Family Travel Tips
As a first-time dad, and frequent traveler, I’ve had to learn how to travel with a baby through trial and error. Here are some of our best baby travel tips based on my experience!
Sooooo… I’m a dad! If you’ve been following me on social media for the past 7 months, you probably already knew that though.
But I haven’t properly introduced the little guy here on my blog, and thought it was time for you to meet him — especially since we’ve been traveling together.
Earlier this year, back in April, my wife Anna gave birth to our first child. A healthy baby boy we named Dylan Fitzgerald Karsten.
Just as most parents warned, having a baby is a life-changing experience.
I’ve since learned everyone has their own advice about traveling with a baby or opinions about whether to travel with a baby or not.
So I wanted to include my baby travel tips into the mix too!
My Introduction To Fatherhood
On the day of his delivery, buzzing on a mixture of stress & adrenaline, a hospital nurse held baby Dylan up so I could see him for the first time.
Fresh from his mother’s womb — the first thing he did was pee on me. I began laughing & crying simultaneously due to pure joy. Welcome to fatherhood!
What’s it like being a first-time dad? If I had to sum it up, I guess a combination of love, excitement, anxiety, and exhaustion. With the former outweighing the later.
Becoming a dad is a life-altering experience. Of course I suspected as much after hearing from other dads, but living it yourself is always a bit different.
Up until this point in my life, I lived with as few responsibilities as possible.
For years I wandered around the world, living out of a backpack as a traveling digital nomad. Hopping from country to country with no home, no steady employer, and no real stability to speak of.
An admittedly pretty selfish existence chasing adventure, fun, life experiences, and personal development. It was great!
So for me, settling down and building a family was a big change. I won’t say it’s been easy either. There have been some speed-bumps along the way.
For example, adjusting sleep & work routines, additional planning (travel & life), stressful situations, unexpected surprises, constant baby chores, etc.
But it was a change I was ready for. As this new, more mature chapter of my life continues to evolve — I’m enjoying it more and more.
Traveling With A Baby
Dylan was born at a private hospital in Poland via C-section, and after a few weeks, he traveled on his very first flight back to Verona Italy with us where we’ve been living as expats.
Already we were getting scolded by others for putting him on a plane. Which is ridiculous, because it was approved by a doctor. With kids, everyone has an opinion for how to raise them!
Fast forward 7-months later, and he’s already got two passports, is working on his 3rd, has boarded 27 flights and traveled to 6 countries so far.
Dylan has traveled more as a baby than I did when I was in my 20’s!
Why Travel With A Baby?
Many people prefer not to travel with babies because they think it will be extra difficult, super expensive, or their children won’t remember the trips.
Sure, I don’t think Dylan will remember traveling as a baby — but I have a feeling our travel experiences together are affecting him in other ways.
Exposure To The World
Dylan has an uncanny ability to fall asleep anywhere at anytime. Even with loud music & celebrations going on! Or, how he seems to love people, and is not afraid of strangers.
Travel exposes him to all kinds of people, places, sounds, smells, and weather. He’s not growing up in a bubble that’s for sure!
Stronger Immune System
In 7-months of life, Dylan has only had a single fever, which as new parents we definitely over-reacted to — freaking out and rushing to the hospital. LOL!
Altogether a pretty solid health record considering the travel he’s done. Personally, I think his immune system is more robust from all the trains, planes, and automobiles he’s exposed to.
Quality Time Together
We also get to spend a lot of quality time together traveling with Dylan. Sitting at home can be distracting with all the work, chores, and multi-tasking.
When we travel together, we can better focus on sharing our curious & exciting world with him. He really seems to enjoy traveling a lot, and is better behaved with so much stimulus going on.
And if you’re prepared, traveling with a baby doesn’t have to be very difficult.
Tips For Flying With A Baby
1. When Can You Fly With A Baby?
We got so much random advice about when to fly with a newborn baby. Much of it said wait until 2 months, after the first vaccinations, and when the immune system is more developed.
But the fact is most airlines allow babies to fly at only 2 weeks old. We flew with Dylan at 2 weeks and he slept the whole flight. No ear problems, no crying, nothing.
