What I’ve learned from traveling with a baby across the country multiple times

This post about traveling with a baby is a reader request, and at first, I didn’t plan on writing it, because I’m not a professional traveler and I’m certainly not a professional parent. But I do have quite a bit of experience traveling with a baby, seeing as Brady has been on more than 16 individual flights total so far in his 14.5 months of life.

What I’ve learned from traveling with a baby across the country multiple times

What I've learned from traveling with a baby across the country multiple times by A Lady Goes West

Here’s the deal about travel … I LOVE it. But, once you have kids (well, I can only speak for having one kid), it becomes different. You are excited to get away. You are excited for a change of scenery. You are excited about the people you are going to see. But … you are a little stressed about the logistics and you are most likely dreading the getting-there-and-back thing. There’s the stuff. The timing of trips as it relates to naps and bedtimes. The baby. The stuff. The airplanes. The crowds. The lines. The car seat installations. The stuff. You get the picture here.

I feel so grateful that we’ve had the opportunity to go so many places this year, including being part of my brother’s wedding, various celebrations leading up to that, a press trip to Colorado, an amazing weekend with our best friends, Southern California for IDEA World and Dave’s fam, two trips to Florida to see my fam and more.

I always knew that Brady would be a traveler early on — he is the Baby Goes West after all — but it’s just not as simple as it used to be to get around. We’ve got another little life in our hands!

Brady’s first flight

We took Brady on his very first flight in February of this year when he was just about 4-months-old, and that flight was to San Diego from Oakland — about a 1-hour flight. I was pretty nervous, and it was absolutely no big deal at all — he never let out a peep and didn’t even seem to know what was going on. Because after doing so many flights with him, I believe that the younger a baby is, the easier things are. During each of our many flights since that time, (including six flights in which I traveled alone with Brady), I’ve perfected the routine. Spoiler alert: It keeps getting harder as he gets older and more mobile.

We just got back from a trip from Oakland to Orlando — which was a direct 5-hour-plus flight, followed by a 3-hour car ride to get to our final destination: my parent’s house in Southwest Florida. And before that, we went to Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Tampa, Columbus, San Diego again, sometimes direct flights, sometimes transferring. Here’s a throwback to his first flight …

Brady's first flight by A Lady Goes West

A list of stuff we bring with us on trips 

Things that we bring with us:

  • Car seat
  • Stroller
  • Boppy (the best travel buddy, which also works as a back support when not needed for baby)
  • Crib sheet
  • Books (2-3 softer paperback for suitcase, 1 hard one for plane)
  • Toys (littles ones for the plane)
  • Diapers (we are still loving this non-toxic diaper delivery service)
  • Wipes
  • iPad for sound machine (instead of bringing larger sound machine from nursery)
  • Baby monitor
  • Portable changing pad
  • Plenty of clothes and muslin blankets (but always plan to do laundry, if possible)
  • Snacks (once Brady started eating solids)

A list of stuff we rent or borrow at the destination

What we rent or borrow:

  • Pack’n play — most hotels will have cribs or pack’n plays you can rent, so it’s one less big thing to bring, and I always pack my own crib sheet so it’s not gross. Brady doesn’t seem to notice or care about the change in sleeping contraption at various destinations

How we pack

When it comes to packing, I use a big suitcase and Dave uses a small suitcase. We have this set, which is a recent purchase, and we love them, because they are hard-side with 360-roller wheels.

I put all of the clothes and light things in the big suitcase, then the toiletries and heavier items in Dave’s smaller suitcase, so we don’t go over with weight — 50 pounds is the max, and it’s a big fee for going even slightly over. Dave drags both suitcases in from the car to ticketing, and I get the stroller and smaller things. We literally have it down to a science even as to how we pack the car.

