Years ago, I remember talking with a co-worker about having kids and he said, “Do you like camping? Because that’s what you’ll be doing for years!” I can’t remember his name, but that has really stuck with me and I think of him whenever I’m packing.
Packing for a trip with a baby can feel like getting ready for a week-long camp out in a remote location. Of course this list doesn’t exhaust every possible thing and honestly, I’m not an expert. I’m just a new mom still trying to go on trips and pass along some lessons learned.
I do have some experience traveling with a baby though. I’ve taken my son to Paris, Naples, Edinburgh, Rome, Sevilla and London all before he has reached his first birthday. In this guide, I’ll share my essentials for traveling with a baby and a few travel tips I’ve learned along the way.
*This guide references “we,” which entails my husband who I am eternally grateful goes on all these trips with me. This guide also contains affiliate links.*
A Quick Word On Carry On vs. Checked
Only attempt carry on only if you are a highly skilled packer going on a very short trip with a tiny baby. I managed carry on only for my son’s first trip to Paris when he was three months old for three nights and was pretty proud of myself. Now that he is older, I’ve just accepted the checked bag and avoid a layover at all costs. Ok, let’s get to it…
In the Diaper Bag
For actual travel days on the airplane and going around town for a long day, I’ll pack our backpack diaper bag with all the usual suspects: diapers, wipes, bottles, formula and an extra outfit. We chose this backpack because dad can carry it too, but I also like to have a smaller more stylish one for everyday trips to the store.
I love this formula travel container for 3 bottles (can also be used for snacks if eating solids). I also load up this container for 4 bottles and put it in my husband’s backpack with an extra bottle (in case, god forbid, the diaper bag gets lost/stolen/run over/etc).
I use two kinds of bottles. The Nanobebes are great to pour formula in for the wide mouth and no extra anti-colic pieces. I love these bottles, but they are the worst for travel because they have a narrow mouth (which gets formula everywhere) and have one too many tiny tubes for me to be cleaning in a hotel.
The Avent bottles are probably my favorite because they warm up easier using a mug and water from the hotel kettle, while also having a wide mouth. The Nanos don’t get very warm with this method. So, I would say it depends on if your baby is as particular as mine about temperature!
Clorox Wipes -These travel size packs are great for short trips. I wipe down the airline seats and restaurant high chairs.
Changing Mat – If your diaper bag doesn’t come with a mat, you definitely need one to lay your baby down on. I like the ones that are a little padded, because I’ve definitely had to do a change on the sink counter in some tiny Italian restaurants that did not have a changing station.
LifeVac – This product is on my husband’s side of the house. He saw that viral video where it saved a baby’s life and we got one the very same day. It is small and fits right at the bottom of the backpack. It is the one thing I pack that I hope never to use!
Transportation & Gear
Baby Carrier – Essential! Happy with this one I got from my registry.
UPPABaby Minu V2 – We decided on this stroller because we didn’t want to get an everyday stroller and a special travel one. However, the size of our tiny European hatchback trunk also played into this decision. If I had a decent size car, I might have gone for a more hefty stroller and a smaller travel one.
For us, the Minu V2 is a good in between option. It is compact (relatively) and can still take a beating from the cobblestones. I also like that it’s adaptable for the car seat and a bassinet. Getting the car seat attachment is essential if you have the Mesa infant car seat (I think they make Nuna attachments as well).
Mesa Car Seat – We only bring the car seat if it is a place we will be taking a taxi or renting a car. For example, we did not bring the car seat when we traveled to London and I didn’t regret it. I did find that taking the bus was much more convenient than the tube. So, we took the train to and from the airport, but utilized the buses for getting around town. For trips to places like Naples, where I knew I was going to take a taxi to and from the airport, I brought the car seat.
I felt quite clever when I thought of this hack: I put any extras in the car seat so this doesn’t count towards the weight/space of my checked bag. For example, when we traveled during winter, I definitely didn’t need that adorable sherpa bear suit on the plane. So in the airport check in line, I rolled it up, placed it in the car seat and then bagged up the car seat (husband actually does last step while I hold baby).
I haven’t flown with a travel cot and always use one provided by the hotel. One less thing! I would consider bringing your own extra sheet if your baby has sensitive skin to other detergents though.
Other Travel Essentials
Clothes (I think H&M and Zara make some pretty cute baby clothes), sleep sack, lovey, diapers, diaper cream… the obvious stuff that you use every day.
Lightweight muslin blanket – Can be used to block the sun during naps, as a blanket or as a nursing cover up. I love Mushie’s designs.
Portable sound machine – I resisted this for a long time and just used my iPhone, but overall it is worth it and glad I (my husband) finally bought it.
If you need to bring a pump, I would suggest a compact hand pump. It saves space in your luggage and you don’t have to worry about plugging it in or charging it.
Travel size baby shampoo/body wash – or just get travel containers and fill them with whatever product you like. I like this one because it is a shampoo and body wash in one.
If you are going on a vacation to the beach or anywhere sunny, don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat! Living in southern Spain, I use these things daily all year round. It is rare that someone walks by and doesn’t smile at my son wearing these ridiculously cute sunglasses. They came with a nice fabric case and cleaning cloth.
I’m not savvy enough to bring an extra outfit for myself. I just accept the risk that I might have to live with some poop or spit up on me until I’m reunited with my clothes at baggage claim. However, I also take very short flights around Europe with no layovers. So, the risk is short term.
The last thing to pack is essential. Expectations. Traveling with a baby is fun and wonderful. It will not be exactly like relaxing or spontaneous vacations from years past. It might take a little more planning and effort, but it will be worth it.
If you are nervous about a big trip or maybe haven’t traveled in a while, you might want to consider somewhere in your own country that won’t have language barriers and extreme timezone differences.
If you are from the States (like the majority of my readers), maybe consider 3 days in San Diego instead of a big Euro trip if you are hesitant to travel at first. I was very comfortable bringing him to Paris and Naples as our first two trips with a baby because I have been to Paris many times and used to live in Naples. So it was all very familiar.
Remember: You can buy almost anything if you forget it. I say this as a mantra when I’m leaving out the door and the anxiety starts to creep in.
Good luck and bon voyage!