually used while away. Some background on our trip: We did not do laundry, we were in warm weather and (in Hawaii) split the trip between adventures and chill beach days. Also, Luca luckily does not have frequent blowouts!
To help you with your packing I’ve created a FREE downloadable packet of packing lists! Enter your email below to receive your freebie! Links are included to get you right to the items (on AMAZON)!
BONUS printable!! Baby beach packing list, because we’re mostly traveling to beach destinations right!? This list is my complete guide to heading out to sandy shores with your baby or toddler!
Carry On Packing Tips
For a complete list of what to pack in your carry-on with a baby or toddler, enter your email in the box above!
Our carry-on was the most important piece of luggage and I packed it very thoughtfully. It was basically like a diaper bag on steroids (especially for an 11-hour flight) haha. This list included in my free download will obviously be slightly different based on the age of your child/children (Luca was one year at the time we traveled), but I tried to separate toddler and baby items!
I used my trusty Vera Bradley Weekender which was PERFECT. I was able to fit a decent-sized organizer in the main section for the diapers, wipes, changing pad and little necessities, and filled the rest with clothes, blankets, snacks, and toys. My laptop even fit just right in the outer pocket. I LOVE this bag, it was so so useful and served us well!
I also just want to note that carrying on a few muslin blankets was SUPER helpful! Not only for covering Luca during naps or nursing but also to lay out around on the seats and floor so he had a clean place to play – just make sure you remember which side was on the ground and wash them when you get to your destination!
TIP: Check as much as possible – we checked everything but the essentials and it saved a ton of stress! There is SO MUCH to carry when traveling with kids so take advantage of checking everything you possibly can.
TIP: Make pre-packed baggies with a onesie, pants, socks, and a diaper with a couple of wipes. It made diaper changes super easy. I would have been 100% ready if Luca had a blowout (thankfully he didn’t). I also highly recommend this Skip Hop diaper changing pad.
I know the opinions vastly differ but personally, I recommend buying and bringing your own travel car seat if you plan on renting a car at your destination. We purchased a travel car seat because we rented a car in Hawaii and I just felt more comfortable with our own as opposed to renting. Plus it was a super affordable investment that I know we will use for years.
You can find the one we purchased RIGHT HERE – under $90 for both the seat and case! It was super lightweight so Alex carried it over his shoulder. They also make cases with wheels for car seats, like THIS ONE, if you prefer. We already had three pieces of luggage plus the stroller to wheel around though so we had to carry it.
Also, YOU CAN CHECK YOUR CARSEAT FOR FREE! I was so pumped when I learned this! You can also gate check if you choose, or if you purchased a seat for your child you can carry on the car seat.
TIP: When we checked our car seat I threw some of his bigger toys and a playmat in there because there was extra space and it was free! You could also easily fit this pop-and-sit highchair inside!
TIP: Bring an extra towel or cut a pool noodle. You can stick this under the car seat so it reclines more. We do this with our regular convertible car seat also!
My advice: grab a cheap, versatile umbrella stroller and use it in the airport. As long as baby is old enough (holding head up on their own/ sitting up) you can go for one of these! We chose THIS ONE by Summer Infant for $70 (available on Amazon). It was great to use in our destinations and also while navigating through the airport. We checked our car seat and gate-checked our stroller. In the airport, I had Luca in the carrier but the stroller was nice to have to lug around my bag and our giant carry-on!
This was such a great find! This travel crib packs up small enough to fit in the overhead bins on planes but is still super sturdy. We started using it on our Trip to Turks & Ciacos but we still use it now, at home for naps! I love the zip side feature – it’s convenient if you need to lay with your baby or it’s fun for htem to crawl in and out of! Can’t reccomend this pack n play enough!
Extra Baby Gear To Bring
Linking to all my recommendations for baby gear for travel, everything is Amazon!
- Travel Car Seat w/ travel case
- Summer Infant Umbrella stroller (pictured above)
- Chicco portable hook-on highchair (pictured above) or Summer Infant pop-and-sit highchair
- Portable Pack N’ Play (pictured above, LOVE this! We even still use it at home)
- RamblerLA playmat (pictured below)
- Fisher-Price activity gym
- Baby Pool Float (pictured below)
- Small toys and lightweight books
TIP: Request a crib when you book your hotel room, we were able to get one free of charge for the entire stay! In Hawaii we were also able to request a pack n’ play for when we sat poolside – the hotel provided it!
