Last updated on August 31, 2023
Travelling with a baby for the first time is somewhat nerve-wracking for even the most seasoned traveller. To be honest, I found every ‘first’ with a baby quite daunting! But, like with everything, practise makes it all easier, and often the anticipatory worry outweighs the reality of how it all goes.
We’ve had some of the best trips of our lives when the boys were under two. And oftentimes it’s easier to travel with a baby than an older child because they sleep so much, are less mobile, and have fewer opinions on what to do!
But let’s not sugar coat this, travelling with a baby is not without its challenges and will be a step change from what you were used to in your pre-baby life. Even if you do manage to do some of the same stuff, having a baby in tow will make it different. And there’s a lot more to consider when you’re planning a family trip.
But never fear, after zillions of travel days with our little ones, I’ve put together this guide with all my top tips for travelling with a baby. And here’s a specific survival guide to flying with a baby, a full baby packing list, and a pros and cons analysis of places to stay with a baby.
You’ve got this!
What type of travel do you want with your baby?
What kind of parent and traveller are you?
The first big thing to consider is what type of parent you are. And what’s your baby like? What makes you feel comfortable as a parent? Do you both thrive on routine or are you used to a bit of variety in your day to day? Remember that every baby is different and every parent is too. What suits one family will be different for another. You’ll likely have noticed that with your peers and it’s no different when travelling. Don’t judge yourself by what others are doing – comparison really is the thief of joy.
It’s also important to consider what type of traveller you are. Are you used to doing big road trips or city breaks? Or have you always been an all-inclusive package holiday type of person? There’s no right or wrong here – it’s about choosing something that will suit you.
Remember, you don’t necessarily have to change your style just because you have a baby. But on the other hand, if you’re normally an intrepid traveller but feel nervous to travel with a baby, there’s no harm in opting for something a little easier for your first trip. Don’t feel the need to prove yourself straight away. You can build up slowly to your pre-baby travels (if you even want to do that!).
I say all this because I’ve looked through many baby travel tips online and I think this is the main thing they miss when dispensing advice. People are often too definitive in their assertions, for example saying you “definitely won’t want to road trip with a baby” or other things I disagree with!
Some of the tips are also way over-the-top in my opinion, suggesting you pack pretty much everything but the kitchen sink. For some people, this might help make their travel less stressful, feeling prepared for every eventuality, but it definitely isn’t essential. Plus packing too much can actually make travel harder, meaning you have to juggle a baby plus mountains of luggage.
In this guide, I’ve tried to give options for different styles. And also options for different budgets. If you have endless money to throw at the situation, there are all sorts of things you can do to make travel easier – hire a nanny, book an extra plane seat, hire all your baby equipment there – but none of these things are as essential. You can travel on a budget with a baby.
Our travelling with a baby style
We’re both obviously experienced travellers (hence the blog!) who have always leaned towards a more indy style of travel, putting together our own itineraries and doing lots of road trips and city breaks, and also living abroad. Travel is an important part of our lives, so when we had Otis, we were determined to continue our travels as much as we could.
As parents, we stick to a loose routine, but we’re not strict with it. Even when at home, we like to get out lots, so the kids got used to sleeping on the move and in cafes from an early age. And we eat out a lot so the kids are also used to being in restaurants.
Many parents rate eating out with kids as among the most stressful experiences and I can see why – there’s often a lot of wrangling with unruly children, plus black looks from other diners. But because eating out and travelling are important to us, our tolerance for doing that with a baby/kids is fairly high. The kids aren’t always well behaved (far from it!) and we have many moments when we think “is this worth it?”, but overall, we think it is. And practice has made it much easier.
On the other hand, I can be quite an anxious parent, so I was never tempted to travel anywhere too off the beaten track with a baby. And we always stayed in Airbnbs, hotels or apartments. But I know many people who have been all over the world without any issue. And many who camp with babies too. It’s really what you feel comfortable with.
Also bear in mind that babies are much easier to travel with than toddlers and you might have lots of maternity/paternity leave, so it’s a really good chance to tick off some bucket list trips. That’s what we did with our Pacific Coast Highway road trip.
