12 Trusted Secrets on Packing a Carry-On for Bébé (and You)

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Alright fellow parents… We know you’ve been waiting for this one!

How on earth are you expected to pack everything your bébé could possibly need on a flight without crumbling under the weight or worse, forgetting something?

julietandfelixairportI mean, it wasn’t exactly easy pre-baby, right? But now that there’s a baby in the mix, carry-ons have gotten that much more complicated. Insert here a disheveled picture of mom (or dad!) with baby in arms, a huge backpack, a heavy diaper bag exploding with bottles and toys, and a pacifier sticking from her mouth… sweating, of course.

And to make matters worse, when you’ve finally reached your miserable seat with your baby, you realize you have an explosion situation on hand.andreas traveling 2 As you reach into your overflowing diaper bag, you start rummaging frantically for the fresh diapers and wipes. But you discover with despair you’re out of wipes. How that’s even possible given how carefully you packed your carry-on, you don’t know. Everything is an utter mess around you, and the smell is getting worse.

Oh yes, we’ve all been there. Or maybe you haven’t yet, but this just sounds like it’s your worst nightmare. Well rest assured, we’re here to help you avoid this scary scenario. And since packing a carry-on (even for a single adult) is an art – hell, they have entire blogs dedicated to this! – we’ve decided to pull from the collective wisdom of Club Bébé Voyage, our trusted network of globe-trotting parents. These people know their stuff, and after reading this, you will have all the insiders’ secrets on how to pack a carry-on for yourself and bébé.

1. How many carry-ons are you allowed on-board?

Some European low-cost airlines (we’re thinking EasyJet, Flybe) are particularly difficult about how many carry-ons you bring onboard. This means you’ll have to think extra carefully about the specific bag you use and how you pack it. Ideally, you want to take flights that are more flexible with their carry-on rule, so you can bring at least two carry-ons, not including your car seat or any other equipment. (Don’t worry we’ve got a post on traveling with strollers coming soon!) We know this is not always in your power though.

2. Dress yourself and bébé super comfortably

If it’s a night flight, dress your little one in warm pyjamas (pyjamas with footsies are a Club favorite). Also, dress your baby in layers so that you can easily adjust according to the temperature or if you’re changing climates.

Juliet’s story: This past winter, I flew to California with my little Felix. He had several layers on including an undershirt, a long sleeve onesie, a light sweater, a thicker hoodie, and his snowsuit. We were flying from freezing cold Chicago to sunny LA, so we had to be able to adjust to both extremes!

3. Pack Your Travel Documents Somewhere Easy and Accessible

As you know from your pre-baby days, when traveling, you need to whip out your passport and boarding pass frequently. Maybe you weren’t so organized about where you put these away then (I’ve been known once or twice to be searching frantically through my bag for these blasted things), but you won’t have this luxury now.

Put these essentials in a really accessible place. Maybe that’s a front pocket to your carry-on. Some of our Club members have suggested small crossbody bags, coat pockets, fanny packs… Whatever works best for you, just make sure it’s easy to reach and that you remember where it is.

4. Ziplocks are your friend!

ziplockWhether you use these or you have lots of little pouches, these little compartments will relieve a lot of stress while mid-air or at security.

Store all food, liquids, and creams in ziplocks so that you can easily remove them from your bag when you go through security. This will help you avoid having to send your bag through x-ray machine multiple times and getting totally unpacked.

It’s also super helpful to throw in all the toys in a ziplock. The more things are compartmentalized, the easier it will be for you.

5. Heaps of spare diapers/nappies, wipes, cream

Duh, we know. But seriously guys, don’t poo-poo this one (pun intended!). Even the best of us can forget to bring extra diapers. This actually happened to me at LAX just a few months ago. Luckily, I found new diapers at the airport, but I’ve heard you might not be so lucky (especially in the US). And who’s to say they’ll have the exact size you’re looking for?

Pack diapers, and more than you think you’ll need (I always add twice as many). You never know what might happen when you travel. You could be stuck in delays, or worse, stuck in a transit city overnight.

With diapers, comes wipes, butt cream (make sure you have a travel size), and a changing pad.

But what happens when you find yourself with an explosion to handle mid-air and because baby changing gear is scattered throughout the bag, you find yourself rushing to the toilet with your wailing baby, a massive diaper bag, smelling of poo? It’s at times like these that you’ll thank yourself for having packed those extra diapers.

Here’s a little secret our Club Bébé Voyage members love and that will save you a lot of sweat and tears:

Pack your baby changing essentials in a removable small bag (e.g. a ziplock bag), so you can access it easily in case of an emergency and make a quick dash to the bathroom, without having to lug your huge diaper bag. 

