In the first weeks in your new life as a parent, chances are you won't be traveling. Momma's body will be healing from the miraculous, insanely awesome feat of childbirth. Babies will be so new, with little if any immunity built up in their tiny bodies. Everyone might be exhausted from the new norm of waking up every three hours to change diapers and feed your little love. But sooner or later, you will emerge from the fog and want to explore the world as a little family. And why not make it as easy as possible?! Read on to find what you need (or want) to make travel as a family as delicious as creamy Italian gelato, French macarons, or New Orleans beignets. Even if you aren't traveling right with baby right now, it's fun to dream - and a great time to prepare for fun adventures to come!
In addition to packing all the usual things: appropriate clothing for the area, toiletries, diapers, Baby Tylenol, etc., there are some additional products you will not want to leave at home.
1. Newborn Car Seat. Unless you are having your child at home or within walking distance of your birth center, chances are you will need a car seat just to leave the hospital. Many hospitals - including the one where I delivered - require confirmation of a properly installed car seat before allowing the child to leave.
Also, while car seats are not required by law for public transportation in several states, using one is by far the safest and wisest choice even if you are Uber/Lyft-ing, taking a cab, or riding the bus. In fact, many drivers (Uber or Lyft or the like) will not transport a child without a car seat even if they are legally allowed to do so. Consequently, an absolute must-have is a properly-fitting, properly-installed newborn car seat.
But car seats aren't just for car rides. I often use them when flying. With many airlines, babies and toddlers up to two years old fly free. However, they don't get their own seat; a travel partner must hold them. Remembering how often we are told it isn't safe to have anything out while taking off and landing, I brought a baby carrier wrap with me the first time we flew. My rationale was that during take off and landing, or in the event of turbulence, our little one would be more secure. However, passengers are not allowed to secure a baby to their body during take off and landing. Because I am possibly irrationally anxious about this, if I don't want to buy an additional ticket, I will call in my airline reservations, making sure to advise we were traveling with an infant. Many times, the airline would try to keep the seat next to me empty, allowing me to use the seat (and our car seat) without buying an additional ticket.
Travel Tip: If you are going on a long flight with a baby, you might request an airline bassinet. These are available on many airlines, generally on a first come, first served basis.
2. Travel System. Because newborns can't sit up or hold up their heads, they should not be in a stroller unless the area of the stroller where baby is placed fully reclines to a flat position or you have a travel system or bassinet attachment for the stroller. Consequently, Unless you intend to carry your baby at all times, a travel system is needed when wanting to travel with a newborn or younger infant. Once your baby is big enough, you can transition to a standard, umbrella, or travel stroller.
A travel system is a car seat and a stroller that attach to each other. You literally unclip the car seat from its base (the base remains secured to the car), snap it into the stroller component, and off you go! When you are done using the stroller, you unclick the car seat and securely click it back into the base.
Some manufacturers sell travel systems as sets or as optional additions to a specific car seat. Not all systems must be purchased as a set or addition. Some strollers offer attachments that allow them to be used with certain car seats (or bassinets).
Although such a system allows you to transfer a sleeping baby from the car without removing him or her from the car seat, using car safety seats for sleep when not traveling can pose a risk to infants.
We highly recommend (and use) the Chicco travel system. It is easy to use, receives high safety ratings, and is durable. For a list of other top travel systems, click here.
3. Portable Crib. Often times hotels have cribs you can request and there is also always the option of renting one from an agency in the town of your destination. However, unless you are 100% positive that you will have a clean and safe sleeping option for baby when traveling, you will want to bring your own.
Portable cribs often serve multiple functions – sleeping, contained play, changing tables, entertainment – and they are easily broken down for transport. Which you choose (and what they feature) will depend on your needs, usage and price point. We went with a bells and whistles option, but only ever used our portable crib for naptimes and bed when traveling. Consequently, the extras we paid for were wasted.