The trips we did at the baby stage
The trips we did at the baby stage ranged from relaxing holidays where we embraced our new family status at kid-friendly resorts, to big road trips where we moved around loads and did all sorts of “normal” pre-baby things like wine tasting in Sonoma and staying in a hipster cabin in Joshua Tree.
We ate late dinners in Barcelona while Otis slept in his buggy at 12 weeks, and when in New York with Otis at 9 months, we all had lunch at a Michelin star restaurant, Otis with his own plate of avocado!
And at 16 weeks, we even went to a literary festival for a few nights where Otis slept through talks by many famous authors and politicians. Some people thought we were crazy to try these things, but travel is important to us, so we tried it and it worked out (most of the time!).
Top tips for travelling with a baby
Build up your travel stamina slowly
One of my top travelling with a baby tips is to build up your stamina slowly. I always recommend that new parents try and spend at least one night away from home before their first international travel or longer domestic holiday.
For example, go and stay with family or friends for a weekend. Ideally choose someone who is fairly relaxed and supportive and/or who already has children. They’ll hopefully better understand what you’re going through and won’t expect you to be a perfect guest (we’ve hosted many stressed first-time parent friends for their first trip with a baby!).
By doing a night away from home before your first family holiday, you’ll at least have ticked off one “first” and experienced being away from home. It’s also a good opportunity to pack everything you think you’ll need and see if there’s anything you forgot or anything that was unnecessary. As I said at the beginning, feeling comfortable travelling with a baby is something that comes with practice.
We started with a trip to visit family, then we did a weekend in Devon (about two hours from home), followed by a three-night trip to Barcelona. Next up was a week in Croatia and then we went big with a two-month road trip in the USA! We started small and ended epic.
Do you have to do a specifically baby-friendly trip?
As you can see from the travel we did with a baby, you definitely don’t have to do specifically baby-friendly trips. But I would say that for many people, what we did would be too much. I have friends who find going through airports incredibly stressful and this will be multiplied with a child. And others hate having to plan trips, whereas for me that’s half the fun.
There’s no doubt booking a family-friendly hotel and staying in one place is the easiest option for travelling with kids. You can book a package with flights, transfers, accommodation and meals included, and then you’re all set. So if this something that appeals, don’t feel ashamed to go with what feels easiest. And it might be a good starter option, so you can build up to something more complicated if that’s what you’re aiming for.
On the other hand, if you’re tempted to try all the things we did and more, I say go for it! It’s largely luck of the draw as to how everything goes (just like with most things in parenting) – no amount of planning can account for things like teething, growth spurts, colds, general grouchiness, how good a sleeper you have etc! But if everything conspires nicely, you can have a magical trip.
Before you go: tips for planning travel with a baby
Adjust your expectations
We’ve touched on this already, but there’s no doubt travelling with a baby is different to the pre-baby days. Some might find it easier than others, but for everyone it’ll be an adjustment. You have a responsibility now! So don’t plan to do everything you would have done pre-kids.
Chances are you’ll have to take things slower and perhaps skip some of the more intrepid activities or fancy bars. But so long as your eyes are open to this, you shouldn’t be disappointed. In fact, I’d purposefully keep your expectations low, so that anything better is a bonus!
Take advantage of parental leave
I know this differs wildly from country to country, but if you have a good amount of maternity/paternity leave, take advantage of that and do one of those longer trips that are harder when you’re bound by your work and your company’s travel allowances. We went away for two months when Otis was little.
And I know lots of people who have taken the opportunity to live abroad for a few months. A home exchange would be ideal. Or perhaps do a dream bucket list trip like going to Japan or road tripping around Italy.
Where to stay with a baby?
We’ve stayed in hotels, apartments, family hotels, Airbnbs, home exchanges and with family and friends when travelling with a baby. They all have pros and cons and we’ve written a full post with tips for choosing where to stay with a baby. Our top tip is to try and stay somewhere that has a separate sleeping and living area so the grown-ups have somewhere to hang out once the baby is asleep.
And we also highly recommend doing a home exchange – it’s one of the most affordable ways to travel with a baby, and super convenient if you manage to swap with a family who has a baby too (that way they’ll have all the gear set up already and you can travel with less).
Don’t forget the passport!
Don’t forget that your baby needs a passport too! You can apply for a baby passport as soon as your baby has been born and you can take a photo of them. So make sure you apply for one with plenty of time before your first trip. Check current waiting times as you might find you need to pay for an expedited service.
