LET’S START WITH… WHAT NOT TO PACK, WHEN POSSIBLE
The general rule of thumb when it comes to packing is to acquire as much as possible on the other side (diapers, wipes, food, etc). You can do this by sending a box from Amazon to your destination or by bringing just enough for a day or two and then hitting the grocery store upon arrival. It can really cut down on the stress of traveling with the kid when you’re not carting around an entire trip’s worth of stuff from the start.
TO CHECK OR NOT TO CHECK?
The fear of lost bags is real. If there are items in your luggage that you can’t live without, don’t check them. Plus, when you pack only carry on's, it's easy to cruise in and out of the airport without having to mess around at check-in or baggage claim. We call that LTD, or living the dream.
Alas, sometimes you simply have too much crap to carry on. In those cases, something we’ve tried with great success is packing one big family suitcase so you don't have to fumble with carrying a baby, baby’s gear, and a bunch of individual bags. In this scenario, you can divide things up into smaller bags like this to keep everything organized. Otherwise you feel like a squirrel digging through everybody's stuff. And we’re always patting ourselves on the back when we remember to toss one of these in there as well.
For clothing, stick to your favorite, fold-small basics. Little kids go through outfits like crazy, so make sure to pack travel detergent for hand washing in the (motel? hotel? hostel? campsite? airbnb?) sink. That way you can get more out of the stuff you bring versus bringing enough to get babe through an entire trip.
THE BIG STUFF: CAR SEATS, STROLLER & TRAVEL CRIBS
Baby items are free to check, so some people check their car seat first thing. Others rent or borrow it on the other side. We prefer to travel with ours and gate check it if need be. You can have really great luck going to the gate agent before the flight to ask if there are any extra seats for the babe + car seat. If they have room they'll usually make it work (for free!), and having the baby in the car seat on the plane is a total game changer. It gives you time for yourself, and babies seem to know the drill of the car seat.
You can take your infant car seat (sans base) or if you want something specifically for travel, pick up a light (and relatively affordable) carseat like the Evenflo Tribute or Cosco Scenara that you won't be stressed about getting wear and tear. Or, if taking your car seat feels overwhelming, a lot of mamas we know just strap their baby in a carrier for the airport or roll with a stroller. At many airports you don't even have to take the baby out of the carrier to go through security.
We just love a good “burner” umbrella stroller for trips. That way you’re not worried when you have to fold it up and leave it somewhere insecure or if it doesn’t make it back home for whatever reason. Trip not stroller compatible? Pack a baby wrap or carrier in your daypack when you're out and about. That way you're not tethered to home base for naps.
When your babe is tiny, you can oftentimes get away with putting them in the bed with you. When they’re a little older and more mobile, you may need to think about bringing a travel crib or, if you’re at a hotel, requesting a crib. After testing out a good number of travel cribs, our favorite is the Guava Lotus. It's lightweight, has backpack straps, and is sized to be compatible with airline carry-on rules. If you’re truly dedicated to not being overburdened by extra stuff you prefer not to actually own, you could borrow from someone at your destination or try a baby gear rental service.
It has literally never happened in the history of airplanes that someone insisted on keeping their middle seat. For a red eye flight, or if you’re flying solo, take the aisle so that you can get up with the baby as needed without disturbing anyone.
For international flights, there's also the bulkhead row of the plane where they snap on baby bassinets. Call the airline to request, just double check that your babe doesn't exceed the weight or size limit (and decide if you're okay with sitting in a row that is usually all babies).
Our suggestion for increasing efficiency at airport security is wearing slip on shoes. That way you don’t have to fumble to take them on and off while holding a baby and a myriad of other personal effects. Put the shoes in the scanner first so you can get them back on while you wait for the rest of your stuff to come through.
There are two strategies for when to board the plane. Our preference is to get on during family boarding and get organized while no one is watching or pressuring us to step out of the aisle, but some parents we know like to be the last on so they can minimize the time their kid has to be contained in the airplane. You will figure out what works best for your fam.
YOU DO NOT NEED TO GIVE THOSE SEATED AROUND YOU ANY SPECIAL SNACKS AND TREATS. PEOPLE WITH KIDS NEED TO GET PLACES TOO.
Load up on the snacks and bottles/boob for the flight. It is the best distraction for little ones on a plane. If your babe is small, pack a couple of books and skip the toys until they’re > 1. If you can't resist a toy or two, bring one your kid has never seen before for maximum excitement and distraction.
Fact: babies love pooping on planes. It is a thing. Put your babe in a fresh diaper right before you board to *fingers crossed* avoid a blowout and buy yourself time if you can’t get to the bathroom right away. Changing tables are typically in the bathroom at the back of the plane and ridiculously tiny so we always bring along our Kit Bag packed with a couple of diapers, wipes, an extra set of clothes, and dog poop bags so you don’t leave festering stinky diapers hanging in the trash to torture all the other passengers. Having an easy-to-grab bag with all your gear really cuts down on the new parent stress of having to diaper a grumpy baby on the fly, mid-flight (or anywhere else for that matter).
In those moments where your child goes dark (and this *will* happen) take a walk in the aisle or spirit the little one away to the bathroom for a few minutes and remind yourself that babies cry. They just do. At the end of the day you're likely never going to see any your fellow passengers again, so just any disgruntled stares or negative commentary roll off your back as best you can.
THIS MAY BE AN EASY ONE, BUT GIVING THE BOTTLE/BOOB/PACIFIER CAN HELP ALLEVIATE THE PAIN THAT SOME LITTLE ONES HAVE WITH THEIR EARS DURING TAKE OFF AND LANDING.
4. SCHEDULE / ODDS & ENDS
For short trips less than 3 days with a time difference < 4 hours, stick to your home time zone and schedule. For example, if you're a west coaster and on the east coast for a long weekend put the babe to bed 3 hours later than normal (aka 7pm PST bedtime becomes 10pm EST). Note: this works better going west to east so you’ll prob want to adjust a little if headed in the opposite direction so you’re not waking up at 4am.
For longer trips or trips with a large time difference, do your best to immediately acclimate your baby to the new time zone. The first 12-24 hours are always a little rough, but try to be strict about bedtime (e.g. putting the kid down or keeping them up depending on the new time zone) and then more flexible about daytime naps as they get their bearings. Sunshine and the outdoors really help while everyone's getting adjusted.
For childcare while traveling you've got a couple options: ask friends/travel companions to watch the babe for a night, trade-off with your partner for free time, or book a babysitter through a hotel (if you're staying in one) or an online service like Care.com. Pro-tip: do Skype interviews with sitters before your arrival so you feel confident and carefree leaving your babe with someone new.
FOOD + REST = SANITY
Parents? Hi, it's us. Just a gentle reminder to take it easy on yourselves. Yes, you want to make the most of your travels, they are expensive and who knows how often they happen. But don't punish yourself with an overly aggressive itinerary. Take it slow, take breaks, miss a few things you may have hoped to see along the way. Exhausted children and partners can be cranky and dragging them around in that condition will be less enjoyable for everyone. Also, don't forget to feed yourselves. A well-fueled crew is essential to maintaining chill travel vibes. And eating is half (ALL) the fun anyway, right? Like, what did we even come here for?