The world is opening up again, and we all may have a little bit of that travel bug. If your upcoming travel is either the first time with an infant or the first time in a long time, and let’s face it, your little one has changed drastically since pre-COVID travel, then you’ve come to the right place. Throughout my personal experience and a WHOLE LOT of research, I’ve gathered some must know infant travel hacks that every adventurous parent NEEDS to know.
Continue reading for my top must know infant travel hacks.
Must Know Infant Travel Hacks to prepare for happy travels
Book your flight intentionally
We all know the times of day where our little ones are more likely to be happier or nappier. Whatever that time may be, book your flight during that time. I typically try for earlier flights. My daughter has always been a happier camper during the morning. Morning flights also tend to coincide with nap time as well.
However, I’ve heard of other parents favoring later flights to get sleepier kiddos. It depends on the kiddo. For some reason, mine is happiest when rested. I don’t want to subject my airplane neighbors to the little sleepy monster that she becomes closer to bedtime. Yet, I know some children who are typically a little bit calmer. All the more power to you if you spend the whole flight with them sleeping.
When booking your flight, flying with an infant is not the best time to try to save money. If you can afford it, try to book flights that are non-stop or have a long enough layover to completely reset. And, by long enough layover, I mean a day or two where you can allow your little one to get lots of wiggles and quiet time before flying again. However, I would be cautious of flying anywhere where I couldn’t get to my final destination in one flight.
There are many reasons why it’s a good idea to stick to a non-stop, but the main reason is to cut down on time spent traveling. That’s less time trying to wrangle a wiggly infant and more time having fun on your vacation. Also, non-stops minimize the number of take-offs and landings as those tend to be the roughest on those little ears.
Quick tip: Lap child needs to be on your ticket
Just a reminder for those traveling with a lap infant. You will need to ensure that your child is accounted for and included on your ticket reservation. Many times this is something that has to be done after the reservation has been made by calling customer service. You can also do that at the gate, but I recommend taking care of it ahead of time to ease your traveling experience and simply as much as possible.
Also, you’ll want to make sure that you travel with a copy of your child’s birth certificate. Besides basic travel safety, airlines may also use the birth certificate to verify your older baby’s under two and can fly in your seat.
If you can afford it, buy your child a seat
Claim a row for your family. If you’re flying with an eligible lap child, it can be so tempting to save the money and have them lap hop between parents. However, if the funds or miles are there, it may be worth splurging on the extra seat to claim an entire row for your family. That allows for the car seat to come on board, which keeps your child safest, prolongs the life of the car seat, and gives both child and parent a break if needed during a long flight.
Another great option to consider is purchasing first-class tickets for the two parents. This allows more space for the family, and therefore, less stress. First-class seats are typically configured in sets of two anyway. If not first-class, purchasing a business class or whatever gets you closer to the front of the plane makes a difference too. Generally speaking, those seats offer you just a little bit more legroom and the air is cleaner and fresher at that point of the plane too.
Bring extended family
Let me first preface this point by saying, only if they bring you joy and are not stress-inducing. I’m blessed to have an amazing family who loves to travel a lot, so every chance we get we bring the grandparents, uncles, and aunts. Family trips don’t have to stop with just your immediate household. Having additional laps for your little one to go to or even just different neighbors on the plane can add more time to your child’s engagement bank. Thus, making it a more enjoyable travel experience as a family.
Call the hotel ahead of time for a crib or bring your own travel crib is certainly an infant travel hack that can’t be forgotten
When traveling with an infant or toddler, you will have to be more conscious of many things. Sleep is a top priority. Back in the day, my parents tell stories about rolling up towels and pillows to corral us on the bed. Nowadays, parents don’t have to do this because many hotels and vacation rentals can provide a Pack-N-Play or crib upon request.
I recommend calling ahead to ensure that there is something that can be used for your little one. Some places allow reservations or will tag your reservation so that it’s taken care of before you arrive.
However, something to be aware of is the fact that these are just as clean as the hotel. Which in some cases, maybe less clean than we would hope. We stayed at a Hilton Embassy Suites, which I believe is a respected hotel chain, and the borrowed Pack-N-Play smelled of pets and had lingering pet hairs. Thankfully, we had brought sanitary wipes, as we always do, and our own Pack-N-play crib sheet from home. But, that’s still something to be cautious of.
