If you’re gearing up for a trip across the country or on the other side of the world, there’s a lot to do to prepare – especially when you have a baby in tow. But rest assured, traveling with a baby doesn’t have to feel so daunting. By frontloading your trip with a little (okay, maybe a lot) of planning, you’ll be able to save time, reduce stress, and minimize meltdowns (for you and baby) in the future.
And particularly when it comes to flying, it pays to be prepared for the expected (think: airport security protocols) and the unexpected (delays, spills, surprise illnesses, missed flights… the list goes on). We’re walking you through these tips on how to pack a carry-on baby bag and checked bag strategically, maintain your baby’s routine on the go, and cut down on single-use plastics at the same time. So consider this your definitive guide for navigating everything you need to know when flying with a baby, from mealtime to nap-time at 30,000 feet, with a little help from your other favorite travel companion: Stasher!
Taking a strategic approach to packing is a lifesaver (or at least a sanity-saver) when traveling with a little one. And while it may be tempting to pack every single thing that you think you and yours might need, the key is to travel light yet intentionally. To do so, a great tip is to make a baby travel checklist ahead of time (or snag ours!) that outlines the must-have items in your carry-on diaper travel bag, from baby food for travel to diaper-changing supplies. By making this list well before your trip, you can start to whittle away items that aren’t exactly necessary (like that fifth picture book or your baby’s third-favorite stuffed animal), have time to jot down anything you initially forgot, and double check airline restrictions about things like strollers and liquids (here's where our travel friendly liquid bags come in handy).
But packing strategically isn’t just about what you pack when you’re flying with a baby in tow – how you pack it is just as crucial. Packing a portable changing mat or sterilized baby bottles might sound like a good idea (and it is!), but not if they’re in your checked luggage or buried deep in your carry-on. When packing your baby travel supplies into your diaper bag, think about how often you’ll need each item – or how quickly you’ll need to access it in the case of a diaper or spit-up emergency – and make sure those items are near the top of the bag or in easily accessible pockets.
Organizing items by type (like snacks, toys, changing supplies, and so on) into Stasher bags and bowls also helps corral your things so you aren’t endlessly digging around for a pacifier or swaddle.
And for things you know you’ll need in a pinch – like hand sanitizer or antibacterial wipes – use a Go Bag clipped to the outside of your carry-on for anytime access.
(Want to learn more? Check out our guide on what to pack when traveling with a baby!)
Prepare a food plan.
Keeping your baby fed is a huge part of keeping them calm and content in the midst of new travel experiences, so coming up with a food plan ahead of time is an important part of travel prep. Whether you’re making formula, breastfeeding, or pumping on the plane, consider what you might need to bring in your carry-on: scarf or blanket for privacy, breast pump, burp cloth, sterilized baby bottles, pre-measured baby formula powder, and so on. (Top tip: to prepare formula on the plane, ask a flight attendant for hot water, and gradually mix it with the formula until it’s warmed.)
If your little one is starting to eat solid foods, prepare homemade baby food purees a day or two before the trip, and dole them out into individual portions in leak-proof, lightweight food storage like Stasher 1-Cup Bowls. To keep these weaning snacks chilled throughout your travels and ready to eat, pack them in a lunchbox or cooler bag along with any breastmilk or formula milk you may be traveling with. Fully solid ice is usually allowed through airport security, but partially melted ice is not, so we like to use frozen grapes to keep everything cold.
Also, remember that travel delays can (and often do) happen, so consider bringing more food than you think your little one will need.
Stick to baby’s sleep schedule, if possible.
Babies thrive on routine, which includes sticking to a consistent sleep schedule. To reinforce your little one’s sense of normalcy in the midst of your travels, try to keep them on the same schedule they have at home – that is, unless you’re trying to break their sleep routine in an effort to combat jet lag.
