How to Prepare for Travel with an Infant and/or Toddler (lists included!)
I always had it in my mind that we would travel lots while I was on mat-leave. And luckily we were able to go some pretty wicked trips in when we had my son — Florida, Portugal, Iceland, California, and we even managed a road trip to Minnesota before he was a year and a half. And now that we have a second little bundle of joy, we’ve added an all-inclusive trip to Mexico to our list of travels with littles. So now I feel like I have enough knowledge about what to pack while travelling with an infant and a toddler and have my tried and tested lists that I turn to each time we have a trip coming up.
To be honest, for our first trip with a baby (Bobo was 4 months old) there was a lot of research involved… asking other moms at every Mother Goose, looking up information from other mommy bloggers, and probably a few too many Amazon deliveries with some “must-have” infant gear leading up to the trip. I swear I packed something like 3 outfits a day for Bobo — cuz “you never know!” that first trip. Then on the next trip I almost didn’t pack enough — we were down to our last TWO diapers on the flight home which to me is living a little TOO dangerously! And somewhere around the third trip I really got the hang of what to bring with us even considering hot vs. cold destinations.
I also want to mention that I’m really proud about being able to pack really well for myself now too as a result of all the outfit planning I did for my kids. And when your husband is a scrooge for luggage it’s a real win when you can fit a weeks worth of luggage for two adults, a toddler, and an infant into just two bags (that includes diapers for both kids!) Yes, I secretly give myself a pat on the back every time I think about that accomplishment.
(Pro-tip: no matter how much you are packing, do yourself a favour and invest in luggage with spinner wheels. These are game changers because you don’t have to lug/drag them around behind you one in each hand. You can leave them upright and push two together with one hand. :O RIGHT?!)
So, from airplane distractions, to clothing, to diapers, to snacks, here are a few checklists to help get you started for your next trip with a baby… and toddler too!
Planning Your Trip
I won’t get into to too much detail here, of course your trip will reflect what you want to do as a family. Be it adventurous or laid back that’s totally your call! I will say three things about planning your trip with an infant/toddler…
- Travel time = Nap time – It worked really well for us to plan our flights roughly around nap times. For long flights, we flew in the late evening so that Bobo would nurse then fall asleep at take-off and then basically stay asleep the whole flight. Shorter flights were booked around naptime.
- Planned Days = Planned Outfits – Planning what you’ll do everyday in advance of your trip really helps in knowing how many outfits to pack (and perhaps even what snacks to bring). Will you have 3 back-to-back beach days? Then you may need to pack at least 2 swimming suits so that you always have one dry suit for the babe while the other is drying from the day before.
- Check the Weather Forecast – Maybe this goes without say, but really check the weather before you go. A rainy 15°C and a sunny 15°C could mean the difference between packing an extra sweater, socks, and toque for that day. And if you’re gone for a week that could start to add up as far as how much space you have in your luggage. Either way, it’s nice to pack outfits as layers so that you have options and extra clothes.
In Transit (ie: Distractions)
Half of travel time is eaten up by many restless hours waiting in airports or stations. Unless you have your child(ren) snoozing in the stroller or carrier at this point, I find it’s handy to have a few, compact things on hand. Also, these toys are so handy to have throughout the trip — not just while you’re in-transit.
- Infant Distractions
- A new, non-noisey toy. Something that will keep the attention of your baby while you wait in transit, yet something that won’t annoy other passengers. We loved bringing soft crinkle books, or an o-ball that you can easily stash into the diaper bag. (Pro-tip: bring a stroller toy leash and leave it attached to your stroller so that you can swap out the toy and not ever have to worry about losing toys when they inevitably get flung across the room by your babe.) (Another Pro-tip: if you hide a favourite toy for a few weeks before the trip, then when you bring it out for the trip it’ll feel like new and your baby will be entertained by it for a little while longer.)
- A play mat is also a good idea for your non-mobile baby. It’ll give you a chance to put her down and give her a chance to stretch out — at a park; in the hotel room; at the airport gate; you get the picture.
- Infant Distractions
- Toddler Distractions: These were some REALLY great toddler distractions that worked so well for us on our last trip (thanks to a poll from my mommy group for these recos!). I packed Bobo’s backpack with a few of these and he had he felt so special having a bag just for him packed with all these goodies for the flight.
