How to Travel with a Baby

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“Travelling with an infant is hell. You’d be crazy to do it. You’d just need a vacation from the vacation.”

“Taking care of a baby is hard. Why make it harder by travelling?”

“Oh, you’re having a baby? Guess you’ll finally have to be mature and settle down like the rest of us. Say goodbye to your travelling days!”

Be mature?! HA! Having kids doesn’t make you more mature or classier. I’m the same piece of shit I was before popping out Little Matchstick and that’s not going to change any time soon.

Hee hee hee. Boobies.

Long time readers know that I might be just a tad rebellious when it comes to other people telling me what I can or cannot do. So, when parents tell me I’d be crazy to travel with an infant, my first reaction is, of course, “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll show you!”

Especially since those parents said the same things before we retired: “You’d be crazy to not buy a house.” “You’d be crazy to quit your job.” “You’d be crazy to retire in your 30s.”

Well, after 10 years of this crazy life, I guess I like being crazy. A LOT. It’s kind of awesome actually.

And given that, at 4 months old, Little Matchstick is old enough to no longer need hourly feedings but young enough to still stay where I last put him, I thought why not take advantage of this time to introduce him to the wonderful world of tacos, tamales, and tequila (and yes, I am practicing my “Parent of the Year” award acceptance speech, thank you very much). We were off to Mexico, the land of sun, fun, and most importantly…a plane ride that’s only 4 hours long (I’m rebellious, not insane).

And so, with years of travel planning under my belt and being one of the most experienced travellers I know (*pats self on back*), I confidently did the following:

Step One: Apply for his passport.

Step Two: Buy plane tickets.

Step Three: Acquire the plague.

Wait, what?

Yup, that’s right. Just days before our flight, we all got horrendously sick.

It all started on Christmas day, when our family gave us the gift that keeps on giving…the plague. Because no matter how carefully you plan things, you have no control over what other people do. With lots of aunties, uncles, nephew and nieces under one roof, and Little Matchstick passed around like a butterball turkey at thanksgiving dinner, it’s no wonder we all came down with the flu.

Normally, not having to stick to a 9 to 5 schedule, this would’ve been fine, but since we had a trip planned, it completely derailed said plans.

I spent two weeks coughing up unmentionables in bed while waking up throughout the night to exclusively breastfed my shrieking son. He could no longer breathe through his nose and was coughing himself awake constantly. When I tried to clear his nose with nasal aspirator, he screamed and cried bloody murder, which of course just made the congestion even worse.

We quickly learned the first lesson of travelling with a kid: Never book flights within two weeks of big family gatherings. You will get sick and it will take longer than expected to recover. Travelling with adults is very different from travelling with a baby. While we could’ve powered through a 4-hour flight with the sniffles, when you have to lug a coughing, congested baby, plus all the baby gear that comes with him, while running on 2 hours of sleep, it becomes Mission Impossible.

Luckily, since we bought the flights with points and got a flexible ticket, we were able to postpone the flights until we recovered. Our Home Exchange hosts were very understanding and refunded the guest points for the nights we didn’t end up staying. If you’re curious about Home Exchange, read my post about it here.

I have to admit, throughout this time, I was extremely anxious about 4 things:

  1. Little Matchstick’s first flight
  2. Him sleeping in unfamiliar hotel and Home Exchange cribs
  3. Us changing accommodations every 2 weeks (for a total of 3 different home exchanges and 2 hotels during 2 months of traveling)
  4. Him getting sick and needing to go to the hospital

Turns out, after obsessively researching and finding a list of good hospitals near each of our accommodations and buying travel insurance, concern #4 wasn’t a problem. Since we only met up with a few friends and stayed away from crowds, we didn’t get sick. I actually think we get sick way more when we’re back in Toronto, given the unavoidable large family gatherings.

Concern #2 also ended up not being a problem since not only was Little Matchstick able to sleep in various Pack n’ Plays, he weirdly slept BETTER while travelling than back home. Also, the dreaded 4-month sleep regression didn’t happen at all. I think this is because a) we got lucky and got a baby with super chill temperament (takes after his father) and b) all the new sights and sounds stimulates his brain more and tires him out, so he sleeps better. Also, it’s warm and humid in Mexico which is better for this skin. It had been super dry, itchy, and constantly flaring up with eczema during the Canadian winter and no matter how much we turned up the humidifier, nothing helped. As soon as we got to Mexico, the eczema went away.