Many parents and caregivers find that night flights are the easiest means for preserving their baby’s sleep schedule, as the quiet, dark cabin and white noise of the engine’s hum will naturally lull the baby to sleep. There is also a whole host of comfort accessories on the market to help babies sleep on planes. For instance, if you’ve booked a seat for your baby, you might consider a seat extender, which makes the empty seat into a small mattress. (Be sure to check with the airline ahead of time to confirm if these are allowed on your flight.)
If your baby is under six months old, they’re likely to fit in the airline’s bassinet, which you can book ahead of time with its corresponding seats. While not all airlines or flights will have a bassinet seat available to book, most long haul flights do have that option, which can help keep your baby on a normal sleep schedule and avoid jet lag. Of course, it’s not always possible to prevent your baby from experiencing jet lag, so it’s a good idea to brace yourself for some interesting wake-up times during the trip!
Be aware of ear pressure changes.
Dealing with the sensation of ear popping or fullness is a normal part of flying, as the pressure of the middle ear equalizes to the outside air pressure. As the plane makes its descent, air pressure increases, which then puts more pressure on the middle ear and can cause momentary pain.
And while this experience is commonplace for adults – most of us chew gum, swallow, or yawn for pain relief – it can be scary and disorienting for your baby, who can’t solve the pain themselves. A great tip to minimize the risk of your baby suffering from the so-called “airplane ear,” is to ensure that they’re awake for both takeoff and landing, and that they’re either nursing, taking a bottle, or sucking on a pacifier during that time, as suckling helps the Eustachian tube open and equalize pressure in the middle ear.
The benefits of a stroller vs a baby sling.
While a regular stroller is bulky to travel with and has to be checked and stowed with the rest of the plane’s checked luggage, a travel stroller is specifically designed to fold and carry onto the plane. Most airlines don’t count strollers towards your luggage allowance, so you’ll usually be able to bring a fold down stroller onto the plane in addition to your regular carry-on items. (Likewise, most airlines allow regular strollers to be checked for free, too.)
Travel strollers are particularly useful when you’re taking a baby on a plane and have a lot of carry-on luggage – being able to wheel your baby around means there’s one less thing for you to carry. In addition, regular strollers can carry heavy loads, which means that you can hook your carry-on bags to them to give your shoulders a well-deserved break.
A baby sling or papoose also has its own unique benefits. Since it’s entirely (or mostly) made of fabric, it’s lightweight, easy to pack, and isn’t at risk of being damaged in transit. Many infants will also be most comfortable and calm when nestled close to you, which means a smoother airport experience for you. And unlike with strollers, baby slings can go just about anywhere you go – so flights of stairs, escalators, or out-of-order elevators aren’t an issue.
Save time and hassle with priority boarding.
Many airports allow folks traveling with young children to use a priority line when going through the security checkpoint, which saves time and makes the process much smoother. Check with security ahead of time by calling the airport to learn if and how they can accommodate you and your baby.
Likewise, the majority of airlines let passengers traveling with small children have priority boarding, allowing them to get on the plane and get settled before things get crowded or chaotic. Check with your airline before you get to the airport or once you’ve arrived at the gate to find out if this is the case, and be sure to let them know if you require any extra assistance.
Be prepared for the unexpected.
Sometimes it feels like what can go wrong will go wrong – especially when traveling. To prepare, think through a backup plan beforehand of how you’ll handle travel disruptions like illnesses, flight cancellations, or a missed flight. Having a Plan B in place can help you stay a lot calmer in the face of a travel delay — especially when you’re planning to fly with a baby — and it means you’ll have packed accordingly, too (like bringing extra formula or weaning snacks in case you’re stuck at the airport for longer than intended).
Don’t forget your baby’s passport!
Wondering if your infant needs a passport? The answer is yes! In the spirit of being prepared, apply for your baby’s passport well in advance of the trip. To make sure you don’t forget it, store it with your own passport in a Stasher bag, along with your boarding pass and itinerary.
Flying with a baby or toddler can feel like a feat. And while you can’t control exactly how they’ll respond to the experience, you do have the power of preparation on your side. By planning ahead, and using the tips in this article, you can make the process a lot smoother for yourself and more comfortable for your little one. Safe travels!