Also remember to check how long the passport is valid for. In the UK, child passports last for five years and most countries require that a passport is valid for six months from entry, so set a reminder for when you need to update it (unlike me who has literally just had to book an emergency appointment because writing this post made me realise we need to update Otis’ one before Thailand!).
Travelling with a baby: what to pack
Chances are that your style of packing is going to be similar with a baby to pre-kids. If you’re already a ‘let’s take everything but the kitchen sink’ packer then it’s about to get much worse. And if you’re a minimalist then you’re going to struggle to stay that way (although it is do-able to an extent!).
I’ve written a dedicated baby packing list post, which goes into all the details and options. But here are the headline things to remember, and a few must haves for travelling with a baby…
- There are babies everywhere, so you’ll likely be able to buy anything you forget once you’re at your destination. For example, we only ever bring enough nappies/diapers and wipes for the first couple of days and then buy the rest there. This will be harder if you’re wedded to a particular diaper brand, but we’ve always found a variation of Pampers wherever we go and they suited Otis and Arlo’s sensitive skin.
- Make sure you have enough of what you need (plus some more) for the actual traveling part of the journey. Allow for delays, so bring extra nappies, baby food pouches, milk, changes of clothes etc. And pack some medicines too (we normally take paracetamol, ibuprofen, a thermometer, plasters and some teething gel).
- The more you bring, the harder it is to travel from place to place. We prefer to pack light and then buy anything extra as and when we need it.
- Ideally choose a lightweight stroller as this is easier to travel with. That said, we took a large all-terrain one with us in the early days when we were going places with cobbles/outdoor pursuits and that was fine too. You can get strollers you can take as hand luggage, but this will count towards your baggage allowance, so we’ve always preferred to check them at the airplane door.
- Check your airline’s baggage policy. You can normally take two baby items for free, but airlines vary on what they include within this. For example, some specify that one item has to be a car seat and some won’t accept travel cots. You can normally check-in a car seat for free fo rchildren up to the age of 11.
- Decide if you’re taking a car seat with you. We always took one at the baby stage after being disappointed by the quality of a car seat we were given by a hire company in Croatia. Since then, our experiences have been fine though.
- You might not need to bring a travel cot if your accommodation provides one and you’re happy to use it. Bring your own sheets if you’d prefer.
- A baby sling can be invaluable for travelling. We found it particularly useful for going through security and for on the plane itself. Otis would never sleep in the bassinet, so he’d often sleep on one of us in the sling.
- If your baby is weaning, a portable high chair like this is pretty useful. Although you probably won’t need one if your hotel/accommodation has one. We found it useful on road trips.
- We found a blackout blind very useful for helping babies sleep in unfamiliar places.
- There are also lots of places that hire out baby equipment for the duration of your holiday, which helps cut down on the amount you bring.
- Some airlines allow you to bring a diaper bag in addition to your usual luggage allowance. If so, take advantage of the extra space! I love the Babymel diaper bag for a stylish and practical option.
Think about food and drink
Plan how you’re going to feed your baby en route and while you’re there. If you’re breastfeeding, it’s fairly easy as you can do this wherever. I tended to bring some readymade formula bottles too just in case of an emergency. If you’re bottle feeding, it’s a little more complicated – but the essential rule is to make sure you have enough.
Remember that formula is used worldwide so you’ll be able to stock up in your destination (check ahead to see what brands they have if you’re looking for something specific).
And if your baby is already on solids, make sure you have enough food for the journey. We rely heavily on pouches when travelling with a baby, especially on flights and in transit. We bring plenty for the plane and buy local brands at the destination. Some countries tend to fill theirs with fruit rather than savoury food, so we sometimes order them online via Amazon to our destination (we did this a lot in America with Ella’s Kitchen pouches).
For other food, you should be able to get what you need at local supermarkets, and most restaurants are happy to accommodate requests. We ordered a lot of smashed avocado and scrambled eggs for Otis in California! Again, remember that babies worldwide have to eat, so you won’t be short of food (however, it being food your baby will eat is another question!)
