Updated July 2018
Whether you are traveling by car or airplane (or train, perhaps?), traveling with little ones can be completely overwhelming. It’s no coincidence that the #1 item in our poll asking moms what’s their most indispensable travel item was WINE!
The first step in planning your journey is to understand which of your necessities can be provided at your destination. The fewer items you have to transport from A to B, the better.
If you are visiting a place frequently (e.g., grandparent’s house), it’s well worth it for grandma/pa to get their own gear (see also: Grandparent’s Guide to Baby Gear and Babyproofing the Grandparent’s House). My mom and in-laws, for example, have a high chair, a Pack ‘n Play, a monitor, and an umbrella stroller at their place; they even have car seats. Local mom’s groups often hold children’s resales, these are great places to get lightly used items for grandparents.
This isn’t totally necessary, but it will make your trips so much easier for years to come, especially if you have (or plan on having) multiple children. And especially if you visit them often.
Best Travel Gear for Infants and Toddlers
- Travel Crib or Pack ‘n Play
- High Chair
- Infant Bath Tub (for 0-6 month’ers)
- Lightweight Stroller
- Car Seat
- Baby Carrier
- Baby Gate
- Travel Monitor
- Childproofing for Travel
Nursing moms may also want:
If you’re going to a hotel or resort, many times these items can be provided upon request. I’ve only been to one hotel where they could not provide a travel crib (and it was only because they had run out).
Even the economy hotel and motel chains (Choice Hotels: Comfort Inn, Quality Inn, etc.) are generally good about supplying cribs (typically Graco Pack ‘n Plays) and bedding. Many vacation rentals even have this stuff, but check the fine print before you go. You may also want to bring items that help your baby sleep, like a white noise machine.
Bottom line: If someone else can provide it – let them!
If you do have to bring everything along, the good news is that there are many travel-specific products that can lighten your load and make your life easier.
If there isn’t a safe spot for your kiddo to sleep at your destination, you’ll probably want to bring along a travel crib or Pack ‘n Play (or other collapsible play yard). Will a regular PNP do the trick? Yes, absolutely. However, many parents prefer the lightweightey-ness and portability of a travel crib. If you travel a fair amount, it’s definitely a worthwhile convenience purchase.
Here’s the benefit: travel cribs are in the neighborhood of 11 lbs, while regular play yards (Pack ‘n Play, 4MOMS Breeze, etc.) weigh more like 20-30 lbs – a huge difference. Furthermore, travel cribs fold and assemble VERY easily, they come with a nice transport bag and can be carried like a duffel or backpack. Some travel cribs can even fit in the overhead compartment on a plane (not sure why you’d ever do that, but….you can if you want!).
Best Travel Cribs
For Newborns (0-6 months only)
Remember with this age group, your needs are very basic because climbing out is not an issue. We’ve had our tiny ones sleep in a laundry basket or even a drawer (placed on the floor) on various trips (Tokyo-style!). So… keep it simple.
For 0-6 months only, this travel bassinet from Brica is just 2.4 lbs and folds down for easy carry.
You could easily stuff it into a large suitcase. This is a tried and true parent favorite. Some families even love it for camping! *Includes mattress pad and fitted sheet.
For 0-3 Years
We feel that being lightweight is extremely important for any travel product, which is why the finalists we chose here are all under 20 lbs. Note there are other portable cribs out there that we like, like the 4MOMS Breeze, but at 25 lbs, we don’t feel that these are good for travel.
1. Graco Pack N’ Play Playard Jetsetter ~ $149 ($109 on Amazon) – ECONOMY PICK
Slightly smaller than a standard Graco PNP, the 19 lb PNP Jetsetter fits in its included backpack (in a small enough package to carry on to most planes, in case you don’t want to risk checking it). It has some unique features, including a domed canopy to create shade when using it outside (or for keeping it dark in a room without proper shades (amiright??)), a vibrating bassinet for newborns, and a portable changing pad.
Note that some parents say the canopy isn’t the highest quality. This travel crib will fit kids up to 35” tall (or your average two-year-old), so it won’t last as long as some of the more spacious travel cribs out there (think of it as a travel mini-crib).
2. Chicco FastAsleep Travel Playard ~ $179
New from Chicco this year is the Chicco FastAsleep, which is stupid easy to pop open— one arm motion and voila! You can see it in action here:
It also has a newborn napper/changer that sits on top for your younger babes.
