One of the most frequent questions I get is about traveling with babies and toddlers and what gear to pack. We took our first international trip – to New Zealand – when our little one was 5 months old. Since then, most of our trips have been hops out to Hawaii and Florida for family visits. Traveling in the early months is actually easier in a lot of ways. It’s before they’re on the move, before they’re eating solids (even easier packing, if you’re breastfeeding!), and they always seem to have a nap coming up. Plus, babies fly free (excluding taxes and fees) until they’re two years old, so book up those trips! It’s why we planned a trip to Scandinavia a month before he turned two. With quite a few trips under our belt, here’s the best baby travel gear to make life simpler on the go.
Baby Travel Gear
The biggest tip I have for traveling with your little, is to remember that both you and your kiddo are going to be the same people and have the same dynamic you have at home. Just with slightly less sleep, and a more unfamiliar space. You’ll have to lower your expectations and try to go with the flow. Famous last words, sorry. ;) Try to think of your trip as a deviation from your normal routine and see how it plays out. We all do things differently on a trip. It doesn’t mean it’s going to derail all your hard work for routine, sleep training etc when you get home. Get sleep and naps in when you can, stay hydrated and try to eat balanced, but also have fun! :)
Our best baby travel gear items are usually sleep related! Depending on your sleep situation at home, you’re most likely going to want to bring a travel crib. Unless you co-sleep at home and then you’re not going to need one. Many hotels and Airbnbs have cribs or roll-away cots. It really depends on your kid if it’s going to work for you. You also might end up waiting for the hotel to send someone up with the crib. If you’re ready to just get in your room, set things up and get to sleep, that might not work. If your sleep and sanity is gonna hinge on this sleep, just bring your own. In our experience, anytime we’ve tried the strange crib – it’s resulted in a complete meltdown. Then, we’ve had to start over and try again in our bed or our own travel crib.
If you do try a provided crib, make sure you bring your own crib sheet and blankets, lovies etc that your little one is used to. Keep in mind that sleep situation also depends on where you’re staying. If you’re staying in a stand-alone house, you might be comfortable with letting them cry it out for 10 min to see if they’ll go to sleep. If you’re staying with other people or in an Airbnb in a small apartment building, you might not feel like you have that option.
Travel Crib vs Pack n Play vs Travel Tent
Pack n’plays are pretty universally popular. However, they are pretty heavy and unwieldy, especially for flights. We recommend one of the following, depending on the age of your kiddo:
Guava Family Lotus Travel Crib – the Baby Bjorn travel crib also looks very similar. The key here is lightweight – the Lotus is 12 pounds. These travel cribs are a bit pricier than the Pack ‘n Plays. Make sure you’ll get the use out of it or consider co-buying with a friend. Also, check your local Facebook groups and consignment shops for gently used ones. We picked up ours on Craigslist for free. Then we purchased a replacement mat, bag, and bassinet add-on for infant use! Score!
Kidco Peapod Plus Tent – as your kiddo gets older, you’ll probably want to graduate to a different sleep setup. A travel tent can be a great in between for that phase of “too old for a crib”, but you still want them contained in the night. We started using this around 22 months on an overnight trip. And then we took it to Scandinavia for a 3 week trip. Depending on your kid and their personality, they might take to it right away or not like it. We set the tent up for a few weeks in the corner of our bedroom. He would play in it or just go in occasionally. Basically, we wanted him to not be afraid of it.
On trips, we also got into a habit of laying in the half open door while he fell asleep. Then, we’d zip it up and creep away. For us it was worth it so he was calm and would sleep. We didn’t want him thrashing around or rolling the tent etc. The times he did wake in the night, we just put him in our bed. He was also dealing with some jetlag so that was the quickest way to get him comfortable and back to sleep.
The Peapod for some flights might be technically over the dimensions. It’s 18″ in diameter. But at only 4″ wide and 3.5 pounds, we just carried it on flights without issue. Their website says it fits in carryon bags. Technically it does, but then I had no room for the rest of my stuff. I prefer to carry it like a purse. Or if we’re checking one large suitcase, I’ll fit it in that.
