Traveling with a baby: tips from a veteran and a not-so-veteran

Here are some tidbits from our experiences traveling with a baby.  In no way are we experts on this, but we wanted to offer some insight based on our experiences.  Kat travels a lot to and from New Orleans, so we thought we'd make this post based on what we think is important to do while traveling.  With that, we both do only have one child.  Not sure how these tips will change if and hopefully when the next children come along, but maybe we'll fine tune it later if necessary.


Kat's Perspective:

1. Call airline in advance (ideally when you buy your ticket so you don’t forget) to let them know that you’re bringing a lap child (two years and under not using a carseat).

2. Check to see what baby equipment your airline provides - I’ve only flown Southwest and Allegiant with my baby, and both airlines let you bring a carseat, diaper bag, and stroller free of charge; also, they don’t count as your carryons.

  • If you’re renting a car with a carseat or if there will already be access to a carseat where you’re going, I’d recommend bringing a lightweight or umbrella stroller instead of your big industrial stroller with carseat attachment.  Think about where you’ll be going and what’ll be easier to use.  Most of the time I like my big stroller, but I did travel by myself for just one weekend to New Orleans, and I was SO grateful for my umbrella stroller that I could open and close while holding Miriam.  If you’re traveling with someone else, it’s not as big of an issue because one of you can hold the baby and one take the stroller.  But by myself, I was so grateful for an easy-to-collapse, lightweight stroller.

3. What to pack for baby in luggage:

  • Clothes (socks, shoes if needed, nice clothes if needed, any outerwear you may need depending on climate, swimsuit if needed, pajamas, play clothes, any hats or accessories)
  • Noise machine and any other sleeping aids (security blanket, stuffed animal, monitor system, etc.)
  • Pack’n’play and pack’n’play sheet if you’ll need a place for the baby to sleep
  • Any medicines your baby needs (diaper cream, vitamins, nasal aspirator and saline drops in case your baby gets sick—happened to us twice—aquaphor, sunscreen, etc.)
  • Formula and/or breast pump and parts if you plan on pumping or keeping your baby with a sitter at all
  • Bottle(s) and/or sippy cups, bibs
  • Dry snacks
  • Toys
  • Enough diapers and wipes for your stay - think about how many you use on a daily basis (if you use wipes not only for changing diapers, keep this in mind!), and multiply that by the number of days you’ll be there, then add a few extra just to be safe.  If you’re traveling somewhere you’ll be swimming, bring waterproof diapers too.

*In my experience, airlines don’t let you keep your baby in a baby carrier during the flight, so unless you think you’ll use one for getting to and from connecting flights, or unless you’re not traveling with a stroller, I’d keep it in your luggage.*

I usually keep Miriam in her PJs because this way she won't get cold and it's just easier to change her diaper when she's in them.  Also this  teething necklace  is PERFECT for keeping babies occupied for five minutes.

I usually keep Miriam in her PJs because this way she won't get cold and it's just easier to change her diaper when she's in them.  Also this teething necklace is PERFECT for keeping babies occupied for five minutes.

4. What to pack in carryon/diaper bag: (I use my diaper bag as my carryon because my philosophy is the less bags I have while carrying my baby, the better.)  I’m going to list things in order of importance, so I like to keep the things on the top of the list towards the top of my diaper bag.