2. Babies Fly Free!
In the United States, children under 2 years old fly free in their parents lap. Yay! In Europe and internationally it’s not totally free, but close. You must pay 10% of your ticket price to travel with a child under 2.
Depending on the airline, babies also get their own free carry-on bag, gate-checked stroller, and maybe a car seat too.
After your kid turns two however, flying gets much more expensive and you’ll have to buy them their own seat with a full-price ticket.
3. TSA & Security Procedures
Much to the dismay of both airport security officials & travelers around the world, check-in procedures vary wildly depending on the particular airport/country.
Where one airport may not require you to remove your shoes or take out your laptop — at another one, they’ll yell at you for not doing it. It’s confusing as hell!
Expect the same when it comes to traveling with a baby.
Some airports are very family friendly, with dedicated family check-in lines and security screening. You can pass through security easily with your stroller and put hot water or baby formula through the x-ray.
Others are a huge pain in the ass, forcing you to fold up your stroller and squeeze it through the entire x-ray machine.
4. Travel-Friendly Strollers
Using this stroller, there’s no need to gate-check it. You simply wheel your baby right onto the plane in many circumstances. It folds up super small and fits in the overhead compartment!
I have to admit, free priority boarding (boarding the airplane first) because of Dylan is a nice little perk if you fly a lot.
That is, unless you need to ride a shuttle bus to the airplane.
Then it doesn’t make any difference, and you get stuck behind everyone else climbing up the boarding ladder steps (carrying a baby, stroller, and bags).
5. Airplane Baby Bassinets
On long international flights, many airlines have sections that include a baby bassinet which hangs from the wall in front of your seats. This is super handy!
It allows you to let your baby sleep comfortably, and gives you a break from holding your baby for the entirety of an 8+ hour flight.
However, some airlines don’t offer bassinets, or only have a few available. Of the airlines who do offer them, like American & Delta, you can’t pre-book them and it’s first-come-first-serve when you show up at the gate.
The most baby-friendly airline we’ve flown with so far has been Emirates — not only do you automatically get assigned seats with a bassinet, they also give you a cute baby care package with a blanket, toys, wet-wipes, and more.
6. Timing Is Everything
Since we’ve become parents, we’ve had to plan out our flying experiences a bit more. You don’t want your baby screaming with a wet diaper or hungry for milk while waiting in lines or during takeoff or landing.
We try to change & feed Dylan at the airport’s baby-friendly bathroom right before boarding the flight, as well right before they turn on the seat belt signs inside the airplane to prepare for landing.
This way, he’s not freaking out when there’s little we can do for him. Of course there’s no guarantee it won’t happen regardless, but it minimizes the chances.
Also, unless we’re in a rush to catch a connecting flight, we’ll often de-board the plane last to avoid fighting with pushy passengers attempting to remove luggage from the overhead bins. It’s just not worth the stress.
7. Feeding During Takeoff & Landing
To prevent your baby from experiencing ear pain due to changing cabin pressure during airplane takeoffs and landings, try to feed them a little formula or at least play tug-of-war with the pacifier.
This will encourage your baby to “swallow” which relieves the ear pressure difference and any related pain.
8. Request An Empty Seat
If your route isn’t too full, there still may be empty seats on the plane. You can try to ask the gate attendant to move you to an empty row, so you won’t bother other passengers (and you’ll get some extra room yourself).
I’ve found that some passengers hate flying with babies on board, while others love it and make funny faces at Dylan from across the plane!
General Baby Travel Tips
1. Pack Light
You don’t need to pack a week’s worth of diapers when traveling with a baby. Bring enough supplies to last a day or two, buy the rest while you’re there.
Our Baby Packing List
- Baby Carrier – For hands-free travel with a baby, and especially good for destinations with lots of stairs.
- Folding Travel Stroller – We try to use a stroller as much as possible, and you can store extra stuff under it.
- Car Seat – This isn’t always needed. You can often rent car seats with your car rental company.
- Diaper Bag – I recommend one that includes a changing pad, because many changing tables aren’t padded (or cleaned often)
- Diapers – Bring more than you think you need, but don’t go overboard either. You can always buy more at your destination.
- Wet Wipes – Make sure to bring a new package so you don’t run out! Plus a backup travel-size package in the stroller.