Baby Sleep Accessories
Baby monitor – At home, we use a video monitor. For trips, an old school portable audio-only monitor is great to be able to set up. Then you can hear them in the room to feel comfortable hanging out after they go to sleep. Especially depending on the size of place you’re staying and if other people and kids are staying with you.
White noise / Sound machine – We have always just used an old iPhone for white noise. We seem to always have one laying around from a previous phone upgrade. We keep it on airplane mode and use the TMSOFT White Noise app (best one is called Brown Noise, IMO). This can also dual as a space saver as they get older and watch shows on the flight. So the old phone can be their white noise at night. Then you can load Prime Video or games on it so that you can actually use your own phone. I know a lot of people bring iPads for this. But I can’t justify the size of an iPad to travel with and we also don’t have a newer iPad.
Blackout Room Supplies – we travel with a little case of tacks and binder clips (in a few different sizes). We don’t travel with blackout curtains, as it doesn’t seem worth the weight. We’ve always made do with various blankets, sheets or towels already in the rooms we’re staying.
Baby Travel Carrier:
A babywearing carrier has always been our must-have of the best baby travel gear. Of course, it also depends if you use one already at home. Some trips we’ve taken a stroller. And some trips we’ve relied on just the carrier or a bit of both. If you have a long flight, a carrier is also great to relieve your arms and back, even while seated. On our 9 hour flight to New Zealand from Honolulu, we took turns wearing him, seated and walking around the plane. But again, if you don’t use a baby carrier at home already, your kiddo might be confused. We also took the carrier when he was almost two on our trip to Scandinavia. We used it as back-carry option on a hike, and walking around the city, on days we didn’t take the stroller out.
Lillebaby Carrier – The Lillebaby has been our go-to since his birth. We’ve used friends’ Ergo and tried wraps a few times as an infant, but this carrier is our favorite. It has options for infants to toddlers. You can make the seat narrower and wider, do front carry facing you or facing out, and back carry. This is still one of the most versatile carriers on the market. We have the 6-position Complete. But if we were re-buying, I would get the 6-position All Seasons. It has a zip down air flow option which now seem to be only $3 more?
Lightweight Travel Stroller:
Your need of a stroller, also depends on your trip. Overall, I recommend the Summer 3D Lite travel stroller. It’s a lightweight travel stroller, and affordable. Definitely what you want if you’re gate checking it. However, we did take our giant BOB stroller on a few trips during the first year. Including all the way to New Zealand. Yes, jogging strollers are huge, but it’s kind of amazing to have a rolling cart and be out of the house for ages. The naps we got out this stroller were a lifesaver for this tired mama and I don’t regret taking the BOB international!
We could have gotten by with just babywearing, but it was more relaxing to have a stroller along. The best baby travel gear can help you with more than one thing or give you extra freedom! He would nap in it comfortably, could do diaper changes, put our coffee or drinks in the top, stash backpacks underneath etc. Traveling through airports is also awesome. It’s like you have your own luggage cart that comes with you. :)
Summer 3Dlite stroller – Now that he’s a bit older and walking more, the 3D is the perfect travel stroller. Easy to gate check, and less worry about what it’s going to look like on the other side (vs a spendy running stroller). Plus, you can still stash a small backpack underneath or on the straps. If you get the 3D it also reclines all the way so you can do naps on the go. Tip: check the Amazon Open Box pricing on these. There are usually always some available, almost brand new and can save you like $15. The packaging might be a little damaged, but I assure you your first gate check trip is going to do just as much or more dings to your stroller. :)
Lightweight Travel Car Seat:
We have never used a car seat on the plane, but we usually fly with a checked carseat. Airlines have free checked bag fees for car seats and strollers. (Note they do not extend this courtesy for travel cribs). When he was an infant, we took our large Chicco Keyfit 30 infant seat and base (17 pounds), with a car seat bag. When he grew out of that seat, we had the Diono carseat at home. But we bought a more lightweight travel car seat for travel since the Diono is crazy heavy (28 pounds!). Unless we’re traveling to visit friends or family who have a car seat we can borrow, and they’re picking us up at the airport with it, and we have someone to drop us off/pick us up after at our airport with our car.
There has been one instance that we rented a carseat from the car rental place. That is almost always a more expensive option. However, we only needed the car for 24 hrs of our trip. We didn’t want to travel with it the rest of the time since we would be using public transportation in Copenhagen and Stockholm.
