Finally! I have been working on this guide for a year. This is all of the knowledge I’ve accumulated from traveling with Eula during the first year of her life. Before her first birthday she’d been on over 40 flights and to at least 10 countries. I lose exact count, to be honest. We’ve dealt with sickness on the road, jet lag, packing, blow outs, missed flights, you name it. And it’s all been fine. After over a year of traveling with a baby I can say with complete honesty that it’s totally worth it and totally doable. Yes, it’s harder. Of course it’s freaking harder. Not having a baby vs. having a baby. You do the math. But it’s not that hard. When it is hard just remember, this too shall pass. Have a relaxed, what happens happens attitude. No flight ever lasted forever, no crying spell either, no cold, no jet lag. If you’re the sort of person that would get totally freaked or exhausted or just generally not enjoy yourself over a crappy night’s sleep or on the road inconvenience, then maybe it isn’t the life for you. But if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you value travel, and in that case, it’s worth it. Totally. Babies love to watch the world go by, and ours was always happiest on the move and meeting new people. Keep reading below for my tips & experiences, packing list, a list of favorite gear, and for photos of Eula’s first year growing up on the road! Keep in mind, what worked for us won’t work for everyone, but this is what we did.
Get the bassinet on long haul flights & an aisle seat at the front of the plane on shorter flights.
This is number one for a reason, mostly the bassinet part. You’ll survive in any seat on a short flight, though an aisle is super preferable for getting up to walk or change the baby. On most international flights there are baby bassinets that fasten to the bulkheads. You often can’t actually reserve or book them. However, I always call in advance and put in a request for one—they can note that you requested it on your ticket. It doesn’t hurt. The key is to show up early and beat the other babies! I’m only kind of joking. They are often (depending on the airline) doled out on a first come, first serve basis at the gate, so it’s essential to be early for your flight so you can be there to nab it. I also research the layout of whatever plane I’m flying and book the seats closest to the bassinet. You usually can’t book the actual seats because they are set aside for people with babies, such as yourself! We have managed to get the bassinet on every long haul international flight (and there have been many). Show up early, for real. And always call before to see if you can reserve it or at least put in a request. And note, the maximum weight allowance is usually between 20-30 lbs. This is a great comprehensive resource that covers policy by airline.
When can baby safely travel?
Different airlines have different policies. Some require an infant to be at least two days old, others at least 2 weeks old. Doctors recommend you wait until your baby’s immune system is more developed before flying, usually at least one month, though most recommend anywhere between 3-6 months. We didn’t fly with Eula until she was 4 months old, but we took car trips with her down to Atlanta (a 2 hour drive) to visit Matt’s parents before that. It was nice cutting our teeth on those few road trips before flying. Our first flight was domestic, and we took her up to NYC over the holidays. And it was great! By 5 months old she went on her first international flight, Atlanta to London, and by 7 months old she made the 14 hour flight from Atlanta to Tokyo.
Take as little baby gear as possible.
See below for our minimalist baby travel essentials list. The lighter you travel, the easier your life. There’s nothing more exhausting than hauling a bunch of junk you don’t actually need around and unpacking & packing it up as well. Especially if you’ll be doing things like catching trains or moving around much at all. Definitely think about your mobility needs and pack accordingly—i.e. if you’re going to one destination and have a car door to door it’s no big deal to stuff a giant suitcase (thought I would still say annoying to deal with unpacking/packing all the stuff!), but if you’re going to be train hopping around a country, that would be very difficult. Below I cover both what’s in our diaper bag + carry-on as well as what we pack in our suitcase for her. Babies really don’t need as much as we’ve been led to believe they do. They need diapers, love, to eat, and a safe place to sleep. I pack a few modern mom extras, but I try to keep it simple.
Wear your baby.
It’s so much easier than a stroller, I think. You can move around easily, navigate stairs, and generally be faster and more nimble. Plus baby loves to be close to you! We found she napped and slept great in the carrier as well, even on the go and at restaurants. To this day, we get her down for naps anywhere in the carrier. One of us just puts her on and walks/bounces when she’s sleepy, and she passes right out. Won’t work for everyone, but it’s worth a try because it’s magic in tight spaces like a plane. We list our favorite carriers below in the gear list.