Or just buy your own travel crib
Since then, we purchased a Guava Travel Crib, which folds up into a manageable travel case and is relatively lightweight. We absolutely love this item because of the ease of set up, longer size for older babies, and the fact that the mattress rests on the ground so there’s no swaying or weight limit. My little one loves laying down with me since the side can zip down. We currently use this at my parents’ house for sleepovers and naps. Also, with the recent motivation for cleanliness, this will be packed on every one of our travels this year.
Now, traveling with a portable baby crib still adds to the luggage and size. Even if it’s as lightweight and small as the Guava. I would highly recommend against bringing the crib as a carry-on as advertised. Who is going to need this at the airport? However, including it in your checked-in luggage will be somewhat bulky and take up most of the space in the luggage. With that being said, it is important to simply forgo the ease of minimal checked-in luggage. We plan to devote a single bag for all of our toddler’s items whereas we could have included her in ours. This increases the baggage fees. However, if you are a part of a frequent flyer program, for instance, Alaska Airlines mileage credit card, a bag per ticketed flyer is included.
Pack light, but double baby necessities
Have you ever seen THAT family stumbling and stressed with many random odds and ends as they board the plane. Yes, please don’t be THAT family. Pack what you need. Pack it in one backpack per parent, and call it good. However, do make sure that you have sufficient baby necessities in case of a delayed flight or lost luggage. Things that you can’t buy at a store like milk/formula, medicines, or specialty foods should be carried on. I also like to ensure that I have double the amount of diapers and wipes I think I need for the flight and a change of clothes for the baby and me, just in case of blowouts or spit-up. You never know.
Pack zip locks and paper towels
I can’t remember the day that I realized what I had missed this whole time, but the realization was quite vivid.
Zip locks and napkins/paper towels take up virtually no room in the diaper bag. However, how many times have we found ourselves with a stinky diaper situation, a cranky baby, and nowhere to put the stinky diaper? I stick a couple of zip locks in my diaper bag at the start of every trip and inevitably use it to stow a rushed diaper change, a blown-out outfit, or even just to collect snack leftovers.
When traveling, I also include zip locks in my checked-in luggage to replenish my diaper bag stock throughout the vacation and on the way home.
Dress baby comfortably and in layers
Think about what is easiest to get on and off in a pinch. Literally.
As tempting as it may be, airline travel is not the time for the super cute first impression outfits. Let’s face it. Most of the cutest outfits are cumbersome, uncomfortable, and just not practical for travel. Dress babies in comfortable layers. Choose outfits that you know that you can get on and off easily. Make sure that the clothes are comfortable and snuggly. Layers can ensure that no matter where you land, your little one will be cool enough in warm weather and warm enough on a possibly cold flight.
I liked having a onesie, comfortable long pants that didn’t ride up, socks that stayed on, booties (or easy on and off shoes for a toddler), a sweatshirt or zip-up hoodie, and a light jacket. Obviously, if starting or arriving in a colder environment, planning warmth accordingly is a must. But, keep comfortability and ease of movement as the top priority.
Use curbside check-in or check-in online
If you are traveling with little passengers or carrying additional items/baggage that needs to be checked in. Don’t cause yourself more hassle than needed and utilize curbside check-in. If you are being dropped off by a family member, then this is a no-brainer. It cuts down on the time and movement of your luggage and offers ease. Plus, there are typically attendants nearby to help.
If you are doing a park and fly with your own car, then it may be worth considering sending the bags curbside first on your way to the park and fly. You just have to make sure that you have enough time to do both, but that can be a great way to cut down on carrying items and additional stress on dad.
Check in your luggage and pack your baby gear
If you haven’t tried it yet, flying with children, even if it’s just one baby can feel like herding kittens. Yikes! Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to travel with only carry-ons as well. Check those bags in! The money that will be saved is typically not worth the stress that will be experienced by adding more things to juggle in tight, confined spaces. Plus, you can skip the scramble for overhead space.
Since you are checking in luggage, go all out! We typically pack our two full-sized luggage (as long as we know that our rental car will fit). In it, we can include all the little necessities that can make our vacation just a little bit easier. My typical motto is pack light in the carry-on and heavy in the checked-in luggage.
