This post has been on my mind for quite some time now. I debated writing it, however, because it seems like everyone likes to give their own (sometimes conflicting) advice on the subject, but after almost a dozen flights (with the last set being solo!) with Skyler, I really want to share what I’ve learned and what I wish people would have shared as I embarked on the journey.
First, please know that even after several flights with an infant and now toddler, I do not consider myself an expert on how to fly with a baby. (But really, is anyone?) I’m simply offering my experience and suggestions, so please take them for what they are. Also, it’s helpful to keep in mind that every parent, baby, flight, airline, and experience is different. This was apparent when I did my same exact routine with Skyler on the way to and from Florida, with the flights being completely opposite for him. Eh, what’cha gonna do.
Second, even though I’ve flown several times with Skyler as a toddler, I don’t feel as comfortable sharing my tips there quite yet. Come talk to me when he’s in his terrible twos, am I right? Stay tuned for that later on.
So, for now, let’s focus on the infant and young toddler stage. (How to entertain your toddler on a flight will be something to revisit down the road!)
I hope you enjoy reading about our travels and can find a little bit of help and encouragement for your own adventures, too!
The biggest takeaway I’ve learned from traveling with a baby is to try to minimize the amount of stuff you’re packing as much as possible. This is easier said than done, I know. As someone who likes to pack a few “just in case” outfits for myself, I’ve now shifted into planning out my days with mix-and-match outfits to eliminate overpacking and fit all of Skyler and I’s stuff into one suitcase that I check-in. Also, I save valuable packing space by planning to utilize laundry if I’m going somewhere with the option (staying with family, visiting friends, going to an Airbnb, etc.)
What To Pack
Babies do require a lot of extras, however, so here are the essentials that I make sure to bring every time:
- clothes, pajamas, swimsuit, sunhat, swim diaper, socks, shoes, etc.
- car seat (and car seat travel bag that I check)
- travel stroller (I used to check my every day, larger option when he was a younger infant – more on that below!)
- baby carrier (I have the Ergobaby 360)
- travel blanket
- a few toys (I carry more in the diaper bag)
- two books
- one sippy cup for water, one for milk
- bib (I use these and fold one in the diaper bag)
- pacifiers (and plenty of extras, in case they get lost)
- pacifier clip for always being on-the-go
- toothbrush and brush
- baby wash and lotion
- baby sunscreen
- portable white noise machine (you can use your phone, but I prefer to keep it separate)
- about ten diapers and a full pouch of wipes (see more on this below)
- diaper bag full of snacks, a set of toddler utensils, a handful of small toys (Sky loves Fisher-Price Little People!), an extra change of clothes, hand sanitizer, a phone charger, and drinks.
I’ve learned that it’s easiest to throw all of Skyler’s stuff into a few large Ziploc bags to keep it together and organized during trips. I can usually condense everything of his into about four of them and it’s easy to unpack and repack before we go back home.
Also, note that I mentioned bringing about ten diapers and wipes with you. You’re definitely going to need A LOT more than this throughout the trip, but I’ve learned to just buy extra once I arrive at the destination. We usually make a stop at a local grocery store for diapers, wipes, milk, and food pouches on the way to the hotel.
Now I’m a little rusty, but here are baby specific items to include if you’re traveling with an infant:
- bottles (I brought three and re-washed them every night)
- breast pump (a pain to plug in at times, so I also invested in a travel pump.)
- nursing cover
- formula (if needed)
- sleep sack for naps/bedtime
- stroller base to attach to the car seat (if too young to sit up in a travel stroller) and bag
Now onto the biggest tips that I’ve learned along the way!
Try to pick flights that coordinate with nap times.
This isn’t always an option, but we try to line up our flights with Skyler to include one of his regular naps as much as possible. He’s now down to one nap a day, but he usually gets two when we travel because he ends up staying up late and getting off of his schedule. If we’re flying in the morning, we’ll try to entertain him for an hour or two on the plane before we attempt a nap. We’ve learned that this pattern tires him out and he’ll usually end up sleeping until we land if it’s not across the country!
Call in for an infant in lap seat before you check-in.
Children fly for free under the age of two, so we’ve been flying with Skyler on our laps as much as possible until that birthday hits. While you don’t have to purchase a ticket for them, you do have to call the airline after you book your ticket to add them to yours. We do this as soon as we book our tickets, but you have up until the time you check-in for your flight. Of course, it’s easiest to just do it right away!
Always allow extra time at the airport.
The last thing you want to do while traveling with a young toddler is run out of time to feel prepared and settled on a flight. With Skyler, I make sure to arrive at least 1.5 hours before I board to allow enough time for us to check bags, go through security (which usually takes extra time for them to search the diaper bag), and make sure he’s happy enough to make it through several hours of sitting still. See the next point for more on this.
