Whether it’s summer vacation or the holiday season on the horizon, it’s certain that far-away relatives will start clamoring for you to hop on a plane and fly home for a visit with your little one—again.

They seem oblivious to the headaches of holiday travel or can’t believe you would really want to spend the summer with your new mom friends, in your own home, when you could be back wherever you’re from.

We can’t make the family pressure disappear, but if you have to fly, we can make doing so easier with this guide of what baby and toddler gear to bring along and and what to leave home.

Read More: 10 Tips For Flying With A Toddler
Yes, You Can Fly Long Haul With A Baby
5 Tips For Flying Solo With A Child

Baby Gear You Need For Easy Flying

Your New Carry-On

Before my daughter was born and carry-on rules were considerably more lax, my husband would pressure me to not check luggage for any trip shorter than ten days and I usually managed.

Your baby is your new carry on when you fly

Until Tiny Traveler was 3 or so,  I considered her to be my “carry-on.” Nuisance fees be damned, I checked my luggage.

But I still packed from the point of view of “what can I get away with leaving home” and was still mortified (perhaps overly so) at the prospect of being that disorganized person with too many things holding everyone up at the security check-point.

The First Essential: A Stroller

I always brought a stroller when we flew. In an airport it carries the child and/or bags down long airplane terminals.

A stroller is an essential item when traveling with a baby or toddler.

My child had a knack for falling asleep 20 minutes before we landed. So the stroller ferried my sleeping toddler through customs and baggage claim. 

Most airlines will let you check a stroller at the gate for free and will hand it back to you when deplane (though in Mexico I had to retrieve it at baggage claim).

Still, my travel stroller had to be light enough to carry up a flight of stairs with one hand while holding a squirmy child in the other. I had to be able to fold it with one free hand.

And it had to be inexpensive enough that if it got lost or broken I wouldn’t care very much. (Indeed, my stroller was handed back to me after one flight with a dented axel.)

Chicco and Summer have strollers that fit the bill, with sun canopies, some storage and price tags below $100.

But travel strollers have come a long way since I was toting a toddler. There are now strollers that folw up small enough to store in the airplane overhead.  Read our post about these strollers.

The Second Essential: A Baby Carrier

It might seem redundant to bring a carrier and a stroller. But the stroller is for airport. The carrier is for the plane.

Travel is stressful, even for babies and toddlers. You might find yourself with an overtired child who will only fall asleep on you or who at the very least needs a good cuddle.

A carrier might make them feel more snuggled and make it easier to settle down. It will leave your hands free so you can read, watch a movie or have a snack while the baby is sleeping. And it will allow you to nap without any worry about the baby rolling off of you.

The bitybean is a handy baby carrier for travel.
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The Ergo was my go-to carrier, and many moms still love it for travel. It can be a front or back carrier and can hold a toddler up to 45 pounds. The mesh one is also a little more comfortable for hot-weather travel. ;

But this Bitybean (above) seems like a good find for travel because it’s light, folds up compactly enough to fit in a diaper bag. It can also get wet, so you can use it in the hotel pool or at the beach. And price is low enough for this to be a travel-only carrier.

The Third Essential: A Backpack

I loved my SkipHop messenger-style diaper bag and I think it’s still the standard other diaper bags have to live up to. But i never traveled with it. 

I was folding an unfolding my stroller too much to keep it clipped to the handles. And I never liked using a shoulder bag with a baby carrier. 

For travel I always preferred a backpack with lots of pockets. I could wear it with a baby carrier. My husband was far happier toting a backpack than regular diaper bag. And it could hold all of my stuff as well as Tiny Traveler’s.

Eddie Bauer make two backpack-style diaper bags and Skiphop has several backpacks

But these are designed to be, you know, diaper bags. Thought they have extras, like insulated pockets for bottles, their organization isn’t ideal for an all-purpose travel bag.  

This high sierra backpack with lots of pockets is ideal for travel with or withough a toddler
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I liked a backpack that kept my stuff—especially my laptop and phone, separate from the diaper-changing stuff, sippy cups and bottles (lest there be a leak). This one from High Sierra is ideal. It comes is a range of fun colors (the dark blue hides dirt well) and you’ll use it for years after your diapering days are done.  

The Debatable Item: The Car Seat

If you really feel you must bring it for when you land, but don’t want it on the plane, some airlines will let you check it for free at the gate or check-in counter. But check with your carrier for specifics. I would also print out the airplane’s policy from its website; don’t rely on the staff to know all the rules.

Cares harness

If you only need a car seat for the plane, consider a CARES harness. It seems pricey but if you can fly four or five times before your child outgrows it or you use it with multiple kids, you’ll get your value out of it. 

If you only need a car seat to get to your hotel and back to the airpor, look for a car service that has car seats. Taxi2Airport is a good place to start your search. Try our list of U.S. taxi services.

Or Google your destination and the word taxi. A taxi service that’s big enough to have a website is likely to have child seats.

If you’re renting a car, consider aAAA membership. One of the perks is a free car seat rental at Hertz, which all by itself justifies the membership fee.

Tip: You can compare car rental rates across agencies at *CarRentals.com and  *CheapOAir.

Leave This Home: A Portable Crib

When you have a newborn it’s easy to believe that you’re going to be using baby gear for years. But by age 2 or so, the travel crib starts getting a little cramped (sooner if your child is long) and improvising becomes more possible.

Given this, it’s hard to justify buying and bothering to fly with a portable crib.

Baby in wooden crib

Just about any hotel will have cribs or pack-n-plays, often for free. They aren’t always the newest models but I found they were usually too basic to have safety issues (no drop-down sides, etc.).

Tip: Hotels that have playards or cribs often tuck a regular sheet around the mattress, which I wasn’t crazy about. So I always packed fitted crib and playard sheets.

If you really must bring your own, try this inflatable toddler bed or inflatable sides, which might be easier to pack and last a few more years.

Lots of parents like toddler travel tents, which you can center on a large bed or put on the floor. They pack up compactly. And they have the added bonus us giving you privacy in a small hotel room and allowing you to keep a light on while your tot sleeps.

When we rented a condo in Mexico the rental agent referred me to a local concierge service that rented a Graco pack-n-play to me for $15 for 5 days, a small price for enormous convenience. You can rent baby gear almost anywhere these days, though prices will vary according to what you need and where you are.

But before you rent, check with any family or friends at your destination to see what they can lend you or borrow on your behalf.

Here’s wishing you happy—and easy—travels with your little one.

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