What components are necessary? With portable cribs or playards, you want to make sure it meets all current safety standards, has not been recalled, and has a strong transport bag, fine mesh netting sides, a babyproof collapsing mechanism, and a properly fitting, removable mattress. (Use the same rule of thumb re standard crib mattresses to assess whether the portable crib mattress properly fits.) If you want to use a sheet, make sure the manufacturer you choose also manufactures sheets to properly fit that mattress. As with regular cribs and sleep spaces, you must still be mindful of suffocation hazards and keep the portable crib free of blankets, stuffies, and bumpers until baby is older and more developed.
Some portable cribs are made specifically with travel in mind. They tend to be lighter weight and to fold up tightly into a much more compact unit.
For a list of top portable cribs, click here.
4. Diaper Bag. Diaper bags are discussed in "Bringing Baby Home Part 3: "Poop, There It Is" - Diapers and Associated Items".
When selecting a diaper bag, in addition to price point and esthetic, you will want to consider size - especially if you are traveling by air. Before boarding a plane, make sure you have stocked several clean diapers, wipes, creams, bottles if bottle feeding, a nursing cloth if you use one while breast feeding, a cozy blanket, changes of clothing for baby, and a clean shirt for you (in case baby spits up). You will also want space in your diaper bag to store dirty diapers, soiled clothing, burb cloths, and hand sanitizer.
Many modern diaper bags have a changing pad feature, which in my opinion is a necessity. It is comes in very useful when changing diapers in tiny airplane toilet stalls. You will also want to find a diaper bag that can attach to a stroller easily and that you can wear comfortably. If there is a backpack option, seriously consider it. Freeing up your hands and distributing weight comfortably while carrying baby and the mountains of luggage traveling with a newborn often entails, are serious bonuses. Pockets where you can easily store and access your phone or car keys and ID/Passports are nice as well. Another great feature: washable!
For a list of top diaper bags in 2021, click here.
5. Baby Carrier. While it isn't for everyone, I personally love carrying/wearing my baby. Not only does it allow you to move around easily and hands-free, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends safe baby wearing for soothing, bonding, and nurturing baby’s development.
Although baby-wearing is definitely on trend right now, it’s hardly new. For centuries, new moms have relied on papooses, wraps, mei-tais and other similarly conceived items to keep baby close while also being able to move quickly, freely, and handsfree.
Newborn babies can be "worn" right away provided there are no medical concerns and the baby weighs around 8 pounds or more. However, not all baby carriers are safe for newborns. Consequently, when selecting which carrier to take with you on your travels (or use at home), read the manufacturer's descriptions and warnings carefully.
Additionally, always make sure you can see your baby's face while carrying him or her until baby is at least 4 months old. If a particular baby carrier does not allow that, wait to use it until the baby is older or return it.
Lastly, pay attention to features that can lead to overheating. For example, my son was born in the hottest part of our summer. The newborn insert for one of our top-of-the-line, well-reviewed baby carriers - an insert necessary to support a newborn's head and use the carrier safely - was incredibly thick and warm. The first (and only) time we used it outside, it caused him to overheat, which can be dangerous.
When it comes to baby-wearing, there are many types of carriers on the market. One product genre is wraps. A wrap is super-long piece of stretchy fabric you configure and tie around your body to create a carrier.
Although they can be overwhelming and hard to use at first, once parents figure out how to use them, they love them. For wraps, we recommend Solly Baby Wraps. For a tutorial on how to use one, click here (then click again and again - they are worth the learning curve). For more great wraps for newborns, click here.
Another carrier, is a sling. A sling is wide piece of fabric that goes over one shoulder and across your torso.
Slings are soft and comforting like a wrap (or swaddle), but they don’t take an engineering degree to wear. For slings, we recommend Wildbird Ring Slings. For more great slings for newborns, click here.
There are also structured carriers, also called Soft Structured Carriers, or SSCs. These are more like a backpack (that you wear on your front with a newborn) with straps over the shoulder and a padded carrying “pack.” You can wear them so the "pack" is up front or on your back. With a newborn, however, you must wear them on your front so you can keep your eyes on baby.
For newborns (and older), my favorite carrier was a structured carrier - the Baby Bjorn Baby Carrier One. You can use it from day one without an insert and it grows with your child - it can be used from 0 to 3 years! The straps were comfortable and the design supported my back, making it most comfortable for me. It also adjusts to fit partners of multiple sizes fairly easily. Another plus was that my husband felt more comfortable wearing it than other carriers we owned.