This is slightly redundant, as I say above to not bring a lot of baby gear. But this is for the parents. The less the better. Always. I’ll publish a separate post on packing light. But the key, for me, is making sure every single clothing item pairs with every other single one. I travel with one pair of shoes, two max. No outliers! And don’t pack for “what if’s”. You can buy most incidentals at your destination.
Don’t travel with a lifetime supply of diapers.
Buy diapers and wipes at your destination. Travel with enough to get you to your destination and maybe a day or two after to get your bearings (figuring out where to buy baby diapers in Japan took us a moment of orientation!) We joke that Eula has gotten a global tour of the “diapers of the world”.
Breastfeed if you can.
It obviously makes it easier because, hey, no extra gear! Be willing to feed anywhere, don’t be shy. I was really worried about this when I was a new mom, like the first month. But trust me, you get over it. I don’t use a cover as it seems like an unnecessary hassle for me and an annoyance to baby. I dress for breast feeding (read: easy access!), and it’s always so discreet I don’t feel uncomfortable. I’ve been everywhere from Morocco to Japan to France breastfeeding and never once encountered any animosity or awkward situations. I’ve breastfed outside Buddhist temple gates on the steps, on the beach, park benches, everywhere. Bonus, I get to set an example for other would-be moms that breast feeding is great, natural, and normal. If for some reason you can’t breastfeed or don’t want to, don’t worry. Air planes have allowances for breastmilk/formula/baby food, and they will warm it for you. If you can’t breastfeed, I would strategically book places to stay that will make warming easy, like AirBnBs or hotel rooms with little kitchens or great staff!
Rent a car with a carseat when you can.
You can usually get a carseat with a rental car. If you do need to travel with one (so far we haven’t needed to), get one that clips in as the seat on your stroller so you aren’t stuck carrying around a carseat. See the gear list below for our preference.
Not renting a car? Take the train.
This is the safest mode of public transit. A lot of people in cities like London, Paris, and New York do not use carseats in cabs for short jaunts around town. I say this because I wondered so much what the reality was and few people were willing to just spell it out for me. I don’t encourage this, but I want moms to know the reality because I wanted to know. They take the subway or hop in the back and hold the baby or wear the baby in a baby carrier/sling. This is NOT recommended. That said, if you are going to do so against recommendations, wearing the baby and making sure that the seat belt is NOT over the baby is critical. NEVER put a seat belt over a baby on you. If you are in an accident and the seat belt is over the baby’s back, your body can crush the baby. Again, this is NOT recommended. At the end of the day, it’s up to the laws of wherever you are and you. A car seat or alternative form of transportation is always safest.
Eat dinner early.
We have eaten everywhere from our favorite dives to Michelin star restaurants with baby in tow (though my preference for the latter style of dining is *definitely* to hire a sitter)—the key is go early. If your baby makes unfortunate, loud baby noises as babies do, there are less people to disturb and thus less mortification to be had. And if they’re a little more mobile towards the end of that last year, it gives them a little roaming room. Another tip, when a high chair isn’t available and the baby is old enough to sit up, we have been known to “strap” her to the chair using a baby carrier. When she was too small, we simply wore her, held her in our lap, or put her in the stroller on the rare occasion we had one with us. A lot of restaurants abroad are quite small, so a stroller isn’t the best option in those tight places. If you can hit dinner right when your baby passes out for the night, obviously that’s ideal, but you can’t always plan for that.
Look into local baby sitter or nanny services for date nights or other baby free times.
Some people may not be comfortable doing this, but we were. In New York, Paris, Tokyo, and London (namely major cities) there are very reputable and well vetted nanny / sitter services. We have personally used them in New York and London. In cities where we know people, we ask friends to connect us with a sitter. For instance I’m headed to Morocco this weekend alone with Eula, and I do have to work while I’m there. To accomplish this, I had a friend help me find a sitter. I’m doing the same while living in Kyoto for 2 weeks. If you don’t have friends where you’re going and it isn’t a major city, consider asking the AirBnB host or the hotel as they often know reputable people or agencies. Again, who you leave your baby with is a matter of your own personal judgment and if you ever feel uncomfortable…don’t do it!
Know when to call it.
Sometimes an activity or meal or whatever is just a FAIL. Baby isn’t happy, mom and dad aren’t happy, shit hits the proverbial fan. Maybe literally! Call it. Walk out. Go back to the hotel or AirBnB or what-have-you home away from home and live to die another day.