We also got good advice from a friend, who told us to bring along some baby books and his sleep sack so he can have familiar things from home that stays consistent as we move around. We did the same bedtime routine every night—bath, book, boob—and that helped him sleep.

And finally for #3, I was told by the same friend that I shouldn’t move around more often than once a month, otherwise it’s going to be a pain. This worried me, since I was only able to find home exchanges that were available for 2-week periods, so staying a month wasn’t an option.  And while it wasn’t as easy as when we were a couple, it wasn’t that bad either. Partially because I can now exclusively breastfeed, so I didn’t need to lug formula around when we changed accommodations. You can also buy formula easily in Mexico but it may not be the brand your baby is used to. As much as I hated breastfeeding and how long it took for my supply to come in, it finally paid dividends on this trip. Not having to sanitize bottles (especially since tap water isn’t drinkable in Mexico) and warm up formula while sitting on a beach was a lifesaver.

Here’s the 2nd thing we learned about travelling with a kid: the airport hotel is your friend.

Back when it was just the two of us, getting to the airport at night, taking a bus, followed by a ferry, followed by a taxi to our destination was no big deal. But when you have an infant, who’d just come off a cramped flight for the first time, doing all those things to get to your Home Exchange at 10pm at night was a big no no. Instead, we simply walked across the street from the airport directly to our hotel. This is why credit cards with points earned toward hotel stays are your new best friend. You only need a 1-night stay and you’ve gotten plenty of points for that. Even if you don’t have the right credit card yet, using cash just for one night is still worth it. You’re already saving a ton of money by staying in Home Exchange for free, so don’t sweat one night of hotel costs. You’ll be refreshed in the morning and your infant will be happy, which will make your life a lot easier.

The 3rd thing we learned about travelling with a kid is: having a system for packing is essential. With all the added gear you need for baby, it’s easy to get stressed out and lose things when you have to unpack and repack repeatedly.

Our system is to use:

  • A 90L suitcase.
  • A 40L carry-on backpack.
  • A 20L carry-on daypack.
    • Ours is the Osprey Arcane Large and we use it as a diaper bag. It also doubles as a hiking day pack.
  • A durable small purse with crossbody strap to carry IDs, keys, and phone. You need able to get out your ID with one hand because the other hand will be pushing the baby stroller.
  • An ergonomic baby carrier.
    • Ours is the Baby Bjorn One. It has 3 settings: front-facing, back-facing, and back-carry.
  • A car seat and stroller system.
    • Ours is the Chicco Bravo Trio Travel System. This is recommended by as the one with best price to safety ratio.
    • The stroller is a bit bulky for my liking so once our son can sit up, we’re going to swap it for a compact pocket stroller
  • Compression squares (set of 7), differentiated by symbols for each family member (I sew cartoon patches onto the bags to represent each person so it’s easy to find).
    • 2 medium squares for mine and Wanderer’s underwear and socks (we bring enough to last a week)
    • 2 large squares for mine and Wanderer’s clothing (again, enough for a week)
    • 1 large square for Little Matchstick’s onesies (5 short sleeves and 5 long sleeves with build-in socks), bibs, and muslins
    • 1 extra-large compression square for our 2 jackets
    • 1 large shoe bag for our 2 sandals
  • An Apple airtag to keep track of the suitcase

The compression squares fit well in the luggage, saving us a ton of space, and they organized our clothing easily so it was a breeze to find things for each family member.

(note: the links above are affiliate links so I may get a small referral fee if you choose to buy any of the travel items we use. Though, honestly, I would just try Facebook market place first to see you can get any of them second hand.)

