Traveling with a baby under 1: A year in review

Go straight to the tips: Train, Air, Car

(Hint: you can copy and paste the lists into a document or spread sheet to make it easier to keep track of while you pack)

I’ve mentioned before that as new parents Cody and I challenged ourselves to get out and travel as much as possible in spite of having a lil’ baby barnacle now stuck to our chests. We were very ‘new’ parents in the beginning, i.e., having no clue, no instinct, and zero positive expectations when it came to traveling with babies. Everything was very daunting. We feared we’d never see the world again.

That’s why writing this post now serves as a gleaming, shiny beacon at the end of a 12 month journey…a pinnacle of, hey, we weren’t so bad! And neither are babies.


Turns out, we did have instincts. And when we didn’t, we researched and/or learned from our mistakes. What would have seemed scary and impossible ten years ago turned out to be (exhausting, yes, but) very doable now. So, without further ado, please read our hearty pat on the back, a.k.a.:

Traveling with a baby (12 months and under)

I am a packing research obsessive. I may leave the actual day-to-day trip planning to the actual day of, but when it comes to packing, I like to keep all of my items practical and efficient. This takes lots of forethought and lots of staging. Having a baby only added to the obsession. Before we traveled anywhere with James, whether by rail, air, or road, I did a lot of research.

There are so many valuable first hand accounts of other parents out there, whether they’re in blogs or scattered across message boards. They can get as search-ably specific as destination and age of child. It’s a godsend for no-clue first time traveling parents. Seriously, give it a google.

And in spite of all this useful information at my fingertips, I still sought out more stories and more tips from any friends, family members, and new acquaintances that were willing to reflect and analyze their baby-travel experiences out loud with me ad nauseam.

That’s why I don’t think there could ever be enough first hand packing accounts of travel-with-infant. If you’re a first time parent traveling with a baby, nothing will satiate like a good wordy blog post. So, that’s my justification for sneaking in another blog about baby travel to this bursting domain. Add mine to your arsenal of research (and add other recommended articles in the comments section!).

Let’s begin with train rides, since that was our first real vacation with James.

Traveling by train, tips:

train station

We only did two 2.5 hour vacations by train when James was around 3 months old and a handful of daytrips when he was older. As always, we tried to stick to our minimal packing philosophy. Rarely did we bring strollers, and when we did, it was an umbrella stroller that folded up small and fit above us. I can’t stress enough how nice it is to pack as lightly as possible when the mode of transportation and the baby are new.

hands free and fancy free
Stroller free and good to go.

Our packing list for the train included:

  • just enough clothes (washed the dirty stuff in the hotel sink as it was hot enough to dry quickly)
  • diapers and wipes + extras
  • disposable plastic bags for dirty diapers
  • baby carrier
  • 2 light blankets (swaddles)
  • diaper clutch
  • boppy pillow
  • necessary travel documents
Train nap
Boppy = bed on the train

Sage advice time: The seats on the train are wider than most planes and so the boppy pillow created the perfect, cozy space for James to stretch out and sleep across after nursing. Cody, bless him, was the one to figure out how handy a diaper clutch is on a train. Despite a relatively smooth ride, there’s nothing like a tiny, disgusting toilet room to expose every bump in the tracks.  While you’re trying to keep a baby centered on the tiny fold out table and balance a dirty diaper in your hands, the last thing you want is a bulky diaper bag hanging off your shoulder or, worse, falling into a questionable puddle. Our diaper clutch is vinyl, easy to wipe up, comes with pockets and folds up nice and snug, and if it isn’t in my hand bag, it’s hanging from someone’s wrist.

Carry-on, Traveling by air tips:

boarding the plane
Boarding time: no doubt waiting for the day he’ll have his own seat.

A word of caution, flying with a 3 month old and flying with a 6 month old is not the same. The packing lists are thus divided into two age brackets. Another word of caution, I can’t stress enough the power of packing minimally. I mean, go prepared, but keep your carry-ons stream lined and easy to repack when going through security, getting stuff out during a flight, showing off food to customs officials, etc.