Priority Boarding, Security, and Customs: Use them with impunity!
In almost all flight situations, people with small children are allowed to board priority. Get it! It really does make a difference being able to get your stuff in the overhead bins and settle in before the plane becomes a giant human traffic jam. Especially if you’re traveling alone with baby. The same goes for security lines. Not always, but often times you can find a security agent who will usher you to the front, to the priority line, or to a family line. For instance, in Marrakech Menara Airport (RAK) there’s a family only passport control line, and in Barcelona there’s a family security line complete with little playpens to put babies in so they can’t run way! Score! Sometimes, however, there isn’t. Like in Paris Orly. Sad clown. So take what you can get and always ask if there’s a priority line and/or look for one.
Protocol for going through security varies by airport
Usually you will need to take your baby out of the sling or stroller to walk through the metal detector, and usually they will want you to collapse the stroller and put it on the belt. If you’re flying alone, I recommend getting everything out you need to get out *before* you get in the security line. Stash your laptop under the stroller, liquids in a ziplock, and that way you can just throw it in the tray and not be struggling to get it out while wrangling a baby *and* folding a stroller if you have one. See below for my easy-one-hand-collapse stroller recommendation. In other situations they want someone to walk through with the baby, hand the baby off, and then walk back through alone. It helps to have a partner for this otherwise a security officer can hold the baby.
Ask for a crib at the hotel or AirBNB.
A lot of hotels and AirBnB’s can provide a pack ‘n play or proper crib. Ask! Don’t lug one with you if you don’t have to! If you do have to, see our light weight recommendation below on the gear list. We love it!
Rain noise and other sounds on your phone.
Instead of carrying a noise machine (thumbs down to extra gear!), since we both travel with a cell phone and a laptop, we just use the RainyMood.Com or the RainyMood app on one of those four devices. If neither of you feel you can sacrifice one of your devices to play the noise, consider a small iPad as that will help with the next tip too. This saved our freaking lives. Eula turned out to be a light sleeper, and if it weren’t for rain noise we wouldn’t have been able to breathe in the same room she was sleeping in. Definitely download the app on your phone for times when you don’t have an internet connection. That’s critical.
Dave and Ava, Magic Fingers, Musical Hands: baby show app & baby games apps for phone or iPad.
Some people are anti-screen entirely. I get that, and if you are, try those wonderful cardboard books that baby can’t tear up. We certainly don’t shove her in front of a TV or computer as a babysitter or as a recreational activity for her, but when you are stuck on an airplane or in a car with a screaming baby, I personally have no problem playing her favorite nursery rhyme show on YouTube, “Dave and Ava”. We call it “the big guns”. Bonus there’s an app so we have it even when we have no internet like on flights or far flung destinations. She’s loved “Dave and Ava” since she was a tiny baby, which surprised me, and she loves it still, even after a year old. When things are urgent and we’re desperate, it always works to calm her down and keep her occupied, well 98% of the time. Excellent for the above scenarios or say a mad dash we’re-going-to-miss-our-flight-if-we-don’t-hurry packing scenario where a screaming baby isn’t tenable. Make sure to download the app on your phone for when there’s no cell service/wifi (i.e. on a plane). It’s expensive—like literally the most expensive app I’ve ever purchased at $24.99—but it’s been worth every mind saving penny.
Trash can be toys!
Honestly, we didn’t (and still don’t really) travel with toys for Eula while she was under a year old save a couple of lovies (stuffed animals). We quickly learned that a) she couldn’t tell the difference between an empty water bottle and a proper toy and b) she preferred the water bottle. So we would let her play with sundry objects (water bottles were a big hit as well as any trash that makes a rustling noise like paper or plastic). This saved us carrying and buying a bunch of useless things she wouldn’t have really cared about.
Babies need passports too!
Make sure you start the process well before your trip if you’re going abroad as expediting can be expensive (and a little stressful…no one likes to rush travel documents.) This is a good step by step resource.
Even when flying with infant in arms, sometimes there’s a fee.