Plan how you’re going to get around while there
It’s important to think about how you’ll get around once at your destination. The most important journey is the one from the airport to your accommodation. If you don’t plan on hiring a car, make sure there’s a suitable way for you to travel from the airport/train station to your accommodation. It might be that the accommodation can arrange a transfer, or you can book a taxi in advance. Or perhaps there’s a bus you can take. Most countries don’t require babies to use car seats in taxis (they can ride on your lap), but if you feel more comfortable with a car seat, choose a taxi company that supplies them and be sure to reserve one in advance.
When we went to Barcelona, we knew we wouldn’t need a car in the city so we didn’t take a car seat. And instead of hiring one with a taxi, we simply took the airbus to the city centre, which was a cheaper option anyway. Just make sure you have a plan!
You’ll also need to think about travel for the duration of your stay. It’s much harder to plan things on the fly with a baby than when you’re travelling without kids. For example, most Ubers don’t come with car seats (although there are certain destinations such as New York where there’s the option to request one). Look into your travel options before you leave so you’re not left in the lurch.
More often than not, we bring/hire a car when travelling as this gives us the most freedom. We normally take our own baby car seat and pick the car up at the airport. However, in some cases, such as on city breaks, it’s too expensive or impractical to take a car. Parking and traffic can be a nightmare in cities.
In these cases, look into public transportation for while you’re there. Most cities have good transport links and many will have websites/blog posts about how best to navigate these with a stroller. We try to include tips on this in all our destination family travel guides.
Check if your destination requires vaccinations and if your baby is eligible for them. We use the NHS Fit For Travel site to check this.
Check the climate and weather for your destination
Don’t forget to consider the weather! If you’re travelling to a different hemisphere, you can expect different weather conditions. Does your baby have the right clothes? Chances are you’ll have to buy some new ones if it’s winter where you are and 80 degrees on holiday.
I always try to buy clothes a bit bigger than needed so they’ll last to the summer/winter at home too. Also bear in mind that lots of places have variable temperatures throughout the day, so pack layers too.
For sunny places, you’ll need baby sunscreen and a sun hat. I recommend testing the sunscreens before you go. Otis is allergic to the ingredients of some sunscreens so we have to be careful what we buy.
Get TSA PreCheck and Global Entry
Airport lines in the USA can be exceptionally long. If you’re an American citizen, one way to mitigate this is with TSA PreCheck. It costs $85 for five years and it screens you in advance so you can skip the queue at the airport.
Tips for flying with a baby
Taking your first flight with a baby is a big milestone and one that often fills people with nerves. I’ve written a full survival guide to flying with a baby, including tips on what to consider when choosing your flight, what to pack in your hand luggage, tips for navigating the airport and ideas for keeping your baby happy on the plane. Remember that babies fly free internationally until they’re two so it’s a great time to travel on a budget.
While you’re there: tips for travelling with a baby
Do what works at home
Just because you’re somewhere new doesn’t mean you and your baby have suddenly changed! Continue to do whatever works at home to soothe your baby and get them to sleep. Of course, some things won’t be possible in the different environment, but others, like rocking, singing, and walking miles with the carrier, will be!
We’ve already touched on this elsewhere, but it’s important to pace yourself and not try to pack everything in. You might be surprised and get to do more than you expected, but I think it’s best to expect less.
Things often take longer with a baby in tow so you likely won’t be able to do all you would have done previously. Try to enjoy the slower pace and remember one day they’ll be grown and you can speed up again!
Plan your days around naps
Depending on how tight your baby’s nap schedule is, try to plan your days around naps. Even if their schedule is fairly unpredictable, you can still have plans for when the baby is awake and when they’re sleeping.
For example, on road trips, we always plan to drive during the baby’s naptime. On a city trip, we time gallery visits, or even a romantic lunch, with naptime.
For stroller naps, we found a big swaddle blanket really useful for blocking out the light/sun. Our Nuna stroller also has a huge sunshade, but we know lots of people who use these one-size-fits-all snooze shades, which are brilliant. And a bit of white noise on the iPhone is also helpful.
If you and your baby are used to naps in their cot every day and it stresses you out to veer from the routine, travel might be more challenging, but not impossible. In this case, an apartment rental could be a good idea so you can try to mimic your homelife routine as near as possible.
