We went on our first big trip with Zoey when she was about two months old. It consisted of a pretty long-haul drive up to northern Wisconsin for a wedding, so we were definitely entering unchartered territory at the time. Luckily, that trip was via car and enabled us to basically “bring whatever you think you may need at any time to survive.” That we did, too. It was two adults and a baby in an SUV, but we were hauling enough luggage for a family of five. Not. Even. Kidding.
Between the portable bassinet, stroller, basket of basics (diapers, wipes, bottles, pumping accessories, blankets, …), toys, carseat, Boppy pillow (we couldn’t live without it), sound machine, and so on (and on and on and on), our car was so full, there was very little room for anything or anyone to hop in.
Thankfully, that road trip went about as smoothly as it could have, and we felt pretty good about checking that off our list of firsts.
It wasn’t until this month that we checked off another traveling first with Zoey: flying. [Cue gasp.] I was surprisingly calm about the whole experience with exception of the morning of our travels. I was a bit stressed about getting everything ready and getting out the door in time. Alas, we made it with time to spare.
The real challenge though was how in the hell do you pack for such a trip? There was no car to throw whatever in to, and there was TSA, baggage restrictions, the simple fact that we were bringing an infant on the plane, limited hands for carrying said baggage, breastfeeding needs, yada yada yada. The questions I had were endless…
I’m here though to share a mini Q&A about traveling with a baby:
You don’t need as much as you think you do. I used to be a seasoned overpacker always trying to fit as many outfit options in my suitcase as possible and every “might need” item into my carry on. Have no fear, those days are far behind me (because I don’t really have a choice). Contrary to our first big road trip, I realized how little we really needed for our five-day jetset to Florida. I packed very “minimally” in the grand scheme of things. I read posts about all the must-have gear, including the suggestion to pack an inflatable bath tub. Don’t give in. It’s not necessary. Zoey bathed in the sink every night while we were there, and we all lived to tell the story. In terms of gear, all you need is your carseat and stroller, really, and something for baby to sleep in. (You don’t even have to have a carseat base.) We did pack our strap carrier for beach walks, but we could have lived without too. Despite that fact that I looked like a bag lady walking through the airport, I didn’t bring anything we didn’t need for us or baby. We managed to get by with one checked bag for all three of us plus our carry on bags (camera bag, pumping bag, diaper bag/purse and a duffle for Sam) and gate-check items (carseat and stroller).
Breastfeeding? No problem. Leave it to me to have my first public breastfeeding session on an airplane next to a strange man. I had read that nursing at takeoff and landing helps the little one adjust to the changing pressure and avoid painful ear pops. Happy to report that this is oh-so-true. At least, it was for us. Zoey scored an A+ on both flights, and I’m attributing that to this effort. It also made me feel totally comfortable feeding her in public, something that I hadn’t felt before! Win-win. Also, breastmilk can go to security, no problem. They just do a quick test on any bottles over 3 oz., AND your pump doesn’t count as a carry on item, so you can get through with three bags instead of two. Phew! Oh, and yes, airports have nursing rooms. I didn’t use one this time around, but I’ve heard they’re quite nice (just ask an airport employee for access).
Gate check is life. Before I knew all my limitations on baby gear while flying, I was all stressed about how we would have a carseat and stroller at our destination. How in the heck would we take our baby anywhere without a carseat? How could we possibly run through an airport without a stroller? Thankfully, those can be gate-checked, no problemo. Just grab a baggage ticket at the gate counter and you’re all set. One tip? Buy gate check bags for your stroller AND carseat. I’m so glad we did. The bags were SO dirty when we picked them up at the gate after the flight. I can’t imagine having not covered our gear. It’s also super easy to identify your stuff when you get to the jetway (which was good because our flight had about 10 strollers on it…).
Be prepared for a lengthy security process. Going through TSA was a bit of a process, but that’s okay. You do have to break down the stroller, carseat, etc. in addition to the normal things (take off shoes, e.g.) and walk through holding your baby… only to put it all together again. If you’re breastfeeding, they have to test any milk you’re bringing through, which can take awhile too. My diaper bag got “searched” after one security check because of my baby wipes. You’re bringing a lot more through when you travel with a baby, so leave yourself some extra time just in case.
Don’t forget baby’s birth certificate! Even though babies fly free under the age of 2, they still need a boarding document. You just can’t get it until you arrive at the airport and check in at the ticket counter. Another reason to allow for extra time. Checking in and printing boarding passes ahead of time won’t help you as much as when you’re baby-less. You will have to go the ticket counter either way!
When it doubt, rent it. There are a lot of rental services for baby gear. Everything from high chairs to cribs to strollers and more. We were lucky in that a Pack ‘n Play was already at our destination (thanks, Mom!), so we could avoid this process all together. But I have plenty of friends who’ve had success packing less and renting gear. Check out Visiting Baby for rentals!