Top travel tips for stress-free journeys with baby

Top travel tips for stress-free journeys with baby

With the right balance of flexibility and planning, your trip with baby can be fun for the whole family. Give yourself plenty of time and do your best to go with the flow while keeping baby fed and rested.

Taking your baby to a fun new place can be a great joy as a parent, but it takes a new level of work to get there. If you’re prepared, though, your travels with baby can turn into wonderful memories.

Here is our guide on how to travel with baby, tips on what to pack, and how to prepare for family vacations with children of all ages. 

Understanding baby’s travel needs

As adults, the break in routine that comes from traveling can be refreshing. But for babies, it can be a lot. Whether you’re flying to a different time zone or taking a train right at naptime, travel can be disrupting to a baby’s normal rhythm. Add the overstimulation of brand-new sights, sounds, and people, and it’s easy to see how your little one might need some help adjusting. 

But the good news is that planning ahead can make all the difference, so you’re ready to adapt to your baby’s needs in a new environment. Give yourself lots of extra patience and try to somewhat adhere to baby’s regular schedule, it’s possible for everyone to have a great trip. And if you add some familiarity, like a favorite blanket or toy, it will be easier for your baby to get used to a fun new place. 

Choosing baby-friendly travel destinations

You can absolutely enjoy exciting new destinations with a baby. If you’re going abroad, is it a town that’s stroller friendly, or will you have to navigate cobblestone streets? If you’re spending time soaking up the sun on a beach, can you make sure your baby has enough shade so they don’t overheat? Ask these questions before booking. 

Where you’re staying also impacts the ease of your travels. Some hotels include baby-friendly amenities, such as a hotel crib or even a babysitting service. You can also find all-inclusive resorts made just for families with plenty of kid-friendly activities and self-care pampering for parents. It’s a good idea to read reviews before making reservations, and keep an eye out for insights from customers who mention traveling with little ones. Another great worry-saver: Look for an awesome local baby gear rental company in your vacation spot. They’ll often deliver right to your lodging! 

If you think a hotel room may be too cramped (or you just like not sitting in the dark all night while baby sleeps), a home rental is a great option. It’s typical to have access to laundry and a full kitchen, amenities that make life much easier when traveling with a little one. They may also offer better setups so baby has their own space to sleep, which can make quite a difference for keeping a consistent rest schedule. Keep an eye out for places managed by hosts with a reputation for responsiveness. And read all the details on each listing carefully to make sure you're picking a child-friendly rental—reviews from other parents are extremely helpful. 

On-the-go sleep tips from Nanit Lab

Sleep is often a challenge when it comes to traveling with your little one. We asked Nanit Lab’s Dr. Maristella Lucchini,

“Is it possible to keep your sleep routine while on vacation with your kids?”  

In short, any travel will likely interfere with your regular naptime or bedtime routine. Here are a few tips she shared:

  • If possible, try to schedule car trips around nap times.
  • Use a baby carrier for naps on the go.
  • Bring familiar items to make the bedtime routine feel less strange (books, bath toys, etc.)
  • Use a Sound and Light machine to recreate a familiar and consistent sleeping environment.
  • Be flexible and don’t stress too much about it if your routines don’t go exactly according to plans! Your baby’s sleep skills will not be wiped out by a few crazy days, and the memories and fun you have together will be worth it!

Preparing to travel with baby checklist

Here are the basics to cover when packing up for a baby-friendly trip. 