Evenflo Tribute Car Seat – I’m sure there quite a few other lightweight and affordable car seat options as well. This one we found on sale, and ticked all the safety boxes. At 12 pounds, with forward and rear facing options, we will get a few years use out of this car seat. And price-wise if something happened to it, we wouldn’t be outraged.
Car Seat Travel Bag – Pretty much all carseat travel bags are going to get beat up and get a hole in it. I would love to put all these bags in a not the best baby travel gear list! :P But they are necessary. So buy the cheapest one, and repair or exchange it when it inevitable breaks. I think part of the issue was that we had a heavy infant seat and stuff in it. Note: you can stuff your car seat bag with things that you wouldn’t mind losing. Technically, you’re not supposed to, but we’ve never been asked and never lost anything. Usually, we would put diapers and wipes in it. That way we didn’t have to purchase on the trip, since diapers were going to be more expensive in New Zealand.
On-the-Go: Baby Travel Accessories
OXO Tot On-the-Go Wipes Dispenser w/Diaper Pouch – This wipes case has been one of our baby air travel essentials from the start! It’s great for every day use and amazing for flights. It holds 4-5 diapers and a huge stack of wipes. We would even slide in a washable small toy when he was in that grabby stage. This helped to keep him from grabbing things in the airplane bathroom.
When he was an infant, we also used just the zip-off changing pad portion from a SkipHop Changing mat clutch as our diaper mat. We found the entire clutch to be too bulky for travel and for everyday use in the diaper bag. As he got older we’ve just folded up an extra large IKEA ziploc and put it in our wipes case to use as a diaper changer mat (double duty for containing any blow out situations). Even after potty training, we still use this case. Now it holds travel potty replacement liners, wipes, and any accident supplies.
Bluetooth Headband Headphones – Don’t be that person playing apps and videos full blast on the plane! Your seat mates (or another family trying to get their kid to nap), will thank you. ;) Our kiddo didn’t even care about having the sound on until he was around 18 months. Around 2 he started becoming more familiar with watching shows (sound? shows come with sound?!) so we decided to get some headphones. There are tons of headphone options. These are kind of cool because they’re foldable so easy to stash in your bag if your kid isn’t using them. And since it’s a headband, you don’t usually have the same issue of them tearing them off their head over and over and over again, and no wires to pull or get tangled. The only thing I don’t like about these is you do have to charge them.
Blanket – For under age 1, take a blanket to lay on floor of airports, parks, hotel room etc. Tip: pack one that is double sided. Then you know what side you’ve had floor-down and can fold it against itself. Especially before they’re walking, this is great to be able to lay out and put a few toys on to let your little one move between flights or just not always be contained – which most of travel is.
Baby Travel Bags: Luggage & Backpacks
After many cross-country and a few international flights with a baby and toddler, here’s my basic luggage strategy. If you have a baby along, you’re most likely going to have enough items with you that it makes sense to check a bag. Your two considerations here are baggage fees and weight. Yes, you can get huge rolling suitcases, but you’ll be over the 50 pound weight limit super quick (most airlines charge a fee after 50 pounds, some airlines like United allow 70 lbs if you’re a mileage member).
If anything, two small to medium size checked bags can be better in terms of not triggering extra fees and being able to fit your luggage along with other items in a taxi or rental car. The last thing you want is to be charge an extra $100-200 that could have paid for your brand new luggage, as overweight fee. That’ll make you cry and be angry and probably trigger an airport argument with your partner! Don’t add stress to your travel and have this stuff dialed in before you leave.
We have one 25″ hard side rolling suitcase for our family of three (we have this Delsey one Amazon, $120). It’s the average medium size checked bag and still gets up to 50 pounds quickly! A large 29″ spinner suitcase (Amazon, $153) can also work if you’re a family of four and give you a bit of extra space, but you’ll want to weigh your bag before heading to the airport (luggage scale, Amazon or stand on a bathroom scale holding the suitcase, then subtract) and be really conscious of space in a rental car, especially if you’re bringing a stroller too. We actually purchased two Patagonia duffel bag/backpacks on sale last year before our Scandinavia trip. Because the checked bag fees were going to be so expensive and we’d be walking a lot, this paid for our new luggage!
