When it comes to traveling, packing light is a must.
But traveling with a baby? That’s a little bit trickier. Between the extra car seat, stroller, pack and play, and luggage, “packing light” pretty much goes out the window once you have a kid!
But even with all that extra stuff, there’s one area of packing I feel I can still have my minimalist control over: my carry on. Sure, it’s a little disheartening…Matt and I used to pack for 1-2 weeks trips in a single carry on. Now I find it a victory to fit everything I need for a plane ride in there! But traveling through the airport with just one bag does take a lot of the stress off when traveling with a baby.
So what do I pack in this one very important bag?
Well, let’s start with the bag itself. I use my everyday Coach baby bag (a splurge, but I’ve worn the heck out of it), and it’s the only bag I carry (along with Evelyn in the ErgoBaby). I wear it as a crossbody so it’s easy to retrieve items from while we’re in the airport, all while still wearing Evelyn.
I’ve heard a lot of people online recommend a backpack to the traditional baby bag, and I’ll probably make the switch as Evelyn gets a little older. [Update – actually, I did!] But for now, this bag has enough space for everything I need while still being comfortable to wear, and fits perfectly under an airplane seat with room to spare.
It’s so easy to over pack with a baby, but after several plane rides, I finally narrowed down my packing list to only the most essential items!
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Here’s exactly what I pack in my carry on every time I travel with baby:
1. Swaddle blanket | Aden + Anais muslin swaddles are the perfect multi-use blanket; great for keeping little toes warm and wiping up spit up at the same time. It’s also a serious space saver over a regular blanket because they’re so lightweight!
2. Pacifier & clip | We have a couple of these from Mam and they’re great for clipping onto Evelyn’s jammies, so we never have to worry about her spitting out her pacifier onto the dirty airplane floor (and probably never seeing it again).
3. Small toys | Sophie giraffe, stuffed animals, keys, a music toy; whatever is small and loved by your little one. You’ll want to have a few different options for distraction, since babies will get bored quickly sitting in one spot for hours. Check out my list of the top 10 travel-friendly baby toys for some ideas!
4. SkipHop phone tether | This was a recent purchase for us and such an awesome one! Now that Evelyn’s older, we’ve resorted to often pulling out the phone to distract her. She loves to gnaw on it and toss it around though, which gets annoying real quick. With the tether, you get a solution for both: it’s kept in close reach at all times and keeps your phone from getting slobbered on.
5. Dropper Stopper | Another MUST, unless you like reaching down every two seconds to retrieve a tossed item. Any toy Evelyn plays with on the plane is tethered to my or Matt’s wrist so it’s never more than 2 feet away.
6. Extra pair of jammies | We usually put Evelyn in pajamas when we travel for a couple of reasons. 1 – they’re comfortable, 2 – they have footies so they keep her toes warm on the cold airplane, and 3 – it’s so much easier to change a diaper in an airplane bathroom if all you have to fumble with is one zipper. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory why an extra pair is so essential. If there’s going to be a blow out or spit up incident, it’ll probably take place during takeoff or landing.
7. Wipes travel case | I like this one from OXO because you can keep refilling it with enough wipes to easily last a day (if not longer). It’s nice and compact, and slides in and out of the baby bag easily, a definite plus for all the awkward diaper changes you’ll be doing. [Update – I later switched to this case and love it even more!]
8. Diapers | My rule of thumb is about 1 1/2 times as many as you think you’ll need for the trip. So if I might normally need 5-6 diapers to get through an 8 hour travel day, I’ll add in a few extras and pack around 8 or 9. But honestly do whatever makes you feel comfortable. When it comes to diapers, it’s better to pack more than you need than not enough!
9. Diaper rash cream | This small travel-size version is a staple in my everyday baby bag, so it just stays in there for trips.
10. Dirty diaper bags | Not only good for bagging up smelly diapers (should you be forced to change a diaper in your seat), they are also good to have on hand for extra trash. I usually carry only a couple of these baggies at a time, instead of the whole dispenser, to save room in the bag.
11. Travel cooler | Ok, this is the only item I don’t actually pack in my carry on (anymore). But back when Evelyn was teeny-tiny, I wasn’t able to breastfeed, but I did exclusively pump. During that time I would also carry my pump bag and this little travel cooler to store breastmilk (yeah, try explaining that “machine” to the 24 year old male TSA agent). If you plan on bringing any extra bottles of breastmilk with you, this little cooler works great. (Side note: the TSA rules are that you can bring a “reasonable” amount of breastmilk with you – I’m not exactly sure what defines “reasonable”, but as long as you aren’t trying to smuggle an Igloo cooler full of milk through security, I’m sure you’ll be fine.)