Don’t be afraid of extra checked-in luggage
One major thing that can help start the vacation off on a great note is by creating room for all that baby gear. I’ve already mentioned the travel crib that we bring. But, we also try to pack a good supply of diapers (if not all), wipes, and any other supply that we would have had to buy while we’re there.
This may seem a tad excessive, but hear me out… If we are traveling with just the necessities for the flight and a little more, that means the first thing we have to do as a family is going to a store. Keep in mind, you and your little ones are probably tired, maybe a bit riled up. Do you really want your first vacation task to be baby supplies shopping? We sure didn’t. Instead of having to make another stop and waste precious time that we’re paying a pretty penny for, we just pack what we need and go straight to our destination. In this case, the beach.
Another perk of this infant flying travel hack is that as the diapers are used, you are creating extra space for souvenirs or simply lazy packing on the way home. It’s a win-win!
Gate check car seats and strollers
As far as I am aware, most major airlines offer car seats and strollers fly free and some form of gate check for car seats and strollers. AND, that doesn’t count toward your allotted baggage amount. I would still highly recommend sticking to a limited amount anyway to maintain sanity.
We roll and carry our car seat and stroller all the way to the gate and gate check in order to prevent the amount of damage that our pricey car seat incurs. As a gate-checked item, it is the last item on board and the first one off the plane. Plus, it avoids all of the extremely damaging processes throughout the airport.
When our daughter was 7-months-old, our click-in infant seat and stroller worked so nicely throughout the airport and we had specific protective bags for each that we pulled out at the gate. Now that my daughter is in an older child’s car seat, it will mean more carrying challenges for my husband. I will update you on how we handle that. Right now, we think we have a plan, but like all travel, you learn the most while actually doing it!
Save the comfort items for after security
This may be a no-brainer or a non-issue depending on your child. I have a daughter who is EXTREMELY attached to her teddy. So much so that if we have to separate her and the teddy for whatever reason in an environment that is uncomfortable, it could mean a complete meltdown. That’s why I’ll wait to give my daughter her teddy until after security. That way, nothing will come in the way of her and her Teddy from that point on. I even will try to save any form of comfort items until absolutely necessary or until she asks for it. That way as things are interesting and fun, we can encourage independence and personal self-soothing actions.
Make sure that your little one gets as much pre-boarding activity and stimulus to get their giggles and wiggles out. Even a different scenery on the plane can extend the happy period. That’s every parent’s goal, right?
To make things more fun, you can point out all the moving planes and other things going on outside the airport. Getting your little one excited for where they are headed helps ease any nerves. If your tot is walking, you can let them run some laps back and forth in a game of red light green light. A quick dancing party to get excited about the flight can help too. Anything to get out their giggles. Then, make it clear that they’re headed to a place and what their new behavior expectations are.
If you’re traveling with your partner or other family members or friends, send them on and stay behind until the plane is boarded.
Here’s how it works, we all go up together for pre-boarding. Once we get to the front of the line, we send my husband on board and ask the attendant if it’s okay if I hang back with the baby. While onboard early, my husband can calmly get the gate-checked items to the end of the jetway, sanitize our row, and get fully settled. When I walk in with baby, he can easily take her while I calmly get situated.
Board with a dry diapered baby
This is a bit of an obvious one, but it’s amazing how easily it can be overlooked in the hecticness of travel and chaos of the airport. I recommend a quick check right before boarding starts. When you send hubby on board with all the bags, have him leave behind the diaper bag just in case a quick last-minute change outside the gate. We have a separate all-inclusive diaper pouch that I pull out and sling on my wrist.
All this does is minimize one more tiny airplane bathroom change. Which, you’ll be glad to limit that experience as much as possible.
Must Know Infant Travel hacks once you’re on board
Bring snacks and lots of them
One of my favorite must know infant travel hacks. Most parents will try to go overboard with engaging toys, high profile technology, or comfort items, but what I’ve found is that snacks are one of the most distracting and time-consuming ways to pass time. If your youngster is old enough to snack on cereal, fruits, and veggies, or really anything portable, then that might just be the key to a happy and engaged flying tot.
