Over the last year and a half we’ve been so blessed to be able to take our baby to both coasts to meet great-grandparents and enjoy the ocean. We first took 4-month-old Jackson to Southern California for Spring Break last year and then this summer for our 10th anniversary we took the then 18-month-old Jackson to Northern California.
And in between, we’ve been to Maryland twice, once in the car when Jackson was 7 months old and once by plane for his first birthday over Thanksgiving. Traveling with a baby is very doable, and having a well packed diaper bag made me feel a lot more confident.
It’s amazing how in just over a year, our tiny baby became a toddler and how we handled and packed for cross-country trips changed as well. Here are all the tips, tricks, and gear we picked up traveling with our growing, first baby. Our first flight was on Spirit and we packed as light as we could, and the last one was on Southwest and we got to be more generous with what we brought.
Tiny Babies – Jackson at 4 months:
The name of the game is nursing on the go. Because Jackson was born with a tongue tie, for those first few months I nursed 95% of the time at home with a pretty elaborate nursing pillow setup. But by the time we went on our first big trip, when Jackson was nearly 4 months old, nursing had become a lot easier.
Before and during the trip, I figured out a lot of ways to nurse Jackson on the go: in the ergo, bed side-lying nursing, or with a travel Inflatable Nursing pillow. My sweet friend Julie kept encouraging me every few weeks to keep trying lying nursing, and sure enough, eventually we got it.
As far as a cover went, most of the time I just wore a nursing tank, t-shirt, and waterfall cardigan and didn’t need to bother with a nursing cover. I had an infinity scarf one that I used on the plane a bit as well, but later I figured out I could have just knotted a muslin swaddling blanket that worked really well as a cover. (It might be helpful to keep in mind that baby blankets can be scarf/nursing covers when you’re picking out your patterns on your baby registry.)
There are a few other things to keep in mind besides nursing with a tiny baby (but seriously it’s like 85% of what you need to think about). The biggest other one is cleaning up from after your baby, and that means more than just diapers.
for plane diaper bag
1. One (disposable) diaper per hour of travel & Extra wipes for cleaning up messes
2. Two extra outfits (footie pj’s or a complete outfit in a ziplock bag)
3. Inflatable Nursing pillow (this will become firmer with the pressure change, so don’t inflate it fully before you take off)
4. Nursing cover or muslin swaddle
5. Wet bag (and/or plastic bags for dirty)
6. Soft Carrier (ergo) [some people love to bring a stroller with them through the airport to help them carry their stuff, and then gate check it. But since we weren’t planning on using the stroller on our trip we didn’t do that]
7. Burp Cloth (2 if your baby tends to spit up)
8. Travel changing pad with enough wipes & diapers for 5-ish changes (so you don’t have to take your over packed diaper bag to the bathroom)
9. Baby Birth certificate / passport
10. Car Seat for gate check
1. Hand Sanitizer (I really like the lavender essential oil + rubbing alcohol + glycerin combination of EO because it’s a lot easier to spray a baby’s hands then rub in gel)
2. Extra outfit for mom
3. Kindle, Sudoku, audio-books & ear buds (whatever you can do while holding a sleeping baby)
4. Empty water bottle to fill up post-security check, substantive snacks (bison bars, homemade blueberry bars, bacon spinach egg muffins, hard-boiled eggs, and apples)
5. Photo ID and reservation confirmation numbers, addresses and number of hotels and relatives’ houses
6. Phone and Charger(s – kindle, phone, car, mp3, camera etc.)
for the checked bags
1. Baby Clothes: Sun hat & cotton beanie, mixture of a few short & long sleeved onesies with matching pants and socks and all the footie pjs (If you’re going to be out in the cold look at this post)
2. Baby grooming kit: nose fredia, (comb and brush, olive and neem oil if you’ve got a cradle cap baby) wipes and wipe spray, baby mild castile soap, baby lotion, diaper & nipple ointments (or whatever you are using on a regular basis)
3. Swaddles (if your baby still uses them) & white noise machine
4. Extra Burp Clothes
5. Travel Crib (or infant tent) & night-light (at home use a big salt lamp with a dimmer switch on very low in the hallway). Honestly, it would have been better if we just brought our actual co-sleeper, but I think that we are unusual in thinking it’s worth it to haul a 35 lb co-sleeper across country, but we’ve done it since that first trip.
6. Large Mesh Laundry Bag & Soap for doing laundry (because you don’t want to use random soap and end up with a rash on your baby, which happened to us washing out a blowout from some clothes with scented hand soap)
7. Pump and Bottle
8. (Kiss my face) sunscreen & bug spray stick
What to buy upon arrival
1. Diapers & wipes for the time you’re there
2. Food for the week (tip: get tiny bags of spices from the bulk section of whole foods and bring a soft foldable cooler)
3. Medicine (if you end up needing it)
People gave me great advice about how babies might respond to the pressure changes on the plane (i.e. Nurse them on take off and landing to help them clear their ears. Also pressure changes can trigger blow out poops). But no one told me that flight attendants would require me to take my baby OUT of the carrier on take off and landing. It was super annoying because of course Jackson had just fallen asleep, but evidently it’s for safety. So after our first flight I knew better than to keep him in the carrier after we sat down and then risk trying to take a baby out of a carrier while seated.
Also one thing to keep in mind is that babies adjust slowly to a new time zone. I found that Jackson seemed to move up his wake time about a half-hour a day.
Older Babies & Young Toddlers
In my experience little babies pretty much are happy nursing or sleeping on planes (or screaming because they aren’t) — and I would assume bottle-fed babies are similar, but I’m not an expert on all things bottles and the airport. Overall, I did pack fairly similarly for big babies as small ones, but something like a burp cloth weren’t really that needed. Or I loved my travel nursing pillow for Jackson at 4 months, but Jackson at 12 months (and beyond) didn’t want to sleep on it at all.
