A (Carry-On-Only) Packing Guide for Traveling with a Baby

Note: This post contains affiliate links. As always, we only link to products we’ve used and that we think add value to our readers.

Packing can be stressful. For me, it has always fallen somewhere between dental work and filing taxes on the fun scale. Packing for a baby can be exponentially more difficult. Because for someone so small, a baby seems to need a whole lot of stuff. Just going to the grocery store tends to involve me packing my jeep to the brim with “baby essentials” and at least two turnarounds at the end of the block to retrieve something I forgot.

But while packing for a baby requires a bit more planning than packing for yourself, it is totally doable. And here’s the super crazy thing—grab your smelling salts—it’s even possible to travel carry-on-only with an infant! Despite what big shots over at Gerber and Fisher Price would have you believe, babies don’t actually need 800 million pounds of toys and gadgets to survive a one week (or month!) long vacation.

Last November, we traveled for 16 days to five European countries with just a carry-on and personal item per adult, and that was with bulky winter clothes.

So if you’re wondering if it’s possible to travel carry-on-only with a baby, here is our comprehensive guide.

Gear for Traveling Carry-On-Only with a Baby

In Paris when Claire was 8 months old.

Stroller/Car Seat 

Our Pick: Doona

If you plan to travel with a baby, our number one tip is to invest in the Doona car seat and stroller. Because why have two items when one will do? It pushes like a dream in the stroller position and then quickly and easily folds down into a car seat. We have gotten more compliments on our Doona stroller from complete strangers than on anything else we’ve ever owned! Though the sticker shock might initially be off-putting ($499), it is absolutely worth the investment. Claire is 15 months and still using it! (Another plus is that it’s FAA-approved for use on airplanes. Claire slept in hers through our whole 7-hour flight to London.)

Stroller Rain Cover

Depending on where you are traveling, having a rain cover can be super helpful. We have used ours frequently in less-than-pleasant weather. We bought ours at a shop in London (after we saw every other family using them. Turns out, Londoners know a thing or two about rain…), but you can get a similar one on Amazon.

Stroller Cold Cover 

When traveling to colder climates, having a cold weather cover for your stroller is a great way to be sure your baby stays safe and warm while you’re sightseeing outside. Ours was a hand-me-down from my Canadian cousin, but you can find a similar one here.

Soft Baby Carrier 

Our pick: Solly Wrap

For very young babies (newborn to about 4 or 5 months), having a soft wrap is essential for easy travel. Claire would sleep through pretty much anything in my wrap: security screenings, long flights, meals, it didn’t matter. Not to mention, baby snuggles are like dopamine. It’s just not possible to get too many.

Our favorite was the Solly Wrap, because it is great quality and more lightweight than most of the other models (something that made a huge difference in our Atlanta heat!).

Sturdy Baby Carrier 

Our Pick: Beco Gemini

For older, heavier babies, a structured baby carrier is probably a better option. Baby carriers are especially helpful in places where strollers are impractical (airport security check points, beaches, medieval castles, etc.). We like the Beco Gemini, because the mesh helps keep Claire cool. The only thing we don’t like about it is that it seemed pretty big for her in the early months.

Sleep Essentials for Traveling with a Baby 

Hotel Claire

Try to keep the sleep environment on your trip similar to what your baby is used to at home. These are the sleep-related items we pack for every trip with a baby.

Swaddle Blanket

Our Pick: Aden + Anais

We swaddled Claire until she was about 4 months old, and our favorite swaddle blankets were the beautiful muslin swaddles from Aden + Anais. Not only do they look lovely, but they are also soft and big enough to wrap around her securely (some of the time. Claire was a bit of a Houdini).

Even though we have long since stopped swaddling Claire, I still usually pack one or two of her Aden + Anais swaddle blankets for trips, because they are perfect for providing added warmth on chilly days, draping over the stroller when she’s sleeping, or spreading out on the grass for a picnic. 

Sleep Bag

Our Pick: Kyte Baby 0.5 TOG

Once we could no longer safely swaddle Claire, we started using a sleep sack instead. Our favorite is the Kyte Baby sleep bag, which is high quality and made of incredibly soft bamboo fabric. We have a few different weights we use at home, but we usually travel with the lightest one (0.5 TOG).

White Noise Maker

Our Pick: Old iPod 

At home, Claire uses the Skip Hop Moonlight Owl Nightlight Soother as a white noise maker. And while there is a travel version, we don’t use it for travel, because (1) it only lasts an hour at a time, (2) it’s bulky, and (3) the batteries always die on the first day of our trip and can’t be changed without a screwdriver (which we never have). So, we have started using a white noise app on an old iPod. (We prefer not to use the white noise app on our phones, because then we can’t use them after she goes to bed!)

Lovey

Claire has a little bunny lovey (stuffed animal/blanket combo for those who don’t know!) that she sleeps with at home. We pack it for all our trips.