For us, short plane rides were 4 hours or under. Long haul meant over 4 hours and/or the addition of layovers and sometimes customs.

Short flights, 3 months to 6 months packing list:

  • 1-2 extra changes of clothes for baby
    • appropriately warm or cool clothes (remember that despite your destination,  airplanes can be cold)
  • 1 small packing cube for keeping baby clothes compact and orderly (bring a second for the dirty clothes if you like)
  • minimum 3+ more diapers than you think you need
  • 1-3 cloth diapers covers: snapping one of these guys around the disposable diaper was the only way to keep the diaper explosion contained and off his clothes. Yes, you will have a dirty cloth diaper to carry around with you until your hotel, but most of the mess will be contained to the disposable and his clothes will be clean, hurrah!
  • 1 full package of wipes
  • disposable plastic bags: for getting rid of waste or keeping dirty clothing separate
  • At least 1 bottle of milk or formula: if you’re breastfeeding but your baby will take expressed milk out of a bottle, it’s a great thing to have on hand in a pinch for those less convenient feeding times, i.e. slogging through a preboarding queue.
  • cooler compartment built into diaper backpack or insulated lunch bag in your travel bag for expressed milk
  • A bright light up toy with movable parts: (points if it’s new) sound toys probably won’t be loud enough to be heard over the plane engine and you don’t want to disturb your neighbors with it.
  • a chew toy: James preferred familiar ones that he knew exactly how to sink his teeth into; new ones didn’t always capture his attention.
  • at least one light blanket or swaddle: something that won’t take up much space in your pack but can keep the baby cozy if the plane is cold, or draped over their eyes to keep things dark during nap time. (we brought two swaddles b/c one of them would inevitably be used to wipe up spit up)
  • songs – arm yourself with a catalog of songs. It’s handy to have a list tattooed on your arm so you can remind yourself you know more than just Une Fourmi Rouge (impressive as it is that you remember that one French song from high school) when in the heat of the moment.
  • baby carrier or stroller or both, whatever your travel plans call for
  • necessary travel documents
  • optional: 1 – 2 cloth bibs
  • breastfeeding? snack and bottle of water for you
  • at least one fresh shirt for each parent; if you have room, throw in an extra set of bottoms

Sage advice time: Be prepared for diaper blowouts. Something about the pressure change for taking off and landing pushes stuff out. We cloth diapered at home for this stage but used disposables for travel. Prepare for leakage no matter what by packing an extra change of clothes. But seriously, a cloth diaper cover around the outside of the disposable kept the mess contained for us.

On that note, the best thing we discovered after the cloth diaper was to bring extra onesies that we didn’t mind leaving behind/throwing away as they got dirty. Go to your friends and family members who recently had babies and request the old, crunchy Gerber white onesies they don’t know what to do with. They’ll have them b/c no one knows whether these things should be donated (so gross by now) or used as rags (who could do that to baby clothes?). Who cares if they’re a size too big? As long as they button, use them on the flights and make your travel packs lighter and lighter with each diaper blow out.

Nurse, bottle feed, or pacifier that baby during take off and landing to guard against plugged ears. If you’re nursing, be brave and don’t feel you must cover up if you don’t want to. You’ve got every right to be there.

Long flights, 3 months to 6 months:

See list for short flights but add:

  • more disposable diapers
  • more milk/bottles
  • extra pacifier (if they take them)
  • travel bed (if you have a long layover or extra seats between you on the plane, let your baby sleeeeeeeep)
At Madrid Airport
We loved the Sleepyhead/DockATot for comfy airport layovers, but only when both of us were flying (it’s a bit big and awkward to carry solo)

Sage advice time: What travel documents do you need for you and the baby? Will you need your passports? Do you have the same last name or will you need to bring a birth certificate?

Short flights, 6-12 months

Same principles apply as in the earlier stage, except maybe cut everything (except food and toys) in half. Diaper blowouts after solid foods were introduced were less common for James, so we also didn’t pack cloth diaper covers to go over his disposables.

