I recently made a solo parent trip from Michigan to Virginia with my seven-week-old infant, Willa. It was one of those trips that were scheduled and canceled about five times from March 2020 to May 2022, but we finally did it! When I shared the trip on Instagram I had several questions about traveling with an infant. These are several tips that worked for me that as well as some FYIs that I think are great to know when traveling with an infant (and that infant’s three thousand items, lol). I hope this helps give you confidence for upcoming or future travel with your infant!
Give yourself plenty of time
I’m not normally the person that goes to the airport three hours before their flight, but when I’m traveling with an infant without any other support, I like to have extra time to handle blow outs, nursing schedules, bathroom breaks, and any other unexpected time sucks. This is not the time to get to the airport 30 minutes before boarding.
Nurse before the flight
I found it really helpful to start nursing Willa 20 minutes before boarding. She usually was done nursing on both sides by the time we boarded (usually 30 minutes before estimated departure), which gave us time to do one last bathroom break for mom and diaper change for Willa. It also made me feel confident that Willa would likely not need to eat while on the plane and might even sleep the whole way.
Another reason to nurse before the flight is because you have very little control over where you’re sitting and who you’re sitting next to on your flight. Your seating arrangement might not be ideal for nursing and might be really stressful for you and for baby.
Front-load your water intake
I don’t know about you, but I’m a big water drinker. I usually go to the bathroom on every flight and while traveling alone with an infant on a plane, getting up to go to the bathroom is not something I would look forward to. So I drink a lot of water before getting to the airport and then stop all liquid consumption until after (or towards the end of) the flight. That way I can avoid the bathroom jig.
Wear your baby
If you have a partner or someone else with you while traveling, this might not be as important, but for me, wearing my infant and having two hands available was crucial to smooth travel. I wore my Ergobaby 360 carrier because I knew I would need to get her in and out several times and I didn’t want to have to unwrap and rewrap her from the SollyBaby.
A stroller is another option, but I do think navigating that solo in and out of bathrooms, collapsing it down before the flight, opening it up after flight, etc. would be difficult by yourself with an infant in hand.
Don’t be afraid to travel with breastmilk!
Luckily airlines are accomodating and helpful when it comes to transporting breastmilk. It would still be good to double-check with your airline before flying to make sure you understand their specific regulations, but airlines let you take an additional bag (cooler) for your breastmilk and your pump without counting it as your personal item or carry-on bag.
While I’m sure TSA has standards across airports, I have had different experiences while traveling with breastmilk. As one TSA put it, “bad stuff can’t freeze” so my rule of thumb is if it can be frozen, freeze it. At one airport I had to take everything off (including a carrier and sleeping baby, blah!) and be fully patted down because my freezer packs weren’t frozen (in liquid form) when traveling through security. However my breastmilk in liquid form on wasn’t checked although I was told it would be. Freeze if you can!
Bring as little as possible
Depending on where you’re heading you might be able to borrow or rent a car seat, stroller, and/or pack and play instead of hauling them around at the airport. Having fewer things to keep track of and tote from place to place, even if it’s just from baggage claim to the car, is helpful, especially if you’re traveling alone.
When I went on my recent trip, the friend I was visiting has a one-year-old child who is no longer using their infant car seat. They also had a stroller I could clip the car seat into, a pack and play for Willa to sleep in, and even size 1 diapers that they had stored away. It was a huge help and relief to not have to worry about those items.
I haven’t tried it yet, but there is a service called BabyQuip that allows you to rent baby gear in the city you’re traveling to. Check it out if you’re hoping to travel lighter with your infant.
What to bring while traveling with an infant
The obvious things
I don’t think I need to mention wipes, diapers, bottle/breastfeeding supplies, but I will just in case 🙂
Change of outfit
Blowouts happen. Bring an extra pair of clothes for your baby in case they need to change for whatever reason. I recommend a footed onesie so it’s just one piece and they are protected.
Reusable bag or doggy bag
Like I said, blowouts happen. I always have a reusable zipper bag (like this one from Amazon) or a disposable plastic doggy bag (I take them from our stash for our dog) to put dirty clothes, diapers, or whatever else into so my bag doesn’t become a stinky or sticky mess.
When you were little, did your mom give you gum at takeoff and landing to avoid plugged ears? Mine did, and it’s true takeoff and landing can be hard on our ears. If you decide to nurse 20 minutes before boarding like I did, bring a binkie for your baby to have during takeoff and landing to keep their jaw moving and ears unplugged. If you plan on nursing on the plane, try to arrange it to be at takeoff and landing to help their little ears adjust.
My older daughters didn’t take a binkie until they were older and used it to soothe while teething, so I understand if you’re thinking — whelp, they don’t take a binkie! If that’s the case try breast or bottle-feeding during takeoff and landing.
Go with it
At the end of the day, traveling with an infant is really the same as any day with an infant, the very best thing you can do for your sanity is to be ready to roll with it. You’ve got this!!