As Club member Adriana says, “I always have a thin foldable bag within the diaper bag where I put a few diapers, wipes, and a changing pad in, so I can easily go to the bathroom with her without taking the entire diaper bag.”

Another Club member Kat takes this one step further and suggests, “at least three ‘changing grab bags’ (each zippy bag with a whole outfit including bib and socks, nappy, and a nappy disposal bag. Poo clothes go into the zippy bag so you don’t have worry about the gross-ness”!

How many “changing grab bags” you take depends on the length of your trip and the size of your carry-on.

6. An extra change of clothes for bébé (and you!)

Along with these “changing grab bags”, you need to be prepared in case of a mid-air explosion emergency. Pack at least one extra outfit for your little one. As Club member Diana tells us “never underestimate the seepage power of poo or vomit at the least convenient time”.

If you’re flying from one continent to the next and there’s a connection, bring two or even three changes of clothes for bébé.

You never know what might happen!

Antonia’s story: We packed two changes of clothing for our baby as well as heaps of spare diapers, which at first seemed excessive. When we got stuck overnight in Chicago on our way to Europe, in an airport hotel, only to find the airport didn’t sell diapers anywhere, we realized it was a good call. European airports always seem to have somewhere that sells diapers. American airports don’t. I even asked at a customer service desk as we started to run a bit low. We also had lots of food packs and formula powder, which again, turned out to be great. So if you have connecting flights, I highly recommend packing for potential 24+ hour delays!

And on that note, while we spend a lot of our energy on bébé, don’t forget about you (more on that later)! Yes you want to stay light, and yes, the easiest place to cut corners is on your own stuff. But take our word for it, you will not regret tucking in a fresh shirt! Your neighbor will thank you for it (by not giving you the stink eye).

7. Lots of baby food and milk (pack in case of delay!)

Obviously you weren’t going to forget baby food (or your boob!), but we have a few extra tips for you.

As Antonia says above, pack more than you think is necessary. If you know you need to pack for lunch and a snack, bring more than enough lunch and more than enough snack.

If your baby is bottle-feeding on formula, prepare at least one extra bottle (twice as many if you are connecting and changing continents). Marianne likes to use a formula dispenser like this which already has the formula measured out and that way she doesn’t have to take as many bottles (especially useful as they regularly travel for almost 24 hours).

ellasIf your baby has moved on to solids, I personally like to buy ready-made food for travel. The baby food they sell in those squeezy pouches (if this exists in your part of the world) is incredibly useful for these trips, as you don’t need to worry about bringing a spoon (or you can use these tiny attachment spoons) and it does minimize the mess (to a certain extent).

I also like this piece of advice from Club member Caty who lives in Thailand and travels back to the US with her twins often, “bring any food that they love and that also takes them a while to eat”. On my most recent flight, in addition to the pouches, I packed in a few cheese sticks, which I know are an undeniable hit with Felix. He loves his “cheeee” which always takes him a little while to eat it.

8. Emergency items

Particularly if your trip is long, there are a few other items you should consider packing just in case…

  • Baby tylenol/paracetamol/neurofen/etc in case of unexpected fever or a teething fit. Just like breast milk and other baby food, you can take this through security.
  • Thermometer (particularly on long distances)
  • Snot sucker and/or nasal spray, in case your baby catches a cold or a cold is worsened on the plane.

9. Bottle/Sippy cup/Bottle for take-off and landing

Taking off and landing can hurt even our ears. These little babies are fragile, so make sure you have either a bottle, a sippy cup, or a pacifier/dummy (or a boob!) ready and easily accessible to your baby when taking off and landing. The sucking action will help calm any ear pain that could develop.

10. Pack sleeping gear

No matter the length of your flight – even if it’s just an hour – bring your baby’s “blanky” or favorite stuffed animal if he’s old enough to have formed such an attachment. For us, Felix’s little bunny rabbit and his pacifier/dummy are non-negotiable. Even if it’s not during his typical nap time, these might come in handy when bébé is acting up and passengers are looking less than impressed. Felix’s bunny and pacifier automatically calm him down. I dread ever losing that rabbit!

For an overnight or particularly long flight, you’ll want your bébé’s sleep sack or swaddle blanket to recreate his sleep space best you can.

We also recommend packing a warm hat for those long overnight flights. Planes can get quite frisky and the last thing you want is for bébé to catch a cold!

11. Entertainment for bébé!

This one becomes more crucial as your baby grows older and needs more (and MORE distractions!) to keep him from have a fit on the plane.

Initially, when your baby is tiny (up to six months), toys are barely necessary. Perhaps there’s a soft book your baby has already taken to that is so small and light, you might as well bring along. It might save you during that penultimate dreaded hour of the flight.