But big babies and toddlers have desires to be doing things and moving about, so traveling with them is less about finding all the ways to nurse and sleep, and more about finding all the ways to keep them occupied. (We try to avoid screen-time, but even really low-screen parents sometimes feel that plane travel is not a bad time for screens. Everybody makes their own call about that one.)
For Jackson’s first birthday we took Jackson to Maryland and introduced him to baby food snack pouches on the plane. This was actually the first conventional baby food Jackson had because he was pretty slow on the solids and we tended to make our own. It turns out pre-made baby food is awesome (everyone else already knew that), and pouches under cabin pressure come out very quickly!
Other than snacks, Jackson fell asleep for a big portion of the two hour flight just in my arms (not on the nursing pillow which he firmly and loudly objected to), which was a little uncomfortable, so we managed to shove a shirt under my arm and the hard arm rest. (Also random aside, on the way home from California I definitely exacerbated my bruised tailbone by holding Jackson while he slept…so it would have been super smart to have packed a donut pillow for me. But I didn’t realize that was why my butt hurt after sitting, which upon reflection is sort of the definition of a bruised tailbone. This seems so specific to me that I doubt anyone else will benfit from it, but seriously: get the donut pillow)
When we went to California when Jackson was 18 months, the trip involved a layover and a longer flight, so I knew that a snack pouch and a nap were probably not going to cut it like it had six months before.
So I researched a lot of ideas for toddler travel, most of which ended up coming from Pinterest—a platform that seems to be made for searching how to keep babies occupied on planes. Now, just a heads up, pretty much all of these things had official warnings saying they were for older kids 2, 3, 4, or even 5 and up. They all have small parts, which is what makes them great for planes and interesting to toddlers, but also makes them officially and technically a choking hazard. So be aware. Know if your kids are prone to trying to eat random things, supervise them, and take something away the first time they go to put it in their mouth.
Toddler Plane Activities
- Crayons (triangle ones so they don’t roll off the edge as easily)
- Stickers (reusable ones that only stick on the scene provided, easier for toddlers to grab and you not to be scraping off the tray table. We just took 1 page instead of the whole book)
- Wooden Train Puzzle
- Pipe cleaners & pompons in old plastic spice containers (We got ours at target, I think it’s cheaper to get these in person than online, unless you want like 1000. Cut the pipe cleaners so they fit inside, theoretically they can go through the little holes in the top, but Jackson didn’t care much for that,
- Window Gels and Stretchy monkeys (from the $1 section at target in an old mint container)
- Lap desk with pockets & construction paper pad
- Little Etch a Sketch
- Waterworks Water Wow (These are very cool, mess free and as soon as they dry you can paint water on them again. Also just took one page instead of the whole book and the pen)
- 1 ball & 1 truck (Jackson at 18 months didn’t really play with the truck, which is bananas since now at 20 months all he wants to do is play with cars & trucks)
- A few board books (nighttime books and presents for a friend we were seeing before we wrapped them for her baby) & “big books of color” collection of Dr. S & PD Eastman (start with the blue one)
- Water bottle (pura kiki, contigo, or Jackson was bananas for a few cheap 8 oz flip top water bottles.)
- Snack Pouches (we like to get organic paleo ones at Aldi for $.79 a piece. Give yourself extra time to bring these through security, and be prepared for one parent to get patted down)
- Snacks (Lara bars & Epic bison bars — Jackson loves tiny bits of these, sometimes a bigger nut or cherry is there, so just be aware)
- *[We also brought in our checked luggage a booster seat & tray because we mainly ate at our timeshare]*
We ended up using the plane toys on the plane of course, but we used them a lot at our timeshare (hotel) as well.
We put them all in a drawer and Jackson and Grandma got them out to play with quite a bit. The other thing when traveling with a toddler is that we ended up touring the playgrounds of Northern California. Usually we’d search for a park on google maps, then look at pictures either in Google maps or clicking over to the park’s website. It turned out there were more playgrounds than you’d think from just searching for “playgrounds.” Also asking people for a playground suggestion was helpful as well. The timeshare had a little playground, and early in the morning when it wasn’t 100 degrees, that was fun. And in the little downtown area of Windsor there was a great new little playground.
We also took a 5 hour road trip and a number of shorter trips this summer and it was great to have travel toys ready to go. And those quiet seated plane activities came in handy when we started potty training at the end of the summer.
Traveling with babies can be challenging and more complicated, but it’s pretty awesome to bring babies to oceans and great-grandparents, and before two, it’s free! We’ve really enjoyed taking Jackson across the country, and he’s really done remarkably well. He often slept better on the trip and came home with improved sleep. It’s a balance of preparing for tough times (with good packing and a really solid attitude of patient perseverance) and knowing that it’ll probably be just fine (to paraphrase Tsh Oxenrieder the great world traveler passionate about doing it with her husband and three kids and also loving life at home — also check out Tsh’s friend and co-host Stephanie’s blog entrefamily on travel with kids).
Other great resources for traveling with babies:
Art of Simple Travel.net & Tsh’s Ebook on traveling with kids when you sign up for her newsletter theartofsimple.net // Entrefamily.com // havebabywilltravel.com // aroundtheworldl.com // flyingwithababy.com // roughguides.com // flashpackerfamily.com // mamanatural.com // weareholidays.com // tripswithtykes.com // talesofateachermom.com // wherethesmileshavebeen.com // and of course pintrest
What are your tips, tricks, and packing lists for traveling with babies?
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