Paci

Our Pick: Soothies/Wubbanub

We travel with a minimum of 5 pacis so we know we’re covered if she drops or loses one (or two…or three…). Every baby has a paci preference, but we have always used the Soothie pacis. Claire also loves her Wubbanubs (and I love that they are easier to keep track of than her regular pacis!), but they are a bit more challenging to clean if she drops them somewhere dirty.

Feeding Essentials for Traveling with a Baby

Hampton Court

Depending on age and whether your baby is bottle or breast fed, your packing list may look different. But here are some feeding essentials we always pack when traveling with a baby.

Nursing Cover  

Our Pick: Motherhood Maternity

Claire rarely gets hungry at opportune times. And while it’s totally ok if you and your baby prefer to breastfeed without a cover, I like to have a bit more privacy (especially on airplanes). So one of my most used baby travel items is my nursing cover. There are plenty of styles available, but I use this one.

Burp Cloths  

Our Pick: Gerber Prefolds 

Pack at least one or two burp cloths. Even now that Claire is past the spitting-up stage, they are handy for cleaning her face or mopping up spills. Though they are technically cloth diapers, the white Gerber prefolds are cheap and effective as burp cloths. We bought several packs of them when Claire was a newborn.

Bib

Babies are super messy eaters once solids come into play (especially when they feed themselves!), so we usually pack at least one bib. The silicone bibs like this one are nice, because they are easy to clean between uses. The downside is that they are a bit bulky. I usually pack a cloth bib like this one to save space.

Spoon/Bowl

Ever since Claire started eating solids, I have packed a baby spoon and sometimes a bowl. If you’re tight on space, you can omit the bowl, but I like to have a spoon on hand for feeding her mashed-up banana, avocado, or anything else we pick up at a local supermarket. In a pinch at restaurants, a coffee/tea stirring spoon can work too.

Snacks

Once your baby is eating solids, snacks are your best travel friend! They can stop a meltdown in its tracks like nothing I’ve ever seen. We won’t get on an airplane without them. Some of Claire’s favorite travel snacks are freeze-dried yogurt melts and cheerios.

Clothing to Pack When Traveling with a Baby

 

One of the most challenging parts of packing for babies is determining which clothes to take and how many. It’s super easy to go overboard on baby clothing (because they are all so darn cute!), so I follow similar guidelines when packing for Claire that I do for myself:

  • Versatile basics that can mix and match. I know this sounds silly when it comes to baby clothing, but packing clothes in colors and patterns that can go with each other is important. I try to pack tops/bodysuits that can go with all her pants, etc.
  • Pack for one week (or less). No matter how long the trip, I never pack more clothing than she could wear in a week. If we are traveling for longer than a week, I plan to do laundry.
  • Plan for 2 outfits per day. Obviously, babies mess up their clothes a lot more frequently than adults do! So when determining how much to pack for Claire, I usually allow for roughly two outfits per day (excluding sleepers).

With those guidelines in mind, here is my minimalist guide to clothing to pack for infant travel.

Footie Pajamas (2-3) 

My favorite travel outfit for babies is footie pajamas. They are warm on cold airplanes, make diaper changes a breeze, and eliminate the need for socks or booties (which are bound to get lost somewhere along the way! I also prefer a zipper to snaps, because who wants to spend 20 minutes snapping up footie pajamas in an airplane lavatory??

My favorite footie pajamas for Claire are these ones from L’ovedbaby. They are a bit pricey, but they are great quality and hold up well.

Short-Sleeve Bodysuits (4-5) 

Short-sleeve bodysuits are a staple of Claire’s wardrobe. My favorites are these ones from Emma + Finn, these super soft bamboo ones from Kyte Baby, and these lovely ribbed ones from Jamie Kay. I also usually pack one or two basic white onesies from Gerber.

Pants (2-3)

I usually only pack a few pairs of pants for Claire (especially if we are traveling to a warm climate). My favorite baby pants are these ribbed ones from Jamie Kay and these ones from Pact Organics.

Booties (1-2)

Our Pick: Zutanos

We are super minimalist when it comes to baby footwear. Our absolute favorite baby shoes are the fleece Zutano booties. They were literally the only shoes she didn’t immediately rip off her feet, and they held up really well. (Because they don’t have a solid sole, they are not ideal for walking babies.)

Additional Baby Clothes to Pack for a Cold Climate

Winter Jacket (1) 

A warm jacket is a must for trips to cold climates. I bought Claire this one from Zara Kids, and it’s super cute (though the zipper tends to stick, which I don’t like). It works well for very cold climates (like Europe in winter!).

Sweater (1-2)

Not only do sweaters help keep babies toasty warm, but they are also just plain adorable. My favorites are the cardigans from Jamie Kay. They are a bit pricy, but there are often great sales!

Long-Sleeve Bodysuit (2-3) 

Long-sleeve bodysuits offer some extra protection from the cold. My favorite places to buy them are Jamie Kay (I love their ribbed ones), Earth Elements, and Gerber.

Knit Hat/Mittens (1)

To be sure Claire stays warm, I always pack a cozy knit hat and mittens for those super chilly days. My favorites are ones my sister-in-law knit her, but these ones are similar.