I like to ensure that I have lots of options for my flying little one. Taking water or milk breaks and playing with toys in between also helps break things up.
Save the extra yummy or sugary snacks for the last bit of the flight when your little one is over being in one spot for so long. Not only will it guarantee to hold their attention, but then you won’t be trapped in a metal tube with complete strangers and a highly energized youngster. Plus, once you get to the airport, you can take some time to burn off that steam. Who knows, they may just crash in the rental car.
Some of my main go-to’s for my 20-month-old, who is allergic to dairy, eggs, seeds, and most nuts, are Morning Os, oyster crackers, and golden crackers from Wholefoods, blueberries, raspberries, apple slices, speared cucumbers, avocado, bread, lunch meat, tofu, plant-based cheese, applesauce pouch, Happy Tot fruit, and veggie pouches. And, once we are on arrival and are promised a short distance from landing, I will pull out bananas, granola bites (also from Wholefoods), and chocolate coconut milk. My daughter also loves oat milk and Propel along with her water, which are nice ways to break things up. Plus, the Propel can help promote travel hydration.
I completely understand that grazing is definitely not a habit to build in a child. However, when in a plane, it’s more like a parent’s survival show… so I’d argue that a little bit of snacking won’t hurt in the grand scheme of things. Plus, if your tot lands with a full belly that means you have plenty of time to get to your final destination before they may become hangry.
Don’t forget about your own snacks. Successful traveling experiences depend on a clear and level-headed parent. It’s impossible to do that when you are hungry, dehydrated, and tired. So, rest and snack up and ensure that every time you offer water to your little one, you also drink as well.
Lots of engaging activities
Pack enough activities to last the trip: My pilot dad recommends having a new activity every 15 minutes. On a long flight to Hawaii, that can mean that we are packing quite the arsenal of engaging activities.
When our little one was 7-months-old, we flew from Seattle to Hawaii. That worked out to be a 6-hour flight. For our super little one, we packed a variety of interesting teethers, suction cup toys, and other typical handheld baby toys. That flight was relatively easy in the grand scheme of things because she was still at that age where she napped a lot, so we were able to get a solid nap on the flight as well.
We will need to be more intentional with our now 20-month-old toddler on this next flight to Hawaii coming up in May. I plan to pack a variety of engaging manipulative toys, window clings, suction cup toys, reusable sticker books, and the electronic babysitter (the iPad). Be sure to subscribe for my update after the trip!
Offer lots of distractions
Child entertainment doesn’t need to always be toys. Don’t underestimate the power of basic, common items. My daughter LOVES to put necklaces and bracelets on. Just a handful of cheap beads and plastic hair scrunchies can keep her entertained for at least 15 minutes. That adds up! So, be on the lookout for what interests your child in their current developmental stage.
For my daughter, empty vitamin containers and pom poms are entertaining. Clear plastic water bottles with varying amounts of water hold her attention. Little Tupperware containers that she can open and close or put smaller items in. Even glasses. She enjoys putting her own sunglasses on and off.
Typically, this type of play involves objects that are not childproof. However, keep in mind where you’ll be for the whole flight. Supervising your child while stuck in a seat. So, don’t hesitate to utilize your own carry-on items as segments of entertainment for your little one. Every 15 minutes of engaging fun counts!
Add paci clips to everything, even toys
Add pacifier clips to EVERYTHING including toys. I know that we live in a world that is much more sanitized than it used to be pre-March of 2020, but that doesn’t mean that the floor of an airport or airplane is something that you want going in your child’s mouth. Cue pacifier clips. I carry about 4-6 of them in our diaper bag and attach them to toys as we pull them out. These clips have saved many teethers and our daughter’s precious teddy.
Hide toys for a week
Does your little one have some of his or her favorite toys? Are there some easy go-to’s that can guarantee entertainment for at least 15 minutes or more? Well, then a week before your travels, put those toys or items away. Then, on the long flight, you can pull out a new toy in intervals as your child gets tired of what’s already out. It will create a new toy feeling. This is a way to prolong the period of engagement and keep your tot happy.
Download before you go
Probably the most impactful infant flying travel hack. How many times have I forgotten how much of my technology is a stream rather than a permanent download on my device? If you give your little one technology, which on a plane is not anything to be ashamed of, then make sure that you are prepared.
