Traveling with an infant is actually pretty awesome! You just need to know how to prepare for and handle it. Our two girls are now out of the toddler stage, but we did a ton of travel with them when they were toddlers. We had a beautiful period of time where both the kids were under 2 so they flew for free domestically, and I had a Southwest Companion Pass plus plenty of Southwest point. We flew all over the U.S. and Mexico during this period for free. We didn’t limit our travel to the U.S. though and took our kids all over Europe and Costa Rica as well.
When it comes to traveling with an infant, all you need is a little preparation, a few key items and some flexibility and determination.
- Infants aren’t free on international flights
- Pack plenty of diapers
- Get lounge access
- Airport play areas
- Baby Bassinet on plane
- Baby pillow for the plane
- Prepare for no sleep
- Confirm type of car seat with rental company
- Get a suite
- Extra pacifiers and comfort items
- Good stroller
- Keep damage ticket
- Restaurant toys
- Prepare for blowout
- Slow down
- Take breaks
- Baby carrier
- Just do it!
1. Remember infants aren’t free on international flights
Don’t forget that infants don’t fly for free on most international flights. For most international flights, the airlines charge 10 percent of the normal fare for an infant seat. While this sounds like it isn’t a big deal, the normal fare is never the fare you would actually pay. Every time we have had this issue, the “normal” fare was $2,000-$3,000 for a one way flight. That meant we would be paying $200-$300 for the privilege of having an infant ride on my lap. No thanks. In every instance, we have found it to be a better value to either buy our infants their own seat at the price we are paying, which is usually only slightly more than 10 percent of the normal fair, or to use our points on an infant seat. It can be painful to waste points on an infant, but having the extra seat makes it while worth it when you consider how much the lap baby ticket will cost.
2. Pack plenty of diapers
Pack plenty of diapers and spread them out in your bags. Buying diapers in a foreign country can be a pain. They can be hard to find and it can be hard to determine what you are buying and whether they will fit your infant. Worse yet, you could be stuck somewhere in need of a diaper and not have a way to buy new ones. You also don’t want to be stuck buying diapers at an airport, where you are likely going to pay an insane markup.
3. Get lounge access
Having lounge access is golden. We have the Priority Pass that gives us access to a ton of lounges at almost every airport. These can be a lifesaver when you have a long layover or when your flight gets delayed. They can also be a great way to save a few bucks when traveling.
Of course, you always want to be respectful and not bring a crying baby into a lounge, but we have found our kids usually behave pretty well or sleep in the lounges. There are three main ways we have gotten great value with our lounge access.
First, just taking our kids into the lounge while they are behaving. it is nice to have room to spread out a little and sit in comfortable chairs. it is also great to fill up on food and there is usually plenty of snacks the kids like to eat. We did this while flying Norwegian Air and got plenty of free food to offset the lack of food on our trans-Atlantic flight.
Second, if we have a long layover or delay, we will take turns in the lounge. We don’t like taking our kids in the lounge for a long period as they would rather be playing in the airports play area. We will take turns watching the kids so the other person can enjoy some relaxing peace, food and drinks in the lounge.
Third, some of the airports have restaurants that are partnered with the priority pass. For example, at the Portland Airport, which we frequent often, you can get $28 of free food every four hours. Since we both have a pass and get a guest pass whenever we use our passed, that means we get $112 of free food whenever we fly through Portland. That can be a huge benefit with kids as we can all eat for free and not have to worry about high costs of airport food.
4. Know where the airport play areas are
If your infant is old enough to play, the airport play areas are so much nicer than hanging out at the gate. The play areas are sometimes hard to find so plan ahead and know where to find them at every airport you will be spending any time in.
5. Get a baby bassinet on the plane
Having an infant on your lap for a long plane right can be pretty brutal. Not only is it uncomfortable, it makes it hard for you to relax by reading a book or doing anything else with your hands. Most international flights offer baby bassinets that hang from the overhead storage and hold your baby, leaving you an open lap. There aren’t always enough bassinets for all the babies on a flight so make sure you request one as soon as you can.
6. Bring a baby pillow
If you can make it work, bring a baby pillow on the plane. If you are going to spend hours on a plane holding a baby, you want to make it as comfortable as possible. A good baby pillow should take the strain off your arms and neck, putting the baby’s weight on the pillow, while still making it comfortable to carry. You are already going to be sleep deprived on your vacation, you don’t want to be stiff and sore as well!
7. Be prepared for the baby not to sleep at night
Babies don’t do time changes. They sleep when they are tired. You can do your best to try and keep your kid awake during the day so they sleep at night, but when they are young, that will only do so much good. Plus, letting them sleep during the day can make traveling really easy as you just push them around in a stroller.
You are going to need to find a way to do with less sleep when traveling with toddlers. One thing that has worked well for us is combining night-time duties with an afternoon nap. Last time we were in Lisbon, Mallory stayed up late with our young child that was not sleeping as well. The next day, I took our older child for a fun walk around the city while the other two took a nap. They didn’t miss anything special, but I still got to enjoy the time
8. Confirm the kind of car seat you are getting from the rental company
There is a big difference between an infant and toddler car seat. You need to clarify what you need in a car seat when making your reservation. This is especially important when you are going to a foreign country where the person may not understand exactly what you are asking for. Be as descriptive as possible, even send a picture if you feel like you need to. And, if you show up and they give you the wrong car seat, don’t be afraid to ask. While you may be stuck, there is a good chance they have the right car seat for you somewhere and just made a mistake.
