Top Thirteen Guidelines for Successful Baby or Toddler Travel
Here are Top Thirteen Guidelines for Successful Baby or Toddler Travel
Over the past few years, we’ve learned a lot about what makes or breaks a trip with an infant. We’ve also learned that traveling with one baby is very different than traveling with two (shocking, I know). Let’s just say, I’ve gained a huge respect for those brave families who travel with 3 or 4 little ones. To you, I tip my hat!
Last week, I received a message from a nervous mother who was about to take her infant on a flight for the very first time. I vividly remember feeling the same anxiety before our first few trips with our first born.
In preparation for her trip, she asked me to share my most useful baby travel tips.
I sent her the link to our other blog Tips for Baby Travel and later realized we haven’t written a detailed “baby travel tips” article on this blog. We get asked this question quite often, so I thought it was about time we wrote a post dedicated to baby travel.
We’ve intentionally limited the number of baby posts we publish on this site because we know a lot of readers do not have kids and don’t really care about tips for traveling with young children. If you fall into that category, this post is NOT for you. We recommend you read this post instead.
However, if you do have a little one, or plan to start a family soon, you’ll find these baby travel tips useful for planning your next family adventure.
(1) Book rooms with separate sleeping areas
This is arguably the most important thing to consider when traveling with a baby. Consider this, if everyone is piled into one room you’ll likely have to go to sleep when your baby goes to sleep. If you want to watch a movie or have a conversation while your baby sleeps, it’s best to find accommodations that have separate sleeping areas.
We look for accommodations that offer one or two bedroom suites, instead of the standard hotel room with one or two beds. You will pay a little more for this convenience, but a good night’s sleep is worth it.
Lately, we’ve turned to short-term apartment rentals because they are typically cheaper than hotels and offer all of the comforts of home.
We typically use VRBO and Airbnb, however, Hotels.com now includes some apartment rentals. We prefer Hotels.com because we get one free night stay for every 10 nights – every little bit helps!
One thing to note when booking an apartment – sometimes they can be located far from the city center. To save on transportation expenses, we look for centrally located apartments.
If you’re traveling with a baby stroller (this is the one we use), look for accommodations that have an elevator or are located on the ground floor. Carrying your awkward stroller up several flights of stairs is not fun, especially in hot, tropical environments. Also – fully stocked kitchens and laundry are essential.
(2) Prepare for the climate
Sounds simple right? When you travel to a cold destination, bring warm clothes. When you travel to a hot destination, bring shorts and T-shirts.
It is that simple, BUT… think about what you will need when you travel from a cold climate to a warm climate. OR vice versa.
When we took Braydon on his first trip to California it was during the middle of winter in Canada. Most of his 3-6-month-old clothing was designed for cold weather. When we went to purchase summer clothes we had a very limited choice and the clothes we did find were outrageously expensive because they were out of season.
Do you have the right size baby clothing for the climate? Do you have proper shoes?
Do you have a sun-protecting swimsuit? What about a sun hat? We use this sun hat and love it because it has a strap and protects his neck.
As a season comes to an end, pick up a few items for your baby on sale in a bigger size. You’ll save yourself a lot of money and have some new cute clothes for vacation photos.
(3) Bring enough baby food and/or formula
Formula and baby food vary from country to country.
I breastfed both my boys, so we did not have to worry about baby formula. However, I’ve learned from friends that once a baby finds a formula he/she likes, it’s typically the only one they will eat.
Remember to bring enough baby formula for the length of your trip.
Same goes for baby food. Yes, most destinations have baby food and formula available, but what if they don’t have the products and brands your baby likes?
Our first son Braydon is a very picky eater. On a trip to Europe, we packed what seemed like enough of his hot cereal for the three weeks we would be away. Unfortunately, we ran out after only two weeks. We found similar cereals but he did not like them and pushed it away (tears and tantrums followed). We sampled over 5 different types, which was an expensive and frustrating experience. The lesson learned – bring more than you think you need.
Note – some foods are not allowed to cross borders, especially fruits and meats. Check with border security ahead of time to determine what foods are allowed.
(4) Pack a baby bathtub chair
This item gets a lot of raised eyebrows.
We try to stick with our bedtime routine when we travel. For us, this involves a bath every night before reading books. Holding a slippery baby in the bath (or shower) is not an easy task, so we use a baby bathtub chair. We use the one pictured above but it’s no longer available.
On the surface, the bathtub chair appears to be an awkward travel item; however, it’s actually very lightweight, inexpensive and fits easily in our suitcase. Because it’s made with hard plastic, it provides protection for liquids and breakable items in our luggage. We use it as an anchor and pack around it.
