Many new parents find the idea of traveling with young children, like infants and toddlers, intimidating, for many understandable reasons. But with a little preparation and anticipation, you can pack efficiently and effectively, and give yourself one big reason less to be stressed about traveling with little ones.
We have done it many times, and have developed strategies for packing that have eased our burdens dramatically. The seemingly daunting challenge of traveling with young kids can be made un-daunting by planning, both psychologically and practically. I have delved into the psychological aspect in another post here, and will in this article help with the practical side of preparation.
The first stage of traveling with young kids is usually the flight. This may not be such a big hurdle if you’re hopping on a 1 1/2 hour sky cruise to another city. But long-haul flights become a whole separate adventure in themselves. Ask anyone who has flown with their infant if they were dreading it beforehand. I’ll spare you the conversation: they were.
The key to a comfortable flight with an infant or toddler is the diaper bag. A backpack bag like this one is definitely the way to go. Those messenger bag types with one strap are cumbersome and swing wildly when running through airports. Not worth the hassle.
The Diaper Bag
The idea behind packing the diaper bag is to make it into a mini childcare comfort zone. Whatever you would use at home during the course of a day to clean, change, feed, or entertain your baby, pack either a miniaturized version of what you would use, or a handful of items you would use if it’s something you use a lot of during the day. A diaper changing pad like this one is a must, stuffed with a few more diapers than you think you’ll need. While on the flight, it’s a good idea to have a packet of wipes handy at all times too, to use as all-purpose cleaning wipes; not just for changing diapers. Grab some travel packs to spare some bag room for other flight necessities. Toy clips are essential for entertaining babies and toddlers, who have that most baffling of habits of throwing toys and immediately wanting them back. Spare yourself the spinal contortions endured by repeatedly searching the floor several times a minute for a thrown toy. And make sure you bring toys that can be clipped easily. Most balls just aren’t going to cut it, and you’ll regret bringing them on board.
Bring a few extra changes of clothes for the inevitable spill/drool/poop-splosion/spit-up incident, as well as a ziplock bag to put the dirty ones in. For food, take a little more than whatever you think you will need for the flight, taking into account the fact that they might not like whatever food the airline is serving. Fruit pouches are definitely worth it. Tasty, healthy, no utensils, and they don’t take up much space. Try to avoid containers with liquids to avoid extra scrutiny at security. It’s also wise to bring a small medical kit with you, just in case. And remember that airplanes are usually chilly, so pack a blanket or two.
If you’re sitting in a bassinet row, you must store your diaper bag in the overhead bin, but only for takeoff and landing. At any other time, you can have it at your feet and the flight attendants shouldn’t hassle you about it. Having everything at arm’s length will spare you from getting up and down a dozen times a minute.
Packing your diaper bag in this manner is not only a good way to do it for the flight, but it works well for when you’re out for the day while traveling as well. Treat it like your baby’s day bag.
We have two kids under four years old, and can pack all of their things in the diaper bag and one piece of carry-on luggage for a six week trip around the world. It takes a little creativity and some choices to make, but when you’re traveling with children, you should make it a point to pack as lightly as you can to make sure that there’s one less of a hassle with a big piece of luggage. Pack smart and light. No one ever comes back from a trip and wishes they had packed heavier. Here I’ll show you what we pack, and then give you a list of Bring It, Take It or Leave It, and Leave It items.
Here are some pictures of what our suitcase typically looks like all packed up, and what all we have in it:
It may take some rearranging before you get the puzzle pieces in the right place, but you can pack a lot into a carry-on, as you can see. In this case I managed to fit in six full outfits for each child, 3 sleepers each, around 25 diapers, 8 pull-ups, wipes, 2 blankets, 6 bibs, 4 utensils, a baby monitor, baby wash, and 7 washcloths. I deliberately chose winter outfits to show how much you can pack. If you’re packing for summer, or for tiny babies, you can fit even more.
- Clothing – Yes, obviously bring clothes you’re thinking. Yes, obviously. But when packing, it’s important to know how much to bring. Consider how often you will be able to wash clothes while on the road. If you’ll be staying in decent hotels or will have easy access to laundromats, you can pack lighter than you would if you are planning on going on a wilderness expedition or long-distance train, or if you’re planning a busy or packed itinerary. If you are traveling with an infant who goes through six outfits a day due to insatiable vomiting, you will need to bring a lot of changes of clothes, even if it will be just a few days between available laundry services.
- Medicines and toiletries – A basic medical and toiletries kit is a necessity. Bring an array of meds that your pediatrician has signed off on, and bring them in quantities that will last you for the duration of your trip. Many places you go to outside of the developed world do not have many medicines geared toward kids, and you or your pediatrician may not be familiar with the meds they do have.
Take It or Leave It
- Diapers – This one is technically a Take It and Leave It item. I know of many parents who insist on packing enough diapers to last them for the entire trip they’re taking. Fun fact, I tell them: people in other places around the world also have babies. Just pack enough diapers to last you a day or two from when you arrive, giving you enough time to buy some diapers there. They may not be your preferred brand (although there’s a decent chance they might be if you’re a fan of Pampers or Huggies), but they work. Don’t waste luggage space on a crapload (get it?) of diapers.
- Wipes – Same thing. Bring a pack or two to last you until you can buy more at the destination.
- Toys – This should be down towards the bottom of your list of priorities, but if you have a kid who needs ample and diverse entertainment, it may move up your list a few notches. When you’re traveling, the novelty of new places and experiences is usually enough to occupy most curious babies. And keep in mind a new hotel room is an entirely new world of experiences for a baby. But some babies may prefer their own familiar toys. Even curious babies do prefer their own toys from time to time, so it might be good to pack one or two toys they love. It just depends on the kid.
- Soap and Shampoo – If your child has sensitive skin and needs a certain soap or shampoo, then bring it. If not, save yourself the luggage space and use whatever is provided for you by the hotel, or whatever you bring for yourself.
- Baby Monitor – Depending on where you’re going, it may be worth it to bring a monitor. Luggage space is precious, and you need to do a cost/benefit analysis for yourself, and a monitor is something that needs weighing.
- Tablets – If you have one, load it up with apps and videos that will entertain and educate your child. You may feel like a bum of a parent for sticking an iPad in front of your kid’s face, but it can be majorly helpful. Don’t overdo it, but sometimes you just gotta do what you have to do to keep the peace. Most small children love videos with bright colors, or apps they can mess with.
- Books – Unless it’s a Security Blanket book, leave it. They’re heavy, big, and usually pretty limited in the entertainment they give.
- Stuffed animals/dolls – again, if it’s a Security Blanket, bring it. Otherwise, it’s just a cotton-filled space waster.
- Travel crib – Fine for road trips, but if traveling by plane, boat, or train, it becomes a heavy, bulky item to have with you. Most hotels have cribs you can borrow.
Not everyone’s packing list is going to look identical. Everyone has different needs for different trips. With some strategizing and weighing of options, you can pack to fit your needs, efficiently and effectively. Preparing well is really half the battle for a trip with young children. Do it well, and save yourself some serious headaches later.