Additional Baby Clothes to Pack for a Warm Climate

Swimsuit (1) 

Our Pick: Rufflebutts

Obviously, a swimsuit is a must for any destination with access to a beach or pool! My favorite baby swimsuit brand for girls is Rufflebutts, because their swimsuits are super cute and provide extra sun protection. (Ruggedbutts is a good option for baby boy swimwear!)

Sun Hat (1) 

Though she doesn’t always like to keep her hat on her head, I always pack one to protect her from sunburn or heat stroke. We have this one.

Romper/Sundress (1-2)

Trips to warmer climates are the perfect time to break out some cute rompers/dresses. I love the dresses and rompers from Quincy Mae and Jamie Kay.

Baby Toiletries/Diapering Supplies to Pack for Travel

Thankfully, babies are pretty easy in this department. It must have something to do with the fact that they have few teeth and little hair. Here are the baby toiletries we pack for travel.

Travel-Size Baby Shampoo  

We always pack a sample-size bottle of body wash/shampoo for those Airbnb sink baths (for some reason, the places where we stay never have a bathtub!).

Baby Toothbrush/Toothpaste

Our Pick: Baby Munka

Now that Claire has some teeth, we always travel with her little toothbrush. She likes this one, because it doubles as a teething toy!

Baby Sunscreen

Our Pick: Blue Lizard

When traveling to warm climates, sunscreen if super important. We use this Blue Lizard baby sunscreen, which is the brand Claire’s pediatrician recommended. So far, it has worked really well, even under the hot Caribbean and Peruvian sun! (Be sure to consult your child’s pediatrician about sunscreen options, especially if your child is younger than 6 months.)

Diaper Cream

Our Pick: Homemade! 

I started making diaper cream a while back, because I had a hard time finding store-bought versions that are safe for cloth diapers (which we use at home, though we opt for disposable during travel). This is the recipe I use. For travel (or when I’m out and about), I store some in a small Tupperware container.

Diapers

We typically only travel with enough diapers to last through the first day of our trip. More on that later.

Wipes 

One package of wipes is usually enough for most of our trips. If we need more, we buy them in our destination.

Aspirator/Saline Spray

Every time I forget to pack an aspirator or saline spray, Claire ends up getting the sniffles. Without fail. So now we never travel without them. At home we use the NoseFrida. But for travel, we use an aspirator bulb like this one, because it’s a bit easier to pack.

Detergent Packet 

Babies soil their clothes often, so we like to travel with a laundry detergent packet we can use to wash Claire’s (and our) clothes in the sink. We use Tide Original, but I know some babies with more sensitive skin need special detergent.

Toys to Pack for Baby Travel

Carrie and Claire

If Claire has the option between an age-appropriate toy and my water bottle, she will choose the water bottle every time. So we don’t go overboard packing toys for her. Here are a few we do pack.

Book (1-2)

Reading is a part of our pre-nap/bedtime routine at home, so we always pack a book or two for travel to keep things consistent.

Teething Toy 

Teething can be rough, and you never know when the next tooth might pop through. To ease Claire’s discomfort, we like to pack at least one or two toys that feel good on her gums. This one is her favorite.

Small Toy  

Claire is a huge fan of toys that are small enough to fit into her little palm, so we usually pack a few of those. She seems to really like her Little People toys.

Comfort Animal/Stuffy

Obviously, if your child has any particular favorite item, be sure to pack that! At this point, Claire isn’t attached to any specific toy besides her little bunny Lovey, which we take everywhere with us.

Things we DON’T Pack for Baby Travel

I thought I’d also mention a few items we typically don’t pack for baby travel, especially when we are flying. (Of course, everyone’s preferences are different, and things we prefer not to pack may be essentials for you. Do what works for your family!)

Baby Bed

For the most part, we have chosen not to travel with a baby bed. Instead, we book accommodations that provide a bassinet, crib, or pack n’ play. Baby beds take up a ton of space and are a huge pain if you’re trying to travel with only a carry-on. We have rarely had a case where the hotel or Airbnb host has been unable to provide one. A few times early on, we traveled with the Munchkin Brica Fold N’ Go Bassinet, which is super affordable and can fold down small enough to fit into a large checked suitcase (but not a carry-on). Claire didn’t seem to like it, though, and would often end up in bed with us anyway.

Baby Food

While we always travel with snacks for the airplane or when we are out and about, we don’t usually travel with jarred baby food. Instead, we get her soft foods like bananas and avocados from the local supermarket and just mush them up. They are typically cheaper, easier to find, and free of the sugar and preservatives that are in many “official” baby foods.

Lots of Diapers

People have babies everywhere in the world, which means it’s not usually hard to find diapers in your destination! To save on luggage space, we typically only pack enough diapers for the first day and then buy more on arrival (unless we are on a super short trip).

Baby Bathtub

We use a baby bathtub at home, but we typically just bathe her in the sink when we travel. It’s not always ideal, but it works.

And that’s it! That is our full guide to packing for a baby in a carry-on. With a bit of planning, it is completely possible. Happy travels!

Like it? Pin it!

You may also like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.