The holidays are a time of infinite joy! Especially for those fortunate enough to travel during the festive season. Unless that is, you are traveling with an infant. Infinite joy can quickly turn to infinite dread. Traveling with an infant is daunting, whether you have a two-hour flight or a ten-hour drive. Being prepared is paramount. Get your holiday spirits flowing (not the tequila and rum varietals) and follow along for some tips, tricks, and hacks so that your holiday travels are infinitely joyful this year.
Traveling with an Infant: Mental Prep
It’s all too easy to be consumed by the stress of an upcoming flight or road trip with an infant in tow. My words of wisdom? Put it completely out of your mind until one week before departure. You can either stress for a month or a week, it’s your choice. That’s not to say you shouldn’t prepare for the trip, just don’t waste precious bandwidth obsessing about the parts you have little control over.
That said, mental preparation is critical. Imagine the trip going well, yet acknowledge it won’t be easy. Keep a positive mindset leading up to the trip. Your positive energy will be felt by all, and most importantly by your baby. It will all be worth it to arrive at your final holiday destination.
Traveling with an Infant: Pack Your Diaper Bag Wisely
Your diaper bag is your lifeline when traveling with an infant. How you pack it can determine if your trip goes like clockwork or like a game of Whac-A-Mole. There are endless posts on what essentials in a diaper bag. Much is determined by the length of your trip and your mode of travel. Here are a few worthwhile tips:
First-Aid Kit: Keep it small and simple. Band-Aids, thermometer, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and other baby medications. Consider that your destination may not have the products you use at home.
Extra set of clothes: Sh#t happens. Literally. Pack a backup outfit for your infant unless you are ok with a naked screaming baby next to you for nine hours en route to Spain. Said by someone who’s been there. An extra shirt for the parents is also a must. Been there, too.
Pacifiers: If your child uses one, don’t forget it. Pack extras.
Ziploc bags: Those soiled clothes have to go somewhere.
Sleep Toy: Only bring it if you are prepared to lose it. Otherwise, bring the backup.
Snacks: Bring food ‘toys’ your infant loves. A frozen bagel once kept our son happy from Tokyo to Beijing.
Real toys/teethers: You may not get more than ten minutes of peace per toy but every minute will count when you are trapped in a holding pattern or stand-still traffic.
Diapers and wipes: Yes, a no-brainer. But more is more. Pack extra.
Traveling with an Infant: Pack Your Luggage Wisely, Too
The smaller the child the more there is to pack. I have teenagers now and what they need for a vacation can fit into a shoebox. Packing to travel with infants is an exercise akin to a strategic military operation. Traveling domestically? Consider the things you can buy or pre-order at your destination so that they don’t take up critical bag space. Sunscreen, diapers, formula, and baby food are good bets.
If you are traveling internationally you may choose to have one suitcase that contains the bulk of your disposable items so that you can shed weight as you go. I still remember days when I had a suitcase filled with 10 days worth of swim diapers, regular diapers, and pull-ups. At the end of the trip, I happily refilled that bag with fabulous and well-deserved Spanish souvenirs. As I said, the smaller the child, the more space they take up.
International considerations may mean taking along your infant’s favorite food. Cheerios may not be easy to come by in Bangkok, for instance. Think ahead to your infant’s daily needs—note things that can be sourced in advance.
Traveling with an Infant: Plane Tips
Air travel is stressful these days even without an infant on your lap. There are ways to alleviate pressure well before boarding. Buy or borrow a lightweight stroller that can be gate-checked. This way you will always have a safe place to put your baby while walking around the airport when your flight is delayed.
Speaking of laptime, buy a seat for your baby if your budget allows it. A long nap in a seat will compensate for the cost. Otherwise, try to secure a bulkhead seat that has the option for a built-in bassinet.
It’s tempting to want to board early, and in fact, most airlines give priority to parents with children under two. But do you really need 45 minutes to settle in while the rest of the plane steals all the overhead space? That’s 45 more minutes of you playing Entertainer-In-Chief in a confined space. If you are traveling with a partner, allow them to board first, grab the overhead space, and sanitize the seats. Hang back at the gate and wait as long as possible with your infant.
Try to maintain a consistent feeding schedule, but don’t panic if you don’t. Drip-feeding your baby 8,000 Cheerios to keep him or her pacified is entirely acceptable in this scenario. Everyone knows that.
Make sure you have the correct passports in your carry-on and that they are up to date. You’re thinking this is total common sense. You might even be laughing. I have two words for you—Baby Brain.
Get TSA Pre-Check, Clear, and Global Entry. Just do it.
If your partner isn’t joining you on an international trip with your infant you may be asked for proof of permission to travel. This is called a Child Travel Consent form. It’s a document signed by the non-traveling parent granting permission to travel alone with your child. I once cried at Canadian Passport Control because they threatened to send me back to the UK without the form. I mainly cried because I was being sent back to my mother-in-law.
Traveling with an Infant: Hotel Tips
Before I had kids, I never once gave thought to the mini-fridge in my hotel room. Who cared how big or deep it was? Who noticed the temperature? After I had kids, it became a critical-issue. Unless you choose a hotel suite with a kitchen (and for many, that’s not an option) you will rely upon the mini-fridge in previously unimaginable ways. This is especially important if you are traveling with formula or breast milk. Check with the hotel in advance to know what you’re in for. Likely they will have options to accommodate.
Get in touch with the concierge prior to travel to pre-order a high-chair and crib for your room. Hotels may also have a mini-jail aka Pack n’ Play available. You will thank me for this when you get to your hotel room bleary-eyed after a severely delayed flight and have to call room service at midnight for a crib.
These days, Airbnbs make traveling with an infant a much simpler endeavor. Being able to choose accommodations that can replicate many of the amenities we’ve come to rely upon at home is invaluable. With Airbnb options around the world, it may just be a better way to travel internationally with an infant than a traditional hotel.
Traveling with an infant is overwhelming. That’s a given. But advance preparations can lighten the stress and panic. In the end, it doesn’t matter if your child sleeps from Brooklyn to Washington DC or annoys everyone in rows 10-22. Many passengers will be kind. Many of them have been there at one time or another in their lives.
Be nice and be patient. But most of all, be prepared—and just go. The memories you make on these travels will bring infinite joy for the holidays! Even if you don’t realize it at the time.
Written by Jamie Edwards
Jamie is an avid traveler, travel writer, and photographer. She launched I am Lost and Found, her adventure/luxury travel website after 25 years of living and traveling around the globe. She has lived in both NYC and Tokyo. Today she resides in Washington DC with her husband, two kids, and two black labs. Jamie’s goal is simple: to inspire travel.