TIP: It’s possible for mom and dad can get some alone time! A lot of resorts are now offering nanny services during your stay. We had a nanny for four hours one afternoon in Hawaii and it was GLORIOUS. She was a gem and Luca instantly loved her, we felt very comfortable with her!
Items To Buy At Your Destination
TIP: Bring enough diapers, wipes, and snacks to get you through a few days but I definitely recommend not wasting too much space on these items in your luggage when you can most likely purchase them at your destination! Luckily there was a Target in Maui and we hit it up multiple times of course haha.
Takeoff and Landing
SUPER important tip – make sure baby is sucking during takeoff and landing so their ears can pop. The built-up pressure can be agonizing if they are unable to release it, swallowing and sucking help with this! In Luca’s case, I nursed – just popped my cover on a threw him underneath right onto the boob. You can use a bottle or pacifier as well for the same effect!
How to Entertain Your Baby In-Flight
- Bring brand new, never-before-seen toys and books. He was so excited to play with toys he had never seen!
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks!! We came armed with Puffs, Creamies, pouches, crackers, fruit and Luca’s favorite: pizza crust (grabbed it in the airport that morning!)
- iPad: Luca was 11.5 months at the time of travel and we hadn’t used the iPad with him at all until this trip, and honestly he didn’t have the attention span for it, BUT it would work perfectly with slightly older kids!
- Download baby games and shows: We tried the bubble game, Daniel Tiger, Paw Patrol, Ninja Turtles, and Mickey Mouse
- Bring a car seat activity center (for smaller babies) like THIS ONE
- Don’t underestimate the power of everyday items – hair clips, seat belt, empty water bottle, empty plastic cups, crinkly ziplock bags – Luca was entertained a lot of the time by these simple items so next time I would bring fewer toys.
- Wear them! When in doubt I popped Luca in the carrier and paced, luckily he loves the carrier because I have worn him since birth!
Nursing cover: Using a nursing cover isn’t just to cover up, it’s also a good idea when you have a baby that is easily distractable. Luca is at the age where he will turn his head when he hears anything interesting going on around him. I couldn’t have traveled without my Milksnob cover. It’s so lightweight and Luca generally runs pretty hot, and has refused every other cover I have tried.
Mama attire: Wear a button-down top and non-clip nursing bra. It’s so much easier to be discreet while nursing when you don’t have to lift your shirt up. I wore this bra and this top – it worked perfectly!
Baby attire: Have baby wear loose, comfortable clothes with a hoodie as a jacket. Putting the hoodie up on their heads can hide your boob for discreet nursing when you can’t get the cover on!
Nursing pillow: Trying to breastfeed on a plane isn’t the easiest or most comfortable experience. The seats are close together and there isn’t much privacy. Having a pillow to lay your baby on can make a huge difference in comfort. It’s also nice to have extra support when baby decides to sleep laying down in your lap. I did not need this because I stopped using a pillow with Luca around 5 months but if I were traveling with a young baby I would definitely consider bringing it!
In the Airport: The same tips go for nursing at the airport! For extra privacy, I was super excited to see the Mamava pods. Mamava is a company providing freestanding “lactation spaces” – private and CLEAN spaces for breastfeeding and pumping moms on the go. They are popping up all over the country, you just need to download the app, this lets you unlock the Mamavas near you!
Wearing Baby: I know I talk about babywearing all the time, but I truly do LOVE it! Check out my babywearing post HERE. And with traveling, it makes everything easier. I used this one with Luca. You are handsfree and you know where the baby is at all times. You are even sometimes able to go through security while wearing your baby.
Wearing Luca saved us in the airport AND on the 11-hour flight!! When he was fussy on the plane I just popped him in the carrier, he also took two of his naps in there. It wasn’t great for me because I had to stand up and walk around the whole time but at least he was happy!
TIP: Make sure your carrier has a head flap! This is great to help minimize distractions, put them to sleep and easy/discreet nursing.
Essential Oils: I highly recommend using essential oils, especially for calming capabilities. I made a calming blend and a sleeping blend from my essential oils and put them on ME when carrying Luca.
Now Get Out There & See the World With Your Babies!
I hope this post was helpful and encouraging! YOU CAN DO THIS! Traveling is the best, yes it gets stressful and can definitely not be the most relaxing but we’ve already created some of the best memories during our trips and nothing beats that! Also, don’t forget to grab your freebie below!
Shop My Travel Gear Recommendations Below!