5 Tips For Traveling With a Baby

baby on a plane

In the almost 17 months that our son has been alive, we’ve traveled with him about a dozen times. Most of those have involved one or multiple flights, others were car trips, and some had a little of both. Most of the time both my wife and I were there to help, but we’ve also both been solo (though only my wife has flown solo, which is a much taller task).

With all this experience, we’ve gone from being terrified first-time-flying-with-baby-ers (is that a term?) to grizzled, seasoned vets who pretty much have everything down to a science. Okay, maybe we’re not that good. But we have learned a lot about effectively traveling with a baby and I thought I would share some of those lessons with you today.

1. Check the cost of bringing baby gear on your flight

If you’re traveling with a baby, chances are you’re not traveling incredibly light. There’s a very good chance you’ll have a stroller, a car seat, and maybe even a portable crib in addition to your other luggage. Not only can these things be difficult to lug around an airport, but they can potentially be costly.

Before you buy a ticket, look up the airline’s policies on charging for baby gear. Many of them allow you to take at least some of it for free, but there may be limitations. We just flew Jet Blue and they let us check as much baby equipment as we wanted free of charge. Delta has allowed us to gate-check up to two items for free (though they’ve always counted our car seat and its base as one item, which is nice). But some carriers may treat such items as regular luggage and charge you to check them. Make sure you factor any additional cost into the price of the ticket to get a true comparison between airlines.

2. Bring things to do that focus on the baby

If you’re flying, you’re going to be in confined spaces for long periods of time. While this can certainly be enjoyable, it will most definitely not be relaxing. Do not expect to get very far with your favorite trashy romance novel or to kick back and fall asleep to your favorite music.

The best way to keep your child happy and calm throughout the trip is to make sure you keep him or her entertained. When waiting in the airport, explore some of the shops or spread out a blanket and scatter some toys. For the actual flight, bring a couple of books and other quiet toys and be prepared to do a lot of holding. Breast feeding is great for little kids because it’s comforting and helps pop their ears. When they get older a bottle or sippy-cup can have the same effect. Luckily for us, my son likes to sleep through most flights, but we’ve also made sure that when he’s awake we’re pulling out all the stops to focus directly on him and keep him entertained.

The point here is that you should be prepared to put in some significant effort to make the experience as enjoyable as possible. It can definitely be fun to go on this “adventure” with your baby, but it will take some work.

3. Don’t worry about what other people are thinking

Parenting is hard and we all doubt ourselves from time to time. That can only get worse when you put your parenting chops in display in front of hundreds of people, especially when those people are sitting right next to you on a small plane. There are many things that can happen in an airport or on the plane that can make you worry about what those people are thinking. It will take you a little longer than usual to get through security (sometimes a lot longer). Your baby might decide that your 3 hour flight is the perfect time to throw an inconsolable fit. Even every-day struggles like your baby not wanting to eat what you’re feeding him can make you uncomfortable when others are watching.

Throughout all of this, you will get many people who’ve been through it before and give you encouraging looks. But you will also get angry people who look like they want to strangle you. And you’ll get the “helpers”, the people who have all kinds of ideas on how you could parent your child better.

You need to ignore both the looks of death and the helpers. There’s only so much you can do in these circumstances, especially on a flight. If you start reacting to other peoples’ reactions, your child will notice and it will only make things worse. It might be hard, but staying focused on your baby and remaining patient and comforting is the best thing you can do. You can’t make everyone around you happy, but you can certainly focus on making your baby happy.

4. If driving, plan travel around nap/sleep time

A car trip can potentially be even more difficult than a plane flight, since your baby is confined to a car seat without the ability to move around even a little. Plus, you may or may not want to be in the back with him or her, and those rear-facing car seats can make your baby feel like she’s missing out on the action. And you can’t relying on holding her or breast feeding, since again you’re constrained by the car seat.

My advice here is to try as best you can to schedule any long drives during a time when your baby would otherwise be sleeping. This has multiple positive effects. First, it allows you to drive without the stress of making sure your baby is entertained. Second, it allows your baby to sleep relatively peacefully. And third, it frees up the rest of your time to plan activities without worrying about nap time.

5. Entertainment can be dirt cheap

Literally, once your baby gets a little older and starts moving around, dirt will be an incredibly exciting toy for him or her. This is one of the great things about young children. You don’t need to splurge on things like the zoo or amusement parks (though those can be fun too). The whole world is still new and exciting and ready to be explored. Our son loves to play with rocks, run up and down city sidewalks, or simply spin around in circles and fall on his butt. None of these things cost money but they can all be fun, especially when done in a new place. Take part in your child’s wonderment and explore your vacation spot on the cheap.