- Water WOW books: the first time I saw these they blew my mind. You colour them in with a brush that dispells water and then when it dries the pages are magically blank again so you can use them COUNTLESS times.
- Mess Free colouring books (more for kids who are 3+)
- Lift-a-flap Airport book: if your child is into books this one is super detailed and could keep them occupied for quite a while. It might also help them relate to their surroundings since it’s Airport themed.
- Post-it notes: you can draw on them and they feel like stickers but are much easier to clean-up than actual stickers
- Dollar Store Animals: my son is REALLY into animals so these toys are a favourite for him on any day. But since they’re dollar store items I pack a couple for the trip and don’t feel too badly if they get lost.
I’m a huge list person, and on my list app I have a “Vacation Packing” folder that is broken down into several sub-lists that help me check things off as I’m packing. I’ve copied the lists here (with a few extra explanations) for your reference.
Here is my rough outline of what clothing to pack. Of course this is all give or take based on your baby and how many outfits they usually go through in a day. I will also highly recommend that you pack all of baby’s clothing by “outfit” so that you roll ‘em up and pack them. Then you can pull out a roll of clothes every morning for that day.
- Bottoms x # of days
- Tops (long sleeved) x # of days (or if you’re going somewhere cool, just double this number and don’t pack short-sleeved shirts so that you have an extra shirt per day)
- Tops (short sleeved) x # of days (doubled for warm desitnations and leave off the long-sleeved tops)
- Sweaters x # of days (if going somewhere cold, if going somewhere warm pack only a couple sweaters/zip up hoodies as outerwear for cool evenings and travel days)
- Burp cloths/bibs x # of days (plus a few extras, this was one that I didn’t mind washing in the sink if we ended up needing more)
- PJs: one for every 3 days, you can always rewear day onesies at night if you run out
- Shoes x 2 (use your discretion based on the weather you are packing for)
Depending on your baby and how your family is introducing complementary solids, your list may differ. Also, if you’re travelling somewhere with easy access to a grocery store then you might want to make a stop there on day one to stock up on foods so that you don’t have to pack much in this department.
Bobo mainly ate off of our plates at meal times but I packed enough for 2-3 snacks per day as well so that we could make sure he wouldn’t get hungry on days when we (adults) wanted to do just two meals a day. These snacks were useful to have on hand especially when we were walking for ages and he would have to eat on the go.
1 per day plus a few extra is generally what worked for us… Also having extras reserved for travel days is a really good idea.
- Food pouches
- Baby Mum Mums (Pro-tip: I like to fill empty take-out containers with these so that they don’t get smushed in the luggage)
- Depending on where you are travelling to it may be easy enough to get some fresh fruit every day from a local market. Berries make for great, easy snacks throughout the day and can be stored easily enough in hotel fridges
Toiletries & First Aid
- Infant Tylenol and Children’s Advil
- Benadryl – This was a recent addition to my list after Bobo had a weird allergic reaction on our most recent trip and we had to buy $16 (USD) Benadryl from the Mexican gift shop at our resort!
- Saline nasal drops – This can also work to sterilize minor cuts.
- Protip: I like to pack all first aid items in a clear zip up pouch. Liquid medications are prone to leak so they go in ziplock baggies first.
- Nail clippers/file
- Receiving blanket x 2
- stuffy/lovey or sleep aid of choice
- 2-3 fav board books (or whatever you use as part of your bedtime routine) It’s wonderful to be able to pull these out of your luggage when you’re at your hotel room, I found it helped Bobo feel more “at home” to have some of his favourite books with us.
Diapers & Wipes
- Count how many diapers you go through a day x # of days + some extras in your diaper bag (this general formula worked for us because it’s now generally pretty easy to find diapers in most places if you every run out and I found I typically change their diapers a little LESS while travelling so we inevitably are bringing some diapers back home with us)
- Diaper cream
- Diaper baggies
- Hand sanitizer
+ Swimming things
- Rash guard
- Baby powder (Pro-tip: this comes in handy if you’re trying to get sand off of wet and sticky bodies)
- Swim diapers (Pro-tip: the reusable kind are great for the pool, but the disposable kind are better for the beach cuz sometimes it’s impossible to get the sand out. Though if you’re into saving space and the environment just go with an extra reusable kind and leave off the disposables.)