Most importantly, both of our boys loved using this chair. It gave them the freedom to splash and sit calmly in the water without us having to hold them upright. The result was longer, more enjoyable baths.
(5) Embrace nap time. Participate.
Did you ever think you’d get to a place in life where your daily activities revolve around nap times?
Sticking with your baby’s nap routine is essential when you travel, especially if you’re dealing with baby jet lag. The timing is not always ideal, and it often means sacrificing some activities or sightseeing, but a tired and cranky baby is not fun for anyone.
Why not take a nap with your baby to recharge your batteries, too?
On travel days, we try to schedule our movements during nap time. Being stuck on a plane or in a car seat is not fun for most babies. They want to move around and play. Our boys get irritated and fussy after being strapped in their car seats for more than 30 minutes.
By driving or flying during nap times, the likelihood your baby will sleep is so much greater. Keep nap times in mind when booking flights and pay the extra money for direct flights – it’s worth every penny to arrive at your destination faster!
Don’t forget to bring a comfortable pillow.
When we say “comfortable pillow” we mean a regular sized pillow, not one of those useless small travel pillows that wrap around your neck.
Regular sized pillows are often cheaper than travel pillows (sometimes as low as $5). If you don’t want to drag the big pillow around after your flight or road trip, you can always leave it behind.
(6) Portable baby bed/bassinet
We prefer to bring a portable baby bed when we travel. There’s something about rental cribs that makes me cringe a little – especially with a newborn.
I feel much more comfortable having our baby sleep in a bed that I’m familiar with. There are some pretty sketchy looking hotel cribs out there and I don’t like relying on hotels to provide a proper crib. Some hotels charge a fee for the crib, so make sure you confirm before booking.
If you plan to use an apartment rental (see tip #1) you will need to bring your own baby crib or rent one from a local business. Most apartment rentals do not supply a crib or high chair.
We use the Summer Infant by your side Sleeper. It has a metal frame that folds to fit easily in our suitcase. It’s relatively small and lightweight, so I have the option to put it on the bed beside me when I sleep, which is a nice feature. I also like that it has a breathable mesh wall so I don’t worry about him suffocating.
We used this portable bed until our boys were 6-7 months old.
(7) Bring a tablet with shows, games and white noise
Tablets have become an essential travel item for our family. Seriously, I don’t know how we survived before tablets and smartphones.
I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.
We bring two tablets when we travel – an iPad 2 and Microsoft Surface.
We use our Surface for cartoons and movies because it has a USB port, which makes it super easy to transfer files or use a memory stick. We use our iPad for games, music, and videos. There’s a lot of fun baby apps to download – our boys love Giggle Bellies, Thomas the Train and nursery rhyme stories.
Having two tablets means one is typically available for adult usage. It also prevents meltdowns if one tablet should run out of battery power.
Both tablets are loaded with white noise (sounds of rain, waves crashing on the beach, etc).
At night or during naps, we turn up the volume and put the tablet beside his crib. The loud white noise is soothing and drowns out other sounds that could potentially disturb him while he sleeps. It works especially well during daytime naps when everyone else is awake and making noise.
Give it a try if your baby has trouble falling asleep.
(8) Consider purchasing a Weelee
The question of whether or not to bring a car seat is one that most families struggle with. On the one hand, bringing your car seat means you don’t have to worry about a taxi providing one for you (which is often not available, especially in third world countries).
On the other hand, traveling on a car seat really sucks. They’re big, awkward, heavy and annoying.
Most destinations require young children to use a car seat during transportation, at least in North America and Europe. Unless you plan to only travel by bus, you will need a car seat for taxis and/or car rentals.
We’re big fans of the Clek Weelee and recommend it to all traveling families. It has wheels and a handle for easy transport and it folds up when not in use.
An added bonus is that there’s typically lots of space left over, so we fill it up with other travel items like diapers, blankets, and clothing. Car seats are not typically charged a baggage fee, so this is a sneaky way to save a little money and lighten your checked baggage weight.
(9) Bring plenty of Tylenol and/or Advil
Baby teething is frustratingly unpredictable. It seems like every time we travel, a tooth decides to make an unwanted appearance.
Sleeping in an unfamiliar bed is tough enough for a little one, now add the pain of teething to the sleeping experience. It’s not fun for anyone.
Baby Tylenol and/or Advil to the rescue! Even if your baby is not teething, bring two bottles of baby Tylenol and put one in your day bag. You may not need it, but if you do, you’ll be thankful you have it.
