2019 has been the best year of my life. And that’s mainly because my son Cooper was born in April of this year.
:: cue applause and high fives ::
But before becoming parents, my wife Caitlin and I never truly grasped the impact our son would have on our travel. Cooper’s presence meant that our plans to visit my sister-in-law and her family suddenly involved crossing 4,221 miles of land and ocean from our home in Chicago to the Big Island of Hawaii…with a baby. How the heck were we going to do that?!?
After my panic attack subsided, I came to realize that traveling with a child is not as daunting as it might seem, BUT it does involve some preparation that you should be aware of before you travel!
I’ve broken this post down into the five stages and included all of the gear we used (note – we found ALL of it helpful):
- Getting to the airport
- Getting through the airport
- Getting to your destination airport
- Getting from your destination airport to your final destination
At the end of this article, you’ll find a complete list of items we have been gifted or purchased.
Know what you need to have done in advance. This part won’t surprise too many of you.
- Make sure you have your documents
- Go check out this great post at Vitalchek.com. I won’t plagiarize their content, but this post talks about many of the ideas you should consider (specific to several airlines) when having documentation. You likely won’t need anything to fly domestically, but it won’t hurt to carry a copy of your baby’s birth certificate.
- If you’re flying internationally, you’ll need a passport. Considering reading this guide from path2usa.com for more details on that!
- Inform the airlines
- Once you have your flights booked, call the airline to inform them you’ll have a lap infant. There won’t be an additional cost, but you’ll get to check your car seat, gate-check your stroller, and bring a baby bag without cost (at least that was the American Airlines policy!)
- Check with the hotel, Airbnb, or wherever you’re staying to ensure they have what you need
- Hopefully, your lodgings have a crib or pack and play like ours did. This is something that might be new for you to think about when it comes to places to stay. If they do not offer such options, consider the Lotus Travel Crib. Just remember that’s one more thing you need to lug there and back!
2.) Getting to the airport
Hint: It’s not as easy as it sounds. Practice makes perfect, especially with securing your car seat to the back seat. And you’ll learn after a trip or two what you NEED to bring vs. the nice to have items.
- You need a car seat to secure your child
- Sadly this is not negotiable! Whether you’re going from your home or a hotel to the airport or airport parking facility, your kid will need a car seat. Now there are a LOT of options – and I won’t review all of them. We received a Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat as part of our baby registry, and while we love it because it will grow with our son, it is not feasible to bring on the road.
- As a result, we bought the Britax B-Safe 35 Infant Car Seat, and we made sure to purchase the Britax Car Seat Travel Bag so the seat would not get dirty or messed up in transit. The B-Safe 35 is excellent because the seat component has a handle to carry the baby and a detachable base which is really easy to secure to the anchors in the back seat of every car manufactured after Sept 1, 2002. (I had no clue what LATCH – Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children – was until I had to learn, but knowing that all modern cars have attachments to connect a seat was a huge relief!)
- Drive your car or take a Lyft/Uber/Taxi
- For us, this was a simple financial question. We were going to be gone for 10 days, so parking a car was going to cost too much. We called for an Uber around 3 AM on the day of our departure, the driver showed up, and I connected the base of the car seat. While he helped us load our gear, I attached the seat to the base and ensured our son was secure, and off we went!
- Be cognizant of how much stuff you have
- We had one big suitcase and one small suitcase plus the car seat to check. We then had one backpack (mine), one Briggs & Riley rollaboard bag (with the breast pump, the Boppy, and spare diapers and clothes), and another backpack (baby gear + wife’s gear). This meant two empty-handed adults would have been one, but one mother carrying a baby and a father doubling as a sherpa were bound to have some issues with pushing it all.
3.) Getting through the airport
Take a breath. Rest for a bit. This is like the moment in the hurricane’s eye before chaos resumes.
- You may need or want a stroller to move your child around
- This leads to the second piece of equipment that most parents would consider vital: the stroller. We got the Britax B-Lively Lightweight Stroller, and it is easy to fold up and stow into the Britax B-Lively Single Stroller Travel Bag. The only knock on this one is that there’s no drink holder on the handle, so if you need a beverage, considering buying the Universal Cup Holder by Accmor which clamps onto our stroller handle with ease.
- The good thing is if you choose to check your stroller (in addition to the seat), you should be able to do so without cost (check with your airline). I gate checked the stroller on our flights, and the only problem with that was there was a lightning storm at O’Hare, so we waited for a half-hour before being told to go to baggage claim. If you don’t need the stroller in the terminal, just check-in and be spared of the hassle.
- What kind of stroller and seat combo are you using?
- The reason we got the Britax B-Safe 35 Infant Car Seat is because it was compatible with the Britax B-Lively Lightweight Stroller. Again – do what works for you (from a budget, features, or looks perspective) but compatibility will go a long way in making your life easier.