  • Identification documents and boarding pass for you and your baby:  ID or passport for you, copy of birth certificate for baby; most airlines accept a copy of the birth certificate and do not require the actual birth certificate.  Definitely check for your specific airline’s rules before you travel though.  And remember once you're through security, you can put those identification documents away, as they won't check for them once you're boarding.
  • Pacifier - If you’re using pacifiers with your baby, bring about 3-4 in your diaper bag (if you have them).  I know this sounds extreme.  But coming from someone who only brought one once, once you lose it you’re done for.  This is where a pacifier clip comes in handy too.  I’d also recommend keeping a pacifier in your pocket.  Comes in handy.
  • Snacks - if your baby is tiny, bring formula or breastmilk that you can put in a bottle unless you are comfortable with breastfeeding next to a stranger if that happens to be necessary.
  • Also depending on the age of your baby and whether or not you breastfeed, you’ll need a nursing cover towards the top of your diaper bag if you plan on nursing at take-off and landing.  Nursing or baby's drinking or sucking on pacifiers is supposed to help relieve the pressure in the baby's ears.  And there’s nothing worse than holding a baby and trying to dig in your diaper bag for a nursing cover when your bag is supposed to be under the seat in front of you for take-off and landing (dumb).
  • Wipes - remember wipes are our friends and airport/airplane floors are not.  Maybe I’m just a first time mom, but I think I will always get the creeps thinking about whatever germs are growing on airplane floors.
  • Diapers- If your baby is tiny and/or prone to blowouts, you may want to keep one or two diapers towards the top of your bag.  You don’t need a ton of diapers.  If you’re traveling within the country, remember your baby won’t just randomly poop a million times just because you’re in an airplane.  I mean, definitely be prepared, but you don’t need 20 diapers.
  • Books, toys, iPad, anything your baby can play with (don’t be pretentious about this one - use whatever works- we let Miriam chew on a nursing absorption pad and a maxi pad once because she loved it (y tho?) and it worked.)  
  • Thin blanket in case your baby (or you) get cold on the plane.
  • Lastly, your I DON’T CARE panties - This is probably the most important thing you need to remember to take with you on the plane.  These special panties miraculously give you the mentality of “I DON’T CARE” when some old lady makes a passive aggressive comment about how “children are so attached to screens these days” when your baby is watching Moana on your iPad.  These special panties also help you get through uncharacteristic screaming fits when your baby’s ears hurt from the pressure change.  Bring these imaginary panties and you’ll remember if someone is judging you or making you feel bad (or even if you’re just thinking they are) that the only thing that matters is that you’re taking care of your baby and doing what’s right by him/her.
    • You may think I’m crazy for writing about this one.  But I can basically guarantee that the next time you’re in an airplane and your baby is screaming, you’re going to remember reading this.
First time traveling solo with Miriam!  She screamed for the first five minutes and finally went to sleep after that.  That five minutes of screaming felt more like 30 because I did not pack my I DON'T CARE panties.

First time traveling solo with Miriam!  She screamed for the first five minutes and finally went to sleep after that.  That five minutes of screaming felt more like 30 because I did not pack my I DON'T CARE panties.

5. Check in either at luggage check-in or gate to get stroller tags.  I know Allegiant gives stroller tags at the luggage check-in before security, and Southwest gives stroller tags once you get to your gate.  I think it just depends on the airline.

  • If you have a connecting flight, decide before you leave whether or not you want to claim your stroller at the gate once your first flight lands or whether you want to check it all the way through to your destination.  If you have a short layover, I’d recommend checking your stroller all the way through to your finishing spot.  Sometimes the people who unload the strollers take a while to get them onto the runway, and if you’re already in a hurry or if your first flight is unexpectedly delayed and you have to rush to your gate, you don’t want to have to wait for your stroller.  On the other hand, if your layover is long, it is definitely worth it to have a place for your baby to sit and play with toys and/or eat food rather than crawling all over the airport floor.

6. Relax.  In a few very long hours, it’ll all be over.

The best part about traveling with a baby to see family is the greeting we get when we land!  This is from the first time we traveled with Miriam, after we had landed in New Orleans.  It took us forever to get to our bags because I wanted to change her diaper and then all of our family met us at the gate (for some of them it was their first time meeting Miriam), so it took a long time to get our bags.  We then had to prove we were who we said we were to the bag people because ours were the only bags left and the runway had stopped.  Oops.

The best part about traveling with a baby to see family is the greeting we get when we land!  This is from the first time we traveled with Miriam, after we had landed in New Orleans.  It took us forever to get to our bags because I wanted to change her diaper and then all of our family met us at the gate (for some of them it was their first time meeting Miriam), so it took a long time to get our bags.  We then had to prove we were who we said we were to the bag people because ours were the only bags left and the runway had stopped.  Oops.