- Extra Bottles & Formula – We pre-fill baby bottles with the right amount of powder. Simply add hot water, cold water, and shake.
- Hot Water Thermos – Keeps water hot for hours, making it easy to prepare bottles for feeding.
2. Be Flexible
If you think travel is unpredictable, just try traveling with a baby. It certainly increases the chances of things going wrong during your trip.
For example, you’ll probably want to arrive at the airport earlier than normal, so you have time to change and feed them before the flight. Plus extra time for passing through security.
Be ready to change plans at a moment’s notice, and have a backup option if your baby isn’t cooperating. Like leaving a restaurant early when your baby starts screaming hysterically.
Don’t force the baby on grueling 6-hour city walking tours. Maybe schedule fewer activities each day than you normally would alone. You’ve got someone else to think of now!
3. Book Baby Friendly Hotels
There are a few things that make staying in a hotel with a baby much easier. We look for hotels and Airbnb’s that provide cribs, plus a hot-water machine or stove to prepare formula for feeding. Laundry machines are a bonus too!
That said, don’t always trust the popular hotel booking sites while you’re searching.
We’ve come across a few instances where the booking search engine said babies weren’t allowed, but if you call the hotel, they’ll say differently. When in doubt, call the hotel to double-check before booking.
4. Accept Other People’s Help
When you’re traveling with a baby, strangers will often offer to help out. Carrying a stroller up some stairs, taking your bags off a train, etc.
In the beginning, our first reaction was to decline any help. But now we gladly accept it when offered. People will offer up their spot in an elevator, give up their seat on a subway, and more.
Use your best judgement of course, but don’t be afraid to accept some help from kind strangers and make traveling with a baby a little less stressful.
5. Hire A Local Babysitter
When we traveled to Mauritius when Dylan was only 8 weeks old, our accommodation offered babysitting services. Sometimes it’s worth the extra expense of staying in a resort for this option!
You could also ask a friend who lives in the country you’re visiting to do a little research for you, or maybe talk to the hotel or your Airbnb host to get ideas.
6. Your Baby Needs A Passport
If you’re traveling internationally with your baby, they’re going to need a passport. Both parents need to be available for the process. You’ll need to bring proof of citizenship, identification, and relation to the child.
Generally getting your baby a US passport will take 4-6 weeks, but there are expedited services that take 8 days.
We got lucky & organized Dylan’s Polish passport in only 2 days. His US passport from the US Embassy in Warsaw was ready in only 5 days!
Passports for newborn babies are good for 5 years before they’ll need a new one.
7. Pack Spare Clothes
There is nothing worse than the dreaded “baby blowout”. They may not happen often, but when they do, they’ll destroy your baby’s clothes, as well as yours.
Pack a spare set of clothes for your baby, as well as a spare shirt for yourself too. Just in case! To help prevent blowouts, try sticking a woman’s menstrual pad to the back of your baby’s diaper…
8. Don’t Panic Over Schedules
Some parents put their babies on strict feeding and napping schedules. We don’t. Dylan sleeps when he’s sleepy, and eats when he’s hungry.
Trying to stick to a special napping and feeding schedule while traveling with your baby isn’t going to be very practical. Save yourself some stress and let them do their own thing.
Traveling Without Your Baby…
Just because I have a family now doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon independent travel. Both Anna & I have embarked on solo trips since Dylan was born, and will continue to do so.
In fact, after months learning the ropes of parenthood, we’ve decided to take a break together and travel to Antarctica — without Dylan.
A 3-week vacation while my parents watch over him (thanks guys!).
As any parent will tell you, having a baby is hard work. Even with babysitters or family members helping out. Sometimes you just need a break!
While becoming a parent has it’s challenges, it doesn’t mean you have to completely give up your previous lifestyle. And independent travel has been a big part of our lives — both for work and for fun.
We frequently travel as a family, but sometimes I’ll take a solo trip for a week or two while Anna watches Dylan, or she’ll visit a new country while I stay home.
Having a baby doesn’t have to interfere with the pursuit of your travel dreams — as a family or on your own! ★
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READ MORE TRAVEL TIPS
I hope you enjoyed my tips for traveling with a baby! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:
Have any questions about traveling with a baby? Any other suggestions? Let me know in the comments below!
This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.