- Kids Sunscreen
- Bath toys that can double as beach toys (But if you’re going to an all-inclusive, chances are they will have beach toys available for you to use each day)
+ Winter things
- Outerwear – for cool destinations focus on packing layers and see if you can do without bringing a heavy winter coat for your infant. This worked for us as we mainly baby-wore so a light, fleece-lined jacket and proper winter carrier cover was all we needed on our trip to Iceland. (if your baby/toddler is walking and won’t be worn any longer, then you should bring proper independent outerwear, the same as what you would pack for yourself)
- Toque & Scarf x2
- Mitts (dollar store mitts are great because you don’t have to worry if you lose a pair)
- Socks x # of days + a couple extra
Many people swear by travel tubs and pack and plays, we found that most hotels have cribs or pack-n-plays available as long as you call ahead. Even some Airbnbs can provide a pack-n-play as long as you ask about it in advance of your booking. As for bath time we were always able to make do by getting in the tub with our kid — or when they were really young, bathing them in the bathroom sink. (Pro-tip: by using a hotel towel in the tub you can make things less slippery.)
Here are some items that we found were helpful to have and didn’t take up a tonne of space in our luggage…
- Travel stroller – Depending on your trip (or your baby) you may not even need a stroller at all. On most of our trips we only used our baby carrier but had peace of mind travelling with one of those travel strollers that fold up small enough to fit into airplane overhead storage. That way we had the stroller just in case we needed it. (Pro-tip: bring along the sunshade for sunny destinations. Safety first.)
- Baby carrier – It’s already been mentioned multiple times in this post but we invested in a good soft-shell carrier and it’s been one of the best things we’ve ever bought for our babies — both at home and while travelling. (True story: Travelling to Florida one time we accidentally forgot the carrier back at home! Needless to say, a trip to Target was the first thing we did as soon as we landed where we bought another carrier for the trip. Lol and that’s the story of how I now have one too many baby carriers.)
- Travel “high chair” – Most restaurants have high chairs, but we found that a foldable travel chair harness was really useful on trips when we stayed at AirBnbs where we knew we’d be eating meals at home. Super lightweight, you just strap it to a chair and it acts like a sling/harness for your baby to make sure they stay in the seat for mealtime.
- Folding UV tent – These are great for beach days where you know you won’t have a lot of shady coverage. If you’re planning on being out in the sun for an extended period of time remember that your baby can’t wear sunscreen so it’s best to stick them in the shade and this collapsible UV protected tent is great for travel.
- Noise-cancelling ear muffs – These are important to have on hand for when your resort does loud live music. But it’s also handy to have if baby is napping in the stroller and you’re on the go and don’t want any random noises waking her up.
Things We Don’t Travel With…
Of course, this is just us and based on the trips that we have taken. We like to travel light and have as few things as humanly possible to carry while in transit with two kids. SO! Do what you will with the notes below…
- Carseat – This is a big one. Literally. We travelled with our big stroller and carseat on our very first trip with just one kid (a 4 month old) and hated it. We were going to Florida and thought that we might need the carseat for our rental car. We later learnt that the carseats that you can get with your rental car are really not that bad and the extra fee is worth it for the ease of travel in transit alone. (Pro-tip: Some countries have different rules about carseats — like Iceland — so check prior to travelling whether they will even allow you to use your own carseat.)
- Pack-n-play – For reasons stated earlier in this article, we don’t travel with a pack-n-play. Our babies have always safely co-slept with us on vacation. But we still get the hotel to stock our room with a pack-n-play as well just in case.
- Anything else that would be considered “bulky” – If it doesn’t fit in our luggage we don’t bring it. And even if it does fit in our luggage but it’s taking up precious space, then we don’t bring it. I really like to think critically about what I pack and if I am not going to use it at least twice then I will usually opt to leave it home. Like I said, we aim to travel light.
So I hope these notes and lists are helpful to you as you plan your next trip. I’ll revisit this article again after our next few trips to see if anything changes as we travel with an older toddler. Let me know in the comments if you have any other go-to kiddie distractions or must-have travel tips. I would love to hear them.
And please, above all, try to remember that your vacation will be special whether you have all the “stuff” or not. 🙂
**Please note that I have not been compensated for any of these product recommendations and all of these lists are totally my own. Feel free to use the information for yourself as you see fit!**