As your baby grows (let’s say at around nine months), your baby will become increasingly fascinated with her surroundings. Little things you’d never imagined will hold her interest. I remember a plastic cup keeping Felix fascinated for a very long time at this stage. Again, you might want to bring a couple essential small toys, you know your little one will love.

Once bébé passes the 12 month mark is when you’ll have to start thinking more strategically about what you bring. And yes, you’ll have to come up with a strategy, because babies between 12 and 24 months are probably at the toughest age to travel. If they are not asleep, chances are they will want to be busy discovering something new and fascinating. Guess what? It falls on you to become your bébé’s personal entertainer.

We’ll get into the different tricks we all love in another blog post, but here are a few tips on what to bring on board that should save you from a few breakdowns.

The longer your flight, the more you’ll want to pack

More on this coming soon, but the idea here is that you’ll want to space out introducing the different toys and gadgets to your baby throughout the flight.

Find the right balance between new and familiar toys

You might have heard that introducing your baby to new toys to entertain them on the flight works like magic. It works, yes – and we will delve into this – but don’t neglect some of the old faves. If there’s a book that’s a constant hit with your baby, don’t hesitate to chuck it in your carry-on. If there’s some colorful little ball your baby just loves to hold, bring it!

Invest a couple of dollars in some cheap toys you don’t mind losing

Go down to your local Target (or whatever cheap department type store is near you) and buy “cheap toys”. “Cheap toys” can really be any number of things. Think colorful post-its, memory cards, figurines, mini blocks, you get the idea.

Surprise Toy!

Now depending on how much you want to cover your bases, or how long your flight is you might want to invest in a special surprise toy, which you unveil when things really get tricky. On my last trip, I bought one of those interactive baby books that was full of color, things to feel, flaps to open… You get the gist. I presented it to him on the flight and it kept him entertained for a while. I’ve since hid it, and will only bring it out again on our next flight (after I’ve glued back one of the flaps).

Vicky’s story: I packed a lot of little stuff to keep him occupied and wrapped them separately as “presents”. Give the pressies whenever you think it’s time again (we had 14 hours to spread). I had star-shaped post-its that we used to decorate the window and seat in front of us before take off. What I found cool (and worked) were craft sticks with added double tape at each ends. Velcro would have been better but I couldn’t get any when looking. We”built” many things with these, they’re light to pack so bring several so you won’t need to bend down to fetch them every time they fall under your seat. I also had a sticker book with me and a lot of cute stickers (wrapped as presents). Also bring some light (new to him) picture books or an old one the baby loves. Oh also crayons and paper! Another mother suggested (and I see the logic of it now) to bring these magic drawing boards with the pencil attached (do you know which one I mean?). This is because crayons will fall under your seat and the baby would want to have a certain color only. Also a coloring book for 14 hours is heavy… 

12. What about mommy or daddy?

It’s a miracle. You don’t know how this happened, but your baby is actually sleeping! Hurray!! You can finally relax a bit. Well, if baby is passed out on your arm, it won’t be all that relaxing, but it still beats pulling every possible toy out of the diaper bag and fending off nasty looks from fellow passengers!

We suggest bringing some lightweight entertainment for you, so you can get at least some degree of leisure while traveling. Load your phone with podcasts, audiobooks, or new music you’ve been dying to listen to. You may also want to include a special playlist for your little one. Marianne has a Relax playlist for when Simon needs soothing or help falling asleep and a Feel Good playlist for when he’s just antsy or fussy.

So to recap:

1. Check with your airline how many carry-ons you’re allowed on board, particularly if it’s a low-cost airline.

2. Dress yourself and your little one comfortably. Layers are key.

3. Make sure you pack your travel documents in an unforgettable and accessible spot.

4. Ziplocks are your friend. Use these to compartmentalize the different types of items in your carry-on. Organization is key!

5. Pack lots of extra diapers. Consider packing your diapers, butt cream and wipes in a ziplock, so you can easily grab these before dashing to the bathroom.

6. Pack at least one change of clothes for your little one and at least one fresh shirt for you. Consider packing more depending on the length of your journey.

7. Bring more than enough food and drink.

8. You’ll be happy you thought of throwing in some Tylenol (or the equivalent) in case of some unexpected teething on the plane.

9. Don’t forget to pack a sippy cup/bottle/pacifier for take-off and landing.

10. Pack all the stuff your baby usually falls asleep with. This might include “blanky” and a sleep sack.

11. You’ll be sorry if you don’t pack a few key toys to entertain your bébé on board.

12. Download a few audio books or podcasts for some lightweight entertain for you if and when bébé falls asleep!

Hopefully these secrets will help keep the anxiety at bay. Good luck on your next flight and if by any means, you have another “secret” to share with us, please let us know in the comments below.

Bon Voyage!

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