Our travel gear

Baggage Allowance for Flying

As a family, we’re allowed to bring as much breastmilk and/or formula as we like and we get an extra diaper bag as a carry-on item, in addition to the 1 carry-on 1 personal item per person allowance. We also get to check-in 2 out of 3 of these baby gear items for free: crib, car seat, stroller. We opted for the stroller and car seat since all the accommodations we picked have cribs available.  Conveniently, we could also choose to gate check the car seat and stroller so that it would be ready for us as soon as we deplaned rather than having to carry him all the way to the luggage area and wait for it.

Packing for an Infant

And as for what’s in the suitcase, we learned, after being nomadic with a baby for 2 months, these are the most useful for 0-6 month old infants:

Food:2 Wide-neck, slow flow bottleswide-neck, slow flow bottles are good for breastfed babies to mimic the natural breast and flow
 Bottle cleaning travel kit 
 Bottle sanitizer bag for microwaves 
 4 bottles of ready-to-feed liquid formulaSince I’m exclusive breastfeeding, these are only backups for when Wanderer needs to feed and I didn’t have time to pump some breastmilk or our son is strapped in his car seat.   It was easy to find powered formula in Mexico but not ready-to-feed liquid formula. This is the only type of formula recommended for infants younger than 2 months and that’s why we waited until he was past that point to travel.  

If you sign-up to Similiac Club you can get free samples and coupons. I basically just brought the bottles that were given to me for free as samples.
 Haakaa breast pumpThe smallest, most portable breast pump that uses passive letdown.
 Pacifier and pacifier clips  Your infant will drop their pacifier a lot. That’s why you need to clip it to their onesie.
Meds:Simethicone gas drops (Ovol) This was a lifesaver when our baby was gassy and we couldn’t take him out of his carseat to burp him. Also great for nighttime when you’re too exhausted.
 Children’s Advil 
 Vitamin D drops Not needed if you’re formula feeding
 Hydrocortisone 1% (prescription) This was prescribed by our paediatrician for our son’s eczema.
Small digital thermometerWhen our baby is sick, we need to check his temperature to make sure he doesn’t have a fever
 Protective bag for car seatIf you need to check-in your car seat, it’ll get thrown around and abused a lot. Use a nylon, durable bag to keep it clean.  
 Carbon Monoxide alarm 
Poop:42 diapers (1 week’s worth)   Pampers Swaddlers, the most leak-proof brand.
BioBaby is the comparable brand in Mexico
Since we were checking in the stroller anyways, we just tossed the diapers into the protective bag along with it. On the flight back, we didn’t get him his own seat and gate checked the car seat so we used the car seat as storage for diapers inside the protective bag.
 Disposable changing pads (10)These aren’t great for the environment but are great for on the go when you can’t wash anything.
 Reusable cloth changing pads (2)We used these once we were at the Home Exchange and had access to a washer.
 Large ziplock bags (2)For any dirty clothing on the go
 Barrier cream 
 Wet wipes (package of 100) 
Clothes:5 summer onesies + 5 winter onesies For the winter ones, get the ones with the built in socks and zippers, not buttons. You will thank me when you’re not hunting around for tiny baby socks and cursing the manufactures for the gazillion buttons when you’re half asleep and changing diapers in the middle of the night.
 Adjustable infant hat with ear and neck protection from the sun 
Sleep:Sleep sack 
 Baby books (5) 
Your phoneInstead of bringing a white noise machine, we just use the accessibility feature on Wanderer’s iPhone. I also downloaded a white noise app on my android and it works just fine. Thanks for the tip, MadFientist!
Bath:Peri bottleI got this when I was pregnant because I needed it after giving birth. Turns out it has amazing other uses as a portable bidet (useful for Mexico since you can’t throw toilet paper in the toilet) and for cleaning your infant when there is only shower in your hotel or Home Exchange. Our son hated getting water in his eyes from the shower, so we showered him from the back and use the peri-bottle to spray down his front after turning off the shower. That helped us avoid tears.