On a lot of domestic flights, an infant in lap flies free, but on some airlines and on most international flights (in my experience) there is a small (relatively speaking) fee for the baby. Sometimes it’s difficult to pay this online, so I usually call and let them know I’ll be traveling with an infant and pay the fee over the phone. For instance, to fly with her from Atlanta to Tokyo with Delta is about $200 but there’s no (discernible) place to pay this when purchasing tickets online, so I just call when I’m done booking and add it on. You can also do it at the airport but that can be stressful…remember you have to beat all those other babies to the bassinet!
Have travel insurance and know where to find the local doctor / emergency room at your destination.
You never know when something small or big might happen or when you might have a parent freak out and want to see a doctor over essentially nothing at all. From fevers to scary looking bug bites, we’ve definitely taken her to the hospital/doctor while abroad at least twice. Our travel insurance (the kind your purchase when you purchase your plane ticket) reimbursed us easily for the expenses.
Blow outs. They happen.
Bring extra clothes for everyone and an extra sling. And something to put soiled items in like a trash bag. That is all.
On that note…Do laundry while on the road.
This is the key to packing light. Obviously if you’re just gone a week, this probably won’t be an issue, but any longer, and I recommend it. A lot of hotels have a laundry service and a lot of AirBnB’s have machines. We have used laundromats when we had to. You can get away with packing a lot, lot less if you do laundry! And I also recommend carrying some sort of spot removal cleaning type of thing. Cause spots, they happen. I don’t travel with a Tide stick or whatever, but I probably should. I often end up buying stain remover at the local shop. You can also spot treat with vinegar and baking soda if you’re chemical free.
There are huge benefits to traveling with a baby under 1!
They can’t run around (this is major), they can’t talk (which is both a blessing and curse, from what I hear), they still sleep a lot, they are light weight & portable, and everyone loves them! Nothing will make you friends around the world like traveling with a baby.
Baby jetlag is real, but you can cope if you plan for it and mentally accept it.
The farther you go, ideally the longer you should stay (if you can) so that you can avoid over-scheduling and build in a few days to get over jet lag. When we took her to Tokyo it took at least 3 days for her to stop waking up, and I mean WIDE “It’s morning!” awake, in the middle of the night. It isn’t something you can fight—someone has to get up with her. Best to take turns. It’s just par for the course. If you’re a total planner you could start trying to change their schedule before you leave, but eh, that’s not our style. We just live through it and bask in the rewards of our suffering: seeing the world and showing it to our baby! Ultimately, I find the baby recovers faster than we do because she’s still in touch with her body. My biggest tip is to try, try to keep the baby awake as long as possible in the evening, ideally until bedtime, and try to prevent naps to close to bedtime.
Gate check strollers and car seats.
You can take these all the way to the gate and they will check them for you for free at said gate. Sometimes you do need to get a tag for them when you drop your luggage, so make sure the agent gives you one. So if you’re a stroller person, stroll right up. And if you’re bringing a carseat, I highly recommend that be attached to that stroller! A two-in-one is the only way you won’t end up miserably lugging it all over. We didn’t travel with a stroller for most of the first year, preferring to just use a carrier.
There are pros and cons to both hotels and AirBnB’s/apartments.
We tend to book AirBnB’s because it often gives us access to a washer/dryer (clutch) and a kitchen (clutch if your baby is on solids or if you’re not breastfeeding or if you’re pumping). At the same time, most hotels can provide a baby bed (and housekeeping, hooray!) and many have little fridges for milk storage and will happily heat bottles. There are also plenty of handy travel warmers you could try, though I won’t recommend any because I haven’t tested them myself.
Don’t worry too much over the “nap schedule”.
Okay, this admittedly might not work for everyone, but we have never had a “nap schedule” for Eula. She sleeps when she is tired wherever we are. That said, this is a guide for babies *under 1 year old*, now that she is older it is more difficult for her to sleep in any old situation, though she’s still pretty adaptable. Under one she largely napped in the carrier on one of us or in a stroller. We never rushed back to the hotel for “nap time”. I found letting her listen to her body and perhaps one of us stepping out to push her around or bounce her around to give her that extra nudge to sleep meant she slept as needed, but we weren’t tethered to her schedule. It was our experience that she did great on ours. You want to make sure baby sleeps during the day (2 hour at least depending on your baby to prevent an over-tired baby— the worst of beasts to be avoided at all costs), but whether it’s a stroller in a café or a pack n’ play at the hotel, it’s all the same to baby so long as she gets that good block of sleep.
Request an empty seat next to you on the plane.