The FastAsleep also comes in a slightly cheaper version without the newborn napper/changer, the Go ($149). You can save some money here if your kiddo is past the bassinet stage (and if you can live without the diaper changer). Note: this product is so new, we haven’t had a chance to “rate it” yet, but early reviews are promising 🙂
This travel crib weighs close to 20 lbs, so it’s definitely much heavier than the Lotus or Baby Bjorn products (keep reading)…
3. Nuna Sena Aire Mini Crib ~ $199
Nuna is a luxury brand from the Netherlands; they make high quality products that have a sharp, minimalist design. This is the mini version of the full-sized Nuna Sena. This travel crib is extremely well made, though not as lightweight as some others listed here (18 lbs). It’s also very easy to set up and break down (you simply pull the sides out and push the bottom down, then pull a tab to fold it up).
It comes with a bassinet that sits up higher for younger babies — as well as an organic cotton sheet and travel bag.
4. Lotus Travel Crib – EDITOR’S PICK ~ $198
I still think the Lotus is the best travel crib, followed closely by the BabyBjorn Travel Crib (below). It’s a tried and true favorite.
The crib, mattress, etc. weigh just 13 lbs and fold compactly into a backpack. The crib sets up in about 15 seconds and unlike most Pack ‘n Plays, the Lotus is also extremely simple to use (i.e., you don’t have to remember to pop the rails up first and push the hub down last, etc., etc.).
Reminiscent of crate-training a dog (kidding!), the Lotus also has a cool zip-open side door feature that kids love (yes, you can secure it from the outside). Other travel cribs lack this feature. Parents who’ve used this say it’s the best travel crib on the market. (Note: it’s also available as a bundle with the new lotus bassinet.)
Older babies and toddlers love to crawl in and out of this secret door, the thought being that it makes them more fond of being in the crib.
The mattress on the Lotus sits directly on the floor, so it won’t sag. Heck, mom or dad could even crawl through the opening and lie down with baby when times get tough. The only complaint is that the Lotus mattress is quite thin.
*For sheets, use the Guava Family Lotus cotton fitted sheet that has slots for the velcro tabs.
5. BABYBJORN Travel Crib Light ~ $299 ($287 on Amazon)
At a close second (of our favorites) is the Babybjorn Travel Crib Light, which also weighs around 13 lbs, although I am astounded by how much the price went up this year (2018). I don’t know many people who will spend $300 on a travel crib, but anyway…
The Bjorn crib comes in a square-shaped package with regular carry handles (not backpack style). It’s more like carrying a large (but lightweight) briefcase.
The Bjorn crib is also extremely fast and easy to set up and take down; simply pop it open and insert the mattress. The mattress is a bit thicker than the Lotus Crib’s and is held off the floor a couple of inches, so some say it’s more comfortable.
Bottom line: We especially like how lightweight and simple to set up the Lotus and Bjorn are, which is why they’re our top picks for travel. The Nuna and Chicco cribs are easy to set up, but a bit heavier.
There are a few other travel cribs available, such as Phil and Ted’s travel crib, but they pale in comparison to the others when it comes to the caliber of the product and the set-up. They tend to be pricey, tricky to assemble, and/or lacking in quality – watch out for flimsy products in this department.
Travel High Chairs
It’s a bummer having to eat every meal with a baby or toddler on your lap because you don’t have a high chair, especially for infants and one-year-olds. Again, if you can arrange a high chair at your destination, GREAT. If you need to BYO, here are our favorites:
My Little Seat isn’t really a high chair; rather, it’s a clever way of safely attaching your baby to the chair so he doesn’t fall off. The seat is a diaper-style harness and the fabric simply drapes over and affixes to an existing chair. However, because there’s no tray, you’ll have to be sure you can pull your little one all the way up to the table.
My Little Seat is a great device to use in restaurants and at friend’s houses because it’s minimally invasive.
It comes in a small stuff sack and will fit easily into any bag.
If space (or cost, for that matter) is a concern, this is your answer.
2. Airtushi ~ $29
This compact seat inflates super fast and attaches to any chair – great for camping! It has a 3-point harness, which prevents sideways falls. Easy to clean and deflates in 30 seconds to quickly pack away in your bag. *Best for use with a toddler, as it may be a bit big for babies.
3. Munchkin Travel Booster Seat ~ $34
Designed for babes 12 months and older (up to 50 lbs), the Munchkin Travel Booster is another great alternative.
Like the Little Seat, it affixes to an existing chair. It’s not only a toddler seat, but a storage bag with an inner pocket to stash diapering and feeding items, as well as toys. It folds into a stylish ltittle tote bag. Again, great for bringing over to a friend’s house as well.