When the accommodations do have a bathtub, instead of lugging around a portable bathtub, I just sit in the bath, have the water level low, and then have him lie on my knees to wash him. It’s much faster and easier and best of all you save space from not having to carry around a baby bathtub.
 Tear free sensitive baby washYou can also buy this in Mexico but we brought some since had space in our liquid bag
Toys:Spinners that suction to airplane windows (2)Tiny and easy to pack
 Sophie the GiraffeDoubles as toy and teether
Misc:Pacifier & bottle wipes (pack of 40)Use these to wipe the tray tables, windows on planes, your infant’s hands, their bottle nipple, and their pacifiers. Your infant will put their mouths on everything and when you convenient don’t have access to running water on the go, these will prevent germs.
 Muslin (2)Super useful for anything from nursing coverup to blanket to spit ups to sun and mosquito protection (since you can’t use sunscreen or mosquito spray on babies < than 6 months old)
 Baby nail sander 
 Buncha Farmer’s Stain Removal StickThis is magical soap that will get out any poop or vomit stain. Seriously it’s that powerful. No other detergent does the trick. You’ll need this for the inevitable blowouts from your infant.

Note: the links above are affiliate links so I may get a small referral fee if you choose to buy any of the travel items we use.

Something I wasn’t expecting when flying with an infant is all the perks you get as a family.

Not only do you get to extra luggage allowance for baby gear, but there are also designated family check-in counters and family check-in security lines which made the whole process smooth and stress free. As a family, we also got to board first, which was helpful in getting Little Matchstick settled on the plane without having to wait in a long line.  

Flying with an Infant

Little Matchstick was calm getting on the plane but once we took off, he started fussing because he wasn’t able to equalize his ears from the pressure and they hurt. I fed him with a bottle (since he was strapped to his car seat in his own airplane seat and it wasn’t safe yet for me to take him out to nurse him) and then used a pacifier. This helped a lot since the sucking motion helped him with the pressure. Throughout the flight, if the seatbelt sign was off and he cried, I would take him out of his car seat and nurse him in my lap. I also brought these spinner toys that suction onto the airplane window that kept him busy for a while. So, even though it wasn’t exactly fun flying with a 4 month old, it wasn’t as horrible as I expected either.

Once we got to our destination, I was so happy we pushed through my anxiety and travelled as a family because the best was yet to come.

Stayed tuned for my next posts about what it was like travelling with an infant on Isla Mujeres and Merida, Mexico.

How about you? Have you ever travelled with kids? Do you have any tips?

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47 thoughts on “How to Travel with a Baby”

  1. Go you! Traveling with a baby is hard but doable if you’re organized (which you are 🙂 )

    Congratulations for Little Matchstick!!!

    We’ve traveled with our kids as well starting from 3 months old, and even our worst experiences are great memories now!

    Some really funny moments were when I would show my bag at airport security and pulled out 4-5 transparent plastic bags with some white dust. (pre-portioned milk for the flight) Nobody blinked an eye – it could have been anything 🙂

    For travel gadgets later on I recommend a lightweight baby stroller that folds tightly like an umbrella. It helps when you move around a lot and if you get to a restaurant and the baby wants to sleep (and you finally get to enjoy your quiet dinner 🙂 )

    1. “transparent plastic bags with some white dust”

      LOL. So shady. We had the same issue with powered donut dust on our stuff before heading to the airport. I gave my purse a good wipe down.

      Thanks for the tip about the umbrella stroller!

  2. First, just want to say that you two are awesome parents and it gives me joy thinking about all of the knowledge and experiences you will share with your kids (I finally convinced my adult children to read your book, and they are enjoying it). We took several trips with the kids and they were all memorable and manageable. Planning ahead as you are, is the key. One tip I would give if you take a long car ride. Never give the little ones a full sized water bottle. They will drink it all, and fast, and you will be making pit stops every 10 miles!

    1. “I finally convinced my adult children to read your book, and they are enjoying it” –>Awww, thanks Bill!

      Good to know about the water bottle when it comes to long car rides! Our son isn’t old enough to drink water yet but will remember that when he is.

  3. I am glad you had fun travelling with your son. You’re really blessed that you have a baby with a chill temperament.

    We also tried travelling with our then 11 month old daughter, Mexico was fine but for Ireland it was hell. No because we had to get back to work. But our daughter gave us hell on the plane ride, not sleeping at all and was cranky all the time. We were so tired and exhausted that we didn’t want to travel anymore and just wanted to come home. We spent ~$1200 extra to book to an early flight.