When you’re at ticketing for your flight if you are flying with infant in arms (if you haven’t purchased a separate seat for baby, which we don’t intend to do until we have to!), ask if there are any empty seats on the flight and if you can be seated next to them. If there are, chances are they’ll be obliging. The extra space is a lovely little luxury to have, especially as they get older and squirmier.
Be smart and clean, but let the germaphobia go the older they get.
When she was tiny I was hyper-vigilant, using sanitizing wipes on everything. And I think when they are little and their immune system is developing, it’s not the worst idea to wipe down the tray table, arm rest, and other hard surfaces that nasty stuff could live on. That said, the older and tougher (haha) she gets, the less I stress about it. When she started crawling, I let her crawl on the floor and would wipe her hands off afterwards. But we can’t put our babies in bubbles, and the truth is that if you’re clean but not maniacal about it, it’s going to ultimately build their immune system. So as she got older, I got less neurotic, and that seemed to work fine. My husband, however, would definitely prefer she not crawl on the floor! So we are balanced in that way, he protecting her from germs and me shrugging and being like “Eh! Good for the immune system!”
You can change a diaper anywhere.
Okay, while it’s not ideal, I have changed diapers in the seat next to me, on the tray table, on the floor, on the ground. Whatever. When you’re on the move, just get done what you need to get done. We carry a light weight, compact little blanket (it’s a swaddling blanket by Solly—they fold up really small) exclusively for changing as opposed to a bulky mat. It puts something between her and the environment (and the poor environment and her!) without taking up a lot of room in our carry-on/diaper bag.
Babies don’t need a ton of baths, and sinks & buckets work fine.
We didn’t obsess about bathing our baby nightly. Babies, when they aren’t walking, don’t really get that dirty. We found so long as she was thoroughly wiped down, she was fine. So there was no transporting a baby tub or stressing about bath time. If we had a tub, great. If we didn’t, the sink always worked fine for when she did need a bath. The older she got, the more frequently she needed to be bathed as she explored the environment, but still at 13 months we bathe her a couple times a week at most. Common sense would dictate if baby is stinky or visibly dirty…perhaps a bath is in order! Otherwise, no worries.
Easy flights are worth spending a little more on if you can afford to.
I won’t lie, when it comes to long haul trips (like Atlanta to Tokyo), I much prefer one and done flights. Yes, it’s 14 hours, but if you time it right the baby will sleep on the flight (do time it right for baby’s “night time”!), and it’s really quite doable. They can get insanely expensive, so book well in advance. And while you’re at it, if you can afford to, fly business or first class! I can’t…but I would if I could! Haha. Either way, try to minimize connections and the length of the journey itself.
Move around less.
When we traveled without a baby it was two days here, a night there, three days here, and so on. Now we pick a place that we know we love or will love, one that maybe has a few day trips in the vicinity, and simply park ourselves there. Instead of hopping all over Japan, we’re posting up in Kyoto at an AirBnb for 2 weeks. I find that makes for a much more relaxed trip when you just really soak up a destination instead of trying to cram it all in. That said, if there was something we were dying to do or see, we’d hit the road and see it!
Introducing food at 6 months on the road, a bit of our experience.
Eula actually clocked in 6 months old in Morocco, and we waited to let her try solids until Paris just because we didn’t want to take any chances with food born illness. Now at 13 months, I happily let her nibble off of my street food here (I’m writing this from my friend Emma’s flat in Marrakech!) Once we did introduce food, we let her try things at her own pace and we really let local norms guide us. If local children ate it, we let her eat it. I still avoid giving her raw foods (like salad) in countries where the water isn’t very clean because not only is the food not cooked to kill bacteria, it’s washed in the water. That said, I make an exception for fruit with skins and things that can be peeled.
Minimalist Baby Packing List
First flight was to New York…having breakfast at Reynards.
Mom may have gone shopping for her in NYC.
First country abroad: Eula in London.
Breastfeeding in a Paris café.
Eula discovers Morocco.
More rooms in France.
Her first trip to the beach, on Taketomi in Okinawa, Japan.
Just another day on the go.
Kawaii! Japanese ladies loved her.
Away luggage. The best.
Crawling at the Sunday Suppers studio in NYC.
And hanging out with her handsome father.
All grown up in pig tails at the Wythe Hotel.