We typically bring two bottles of Tylenol (it lasts up to 4 hours) for the daytime and one bottle of Advil for the evenings (it lasts up to 8 hours).
While staying at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, the floor in our hotel room was slippery tile. Our first born is prone to accidents on a good day, so it was no surprise that he slipped and bonked his head on the floor multiple times. Tylenol came in very handy.
Keep in mind, your destination or resort may not have children’s Tylenol or Advil available.
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best!
(10) Don’t wait to feed
Before our first flight with a baby, I did some online research to get prepared.
I repeatedly read that a good travel tip is to hold off on feeding your baby until just before the plane is about to lift off the runway. The idea being that your baby will get sleepy after feeding and will fall asleep soon afterward. The sucking and swallowing are also good for your baby’s ear pressure as the plane ascends and descends.
It makes sense in theory, but, in my experience, waiting to feed your baby is not a good idea.
When our boy is hungry, we feed him as soon as possible. When he’s hungry, he gets cranky. If we deliberately do not feed him, he gets angry and irritable. When he’s irritable he starts to cry and gets himself worked up, which is not pretty when stuck on an airplane.
We’ve found that the cabin air pressure and the white noise that the plane makes is enough to put him to sleep, so there’s no need to create unnecessary drama by withholding food.
When the aircraft descends, we try to feed him again to help with his ear pressure. If he’s not hungry, we give him some water or a soother.
Every baby is different, so do whatever you need to keep him/her calm. Sleep will happen when your baby is calm and comfortable, so make that your primary focus.
(11) Stay cool and ask for help
Most parents fear the dreaded meltdown while on a flight. I know I did. My anxiety levels rise the moment our boys get cranky and irritable.
I feel bad because I don’t want to disturb others on the plane. But the reality is that even the calmest of children have a breaking point. Crying will happen, so expect it and prepare for it.
I know it’s easier said than done, but don’t worry about what other people think.
You will always have angry passengers who hate flying with babies on board. Ignore them. They will give you evil looks even if your baby is an angel.
Smile and take a deep breath when things get tough.
How you react will set the tone for future flights. If you freak out too, there’s a good chance your baby will associate air travel with dad or mom being upset.
Remember, most passengers are parents and/or grandparents. They have been in your position before and can empathize with you.
Most people are willing to give a hand, so ask for help when you need it. This is not the time to be proud and stubborn.
(12) Slow down. Change your mindset
This is probably the most important baby travel tip of all – SLOW DOWN!
Don’t try to replicate the way you used to travel before baby. Things are different now, so try not to squeeze too many activities or sightseeing into one day.
Plan your big activity or adventure in the morning when everyone is fresh and recharged. Break up the day and spend quiet time back at the hotel before you venture out again (see tip #5). Go for a swim, take a bath, roll around on the grass together… you don’t have to fill your days with constant activity.
Give yourself more time on travel days.
It will take longer to clear airport security, plan for it. It will take longer to get ready in the mornings, plan for it. The worst thing you can do is put yourself in a position where you’re constantly feeling rushed.
Why bring unnecessary stress to your vacation? Slow down.
The most enjoyable baby travel experiences we’ve had are the ones where we’ve set proper expectations for each day. Remember, travel is supposed to be fun. So make it fun!
(13) Don’t wait until your baby is older
I can’t tell you how many times I hear new parents say, “We’re going to wait until our baby is older before we travel”. The fear and anxiety behind this statement are often misguided.
Babies are MUCH easier to travel with than toddlers.
When your baby starts to crawl and move around you will need to watch him/her constantly. The best time to travel with a baby is 8 months or younger.
Babies sleep more often than toddlers and they don’t require constant watching because they’re not mobile, yet. Babies under two years old don’t require a seat, so take advantage of not having to pay for that additional airfare while you can. It gets quite expensive to fly when your baby becomes a toddler.
There is no reason to wait until your baby is older – unless there is a health concern.
On that note, make sure your baby is vaccinated and consult with your doctor about the destination you will be visiting. And don’t forget to purchase travel insurance for yourself and the baby.
Traveling with your baby does not have to be overwhelming.
There’s no need to put travel on hold “until the baby gets older”. It will take a few trips before you find your groove and learn what works and what doesn’t, but you’ll be so glad you made the extra effort when you see the positive impact travel will have on your children… and you.
Don’t wait for tomorrow.
Right now is the best time to experience the world together, as a family. Embrace the craziness that comes with baby travel. Laugh at that massive pile of luggage you now travel with. Smile at the fact that you’re awake before dawn and in bed just after sunset.
Your baby will only be a baby once, so enjoy these precious moments before they’re gone.