    Personally I feel that I don’t have fun when travelling with our daughter, since I just get so anxious and tired. I know that everyone’s experience is different and I am glad yours is a good one.

    1. Sorry to hear about your stressful experience travelling in Ireland! Yeah, it really depends on the kid and I’m glad we got a chill one. That said, we haven’t tried 5 hour+ flights when he’s mobile, so will report back on that one. I’m thinking maybe a repositioning cruise will be better when he’s 10 month+ and we need to go somewhere with a 7 hour+ plane ride.

  4. Aww, that first picture it’s what it’s all about. You guys are a wonderful family. Wish I knew all the family perks re flying when our kids were small, maybe I would have started travelling with them way sooner. It’s one regret I have.

  5. Congratulations on your first baby trip, you are warriors! I bathed MB 2x per week in Toronto, not everyday to ease excema. Sophie can get mouldy inside, be careful ❤️. We were asked to pay in USD in Mexico for late night emergency care for mb, good o have on hand!

  6. Yay! I’ve been waiting for this post! I was so curious to know how your experience went traveling with a baby. 🙂 not horrendously bad is a pass. Look at little matchstick head full of hair!!!! WOW!! haha

    1. I had very low expectations going in, so anything above “not terrible” is a huge win in my books!

      LOL. And yes he was a ton of hair. I tried to put it in pig tails the other day. He was not amused 😛

  7. Good for you! We paused traveling for about 3 years when our son was born. It worked well for us because we don’t like complications. Now that our son is 13, we are traveling a lot more. This summer, we’re heading to Japan and Thailand. It should be a ton of fun and no fuss.

    1. Awesome! Good to know 3 years old is a good time for travel. Enjoy Japan and Thailand! I gotta work my way up to getting our son to Asia. So far I can’t stomach the long plane ride with a kid–even in business class.

  8. We love traveling with our kids! Our first big international trip was to UAE and Oman from Canada in 2018 when our kids were 3 and 1- I did feel like this was outside the norm and maybe a little crazy, but they did so great and it was amazing. Last year we took them to Europe (Portugal, Spain and France), they were 9 and 7 and it was nice because they could carry their own backpacks. The trip was a great blend of culture with a stop in Disneyland Paris. We are definitely planning for more travel as a family in our future.

    1. Wow, good to know your kids could handle the long flights when they were 3 and 1! I’m a little anxious about when LMS is mobile and I’m stuck on a long flight. Different stages introduces different problems I guess. But that’s the best part about travel–the problem solving. Wakes my brain up 🙂

  9. Travelling with a baby is a great idea! I enjoyed it too. Staying at home with a baby can be dull, sometimes even depressing especially in winter, so carting them off somewhere fun can be a great distraction! Mostly they just love mum and dad so as long as you’re around they’ll be pretty happy.

    1. “Mostly they just love mum and dad so as long as you’re around they’ll be pretty happy”

      This is very true. At least at this age. Glad, you enjoy travelling, Denise!

  10. Agree 100% with the airport hotel! We’ve just started doing that with our last few trips and the stress level had dropped significantly!

    1. Thanks, CK! Glad it’s help. Yeah, everyone comments on his hair 😉 Maybe he can get a job selling shampoo when he grows up.

  11. Our son was born a few months before COVID and traveled with him as an infant and still to this day on long haul mainly and short/mid-haul. Long haul is not such a big strain as long as you can book the seats with the baby baskets because they sleep the whole time in a laying position.
    For the ears, breastfeeding is definitely the trick.
    We find that now that he is 4, it is getting a bit harder but coloring, card games and tablets to spend time goes a long way as he just does not really want to sleep or take naps anymore. But what I can assure you is that our kid gets super excited about flying and loves to fly…even though he is asking if we are landing soon after 15-min.

    Have fun exploring the world with Little Matchstick!

    1. “But what I can assure you is that our kid gets super excited about flying and loves to fly”

      Oh this gives me a lot of hope that we can still travel with him when he’s a bit older. Thanks for the reassurance!