Baby Travel Bag – Ours is like a diaper bag / day pack. One of the best baby travel gear items we have because we use it everyday at home too. We’re currently use the Patagonia Ultralight Tote 27L as our diaper bag. This is the perfect mama backpack and travel bag! We copied a mama friend on this one, and now I recommend it to people all the time. Especially since it has tote handles, you can wear it like a tote bag on your shoulder or as a backpack. Bonus for places like museums that say “no backpacks”, while traveling. And it’s really lightweight and fits everything we need for a full day out – with one kid anyway. Patagonia seems to always be improving this bag too so there are always deals on the last seasons colors and models. We found ours at REI.
A toddler backpack is also fun for flights. Target usually has them for about $10-15. It’s a great way to contain toys that you’re bringing for them. Then put that little backpack in one of your bags you’re carrying.
What NOT to Bring – Skip it, unless this sounds like you:
Stroller Sun Shade – This shade loops and velcros around the handles of any stroller. Then you hook it to the lower part of the stroller to adjust for about 3 different positions. One of the drawbacks of a travel stroller is the sun shades are usually crap (compared to the BOB etc). If you’re planning to use it for naps or will end up needing to sunscreen your kiddo like crazy, you might need one. We also used it on rainy days and one doozy of a downpour where we had to walk for half a mile to the train station. It’s not technically water proof, but it was enough to get us through the weather without a screaming toddler. For that I am thankful! So think about your trip first and if you would even need it. Most trips we haven’t needed this.
Booster Seat for table – We’ve never taken this on an international trip. For visiting family where we’ve stayed in the same place for a week it’s been great. Depending on the eating style of your kiddo and their age, a booster seat travel high chair can be amazing. But only if they use one at home. I knew without it, I would end up being the one with a baby on my lap all through the meals. Of course, most restaurants have high chairs. But if you’re going to be in a vacation rental or eating at home or hotel a lot, it might be worth it for you. I liked that I could strap him into and then make food etc. Then I didn’t have to worry about him crawling away in an unfamiliar house etc.
Travel tub – When we’ve stayed at a place without a tub we have always managed fine. We used a sink when they were tiny, a large bowl, or just holding in the shower. A friend has used an inflatable baby pool/tub and had success with it, if that sounds like your jam.
Childproofing – We don’t bring any items for childproofing. Instead, we usually do a quick once over when we arrive to a new hotel or Airbnb. Any vases or easy breakables to tuck away in a cupboard. Cords or other strings that when pulled would bring down a heavy object (lamp, router box etc). And move things like foot rest stools or small loungers against areas we kind of want contained. Our kid has never been too interested in outlets. But one friend also brings washi tape to put over electrical outlets and tape up anything she needs out of the way for her busy little one. And wipe down any surfaces they’re going to be touching or mouthing. That said, you’re going to have to watch your child more closely than at home. :)
Travel bouncer – Depending on your ratio of adults to kiddos, a travel bouncer might be worth it to you. We haven’t needed it, with one kid. The Summer Infant Pop n Jump activity center was a great addition for a friend traveling solo with 3 kids to keep the 9 month old contained periodically. She had it shipped to her destination and used it for a few weeks. Then she sold it on Facebook Marketplace for half the price, before she left. Committed!
Inflatable leg rest – These seem best for older preschoolers, long or overnight flights. We haven’t needed it yet for our two year old. A friend has some, but only took it on one flight. It was an overnight and they hoped the kids would sleep some.
Ride-on Suitcase – I’ve been asked about these a few times, both Trunki and BedBox by Stokke. We have not used one. I could see a use for it on a domestic flight, like going to visit family. My main concern is it would go unused. Then I’d be the one schlepping this hunk of plastic through the airport. First, when we’re in the airport, that means that we’re off the plane, so our kid probably needs some physical activity – walking. Or if we’re needing to get somewhere quick, like to a connecting flight etc, said kid is going to be in the stroller and we’re going to be speed walking to the next gate. So I wouldn’t also want to be dragging along a big plastic animal case on a string. That said, a friend has one, her kid loves it. So depends on you. :)