  • Sleep gear. Bring your Pro Camera baby monitor along in one of our travel cases and any other items you use during your home sleep routine, such as a white noise machine and baby’s favorite bedtime book. It can also help to bring baby’s favorite lovey, so they have something familiar to calm them. 
  • Feeding supplies. Don’t forget baby food, formula, or whatever you need to nourish your baby through your trip. If they’re still bottle feeding, don’t forget whatever supplies you might need to clean and sanitize, such as a bottle brush. If you’re pumping, bring cool packs and storage supplies for your milk, along with your breast pump. Be sure to check TSA guidelines for optimal packing success (and be ready to be asked to open your bottles for inspection).
  • Comfort items. Don’t forget your child’s favorite stuffed animal or another piece of home that they need to feel soothed. This can make a big difference in helping them transition to a brand new environment. 
  • Extra essentials. As with any time you leave the house, you want to have plenty of diapers, wipes,  and whatever else your baby needs. Think about what you stock your diaper bag with, and bring enough for the duration of your trip. It’s also a good idea to have bandaids, medications, and other first aid items on hand, in case of unexpected boo-boos or fevers. 
  • Activity bag. Babies and toddlers can get bored on long trips. It helps to have some age-appropriate activities ready, such as coloring books or travel-friendly games. That way, your child stays occupied and happy. 
  • Baby proofing. Traveling with babies who are in that developmental stage of being both mobile and curious about everything present requires some extra precautions. If you’re not sure about how baby-proofed your accommodations are, ask ahead (baby gates and outlet covers are ideal). 

Choosing the right baby gear to make your trip easier

In addition to everything you need to bring to meet baby’s daily needs, there’s also everything you need to carry your baby around. If they’re very small, you’ll probably need to bring a stroller and car seat (required for certain ages in flight—check airline rules). It’s good to know which baby gear is amenable to traveling, so there are no surprises en route to your destination. 

If you’re flying, it helps to bring a travel stroller. A stroller must meet the airline requirement of being 20 pounds or less if you don’t want to check it. You can also find travel car seats and cribs that aren’t too heavy. The key is finding well-rated gear that’s lightweight, compact, and proven safe. If you’ve just bought some of these items for your trip, it can help to try it out at home. That way, your baby is used to it when it’s time to hit the road. 

Special travel considerations by age

A baby’s travel accommodation needs will fluctuate with each phase of their development. Here are some tips for traveling with your baby through all ages. 

Newborn to 6 months

When flying with a baby, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends waiting until they’ve had their immunizations, usually around six months. And of course, while sticking to a routine is going to be important for children of any age, it’s especially important for traveling with younger babies. 

6 to 9 months

For many, this is the sweet spot of traveling with a baby, when they’re not too young, but also not yet mobile. If you book lodging away from busy streets or use a noise machine and blackout curtains, it can be easier to help your baby stick to their sleeping schedule. Pack a little extra of all the essentials in case your travels take longer than anticipated (very common these days). 

9 to 12 months

Your baby may be starting to crawl at this stage, so be prepared for a potentially squirmy baby. Children under age two are technically allowed to fly sitting on a parent’s lap, but the AAP doesn’t recommend it. If baby flies in their own seat in an airline-approved baby carrier, then you won’t have to worry about them moving up and down the aisles. It can also make a big difference to book lodging with plenty of space, so baby has room to move. 

12 to 24 months

Plenty of snacks and activities are the way to go when traveling with a toddler. The increased mobility and range in moods may present some additional challenges, so good distractions are key. If you build in a snack break or take a quick walk, it’s easier to regulate their moods. And as they learn more about the environment around them, it can be a lot of fun to watch your toddler discover a new place. 

Top travel tips by mode of transportation

Here are some tips for how to simplify traveling with your baby, no matter how you’re getting to your destination. 

Flying with baby

If you’re not already the kind of person to get to the airport early, you’ll want to be when flying with a baby. Give yourself extra time to get through security and make sure to research what’s allowed in your carry-on bag. You don’t want to accidentally pack medication that exceeds the size limit for carry-on liquids. It’s also important to know which documents your airline requires. While passports are only needed for babies on international flights, some domestic flights require a copy of your baby’s birth certificate. 

Once you’re on the airplane, it’s all about keeping baby comfortable and happy. Babies and toddlers are especially susceptible to ear popping from the pressure. Pacifiers can provide some relief for young babies. For toddlers who are old enough to follow instructions, you can try to help them with easy techniques like yawning. 