When we went on our first trip to Hawaii, my 7-month-old wasn’t too intrigued by the iPad and the shows that we had on it. However, at that point, she had zero exposure to screen time. Since then, we’ve shown her some shows like Sesame Street and Barney. If you are not a typical screen time user, it may not hurt to see what interests your little one in advance. You may be surprised!
We found out that my daughter loves Elmo’s World, any music video involving Olaf, and simply scrolling through our iPhone’s photos and videos of herself and her family.
Just to make one more double, triple check sure, I check on episodes and movies on my child’s iPad while in airplane mode that way if there is something else that needs downloading, I can take care of it.
Wear a zippered hoodie
This trick works so well for our daughter since very early on and until now. As a newborn, she enjoyed sucking on the zipper pull. Now that she’s older, she can zip and unzip if I let her. That’s quite a bit of entertainment there. And, if she gets cold on the flight, I can give it to her like a blanket and not have to waste space in our carry-on with any additional bulky blankets.
Don’t forget your own food and refillable water bottle
We all know that the easiest way to frazzle a parent is to dehydrate, malnourished, and then add an inconsolable baby. When we are at our best, a crying infant is no match for our patience and ability to think on the fly. Put any of us in a hangry mood, and if you aren’t losing your marbles, then you are a superhuman! With that in mind, make your own packing and care just as seriously as your little ones.
I recommend bringing easy snacks and non-perishable foods you can eat quickly. Pack a refillable water bottle that you can fill after you pass through security. Or, buy a large one at the nearest convenience stop on your way to the gate. The vacation and your family’s fun memories depend on it.
This also all goes without saying that sleep is also very important as well leading up to the trip. And, it doesn’t just start the night before.
Be prepared for take-off and landing
Many times, take-off and landing can be challenging for adults. Keep in mind our little ones don’t know how to equalize their little ears. They also have no idea why all of a sudden their head is hurting immensely from the inside. Give your baby the best fighting chance possible. If breastfeeding, try to time nursing for take-off and landing. I even went as far as to let my 7-month-old go a little hungry in the airport just to encourage a take-off feeding. If you have a fast letdown, as I did, plan for backup support for your little one. We found that the pacifier didn’t work as well as we would have hoped. But, letting her stick a single mega block in her mouth, opened her mouth enough to equalize her ears.
For our toddler, we’ve used water, propel, or oat milk from a straw cup. Snacks also helped, because really all we want is for them to swallow. Try to time it so that just before you feel that you need to equalize your ears, you offer something to support your toddler. Their ear canals are smaller than ours, so they’ll need to equalize more frequently.
If all else fails, don’t be flustered if they cry. It happens. Everyone knows it, and just purpose to be as soothing as humanely as possible. Have your baby’s favorite stuffy handy. Distract from the iPad. Use a little toy airplane to show your toddler what the plane is doing by letting it fly in the window. This is one of those, whatever it takes, moments!
Go with the flow
This isn’t necessarily an infant flying travel hack, but let’s face it. The haters will hate.
As a parent, as long as you are doing everything you can to give your child the best chances of success (timing flights, offering distractions, being mindful of their need for activity and comfort), then people can say, think, or look at the way they are going to. It doesn’t have to matter to you.
Please, please, please don’t be oblivious to your child’s needs and intervene at every point. But, if that still doesn’t work, then you’ve done everything that you can! Go with the flow, and enjoy what you can. Remember, you are on vacation. Don’t let stress ruin the start or end of your trip, so take things in stride. You’ve got this momma!
What are you waiting for? Let’s fly!
Don’t let your family additions keep you from experiencing the wonder of travel. Travel builds character, lasting memories, and opens up our eyes to a bigger, beautiful world. All that being said, traveling with a little one and expecting things to be the same will only end in disappointment and a waste of money. Proper planning and strategic execution of a flying trip can build impressions that will last a lifetime. All you have to do is prepare with your own must know infant travel hacks and go!
Did I miss anything? Please share your favorite travel tips in the comments below. To stay up to date on how our recent flying experience went with our 20-month-old, be sure to subscribe and like this post. Also, if you struggle with sleep while on vacation, be sure to check out my Baby Sleep Hacks that Every Tired Mom should Know.