Our carry-on process

For our carry-ons, Dave brings a big backpack with our laptops, the iPad, books, water bottles, snacks, headphones, etc. I bring a big shoulder canvas bag with lots of space, and I hold the lighter baby supplies. I pack my diaper bag in my suitcase and empty the necessary contents into my shoulder bag. Why? Trial and error. The first few times I traveled, I used my Fawn diaper backpack bag as my carry-on, and it was NOT enough space. I felt like everything was so tight in there I couldn’t get to any of it. But I want that bag when I get to my destination, so it gets packed in the checked luggage. And why a shoulder bag now instead of a backpack? Because, personally, even though it’s nice to have my hands free, I find that I can put a shoulder bag on and off much easier with one hand than a backpack. Also, I can reach in to get things easier than a backpack. This is my personal preference.

I purchased these travel bags to go over the car seat and stroller, and they work really well to keep everything covered, so it doesn’t get dusty or gross while under the plane in the cargo section. However, during our first four flights, we actually used really big black garbage bags to protect the car seat and stroller, and those worked too. 

Our preferred airline and flight times

We always travel Southwest. We have a lot of points and are comfortable with the airline, and so it makes it easier to always use it — especially when there is a hub out of our closest airport in Oakland. The perks? Free bags. Families get to board together and choose their seats after the A group, so you can sometimes snag a row to yourself (which Dave and I are pros at — we head to the second to last row of the plane, stay standing and try to look very frazzled, so no one wants to sit with us in that one empty seat — as Brady is a lap-child and flies free until he is 2-years-old). Of course, this only applies to flying Southwest when you are with a second adult and with just one child — once again, I only know what I know, but I do feel that Southwest is pretty friendly to families.

Southwest flight to Florida by A Lady Goes West

We’ve done a few connecting flights and direct flights. When all is said and done, I’d choose direct. Even though it’s a longer flight, you don’t have to do the boarding process and transfer of stuff more than once — and that part is a major pain with a tot in tow.

Also, we’ve always flown out of the West Coast in the morning, in order to arrive late afternoon on the East Coast. I’d rather wake Brady up slightly early for the flight rather than keep him up too late past his bed-time. That also helps him make the timezone transition. When we come back, we fly out of the East Coast in the afternoon and are then home in time for his bedtime.

What do you do with the stroller and car seat?

Next up, the question about what do you do with the stroller and car seat? Based on trial and error, and now that Brady is big enough to sit in his stroller without the infant seat, we check the car seat, and bring the stroller through security — then gate check it when we get to our plane. We bag it up there, and it is then waiting for us at our destination. The reason I like this is because it means Brady is safely in the stroller, so we can grab drinks, go to the bathroom and do a few other things without having to hold him before we get on the plane. When we line up to board, then we take him out of the stroller and hold him until we find our seat.

When Brady was younger and couldn’t go in the stroller without the infant seat attachment, I brought my baby wrap and wore him through security, around the airport and on the plane. This works fine, except for the fact that you also have to wear him when going to the bathroom. On the plane too. And that’s another tip I learned while traveling alone — take your baby to the bathroom for diaper changes on the plane in one trip. Then go back to your seat to put the baby in your baby wearer, to then go back into the bathroom to use the bathroom. It’s too tight to put the baby into the wearer while standing in the shaking bathroom and holding the diaper supplies. Take it from me — I’ve attempted it during turbulence, and I’ll never do that again — and of course, this only applies if you are traveling alone with a baby. Also, if you are alone with baby and you plan to bring the stroller to gate check, you’ll need to put baby in a baby wearer in order to get the stroller folded up and bagged — I’ve struggled through this before, and it’s not pretty.

(Side note and a PSA to all travelers!! If you see a parent traveling alone with a child or baby, HELP them if they are struggling with their hands or fumbling with their things. During one of my solo trips with Brady, I was literally crying through the airport running and dragging the heavy stroller bag just to end up at the very end of the family boarding for our next flight. I remember how it felt to be alone, having Brady as just a tiny thing and needing my full attention and arms and also needing to get our stuff situated. I wish people had helped me. And for that, I will always offer to help others.)