  • 1 change of clothes for baby
    • appropriately warm or cool clothes (remember that airplanes can be cold)
  • 1 small packing cube for keeping baby clothes compact and orderly (bring a second for the dirty clothes if you like)
  • 2 diapers more than you think you need
  • 1 full package of wipes
  • disposable plastic bags: for getting rid of waste or keeping dirty clothing separate)
  • At least 1 bottle of milk or formula
  • At least 1 pouch of baby food and large dry snacks (the kind that would be easy to fish out from under the seat; those tiny puffs were too messy for us on a plane)
  • cooler compartment built into travel bag or insulated lunch bag for expressed milk
  • A bright light up toy with movable parts (points if it’s new)
  • a chew toy (a familiar one)
  • one light blanket or swaddle
  • songs – keep a list to remind you you’ve memorized more than just the Seagulls Song (even if that is the Best Unintentional Nursery Song of All Time)
  • necessary travel documents (are passports needed? birth certificates?)
  • baby carrier or stroller or both, whatever your travel plans call for
  • optional: 1 silicone bib (no need if there’s no space)
  • breastfeeding? snack and bottle of water for you
  • at least one fresh shirt for each parent; if you have room, throw in an extra set of bottoms

Long flights, 6 months to 12 months:

see above list for short flights but also add,

  • more disposable diapers
  • more milk/food
  • extra pacifier (if they take it)
  • travel bed: if you have a long layover, there’s nothing like letting that baby stretch out and coo at the lights above
So happy to streeeetch after a long flight: although he’s almost a little too long here, the Baby Delight Snuggle Nest was a decent travel bed, though the design was awkward with only 1 shoulder strap

Sage advice time: Are you traveling solo on a long haul/itinerary with layovers? More power to you. I used this rhythm with James when I had three flights and a five hour layover to navigate: wear your baby in the airport while you can and use the stroller to push around your carry-ons (tied securely in place by the swaddles). Then, when your back needs a break and you have a long layover, switch everything around and put the baby in the stroller. Having a baby bed was also crucial for saving my back and giving the little barnacle a chance to become flotsam for a while, floating away on a cushion into blissful nap waters during the 5 hour layover while I drank a coffee and tried to stay alert.

Also, even if you’re allowed three carry ons with a baby (your personal item, carry on bag, and diaper bag), try to limit yourself as much as possible, as two bags is so much better than three. If your personal item is a fold up bed like the one pictured above, it has little pockets on the outside you can stuff your needed diapers, wipes, and pacifiers. Also,  try wearing that airy muslin swaddle tied around your neck as a scarf while boarding and then it’s there when you need it for inflight usage.

Traveling by car, tips:

car travel 3

We really started getting into road trips when James turned 9 months (six months of airport security lines had left us a bit fatigued at that point). Basically, same rules apply  as above with the air travel: keep it light, keep it organized. But, with car travel comes trunk space, so you get to be a bit more creative with beds, food, and toy choices.

James outgrew his original little travel baby beds, which may be why we leaned more on road trips towards the end of the first year (well, that and the idea of madly queuing Ryanair passengers had lost its charm). His new big baby bed would have been too big to carry on a plane, but was a great addition on the road, although it did take up a significant amount of trunk space:

Dock-A-Tot (or Sleepyhead) Grand is too big to carry on a plane, but fits in most car trunks for instant and familiar baby bed

Also, with the extra trunk space/no security lines to go through, we took more/better toys, such as his wooden blocks and their house, plus whatever little noisy/light up toys fit inside that.

car travel 1

Sage advice time: Don’t stress traveling with a lil’ barnacle of  a baby. I mean, do stress some, it’s good to be on your toes, that’s what makes me remember our passports. But I’ve been told traveling with a toddler and older kids is way more difficult (we shall see.) Get out and explore the world with your little one, whichever little corner of it that may be, car trips count and we hadn’t really considered those until later on.

Parting words: learn to accept the help from other kind passengers who offer, be respectful of everyone with what toys/snacks you bring, and enjoy all the possibilities of getting on the road again.

Fun travel

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