Consider staying on your time zone
This obviously depends on the size of the time difference and the direction it’s going in, but it’s worth considering staying on your home time zone while away. We do this when we go to Spain because it works in our favour. The boys go to bed later and we all get up later. But I don’t do it the opposite way as I wouldn’t want to be getting up any earlier than we do already! And if it’s a difference bigger than three hours, it’s probably too much.
Managing time zone transitions with a baby
For time zone differences longer than three hours, I’d say it takes about 2-3 days for babies to adjust, but this depends on the child and also the direction you’re travelling in. Going west tends to be easier.
There are lots of ideas for trying to make the transition easier, for example adjusting bedtime at home for the week before, but personally I think it’s easier to let it all work out within a few days. My main tip is to get outside during daylight hours as soon as you reach you destination as this helps your body clock to adjust.
Take advantage of their age!
I keep saying this, but babies are much easier to travel with than toddlers who can run around and are generally more demanding. Experiment with what your baby will tolerate. For example, Otis was a sound napper when he was really small (probably because he was so used to sleeping in cafes!). This meant that when he was 12 weeks old in Barcelona, we were able to go out for dinner after his bedtime as he just slept in the pram while we dined!
By the time he was eight months old, this wasn’t possible as he was more easily disturbed in louder environments. Take stock of the stage you’re at and take advantage of the benefits! It all changes so quickly.
Go for early dinners
If you’re past (or were never at) the stage where your baby will sleep through dinner, opt for early dinners or lunches instead. We’ve been to loads of amazing, non-family-specific restaurants with the boys in places all over the world.
But as I mentioned in the section on our style of travel, our tolerance for the kids’ behaviour in public is pretty high. And our desire to eat out is even higher!
And if you’re worried about what other people think, I’d say that going for lunch or an early dining slot, around 5pm, is fair play and socially acceptable with kids. Just use your common sense – we wouldn’t take ours to a high-end, romantic candlelit restaurant at night, but make it 5pm and we probably would.
Travel tips for when money is no object!
This isn’t our experience, but if you have money to throw at the situation, here are some ideas for how to make travel with a baby easier.
Book a nanny
This is so far from my own experience that I can’t say much about it. But I know some travellers hire a nanny to accompany them when travelling, paying for their service as well as all their travel. If you can afford it and you like the idea, it’s an option that would certainly give you some more free time.
You could also go for the lesser option of hiring a babysitter occasionally at your destination. Most family hotels have kids’ clubs or connections to local babysitting services. Make sure to check they’re properly accredited of course.
Buy an extra seat for your baby on the plane
For me, one of the best things about travelling with a baby is that they can fly for free until they reach two years old. But many people opt to pay for the baby so they have their own seat and you all have more space on the plane.
This is undoubtedly a nice option if you can afford it, but we’ve always been okay with our babies on our laps. I don’t think it’s necessary to pay for an extra seat unless you can really afford that comfortably.
Pay for VIP services
There are all sorts of airport services that make travel easier. For example, curbside check-in, fast track lanes, airline lounges, rides through the airport on one of those little golf carts. If you have the money, there are things to spend it on! Again, we’ve never done any of these, but they’re there if you can afford it and want the convenience.
Book an extra night in your hotel
If your hotel has a late check-in time or an early check-out that doesn’t fit in with your plans, you could always book an extra night on either end. Personally, I don’t think this is worth it, but I might feel differently if I were rich!
More baby travel tips
Let me know if you have any questions or more baby travel tips to share.
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Creative family travel guides
We don’t think you have to sacrifice creativity and style when travelling with kids. Browse our guides for creative family travel around the world.
Family travel tips: Tips for travelling with a baby | Baby packing list | Flying with a baby survival guide | Where to stay with a baby | Ultimate guide to Home Exchange | Bucket list family vacation ideas
USA: Boston with kids | California with kids | Charleston with kids | Chicago with kids | Florida with kids | Hawaii with kids | Los Angeles with kids | New York with a baby | Orlando with kids | Portland with kids | Sacramento with kids | San Diego with kids | San Francisco with kids | Savannah with kids | Tuolumne County with kids
Family road trip itineraries: Boston to Maine |California road trip |New England road trip | Pacific Coast Highway road trip | San Francisco to Seattle road trip | Southern USA road trip | Portugal road trip