Arrived in Ohio by A Lady Goes West

Dealing with babies and take-off and landing

When Brady was younger, I was sure to nurse him during take-off and landing, to make sure that his hears properly adjusted to the altitude. I always sit on the window seat, use the Boppy pillow and wear a nursing cover up. I also always wear loose cotton tops with low v-necks that can be pulled down, paired with a nursing bra. Fun fact: I almost always wear the same outfit on the plane trip to a destination and on the way back — less to think about.

I learned from a friend to massage just below your baby’s ears on the plane and after you fly, to help their little ear canals process any fluid — apparently it’s supposed to help them not get ear infections. Knock on wood, Brady hasn’t gotten one since I learned this trick.

How to handle changing time zones

Brady has been in multiple time zones, and as he has gotten older, we’ve changed the way we handle it. When he was very young and went to Chicago for his first trip, I actually kept him on West Coast time, so he stayed up late there, and that worked fine. However, as he has gotten older and we want him in bed at a reasonable hour, we quickly transition him to the new time zone — and that usually happens naturally because he will have less of a nap on the way there. We’ve had no problem transitioning him to the new time zone and back, and that one day of travel usually sets us straight both ways. Of course, it’s totally up to you how you work it. Personally, we like to have some baby-free time — make sure we are taking advantage of our new locale during daylight hours — and also know that he is getting plenty of sleep.

Wherever we are staying, we try to get a separate room for Brady, but that’s not always possible at people’s homes or in a non-suite hotel room. If that’s the case, we get him all set up for bed, turn the lights off, turn on the iPad sound machine and even turn our bed down, getting everything we need out of the room — so that after he is asleep, we can stay up on the patio or in the living room much later than him, then sneak into the bedroom without much ado when it’s time for us to go to bed.

Family enjoying Hanging Lake in July 2018 by A Lady Goes West

Trips for traveling with a mobile or active toddler

This is one of the tougher parts: the actual flight with an active baby, who you have to control. First and foremost, you have to know that you probably won’t see anyone on the plane again, so if your baby cries and is loud — it’s not the end of the world. Basically, you may just want to expect the worst, but hope for the best. I’ve experienced some surprisingly easy trips and some terrifyingly bad ones too.

Our most recent and longest trip with Brady was a doozy because he didn’t nap either of the 5-plus-hour flights — he would get super close to snoozing, then another baby would cry or something would happen to wake him up. So, we strapped him into the seatbelt between us and kept him busy with various toys. We brought books, a slinky, measuring spoons and empty water bottles to entertain him, and he was mostly content. We also brought little cracker snacks and fed him a ton of little nibbles. 

At times, Dave would pick him up and let him see around the plane, sometimes walking just a bit down the aisle. We also took turns holding him and bouncing him. He wanted to rip magazine pages, shake packages of almonds and nibble on anything he could. We let him. For a slightly type-A person like me, flying with a messy baby isn’t your ideal relaxing trip, but it’s actually a little funny.

Ashley and Brady on the plane home from Ohio by A Lady Goes West -- October 2018

Side note: Although you need to hear your baby, when Brady was smaller, I actually listened to podcasts during our flight as I held and rocked him. Bluetooth headphones help, because he would pull my corded headphones out of my ears.

Also, if you think your baby is going to sleep, you may want to try to avoid sitting close to other babies if you are able to change your seat, because sometimes one crying baby makes another baby wake up and cry.

We’ve been super lucky that Brady has never had much of a crying fit on the plane (other than fussing while fighting his nap, while we try to rock him to sleep), but he has certainly been noisy in other ways and has definitely been an active mess! (Once, when I was alone with him, he pulled a woman’s hair in front of us. True story. I apologized, and she seemed to take it in stride.)