Photo courtesy of Christian Haugen

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46 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • Brent Pittman August 7, 2013

    We had a lightweight travel crib that we hauled around too that was very helpful and could fit in a suitcase.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      We have one of those as well. Luckily for us, many of our trips are to the in-laws, who have a crib for us to use. But we definitely bring the porta-crib otherwise.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money August 7, 2013

    I’m definitely enjoying NOT having to deal with traveling with a baby, but I suppose it’s inevitable that I will eventually have to travel with one 😉 I have seen a lot of products such as portable high chairs that seem like they would work great for people travelling with babies.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      I was pretty terrified before that first flight, but it’s really not as bad as it’s made out to be. Maybe we’re just lucky. I haven’t actually seen a portable high chair and honestly that seems like a little much. The less I have to carry through the airport, the better.

  • Alexa Mason August 7, 2013

    You can never worry about what other people think about your parenting. About a year ago I was trying to teach my girls that they don’t get everything they want. I took my oldest daughter to WAlmart with me and she was three at the time. There were massive lines and while we were waiting she spotted birthday balloons. She wanted one bad….but I said no. She screamed and cried loud enough for everyone in the store to hear but I wasn’t about to give in.The lady in front us even moved to another line I was proud that I held out even if it was embarassing.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Good for you. Situations like that can definitely be tough, but I think they get easier as you go along. Our son is just getting to the point where he’ll sometimes get really upset if he doesn’t get something he wants. It’s definitely an adjustment to learn how to set boundaries and say no, but it’s important.

  • Holly Johnson August 7, 2013

    We have driven all over the country with our little ones and the best thing we did was to get DVD players for the backseat. I was opposed to that idea initially until my oldest daughter cried 8 hours straight once from Alabama to Indiana.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      That’s a good idea. Our son is still too young for a DVD to really work, but something like that would definitely be useful later. Sometimes you just have to make do with the situation you’re given. Watching some DVDs on the occasional road trip never killed anybody.

  • It is great that you are starting early, so he gets used to it. My cousins have 3 kids each, the ones who travel often are quiet in the car, used to watching a movie or entertaining themselves, the ones who never travel get sick in the car and bored, the worst being the all get sick when one starts haha it is hell to travel with them.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      I definitely agree that getting them accustomed to things early on only makes them easier. Kids like familiarity. The more familiar something feels, the more likely they are to be fine.

  • Edward - Entry Level Dilemma August 7, 2013

    Granted, I was never in an extended car ride with them, but I know that car rides were like knockout pills for my nieces.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Our son used to hate the car, but he’s much better now. But it’s still much better to do it during a regular sleep time. If he’s up the whole time, it can be trouble.

  • Grayson @ Debt Roundup August 7, 2013

    I appreciate the advice here Matt. We have only traveled a few times with our son, but all by car. We don’t have any flights coming up, but this tips will be helpful whenever we get to that point.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Flights are definitely more involved, but also give you a little more flexibility to try out some different things. It’s a mixed bag for sure. I’m actually more nervous about car trips just because I feel like there’s so much less I can do.

  • Sean @ One Smart Dollar August 7, 2013

    Not caring about what others think is important, but hard to do. You are never going to see the people on the plane again so it should really matter. We just take a lot of small toys and books on airplanes to occupy our daughter.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      I remind myself that I’m never going to see them again all the time. Books are great, as are the Air Mall magazines. Our son loves tearing those things up!

  • PFUtopia August 7, 2013

    My son turns 1 in two weeks and, aside from a few 1.5 hour car trips, we haven’t done any extensive travel with him yet. These are all important considerations and helpful suggestions though. We’ll definitely need to keep many of them in mind!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Glad you found it helpful! It’s definitely nice if you don’t have to travel much. We certainly wish all of our family was closer.

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar August 7, 2013

    I used to get so stressed out when traveling with a baby but I really should not have cared. It’s one day of your life and even if it sucks you eventually do get there.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Great point. Everything comes to an end eventually and you will not be stuck on that plane forever. Always important to keep perspective.

  • Debt and the Girl August 7, 2013

    I dont have children but I imagine traveling with them can be very stressful. Bringing tows and other distracting things always helps when I babysit.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Your babysitting experience will definitely serve you well if you ever have kids. Like anything else, it’s stressful at first and then you get used to it. Now we don’t even think twice about it.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules August 7, 2013

    Theses are all great tips Matt! Just wait til your next one comes along and then it becomes MUCH more interesting. 😉 The not caring what others think is difficult to do , though we long gave up on that. You just have to go with the flow and try not to get too stressed.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Oh yeah, I can only imagine that the 2nd one adds a whole new layer of complexity. And once they turn 2 years old, it starts getting a lot more expensive too. Lots to look forward to!