Another key factor to consider with air travel is where you sit on an airplane. Bulkhead seats near the front of the plane can offer extra legroom. A window seat can also keep baby safe and secure when the flight attendant comes by with the drink cart. 

Road trips with baby

It’s easy for your baby to get stir crazy on a long car ride, so planning a route with enough breaks is key to keeping your baby content. Planning for some pit stops around baby’s eating schedule may help. As with flying, you’ll want to bring plenty of extra food just in case. If you’re nursing and need to pump, you may want to use a travel-friendly pump with a car adapter charger. 

You’ll also want plenty of extra diapers and wipes for changes. If you’re concerned about any potential messes, a blanket on baby’s lap (over the securely fastened harness) and keeping trash bags or a towel on the floor can make clean-ups on the road a lot easier too. 

Dealing with unexpected situations

Sure, preparing ahead of time can make family traveling less stressful. Packing surplus supplies such as snacks and extra clothes can certainly help in the event of any delays. And if you are familiar with the AAP’s pediatrician directory, you know who to call if your baby isn’t feeling well on your trip. But even if you’ve done all of the planning, and tried to adjust your baby’s schedule before leaving, there’s only so much you can control. 

It’s important to be gentle with yourself if everything doesn’t go exactly as planned. If your baby gets cranky because their routine has been disrupted, or they’re overwhelmed by all the new people, don’t force them to power through. If they’re suddenly shy around family members they’ve never met, it’s OK to let them take some space. The more flexible you are around changes to the itinerary, the better time everyone will have if the unexpected occurs.

Enjoy a baby-friendly adventure

With the right balance of flexibility and thorough planning, your trip with baby can be fun for the whole family. Give yourself plenty of time and do your best to go with the flow while keeping baby fed and rested. Even if you have a few bumps in the road, though, it’s OK. The more prepared you are for hiccups, the more likely your family is to have a great time. 

Nanit is dedicated to delivering high-quality, reliable content for our readers. Our Parent Confidently articles are crafted by experienced parenting contributors and are firmly rooted in data and research. To ensure the accuracy and relevance of the content, all articles undergo a rigorous review process by our team of parenting experts. Additionally, our wellness-related content receives further scrutiny from Nanit Lab, our think tank of scientists, engineers, physicians, academic experts, and thought leaders.

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Natalie Barnett, PhD serves as VP of Clinical Research at Nanit. Natalie initiated sleep research collaborations at Nanit and in her current role, Natalie oversees collaborations with researchers at hospitals and universities around the world who use the Nanit camera to better understand pediatric sleep and leads the internal sleep and development research programs at Nanit. Natalie holds a Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of New England in Australia and a Postgraduate Certificate in Pediatric Sleep Science from the University of Western Australia. Natalie was an Assistant Professor in the Neurogenetics Unit at NYU School of Medicine prior to joining Nanit. Natalie is also the voice of Nanit's science-backed, personalized sleep tips delivered to users throughout their baby's first few years.

Kristy Ojala is Nanit’s Digital Content Director. She spends way too much time looking at maps and weather forecasts and pictures of Devon Rex cats and no-cook dinners. A former sleep champion, she strives to share trustworthy somnabulism tips with other parents—praying for that one fine day when no tiny humans wake her up while it’s still dark out. Her kids highly recommend 3 books, approximately 600 stuffies, Chopin’s “Nocturnes,” and the Nanit Sound + Light for bedtime success.

Mackenzie Sangster is on the Brand and Community team at Nanit. She supports content development and editing for Nanit’s Parent Confidently blog as well as other marketing initiatives. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her friends, cooking, being active, and using the Pro + Flex Duo to keep an eye on her fur-baby, Poppy!

Holly Hays is a contributor and writer for Nanit, channeling her years as a mama and former magazine editor to create fun, useful content for fellow busy, trying-to-do-their-best parents and caregivers. Holly has written for a wide range of brands and media outlets (Ergobaby, HGTV, Manhattan Toy Company, OXO), loves to cook and read mystery novels, and leans heavily on her two daughters to keep her up to date on all the latest slang.