- Consider bringing the baby carrier
- Whether you bring the stroller through the airport or check it in, you should consider bringing the baby carrier (which I know you had already thought about buying). We brought my sister-in-law’s hand-me-down and when Cooper got bigger we used the LILLEbaby SIX-Position, 360° Ergonomic Baby & Child Carrier. This was crucial for two reasons: ease of carrying Cooper and also the ability to hold him while in flight allowed both of us to get some sleep (and rest knowing he was secure).
4.) Getting to your destination
Once you’re on the plane, it’s all about access. Regardless of which class you fly, know what you NEED access to and pack your bags accordingly. You’ll naturally figure out what kinds of bottles, nipples, nipple shields, formula (if need be), pumping machine (if need be), and other parenting products you may want, but here are some suggestions.
- The all-important baby bag
- To keep Cooper’s things organized, we purchased the Hafmall Diaper Bag Backpack and have been very satisfied. We put enough diapers for a day (and then doubled it), baby wipes, a baby changing pad, a bag of Medela, Quick Clean Breast Pump and Accessory Wipes, two bottles of breast milk, 1-2 pouches of frozen breast milk to act as ice packs, a couple towels, muslins, and changes of clothing.
- We brought our Spectra S2 breast pump, and it only worked well because we had power outlets at our seats. While we didn’t have it during our first trip, the Bellababy Breast Pump was something we bought later on which is super portable, easy to use, and affordable ($60 on Amazon.com) – it’s just a bit louder than the Spectra.
- My wife also put her wallet, cell phone, charging cable, kindle, and chewing gum in the bag, which doubled as her personal bag for the trip.
- What I keep in my backpack
- In a previous post titled, “My Everyday Carry (EDC) for Personal Trips,” I wrote about some of the small lifesavers I carry with me. I pack most of these items into a small seat bag (see my last post called “How to…Pack a Seat Bag” for an up-close view into how it fits into my backpack). The rest of the items in my backpack include my laptop, power cables, notebooks, water bottle, a rainfly for my bag, and usually a fleece.
- What I keep in my rollaboard
- Boppy Original Nursing Pillow and Positioner – This can be super helpful if your child doesn’t have enough neck strength yet or if you want to avoid sore shoulders/neck/back yourself.
- Wash. It. Later. Soak and Save Bags – Lifesaver for you and for other passengers.
- A spare change of clothes for wife, me, and baby
- What we packed in our big suitcase
- COZY GREENS Baby Car Mirror – Helpful to see your child when you’re driving at your destination
- Lotus Travel Crib – We didn’t bring it on this trip because we had a pack and play or crib in each of our destinations, but this is what we have for our future trips!
5.) Getting from your destination airport to where you’re staying and other activities
Oh, you thought you were done? Hah!
But fear not. Getting yourself to the rental car center, loading up your gear, securing the car seat, and getting yourself to your destination are all that stand between you and glorious vacation!
- Should you rent a car seat from the car rental agency?
- If you don’t mind paying and don’t need it for the plane, it might be worth it.
- But problem #1: how are you getting to the airport without a car seat? Certainly not with an Uber, Lyft or taxi because they’ll require you to have one.
- Problem #2: you should already own one – so why pay for it?
- Keep my suggestion from my second point above (“Be cognizant of how much stuff you have”) in mind when deciding what kind of car to rent. Anything smaller than a full-size car wouldn’t hold the gear we brought!
- Get yourself to your destination
- Guess what, weary-eyed, exhausted traveler? You’re on the home stretch. From here on it, it’s only a matter of time before you arrive. The hard part is over! That is until you have to go home. 🙂
To our surprise, traveling with Cooper was relatively easy (minus an incident in Phoenix where we sprinted between terminals only to find near our gate that the plane had been moved back to where we de-planed. He slept, interacted, fed, and even made friends with our flight attendant on our final legs – earning his flight wings in the process!
I know we were lucky to have such an angel (he would go on to fly with us to Vegas a few weeks later again with no issues, then on our latest flight to Boston he vomited all over my wife). No amount of gear can prevent that, but if you follow some of these steps, hopefully, your travel experience will go that much easier! Best of luck fellow parent travelers!
In case you wanted just a list of only the products you should consider, here you go! 🙂
- Get to the airport and driving to your destination
- Helpful at the airport and in motion
- Carry on board with you
- At the destination
And consider the Britax Marathon ClickTight Convertible Car Seat if you don’t want travel flexibility but want a car seat that will grow with your child!
Categories: How To
What a big trip for Cooper and fam. Appreciate the concisely broke down stages of travel along with thoughtful packing items. Would love an update soon on the “new” age of travel along with traveling with multiples!