  • Nick @ ayoungpro.com August 7, 2013

    I think everyone who travels should just be nicer to people who are traveling with children! I promise, people with kids are trying their hardest to keep them entertained and quiet.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Agreed! For the most part I’ve actually found people to be very nice and understanding. But there are always a few with some anger issues.

  • Done by Forty August 7, 2013

    Good post! I was waiting for a tip that involved a bit of whiskey and a bottle…

  • Andrew August 7, 2013

    Great tips, they will come in handy in the near future! The baby is only one month old so not much traveling but he really seems to love car rides so far. Do they let families with babies board earlier? I think I heard that somewhere or maybe it’s certain airlines. Also, do you have any tips for a travel/portable crib? Thanks!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Some airlines let you board earlier and some don’t. I can’t remember exactly which ones that we’ve taken do and don’t, though we just flew Jet Blue and they did. We have a portable crib that we’ve taken with us a few times. Definitely a worthwhile investment. You don’t need anything fancy though. We’ve only ever used the actual crib part and not the bassinet that it comes with. No need to go overboard.

  • Budget & the Beach August 7, 2013

    I do try to be as calm and nice as possible to parents who are traveling with kids. It at times does get out of hand, and those are the people who give good parents a bad name. LIke the ones who let there kid run up and down the aisles terrorizing people. 🙂 You can tell I don’t have kids. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      Oh yeah, the parents who just let their kids run wild get to me too. It’s not just you. I think there’s a difference between a kid who’s operating without any rules and one who just has the kind of breakdown that kids sometimes have. One of those is avoidable and one sometimes isn’t.

  • Cat Alford/ Budget Blonde August 7, 2013

    Another good one to bookmark when it’s my turn. 😀

  • E.M. August 7, 2013

    Great tips! Even though I don’t have kids it’s always useful to know what you’re getting into on a flight. Navigating the airport can be tricky on a regular basis as it is. I imagine doing mostly anything with a baby out in public is difficult, especially because people will always be judging. I admit I am guilty of it when kids are going crazy or screaming their lungs out, and the parents are just ignoring it.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 7, 2013

      As painful as it can be, ignoring that kind of behavior is actually sometimes the best thing you can do. Kids thrive off attention, and a lot of kids learn bad behavior because that’s how they get attention from their parents. As much as you can, paying attention to good behavior and ignoring bad behavior (as long as it isn’t harming anyone) is really the way to go. With that said, I think there are limits within public places and some effort should at least be made to separate the child from the crowd. Not always possible though.

  • AvgJoeMoney August 8, 2013

    I love #3. Great tip. Too often people get caught up in what everyone else thinks when baby starts crying, which is considerate, but can also be overwhelming. On breast feeding….that’s only for kids?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 8, 2013

      Hey-o! This is a family blog Joe. Watch your mouth. Haha, just kidding. Say whatever you want. Just watch your back.

  • Your Daily Finance August 8, 2013

    Havent done this in years but with the newborn I expect well sooner are later will be going somewhere that will require great planning and patience. I actually prefer to drive at night around 1 or 2 am when there is not traffic and depending on how far we have to go. This way the little will stay asleep. Never flew before with a baby though. Great tips Matt!

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 8, 2013

      I like driving at night too. Or really early in the morning. You can crank out a huge part of the trip before anyone else is on the road. And, like you said, keep the kiddos asleep.

  • thriftydad August 8, 2013

    Good tips! We’ve talking about travelling with our little one. And my wife has been pressing me on this for awhile. But #3 worries me. We’ve taken some road trips, but I just can’t imagine being on a long flight with a little child, not to mention all the stuff you have to lug around. Our daughter is now almost 2 1/2, so she’d be a good age for flying, except a new one’s on its way.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 9, 2013

      You’re definitely going to be scared the first time you do it. But I think Kim’s point was a really good one: no matter how bad it is, it’s temporary and eventually you’ll be where you want to go. Our experiences have been for the most part pretty easy, which I hope is somewhat encouraging. And make sure you pack light. The lighter you pack, the less stressful it is.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer August 9, 2013

    And when they get a bit older, definitely have a DVD player either installed in the car or get a portable one. We’re not huge TV fans, but this has been a life saver for us on long road trips.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney August 9, 2013

      Holly mentioned the DVD player too. I can definitely see that being incredibly useful.

  • Greg August 9, 2013

    Sounds like a good plan of attack. No kids for me just yet, but soon I am sure. I like planning the driving around sleep. Seems to be a good way to make it a bit less stressful.

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