Little M and I are wrapping up our first solo trip (without daddy), and now that she’s at the ripe old age of 1, the experience couldn’t be more different than traveling with her as a little baby. As you’ll see below, you need much less to stay sane while traveling on a plane with an infant (or pre-crawler), but once the little tykes start moving (or, god help us all, walking), it takes quite a bit more strategy to keep baby entertained and calm, and keep parents sane. After 8+ flights with our little one over her first year, I’ve nailed down the perfect set of must-have’s and tips for airplane travel with baby, to keep everyone comfortable, entertained, and happy (or at the very least, sane!). Check them out below!
Must-have’s for airplane travel with baby (aged 0-18 months):
- An awesome diaper bag (all ages): Nailing down the right diaper bag for airplane travel is so key. We all have our diaper bag must-have’s, but for me, it’s lots of pockets (internal and external), overall roominess, and style. I use my diaper bag as a purse, so it’s gotta look good! My favorite has always been my Honest Co. Carryall Satchel, though if I could find a backpack with as many pockets, I could be persuaded to switch.
Your favorite carrier (0-18 mo): hands-down, this is the most important tool for traveling with a baby. Baby can stay wrapped up and cozy, snoozing most of the flight (if you’re lucky), and being in a carrier is much more comforting for most babies than being strapped into their car seat or just sitting in your lap. Plus, you don’t need to pay for a seat. We used the Baby K’Tan for flying until little M was about 6-7 months old, at which point we switched to the Ergo 360 Air (which I still use now that she’s 1). Not only does a carrier encourage baby to nap throughout the flight, but it also lets you have your hands free to negotiate luggage, folding up your stroller, having a snack, etc. Our first flight with M, at 3 months, she slept nearly the whole time, while I enjoyed a leisurely lunch and read a book. Lest you think that’s a new baby luxury, I am currently writing this article while 1 year old M sleeps in her Ergo on my chest, 10,000 feet in the air (or however high an airplane goes ; )
- A bottle or boob (all ages): It’s common knowledge that nursing or bottle feeding baby during takeoff and landing is a must to prevent those dreaded air pressure earaches and fussiness. Don’t skimp on this! If you’re lucky, baby will just nurse to sleep during takeoff and you’re good to for an hour or more. If you’re nursing, make sure to wear a cute and functional nursing top which allows easy access while keeping things more or less covered — I always travel in one of my H&M MAMA Organic Cotton Nursing Tops. For older babies who may be too distracted to nurse on the plane, bring their water bottle (we love the Pura Kiki Stainless Steel Straw Cup), which will have nearly the same effect.
- A multi-functional toy (all ages): When baby wakes up, it’s good to have something on hand that can keep her occupied, but you certainly don’t need to cram your carry-on full of toys. To be honest, the barf bag (clean and empty, of course) will provide just as much excitement as a toy, so there’s no need to overdo it. When M was under 8 months, I liked to bring a multi-function activity toy like the Manhattan Toy Company Sight and Sound Activity Toy or the Manhattan Toy Company Shapes Travel Activity Set, both of which have a few fun different activities for baby, and are easy to clip onto your bag, car seat, or stroller, making them perfect for travel. For the over-8 month set, you’ll need something a little more exciting. I recommend a plush “Quiet Book,” which is a cool multi-activity sensory toy with zippers to pull, buttons to snap, etc. Not only do these types of books have tons of fun activities to keep your little one busy, but they’re also quiet (as the name suggests) making them much less annoying for your fellow travelers, portable, and lightweight. I also like that the activities are tactile, without lots of battery-powered blinking lights and things like that, which can easy backfire and overstimulate your babe. I recommend avoiding any small toys or toys with small parts, because they WILL end up on the floor, and you will spend your flight irritatedly picking things up every 10 seconds! BONUS TIP: Get a NEW toy for the trip, something they can discover for the first time on the flight! This will add a lot more playtime milage.
- Packable books (6+ mo): Books can keep littles occupied for some time, but they take up a lot of precious space and weight in your bag. So I LOVE Indestructibles Books, which weigh nothing, and can take pretty much any abuse your little one can throw at them, making them perfect for travel. I just packed one, which I deeply regret. Next time, I’ll have at least 3 different ones ready to go in my bag!
- A teething toy (3+ mo): Having something clean and safe on hand for baby to chew on is also a must. I like to bring our Sophie La Giraffe So Pure Teether (which is all-natural, and smaller and more multifunctional as a teether than the full-sized giraffe) as well as a cute teething necklace, which doubles as an adorable travel accessory for mama!
- Teething tablets (3+ mo): Nothing will make for a more miserable travel experience than a baby in pain from teething, so make sure you have a full complement of all-natural teething pain relief on hand. I always bring our Hyland’s Teething Tablets and keep our Camilia Teething Drops in my purse at all times as well. The latter is also great for Hebraic fussiness and irritability, owing to the chamomilla.
