This past week we took our first cross-country trip with our baby who will be 8 months old tomorrow! It was her first plane ride. Prior to this trip, the longest she had travelled was about 3-4 hours by car. Overall it was a good experience, and we made some great memories. A lot of the smoothness of our journey was due to simple luck (no airport delays, mostly quick security checkpoints, and a tired baby who slept for most of the flight durations), but preparing and planning were huge in making the trip as smooth as possible. I definitely have google and some other blogging mothers to thank for tips on traveling with an infant! For those of you thinking you can’t plan a trip with a baby, I hope the following tips might come in handy, and heed the advice of those wiser than us who recommend traveling when the baby is still portable and not mobile!
So without further ado, here are my tips for a successful plane trip and vacation with a baby.
Location, location, location!
Choosing Where to Go
One of the most important things to consider when traveling with a baby or young child is where you will travel to. Since our vacation time was in July, we had to choose a spot that would be fun and also a comfortable climate for baby. San Francisco has very mild weather year-round, and as we discovered, the towns around SF are a close drive and can have very different weather. We enjoyed a few sunny days in SF during the first half of our trip, but it became quite cloudy and dreary. On two such days, we were happy to escape to Mountain View to visit a dear friend and Palo Alto to visit Stanford’s beautiful campus. We didn’t mind the relatively cool temperatures of SF, though, because as far as dressing baby, it is easier to layer and peel off layers as needed than to deal with sweltering heat and be stuck inside for the whole trip. That is why we crossed off a number of spots from our list of potential vacation spots.
Another thing to consider is travel time and time zone differences. We wanted baby to keep to her schedule as much as possible. We were thinking about Hawaii, but the mere thought of traveling so long and then being 6 hours behind was scary for our first trip. Do what is comfortable for you. Babies are actually surprisingly adaptable.
Another great aspect of our trip was where we stayed. We had success with airbnb before during a trip to New Orleans, so we decided to give it another shot. This time, with a baby, the airbnb was a godsend compared to a cramped hotel room. For one, we had a basic kitchen with a sink for washing her bottles and preparing her food. Of course we also had dishes and cutlery for ourselves; since baby’s bedtime is around 7pm, we never ate dinner out and ordered in. It’s always nice to eat off of a plate rather than out of a container. We also felt more comfortable bathing the baby in the very clean shower stall instead of a grimy hotel bathtub. Since it was just a shower and not a tub, we brought an inflatable bathtub that was easy to pack and perfect for her. We had a closet with a dresser to unpack our clothes and baby’s things (it makes a week long trip feel less hectic when you’re not sifting through a messy suitcase to find what you need). Very importantly, we had a washer and drier with detergent and drier sheets supplied by the airbnb host! Knowing this ahead of time allowed us to pack fewer clothes. Our host pretty much thought of everything — we had plenty of towels, clean sheets/blankets, soap, shampoo/conditioner, toothpaste, a hair drier, laundry and dishwashing necessities, a drying pad for dishes, microwave, small fridge, Keurig with coffee pods, a one-pan electric cook top, tea steeper, I mean EVERYTHING your heart could desire. I was not sure if the laundry pods I use would break open on the plane or not, so it was great to know she would supply these for us.
You can find some great deals on airbnb, but even if it’s a little bit more than you would pay for a hotel, the convenience, privacy and comfort were well worth the price. Not only that, but we enjoyed a private garden with our airbnb!
If airbnb isn’t your style, look into the wide array of family friendly hotels/resorts/cruises. Make a note of the amenities they offer! Ask friends and family who have travelled with kids for recommendations.
For larger groups, I have heard rave reviews about HomeAway where you can rent an entire home as well. I would like to try this out in the future at some point.
– Keep your pediatrician’s number on hand
– Pack some baby tylenol and any other medicines your baby needs
– If traveling abroad, check with your pediatrician about necessary vaccines and precautions. Our pediatrician’s office has its own travel clinic which is great to know for future trips abroad!
We chose to rent a car since we would be there for a full week. SF has a pretty good public transportation system, but given that we would be carrying around a diaper bag (chosen by my husband), a camera, and stroller, we decided that using public transportation to get everywhere we wanted to go was not ideal. Check out the parking situation near the places you want to visit ahead of time and factor this into your travel costs. We were able to visit the Ferry Building’s Saturday Farmer’s Market with validated parking at a nearby lot. Even in large cities, you may be surprised that normally difficult parking is made easier for certain tourist attractions. Do the research ahead of time!
If you’re traveling within the U.S., you definitely need to have a car seat. You can either bring your own (they make car seat travel covers and you can check it with your luggage), or rent one with the car rental company. We opted for the latter so that we wouldn’t have to shlep our own one around in the airport. We were happy with this decision except for the time it took to learn how to install the car seat in the rental car, since it was a different model than ours! You’d think they would make it easier, but those hidden buttons and straps can drive a person to madness after a long day of traveling. And you want to get it right because you want to assure your child is safe! The car rental employees are not allowed to help for liability reasons. But once we got the seat installed, it was smooth sailing from there. Always check the car seat rules if you are traveling overseas. If it is not the law, there is no reason to pack or rent a seat. For example, the Turks and Caicos islands do not require car seats and people hold their kids on their laps. It may sound crazy to us, but think about what you would do on a bus or plane!