Ask for seat changes, if needed.
Now that I travel with a toddler, I’m totally that person who shows up to the gate early to survey the seats. Are there any extras that would allow an empty seat next to me? If I’m traveling with Scott, are we together and possibly even placed on the outsides of the row with an empty middle seat? It doesn’t always work out this way, but we have had at least a handful of flights where it did because we asked as politely as possible. A happy toddler is great news for the entire flight, right?
Try to board with your baby dry, full, and slightly sleepy.
Getting ready to board my last flight with Skyler was a nightmare because it got delayed four different times. We went through the meal/snack, fresh diaper, wash hands routine several times before I gave up and finally boarded. But, if you don’t have to deal with delays, making sure to board with a baby that has a full belly, cold drinks in the diaper bag (milk and water), a fresh diaper, and a little drowsy is the sweet spot. I wouldn’t encourage keeping them up to the point of being overtired (and I made that mistake once!), but if you can delay a nap by thirty minutes to an hour, you might get lucky enough to have a sleep and sound babe on your hands throughout the flight.
Bring snacks and keep everyone hydrated.
Snacks are not only important for hunger but also serve as entertainment to break up the monotony of flying and sitting in one place for too long. I learned that you can travel with food pouches, milk, and anything a baby needs on a carry-on or personal bag. Security might pull it, but if you tell them you have baby supplies in there, you’ll be good to go after a quick search. Some snacks I frequent are a few protein bars (for me), crackers, puffs, and I will sometimes purchase things like pretzels and hummus or cheese sticks at stores in the airport for longer flights. I always carry a bottle of water with me and sippy cups for Skyler and try to time his sippy cup full of milk with the take-off to help his ears.
Check what you don’t need and bring a carrier on the plane.
Everyone seems to check baby necessities differently, but we’ve learned that it’s been easiest for us to check as much as possible as soon as we get to the airport and go down to only carrying a diaper bag and our baby in a carrier throughout the rest of our airport experience. The diaper bag has become my travel backpack and holds things I need as well like Airpods, headphones for movies, chargers, etc. Also, most airlines will let you check baby items for free including a car seat and stroller, so why not?
Also, curbside check-in when flying solo is a gamechanger. I get all of our stuff out from the car and onto the curb so that someone working can help me gather everything while I put Skyler in his carrier. We always wear Sky onto the plane and keep him in it for a bit. We take him out when he gets antsy and put him back in if he won’t settle down.
Aisle versus window seat — personal choice.
Some people have asked me if it’s best to select a window or aisle seat with a little one, and the choice is really up to you. I’ve done both, depending on the time of day. If the flight aligns with a nap in the morning and I think he’d go down easy, I’ll select a window because it seems like more space. If it’s later on and after a long trip of being off of his schedule, I select an aisle seat to enable me to get up and walk the aisles when I need to.
Eat a meal (if possible) and get the wiggles out before you board.
This is similar to the category above that suggests boarding with a dry, happy, slightly sleepy baby. To add onto it, I plan to arrive at the airport with enough time to sit down and eat a full meal before I board, buy snacks, visit the bathroom for me and a fresh diaper change for Sky, fill up water bottles, and then let him down to walk around and play for a little bit before we board. Also, try to board closer to the end of the line if you don’t need the cabin space. The less time you all have to be on the plane, the better.
Letting him run around helps him settle in easier and this routine really does help!
And last, but definitely not least …
Remember that every child and travel experience is different!
Things like flight delays, tired parents and kids, and long, full days will creep into the overall travel experience at one time or another. The best thing we can do is acknowledge that it happens and take it for what it is. A lot. And that’s okay. We do our best, and that’s all we can do!
We will eventually make it from one place to another and one day look back at the experience with a laugh. Skyler has been an absolute angel on some flights and a lot to handle on others. We’re all human — including babies! And if it doesn’t go very well, think about the fact that you’ll never see any of the people you encounter on the plane again. Hehe!
I’m going to wrap this post up by asking you for your advice on flying with a toddler. Now that Skyler is getting older, it’s getting harder to entertain him for long stretches of time of travel without turning on shows for him. We allow it for a little bit, but don’t do this in the car (he and I get extremely car sick!). Ideally, I’d love to hear what has worked for you, try some things out for ourselves coming up and report back to you with how everything goes.
Thanks in advance!
Heather, I appreciate your tip about trying to choose a flight that would be around the same time as your child’s nap time. My wife and I are hoping to travel with our newborn son to visit family this coming spring. We’re hoping to find a place that would rent baby items like a crib and maybe a stroller. We’d love to avoid having to take a bunch of stuff with us if we don’t have to.
Good luck with your travels! Yes, timing plays a huge part for us. Renting baby equipment always helps, too!