Heading to Ohio by A Lady Goes West

My air travel must-haves and must-dos

  • Pack lots of baby food, because you can bring it through security, as well as formula and/or breastmilk if you need it — you never know what will happen with flight delays, etc. so have more than you need 
  • Make sure you have extra diapers, a changing pad to put on the airport and airplane changing tables and a change of clothes
  • Utilize the family bathrooms at airports! They almost always have them, and it gives you much more space
  • Bring disinfectant wipes and totally wipe down your entire area, including seat backs, tray tables and seat belts before you sit down (germs can be good for babies at time, but not these kind of germs)
  • Hydrate like crazy! We bring multiple reusable water bottles, then ask for water without ice from the flight attendants every time they come around
  • Bring your own food! A couple of times we ran out of time to get snacks or go to the bathroom during connections, so I’m always glad I bring healthy snacks, salads, sandwiches or whatever to hold us over so we don’t have to get airport food
  • Remember that traveling with a baby is different from traveling alone — you will still get there, and you can still enjoy your time — just be patient and know that it won’t last forever — and it will ultimately be worth it in the end
  • Wear loose and comfortable clothes — forget belts, tight jeans or long necklaces or anything that will get in the way of the baby and/or make it harder to get through security or go to the bathroom — athleisure is your best friend
  • If you can swing it, get TSA Pre — we got it in the fall of this year, and it’s soooo nice to go through security without having to remove your laptop or shoes — every little bit helps

Boca Grande Beach fun by A Lady Goes West -- November 2018

Overall, I’ll never give up on traveling, even if it’s a bit more difficult now, because I love to see my family and see new places too. We’ll keep on changing up our routine, as things continue to change with Brady. 

And remember, if you come across a parent traveling alone with a kid or with kiddos, offer to lend a hand. They probably need it. Oh and also, if you’re on the fence about making a trip with your little one — do it!

Thanks for reading, my friends! Let me know in the comments below if you have any follow-up questions on anything I did or didn’t address.

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Questions of the day

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13 Comments

  1. Great tips…will have to bookmark this page for later! I get anxious just thinking about it all! Aubrey does best on a schedule, so traveling gives me some major anxiety. I also find that besides the normal anxiety, I ALWAYS get so nervous about how she’ll sleep in a new place! She hasn’t been on a plane yet, but we’ve been on lots of car trips. It’s definitely worth some great memories though!

    1. Hi Heather! I totally understand, and when you leave time zones or fly, you’re bound to disrupt the schedule at least a little — but it may not be that bed once you actually try it with her!! 🙂 Thanks for reading, momma!

  2. Hi Ashley. My experience traveling comes only from observation of parents flying or eating in a restaurant. Any misconceptions I may had you cleared them up. It’s amazing to whatch parents load and unload young children from a car or watch them eat in a restaurant. I can understand why parents with young children get to board the plane first. Makes you wonder why parents travel or eat out. It seems to be a huge task for them.
    We fly Southwest. Free baggage and direct flight to Indy.

    1. Hi Richard! ehehhe — we don’t go out to eat very often with Brady, because our meals usually fall when he is sleeping at home hehe. But yes — everything is a lot more effort with kids around! So glad you’re a Southwest fan too — I love the free bags. Hope you had a great weekend!

  3. I cannot believe how many trips you’ve been on with Brady this year. So crazy to me! But also inspiring. We’ve gone to Tahoe 3 times this year and Bend, OR once which was a super long drive. No plane rides yet and I’m not really looking forward to it…we might book one for next Spring to CO though.

    1. Hi Kelli! Long drives aren’t super easy with kiddos either, I’m sure. At least you guys are taking trips and getting out there, lady! 🙂 Keep it up! Oh and don’t stress too much about the plane — it’ll happen when it happens!

  4. Hahaha loved the comment about looking frazzled so no one sits near you 🙂 We love Southwest too (me especially because of the free snacks!) Our first baby is due in March and we absolutely love to travel so these tips are wonderful!

  5. Hi! We are planning on flying in October with a 10 month old.. we are going to get his own seat because we have plenty of points so my question is, should we take the car seat or just let him sit in the seat alone? Awesome post and super helpful! ❤️

    1. Hi Mallory, We’ve never used the car seat on the plane, but have seen plenty of people do it. It will be a tight fit, but I think it’s a good option if you don’t want to worry about him. We always kept Brady on our laps, so didn’t need the car seat. But you will have to bring it on and off, which will be a pain, so make sure one of you has free hands! Good luck!

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