Gen's Perspective:

As you’ll see below, I am not an expert on how to navigate airports, but I did learn a lot during this trip. These are a few tips I wish I had known prior to flying with a toddler for the first time.

1. Get there early.

Kath would disagree with this tip, since she flies all the time- often solo- with Miriam. That’s fine for her, whatever. I’m telling you that if it has been a while since your last flight, if you’ve never flown with a baby before, or if you happen to be flying out of the New Orleans airport, you need to get there at least two hours early. We were confronted with setbacks, long lines, and general incompetence at every turn prior to our first flight. When we got to our gate, the plane was already boarding.

2. If you’re traveling with a partner, remember that you’re a team.

Getting through security the first time was a joke. We had to separate out the electronics, break down our stroller to get it to fit through the scanner, remove shoes, etc. all while juggling a toddler. It was stressful, and I directed my frustration toward Dalton during the process. On our flight home, we were more prepared for what had to be done, and it went so smoothly that afterward, we high-fived. I realized in that moment that if we had been a team the first time, it would have been much more pleasant. (Note: It helped that we were not in the New Orleans airport this time.)

Patrick got to see the statue of Franco Harris in the Pittsburgh airport after he sat across from Franco Harris on the airplane.  No big deal, but the real version was a little better, and Patrick is unimpressed with the fake.

Patrick got to see the statue of Franco Harris in the Pittsburgh airport after he sat across from Franco Harris on the airplane.  No big deal, but the real version was a little better, and Patrick is unimpressed with the fake.

3. Check your airline’s baggage requirements.

If I had read this tip prior to our flight, I probably would have ignored it, especially since we flew Southwest, and “bags fly free!” In hindsight, it makes perfect sense that we would be hit with an overweight bag fee, but I made the assumption that since we only had one (very large, very heavy) bag between the two of us, we would be fine. NOPE. Always read the fine print.

4. Bring distractions for babies.

A good set of distractions will be a mixture of novelty and familiar. This is what I mean:

  • Patrick doesn’t eat a lot of snacks at home; however, like any kid, he loves packaged garbage with no nutritional value. Knowing this, I made the decision to bring along some treats he doesn’t normally get to eat, like Goldfish crackers. He might have been just as happy with carrots and berries, but I wasn’t willing to take that risk.

    (In the interest of full disclosure, I figured that we could buy Goldfish at the airport, but due to our tardiness and the general awfulness of the New Orleans airport, I ended up buying Teddy Grahams in a whirl of panic thirty seconds prior to boarding. Those worked too.)

  • We brought only familiar books. Since Patrick already has distinct, mercurial literary preferences, it was much safer in our case to bring his favorites. This was a win, and we read I Want My Hat Back about 37 times on each flight, which bought us a solid five minutes of good behavior.

  • Toys are tricky. At Patrick’s age (about 13 months), his favorite way to play with his toys is to scatter as many as possible as far as he can. Obviously not a great airplane strategy. We brought one new toy, a small “activity center” which did not require batteries. There were things to spin and buttons to press, but it was light and relatively quiet.

Toys, books, walking shoes, and a blanket all help make traveling with a toddler much easier!

Toys, books, walking shoes, and a blanket all help make traveling with a toddler much easier!

Look, we have books and snacks all ready for distracting away from the fact that we're flying through the air super fast with changes in pressure and no way out.

Look, we have books and snacks all ready for distracting away from the fact that we're flying through the air super fast with changes in pressure and no way out.

Ultimately, you know your child the best. Tailor your distractions to his or her personality, but remember that when the meltdowns reach Threat Level Midnight, candy always works. Wait, is that bad parenting?

5. Also, I hate the New Orleans airport. Hope that wasn’t unclear.

Traveling is worth it when I get to take selfies with this girl.

Traveling is worth it when I get to take selfies with this girl.

Our hearts were full after exploring in Pittsburgh all day with Kat and her family!

Our hearts were full after exploring in Pittsburgh all day with Kat and her family!