Top 10 Travel Tips for Moms

Best friends forever

Traveling with an infant or toddler can be daunting, especially if it’s just the two of you. But travel, for necessity or pleasure, will likely happen, so it’s best to prepare now. “A little calm, a little planning, and some creativity can help you and your baby or toddler enjoy the adventure of traveling,” says E. Ashley Steel, co-author of Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids. “You’ll build flexibility for new routines, provide exposure to exciting experiences, and have fun yourself.” Read on for 10 tips to travel with ease (or something like it!).

1. Pack Light, Pack Smart

a pink suitcase

Traveling successfully with a tot means having what you need without being overwhelmed by bulging bags. So be practical with your carry-ons. Extra clothes are key, and Steel advises moms to bring a few infant outfits (they’re tiny, after all!) or an extra toddler outfit.

Try her technique for taking the bulk out of clothing: “Pack each set of clean clothes in a zip-top bag and suck all the air out. If there is big spill or an accident, you can use the bag to keep the messy clothes contained.” Steel also advises moms to pack extra-light in the toy department. Be creative and use seemingly humdrum travel items to entertain your wee one, from plastic spoons to a colorful magazine (for their crumpling pleasure) to empty, stackable cups.

2. Set Yourself up for Diaper Success

Portrait of a Baby Lying on a Bed

Don’t get caught tearing your carry-on luggage apart or rooting through an overflowing purse in search of the diaper necessities—diapers, wipes, thin, foldable changing pad, and disposable baggies. Have the whole kit ready by placing everything in a small canvas sack or large zip-top bag you can remove easily when it’s time for a diaper change. The changing pad or liner is a key item for air travel, because not every airline offers changing tables in their lavatories—you might have to get creative with where to change your baby. Avoid surprises by asking a flight attendant about the arrangements when you board or early in the flight.

3. Make Good Food Choices

Cheerios cereal in a heart shape isolated on white background

You’ve probably heard the conventional wisdom that you should breastfeed or give a bottle to your infant, or offer a sippy cup to your toddler, during airplane take-offs and landings to keep little ears clear and pain-free. But don’t forget about the rest of the trip, when snacks can save the day. Steel suggests lots of little snacks that don’t need refrigeration and can be stored individually and compactly in zip-top baggies.

She also advises bringing familiar snacks on board. “You want to be able to count on your young child liking everything you bring,” she says, “Once you’re at your destination, experiment with lots of new things.” And don’t forget to bring some snacks for yourself too, especially high-protein items like nuts that will keep your energy level where it needs to be.

4. Plan, Plan, Plan…and Adapt

a map of the world

Especially for the to-and-fro part of the trip, think through each step and plan accordingly, from parking to baggage to food. Also have a good idea of how you hope your time will go once you reach your destination. Research ahead and have a crib waiting in your hotel room, make some reservations at family-friendly restaurants, and schedule activities around the anticipated rhythm of your day, including naps and meals. At the same time, though, keep flexibility as a watchword. “It’s great to have a Plan A but be ready to switch to Plan B,” says Steel, “Maybe you’ll have to skip dinner at a restaurant on the night you arrive and have pizza delivered instead.”

5. Pack Your Inner Suitcase

Woman with headphones in lotus position on bed

Take some time before you leave to boost your inner stores of flexibility, patience, and calm. Make your trip a judgment-free zone, and go with the flow. If your baby is fussy, says Steel, “look around at all the passengers you might be disturbing and remember that many are moms, dads, and grandparents. The businessman in a fancy suit might be missing his toddler at home. The elderly couple might be reminiscing about the days of baby travel. A huge part of the crowd knows exactly how you feel and they’re rooting for you.” So take a deep breath and assume the best about your fellow travelers…and about yourself.

6. Bring Comfort Items (Plus Some Surprises)

Best friends forever

On a trip, your baby may be yearning for comfort items, like a favorite plush animal or a special blanket. Pack one or two of those, but also bring a couple of small new toys to offer your baby so she is interested and occupied with the novelty. Steel recommends sticking with quiet toys, and using plastic links to connect toys to your seat belt so they don’t fall on the floor.

7. Take Your Time

Passengers at Airport Check-in Desk

Rushing through airport security with a baby or toddler? Steel is adamant: “It can’t be done.” So don’t invite extra stress into your trip. Arrive early, go through the bag check and security lines slowly, and ask for help if you need it. Remember that reasonable quantities of stored breastmilk and baby formula are exceptions to the 3.4 oz. rule that applies to other carry-on liquids. But—another reason to expect to take a little longer at the security checkpoint—the milk must be declared, and it may be inspected. Be sure to keep it in its own container, separate from your other under-3.4-oz. liquids, so security agents can easily identify and inspect it.

8. Keep Your Stroller with You

Beautiful manicured female hand holding a baby carriage

Your stroller is an important asset as you navigate a busy airport, so keep it with you as long as possible. Says Steel, “You’ll have to fold it up and pass it through security, but then you can keep it until you board the plane. Having a stroller makes purchasing food, using the restroom, and finding the gate so much easier” because your child is safely confined and within your grasp.

The stroller is also a helpful storage device for your carry-on luggage—keeping your liquid and breastmilk/formula baggies under the carriage, for example, will help with easy extraction at security. Once you arrive at your gate, ask for a gate check tag and bring the stroller right up to the door of the plane, where an attendant will take it, stow it, and bring it back to that same spot when you land.

9. Make Technology Work for You

lovely 18 months baby with tablet computer at home

Even parents who are serious about following no-screentime-before-age-two recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups often make exceptions during a long trip. Mobile devices and tablets can come in handy, especially for toddlers who crave absorbing activities.

Even young babies can be fascinated by an app like BabyFaces, which is a simple collection of different faces paired with giggles, or Laser Lights, which turns basic finger taps and swipes into colorful light patterns. Toddlers will enjoy educational apps like Monkey Preschool Lunchbox or creative apps like the coloring book program Draw and Tell.

10. Make Sleep a Priority

Hotel Room

Even if you work hard to keep to your normal routine, sleep can go askew when you’re on the road. For the first couple of days of your trip, Steel says, plan to go back to that newborn adage, “Sleep when they sleep.” She says, “If your baby goes to sleep at 5 p.m. in your new destination, try to go to sleep soon after.” Especially if you are traveling to a different time zone, “There is no need for you to get on a new time zone until your child is on that time zone too.” Also, if your child is loathe to nap in a hotel room, consider temporarily instituting long, sleep-inducing stroller walks at naptime. If nothing else, this will allow you time to take in more daytime sights, maybe including a museum your toddler would never tolerate while awake.

I’m a married mom of two living in Seattle, WA. I have a seven-year-old little boy, a first grader! He’s a fairly reserved kid and all about Legos and building sets. I also have a little girl who turned three at the end of February. She’s a tiny thing but a big ham; we call her our clown. They’re a lot of work but also a ton of fun. I love to eat, cook, and run (in that order). But at the end of the day, give me a spot on the couch and a little bit of TV or a good book, I’m done!