12. Spoon with travel case | I like this one from OXO because it comes with a little plastic case you can put the dirty spoon back in after feeding (which comes in handy when you’re on the plane and don’t have access to a sink until you reach your destination).
13. Bib | This one from Munchkin has worked well for us; because it’s plastic, you can easily wipe off any spills and reuse. It also folds itself into the little pouch at the bottom for storing, and is big enough that you can keep an extra spoon or container of food in there.
14. Bottle | If formula feeding, pre-fill it with the exact amount of water you need before you head for the airport (yes, this is allowed)! [Update – Tommee Tippees were my absolute favorite for formula feeding, if you’re in the market for a good bottle!] You’ll just have to take the bottle out of your bag at security so they can run an additional test on it. It takes a few extra minutes to get through security, but then you won’t have to worry about buying an expensive bottle of water at the airport. Speaking of water, you can also ask the flight attendant for a small bottle of water when boarding your plane and hoard it for the next feeding.
15. Formula dispenser | Another baby bag staple, this thing is a lifesaver (especially when trying to mix up a bottle at 32,000 feet)!
16. Squeeze pouch baby food | Squeezed out onto the travel spoon, these guys make feeding solids on the plane SO much easier and less messy. They’re also a lot more compact than those plastic jars of food, tucking nicely into a side pocket.
17. Puffs in a small container | I don’t know about you, but puffs are sometimes the only thing that can keep Evelyn calm in a potential meltdown situation. Packing the whole container isn’t feasible, so I fill a small Rubbermaid container with enough to get us through the trip.
18. Wet Ones | You can buy the antibacterial ones to wipe down grimy seats, tray tables, etc. But I like these sensitive skin ones because (while not antibacterial) they’re safe to use on baby and good for wiping down toys and other things that will inevitably end up in Evelyn’s mouth. If you’re worried about germs, you could also take one of each (the travel size packages are super slim and compact!
19. Nail clipper | This is another baby bag staple that stays tucked away at all times.
20. NoseFrida | Same here; you never know when you’re going to need a good nose suck.
21. Infant Tylenol | Just in case; I keep this in a quart-size baggie with other travel-sized liquids and medicines, so it can all easily be removed at security.
22. Comb or brush | Yes, not too exciting, just another baby bag staple.
I keep all these “staple” items tucked away in an inside zippered pocket of the bag, since they aren’t necessarily going to be needed at an easy reach during the travel day.
23. Travel-size essentials | Lotion, hand sanitizer, lip balm, Tylenol, tissues…
24. Shout wipes | Because babies are messy. I’ve never had to use them, but I guess I just like knowing they’re there just in case.
25. Headphones | Long gone are the days when you could sit back, put your headphones on, and enjoy the in-flight entertainment until you reach your destination. But on the rare occasion that Evelyn sleeps for more than an hour, I try to listen to a good audio book.
26. iPhone | E-books or e-magazines are also good ways to pass the time if baby falls asleep. I’m currently obsessed with this book on French parenting.
27. Wallet | No explanation needed here. I keep my wallet tucked on the far end of the bag so I can get it in and out quickly at check-in.
28. Baby’s birth certificate | This may or may not be required by the airline, but I keep a copy in our baby bag just in case. Southwest, for example, requires an official document stating your child’s age for all lap babies.
29. Pen | What mom doesn’t always have a pen in her purse?
30. Sunglasses | Another must for me, since we’re always flying to sunny CA.
31. Extra t-shirt | And finally, because throw up happens and you need to be prepared. If you don’t pack an extra shirt, it will happen to you. Just ask Matt. 🙂 You’ve been warned!
All the “mom stuff” (with exception of the extra t-shirt and wallet) go in the outside pocket of my baby bag. This way I have quick access to anything I need for myself and it doesn’t get lost at the bottom of toys, food, diapers, etc. The liquids and medicines are all kept in a quart-size baggie, so they can be quickly removed in the security line without having to dig through the main part of the bag.
So what does all this stuff look like in one bag? Actually, it’s pretty roomy and organized in there! Everything has its place, so I can quickly remove items and put them back as needed.
So tell me, have I forgotten anything? What do you always pack in your carry on?
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