9. Stay in a suite
Staying in a hotel suite can make all the difference. Having an extra room for the baby to sleep lets you enjoy some time without having to sit in silence. As the kids get older, they will fight sleeping if you are up doing something in the same room.
Getting a suite may be intimidating, but it doesn’t always have to cost a ton. We have enjoyed some expensive suites in Costa Rica and Paris thanks to points and status upgrades, but we have also paid cash for some great alternatives. In fact, our last trip through Europe, we only spent 1 night in a traditional hotel room and it was a pretty cheap vacation. We used points and status to get a free upgrade at the Hyatt in Paris, which was huge since we all got sick that week. We booked a “hotel” in Lisbon, which ended up being more like an apartment building, but had a bedroom and separate living room with a fold-out bed. Then in Barcelona, we stayed at a small hotel off Las Ramblas that had two bedrooms and a living room. Finally, we spent one night in Berlin to save money on our return flight. The Berlin Novotel room was a standard hotel room, but it was the most expensive room we stayed in the whole trip.
10. Bring extra comfort items
Most infants and toddlers have some kind of comfort item. It may be a pacifier, a blanket or a stuffed animal. This can be a problem because kids lose things. Parents lose things. In one vacation, we managed to lose two pacifiers in Paris, one pacifier in Lisbon, and a backpack full of all our kids toys and special things in Barcelona. We paid a lot of money that trip replacing things at high premiums (the backpack was left on the metro on our way to the airport so replacement items were purchased at the airport!)
This problem is extra destructive on vacation because children are more likely to be tired, uncomfortable and scared. Our young kids got way more pacifier, tablet and toy time on vacation then they ever would at home. Bring extras of whatever you can to make the vacation as enjoyable as possible.
11. Bring a good stroller
A good stroller is absolutely essential to traveling with an infant. You want a stroller that is easy to push, easy to maneuver, and easy to pack. We use the Britax B-Agile stroller. We love it because it pushes really smoothly, is compact and is super easy to fold up and open. The downside is the wheels aren’t great if you go off road. Depending where you are going, may determine what kind of wheels you need.
Another big key with strollers is to make sure the stroller reclines fully so the kid can sleep comfortably. Another benefit to this we learned is that a single stroller can be used as a double stroller by laying it flat and putting both kids sitting in it.
The final big benefit to having a stroller? Cutting lines. Obviously this always works with airlines, but there are a lot of other places where a stroller can get you pushed to the front of the line. It saved us at least a couple hours at Notre Dame. It doesn’t always work though as we learned at Versailles.
12. Keep your damage ticket from the airline
If you are a frequent traveler, the airline will assuredly damage your stroller and/or car seat. I our case, both have been damaged. We lost the cup holder on one car seat on a flight. On other flights, we lost the grip and handle on our stroller.
13. Bring restaurant toys
When we travel, we leave most toys and such in the hotel room, but we always make sure to have a few things to entertain the kids with us wherever we go. These are lifesavers when you are stuck waiting on a restaurant, and let’s face it, who wants to travel if you can’t enjoy some good eating out.
14. Be prepared for a blowout
If you have a young infant, diaper blowouts happen…usually at the worst time. Mallory suffered the hugest of blowouts while flying alone with our kids just after take-off. While blowouts can be gross and annoying, they are easy to prepare for and easy to handle. Luckily babies are small, so packing an extra onesie with you is not big deal. Combine that with a spare diaper and plenty of wipes and you are prepared for most blowouts. If you really want to prepare, bring an extra shirt for you in case you become a casualty of the blowout.
15. Plan for things to take a lot longer
We traveled a whole lot different before we had kids. I am notorious for wanting to see and do everything at every location just in case we never make it back. This means waking up at dawn and going non-stop all day. Mallory has always been a trooper, even when it meant blood seeping from her shoes for half our trip in London.
We tried doing this with kids. It sucked. Vacations became a lot more fun with kids when I gave up on seeing everything and just focused on having a good time and making memories. This means not seeing every possible thing and just picking out the top things to see and enjoying them a whole lot more.
16. Plan Breaks during the day
This is similar to the tip above, but in addition to taking things slower, plan some decent breaks throughout your day. This allows you and your infant to just relax and spend a little time together. Sometimes, we will head back to the hotel for an hour after lunch. Sometimes, it is just stopping at a park and relaxing for a little while. This is a great time to refresh and get ready for the next adventure.
17. Get a baby carrier
Traveling usually involves a lot of walking, but you don’t always want to, or aren’t allowed to, bring a stroller. We love hiking and that usually means no stroller. Something to carry your baby hands free is a life saver. We have tried all sorts of wraps and carriers, and our favorite is the Ergo. It is great for travel because it packs up small, is comfortable, and holds the baby super securely in the front or back of your body.
18. Just do it
The biggest key to traveling with infants is to just do it. Don’t be scared and not travel just because you have kids. Plus, traveling with an infant is really not that bad. They sleep most of the time. It gets harder as they get older!