Wearing Baby vs Stroller
Since we were going to SF with those crazy hills (seriously, everyone who lives there must have buns of steel!), we opted for the stroller to get around by foot. If on flatter terrain, I definitely would have worn baby most places. Just keep in mind the temperature (if it’s hot where you’re going, carrying baby everywhere can be uncomfortable for you both. If it’s cold and snowy, remember a blanket and hat, etc. for extra coverage, and make sure your carrier fits over your coat). I like the Ergo baby carrier because of its great back support.
In the carry-on
1. Baby’s Food – the most important thing!
– If you breastfeed, you’ve automatically packed baby’s food supply! And I am so jealous! Consider a breastfeeding cover, bras, etc. to make the process comfortable for you in the airport and everywhere you go.
– Since we formula feed, we brought 2-3 bottles of pre-made formula (in our wonderful baby bag’s ice pack). We also packed a few other empty bottles which we later filled with bottled water and made formula as needed.
– If your baby is older and eating more solids, pack what you would need based on the duration of the trip. I brought a Plum packet for her to snack on as it seemed like the least messy option.
– 4-6 diapers — try to change the baby right before boarding. I lucked out (again) in that I did not need to change her on the flight, but babies can certainly decide to poop, more than once, on a plane!
– wipes — I packed a few of the slimmer travel packs
– diaper changing mat
– a baby book or baby’s favorite toy, if there is room
– a new toy/teether she had never seen before
– small blanket
-2 extra pairs of clothes
– layers: I included a sweatshirt and socks in case it was cold on the plane.
– pacifier if your baby uses them
– plastic bags for dirty/soiled clothes
– wet wipes
– 1-2 bibs and burp cloths (we use cloth diapers as burp cloths due to their absorbency)
– snacks (I packed some trail mix and a few snack bars)
I did not bring a purse since it would be one extra bag to carry. I just kept my wallet and cell phone in the diaper bag.
– travel crib or pack n play — ask the airline counter if they can put a “Fragile” sticker on it!
– car seat, unless you are renting it from the car rental company
– If you have access to laundry, find out if you need to pack detergent/drier sheets or if these will be provided
– baby’s toiletries (bath soap, lotion, nail clippers, comb, suction bulb)
– baby’s medicine (we brought baby tylenol and baby Zyrtec just in case)
– inflatable bathtub
– rain shield for the stroller. Although it did not rain during our trip, this shield was perfect as a wind shield, especially when we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge!
– your own clothes/toiletries and what you normally pack
– We did not do this but may consider it next time: instead of packing heavy packs of diapers and wipes and other baby essentials, order them online (Amazon, diapers.com) and have it shipped to the address you will be staying at. Or, buy it from the local pharmacy there! Just pack enough for your flight/car ride.
Tips for the airport and plane ride
– Call or check online beforehand to see what the rules/recommendations are for traveling with children on your airline. Ask about formula /pumped breast milk in the carry-on, for the liquid volume rules don’t usually apply. Do you need a bassinet for longer trips? Some airplanes can provide this.
– Babies under 2 years of age can fly for free on most airlines in the U.S. You keep them on your lap. If you are rolling in dough, you can buy a seat for your baby but know that you will probably just be storing their things on the seat while you hold the child anyway, lol!
– At the gate, ask if there are any empty rows that you can switch seats to so that you can have some more space.
– On our outbound flight, American Airlines did not let us go through the faster security check with the baby. We had to wait in line, take our shoes off, etc. They also decided to swab my hands while I held a wriggling infant! So annoying.
– On our inbound flight, United Airlines automatically printed TSA pre-check boarding passes for me and the baby so we could go through faster security. They printed a normal boarding pass for my husband though.
– Check the stroller at the gate and pick it up at the gate where you land
– I read it is helpful to feed the baby while taking off and landing to help alleviate the pressure change on their ears. Thankfully our baby seemed totally fine and didn’t cry during take off and landing! I am not sure how I got this lucky. Our baby doesn’t use a pacifier, but I brought one anyway in case she did cry with the pressure changes but was not hungry for a bottle.
– Change the diaper right before boarding if possible.
– Change diaper after landing (depending on the length of the flight).
– Distract baby with book/toys.
– Google was my best friend when looking up things to do with an infant in SF. Definitely research excursions and activities before your trip so you know what is child friendly (e.g. farmer’s markets, tourist spots) and what is not (e.g. hiking up steep inclines near bears and coyotes). Make a loose itinerary. We planned for one major outing per day, and didn’t book any early morning events or tours.
I will write a separate post soon about our actual trip and what we did there, if you’re interested! I hope this guide was helpful in planning trips with your little one. Some other guides you can check out that really helped me along the way are:
2. Entertaining a toddler on the plane
3. Traveling with toddler
4. Traveling with baby
5. More tips for traveling with baby
6. Surviving long flights period