- Natural Disinfectant (all ages): I keep EO Natural Hand Sanitizing Wipes and Cleanwell Natural Hand Sanitizer Spray in my bag at all times. I use the all-natural wipes to wipe down every surface baby could touch around our seat — the armrest, top and back of the table, etc. And then I clean my hands and baby’s with the natural, baby-safe spray periodically throughout the flight and after using the bathroom (obvi). These simple steps go so far to prevent getting sick while traveling!
- Muslin Swaddle Blanket (0-12 mo): This has to be the most multi-functional baby item ever, and it’s many uses just continue with travel! These puppies are great to use as blankets on a chilly plane, as nursing covers, as sleeping covers when baby is in the carrier, and even as little play mats for baby to get some floor time before boarding (or if you’re seated in the first row, you can even have a little space for baby to play on the floor at your feet!). I recommend a darker colored swaddle for traveling, like these from Aden + Anais, they’ll show less dirt and grime.
- Healthy Snacks (6+ mo): Generally, I’m not a supporter of snacking (I find 3 meals a day to be much healthier for adults and littles alike), but while traveling, all bets are off. Normal mealtimes get messed up, and flying can cause upset stomachs, so it’s good to have some healthy snacks on hand, for both mama and baby. For baby, blueberries are a favorite of ours, as are baby bean patties or muffins. These are much healthier than puffs or cereal, and are less likely to get everywhere. Dehydrated veggie sticks can also be fun! If baby eats purees, an organic pouch like those from Sprout Organics is a good idea to have on hand. For mama, I like to bring Lara Bars, which are filling without being bloating, and have no added sugar. It’s hard to plan for much more than that if you’re traveling alone with baby, but if you have help, grab a salad before boarding (a Nicoise is my favorite travel salad, with lots of protein and veggies), which will be loads healthier than anything you can get on the plane. In a pinch, most airlines now have healthy (often gluten-free) snack boxes — Sun Country, for example, has these great Go Picnic Snack Boxes that are perfect. And of course, water water water!
- iPad loaded with baby apps (9+ mo): Ok, so I’m saving the best (and most controversial) for last. I am a big supporter of the no screens ’til 2 years old rule. Margaux has seen a total of 20 minutes of TV in her whole life (when we were both sick, which I figure was a good excuse), and I make only one exception to the rule for FaceTime with the grandparents. So this was a hard one for me to get on board with. But keeping an older baby or toddler occupied during a long flight is cause for more severe measures, and whipping out the screen is the most severe of measures. I recommend saving this step for last. After you’ve read your books, played with your new toys… After you’ve nursed and napped and snacked… Then it’s time to whip out the big guns. I loaded my iPad with a few great baby apps, which were really big winners when the fussies hit. I tried to get things that weren’t too involved, overstimulating, or loud, and were appropriate for a 1 year old. My top app picks were: Baby Bubbles (a basic, cute, bubble popping game), Baby Paint (a really cute, colorful painting app), and Smart Sorter (a great shape and color sorting app that’s a little advanced for a 1 year old, but fun nonetheless). For babies 12 months and up, you may want to download a few cartoons as well, for when the going gets rough. Even with the volume off, watching cute cartoony moving images will keep an older baby occupied and chill for quite some time! NOTE: You shouldn’t need (nor do I recommend) to bring out the iPad for babies younger than 9-10 months.
3 Bonus Tips for Airplane Travel with Baby:
- Book the right seat: An aisle seat, close to the front is great, ensuring that you can be one of the first ones off the plane, and giving you flexibility to walk around (or rock baby to sleep in their carrier) whenever necessary. If you can score the first row, even better. That gives you some floor space, which is invaluable. Put down a swaddle and you have a place for crawling or playing a bit. If you can swing a first class seat, you’ve won the jackpot. The extra space and comfort are so worth it.
- Board last: Remember back in the day when you envied all those early boarding people with kids? Well rest assured those early boarders don’t know what they’re missing. You want to spend the least possible amount of time sitting on a plane with a squirmy baby, so wait until the last minute (or nearly the last minute, you don’t want to feel rushed) to board. That way you get on and find your seat right before takeoff, which is AWESOME.
- Coordinate with nap time: Our flights were scheduled for right before M’s nap time, which meant that the odds of her sleeping were greatly enhanced. You don’t want a flight that’s after nap time, because you’ll have an over-tired, cranky baby on your hands. And too long before nap time means you’ll have a super energized and extra squirmy baby to deal with. M naps at 9am and 2pm, so I found us flights that left at 8am and 1pm, which worked perfectly. She nursed, played a little bit, and then it was into the carrier and off to sleep!