Also widely recommended is the Ergobaby Omni 360. Note for this carrier, you will need to purchase the newborn insert to safely use it with your newborn or babies smaller than 12 pounds. The insert ensures baby stays in the ergonomic “M” shape or frog-leg position and maintains safe head and neck support while in the carrier. Full disclosure, I was using the Ergobaby and its insert when my son started overheating. That said it is well-reviewed and well-loved by many.
We also hear good things about the Lillebaby Complete All Seasons Carrier.
For additional information on baby carriers, click here.
1. Car Seat Travel Bags. If you buy a separate airline seat for baby, you will be bringing your car seat on board. If you do not, you will need to check it. Most airlines have large thick plastic bags you can use to protect your car seat from the elements or spills when you check it for travel. However, they do not provide as good protection as a specially designed travel bag. As such, some families prefer to buy car seat travel bags. They look generally like this travel bag by Chicco:
NOTE: We traveled extensively with our little one, both nationally and internationally. We used the airline-provided bags. We never experienced breakage, but once the airline's plastic bag ripped once, resulting in our losing a cupholder attachment.
When selecting a car seat travel bag, the first consideration should be whether it fits the dimensions of your car seat. Some car seat manufacturers - like Chicco - make travel bags for their specific products. That is always a good starting point.
To make purchasing a car seat travel bag worth it, it should be well-made with durable and waterproof material. Consider the thickness of the nylon and quality of stitching. You will want one that is tear-resistant. Additionally, consider how securely the car seat fits within. If it is not securely fitted, the travel bag may not protect as well against damage.
Also, think about how the car seat travel bag closes (draw string? velcro? snaps? zipper?) and whether it locks. Some styles are simply more secure than others.
Additionally, consider how the travel carrier carries and what would make things actually easier for you. Unless you plan to rent everything upon arrival, traveling with an infant means you are laden down beyond imagination when checking in or gate checking. Backpack styles free up your hands to carry other things (or beautiful babies!). However, that means you are carrying additional weight, albeit in an easier, well-distributed manner than a handled travel bag. Travel bags with wheels allow you to pull it like wheeled luggage, but it requires a free hand. And of course you want to consider the quality and sturdiness of any carry mechanism, be it straps, wheels, or handles.
Another consideration - whether and how it folds up when not in use. The more compact the better.
For a list of top car seat travel bags, click here.
2. Stroller Travel Bags. Unlike car seats, strollers will always be checked. You can certainly use one up until you board the airplane, but it will be gate checked at that time. Selecting a stroller travel bag involves essentially the same considerations as a car seat travel bag.
For a list of top stroller travel bags, click here.
NOTE: Some manufacturers of travel systems make travel bags designed to fit the entire system.
3. Portable Crib Sheets. Technically, these are not necessary, but they are nice to have. If you want to use a sheet, make sure the brand you choose manufactures sheets to properly fit your particular crib mattress. If a sheet is too big or doesn't stay on, it creates a suffocation hazard.
Leave at Home
One thing you don't need to stock up on when traveling with a newborn are books and toys to entertain. Brand new babies will often sleep or find comfort simply from your voice. They can't lift their heads, much less their toys. If you want to bring something, consider a small lightweight toy of the sort you can attach to a tummy time mat or stroller.
Also, while the temptation is to bring everything you use at home in an amount that covers the entire trip, don't forget most places will have stores where you can buy diapers and extra wipes. If you are going somewhere for a lengthy stay, consider leaving supplies sufficient to last the entire duration of your trip behind and explore the local shopping scene instead. Or, you can always have supplies from your favorite vendor temporarily shipped to your destination instead.
Additional Resources and Info re Traveling with Infants
For traveling during the pandemic:
Travel Safety During the COVID 19 Pandemic (American Academy of Pediatrics)
Domestic Travel During COVID-19 (Center for Disease Control)
Want more? Check out these articles:
Is Air Travel Safe for an Infant (Mayo Clinic)
Have fun and safe travels!