  12. wow….just reading at this prep list makes me feel like buying a home w/ a mortgage…something I’ll never try. Good luck!

    1. LOL. A mortgage is an entire novel compared to this list. But no worries, travelling with kids isn’t for everyone 🙂 You have to be super motivated.

  13. Great article. Love to hear that you have been enjoying traveling with an infant. I think this will be yet another article that I can start sending to our own readers when they think that early retirement is only for people that don’t have kids.

    Also love to know that you are traveling with Sophie!!!

  14. So ………… sounds like an extreme hassle to travel globally with a new born.

    What’s the point?? What exactly do you gain from it??

    If someone can’t monetize the experience by writing about it on a blog, why would they do it??

  15. Big fan of you! Great story for whose who travel with baby!
    Wonder if you could tell more about home exchange program, which sites you use, how safe is it, any need of cleaning whole home after you move.
    Thank you!

    1. It’s very safe and has a $1 million worth of insurance for the hosts, just like Airbnb. I tried a few home exchange sites: Home Exchange, Love Home Swap, People like Us, and I got the most number of replies from HE, so that’s the one I use.

      Here’s a few detailed posts I wrote about my experience:

  16. Just like your baby, I often sleep much better in a hotel room when traveling than at home. Go figure!

    Dan V
    Taipei, Taiwan

  17. I’m so glad having a kid didn’t stop you from traveling.

    Our kid is older now but we have another one on the way. I recommend the Joolz Aer (stroller) for when your kid gets older.

  18. having a chill child makes all the difference; my daughter’s first plane ride was at 2 months old, and we never looked back- she is now 17 and has been to over 20 countries on 5 continents, a few of them repeatedly (mexico x 3 and bermuda x 5). Travelling is so normal and natural for her because of her exposure; she has learned to value experiences over material goods, which I hope she carries with her into adulthood
    Well done at starting early; if your child is easy and healthy, they are so resilient, flexible and adaptable

    1. “she is now 17 and has been to over 20 countries”

      Wow! Amazing!

      “she has learned to value experiences over material goods” –> This is what travel taught us too and hopefully will teach our son.

  19. I never understand the need to take a baby on an international flight/travel. To me, it is more about the parents who wanted to do it rather than the baby (quiet obvious). I mean, what is there to prove exactly?

    1. What’s wrong with it being “more about the parents”? There’s nothing to prove. I just enjoy it and it’s fun. If you don’t like to travel then don’t. No one is forcing you. Simple as that.

  20. I have travelled a lot with my girls since each was about 2 months old. Hard, but always worth it! When Little matchstick is a bit older, the flight earplugs really help with their pressurisation and prevent grumpy or crying kids from ear pain. I found the hardest ages for flying was 12 – 36 months…. they just really don’t like sitting down, so long flights are really challenging.

    1. Good to know that flight earplugs help!

      “I found the hardest ages for flying was 12 – 36 months”–> Other parents have said this as well. I will look into repositioning cruises for that phase. Thanks for the tip!

  21. When my son was 3 months old I traveled with him. It was not hell. It was quit easy. I breastfed him on take off and on landing under a baby blanket for privacy. It was easy to break the breast suction when the feeding time was over.

    Each child is an individual with their individual focuses. Fun. Enjoy this step in your journey.

  22. You’re already doing the most important thing if you want to keep traveling which is traveling with your child early so they’re used to it. We traveled to Europe for three months when our son was 2-3 and he did great. He’s 8 now and while we live in the US for most of the year we still travel multiple times per year for vacation and to visit family and it’s normal to him. We have awesome memories of him turning 3 in Barcelona and laughing in Sevilla when we were watching a street performer and he started screaming because it was the witching hour (5pm) and we realized that nothing would entertain him at that time of day, not even a man standing on his head. He always got cranky at that time of day at home too so it was really not any harder dealing with it while traveling. One tip that works when your son is around 2 or older is to give him a sucker on the plane during takeoff
    and landing. It will relieve the ear pressure once he’s no longer using a pacifier. Enjoy your travels. It can absolutely be done with kids and be a great time as long as you’re willing to travel a little slower and have realistic expectations. The memories you will make together are priceless.

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