4. Ciao! Baby Portable High Chair ~ $60 – Top Pick for Car Travel
This camping-style chair is great for car travel (too big for airline travel). It includes an attached tray, a carry bag, and weighs only about 8 lbs. Best of all, no assembly required! This is also a great chair to keep at grandma’s house. * For kiddos up to 3 years.
“Hook On” Style Chairs
Hook on (or clamp on) chairs are also very lightweight and portable and simply hook on to your tabletop or bar top. The risk is that the tabletop at your destination may not be compatible (i.e., if it’s too thick or has a lip along the underside). In my experience, this happens about 20% of the time.
1. Chicco Caddy Hook On Chair ~ $39
The Chicco Caddy (not to be confused with their stroller) Hook On Chair is our economy pick, though not one we recommend for daily use because it’s not as well built (and doesn’t hold up well after frequent washings).
The Chicco Caddy folds flat for easy storage and travel, has a wipe-clean seat and works for table skirting up to 6″ (great for thick table tops).
2. Guzzie + Gus Perch ~ $69
I was so happy to discover Guzzie + Gus at the 2016 Baby Show. Our favorite yet lesser-known clamp on chair is now the Perch, which is like the Inglesina Fast (the next product on the list), but with a much quicker installation.
It has a high back and high weight limit (35 lbs) and fits tabletops up to 4″ thick. Comes with cover. Machine wash AND dry (many have to be hung to dry, which can take a long time). Comes in many cute colors.
3. Inglesina Fast Table Chair ~ $79
Extremely well-made, the Inglesina Fast comes in an easy to carry, self-contained sack.
We used this seat for a couple of years at the breakfast bar at our old house and it held up very nicely. The downside is that the “screwing” of the clamps to tighten them can take a long time (the Guzzie + Gus is faster).
Maximum weight of 37 lbs. Fits table tops up to 3.5″ thick.
4. Phil & Teds Lobster High Chair ~ $89
The Phil & Teds Lobster High Chair is another favorite, albeit a little more expensive, but has an attached tray (the Inglesina does not). You can attach this light (nearly 4 lbs) seat to most sturdy tables with a thickness between 0.8”-3.75”. Also comes in a convenient stuff sack. For ages: 6 months-3 years (37 lbs max).
Travel Bath Tubs
For 0-6 months:
0-6 months is the only time period when it’s pretty darn difficult to bathe your baby in a sink, unless you have two pairs of hands. Babies over 6 months of age who can sit up unassisted can easily be bathed in a sink or regular tub, although some still prefer a proper baby tub whilst traveling. This particular item is low on my list, though I loved traveling with my ducky tub when my kids were smaller.
1. Summer Infant Deluxe Bather ~ $13
While not as compact as the Puj Tub (below), this collapsible bathing chair from Summer Infant is also great for the 0-6 month crowd. Can be used in a large sink or tub and the price is right. Good for a car trip, too big for airline travel.
2. Puj Flyte ~ $34
The Puj Flyte folds compactly for travel. Good for sink baths for the 0-6 month crowd. Heck, many people who live in tight spaces use it as their main tubbing device.
For 6 months+:
3. Munchkin Inflatable Duck Tub ~ $12 – Editor’s Pick
For 6+ month’ers, the Ducky Tub from Munchkin is my absolute fave.
The Duck inflates and deflates very easily, takes up almost no space in your luggage, and even quacks when you squeeze his beak. This is the best $12 you’ll ever spend on baby gear, I promise!
Travel Strollers and Such
Lugabug ~ $59
If you’re a “carry-on” person (you know who you are!), definitely check out the Lugabug. As you know, it’s very difficult to push a stroller and a suitcase at the same time (but not impossible! I’ve done it many times- HA).
The Lugabug is a seat that attaches to your suitcase – your kiddo simply hops on and you can wheel them all around the airport (if you don’t carry your luggage to the plane, it will have nothing to attach to — feel me?).
I get soooooo many questions and comments when I travel with my Lugabug, I feel like a walking advertisement. I love it for my short weekend flights when I’m traveling light and don’t want to check luggage. Highly recommend. Note: It’s better to use it with higher quality luggage (for cheap luggage, you risk breaking the wheels).
Serisouly, this thing is way cool — I’ve enjoyed it very much! Max weight is 60 lbs.
Yes, you can always bring your regular stroller on a trip, but if you’re like me, your trunk will fill up faster than you can blink. Whether on a car or plane trip, many moms prefer to bring along a lightweight travel stroller to lighten their load.
If you’re checking your stroller on a plane trip, it will take a lot of abuse from baggage handling, so do remember to remove those cup holders and other accessories that can easily fall or break off (I have lost two cup holders this way – gah!). Also, remember to tag your stroller (and your car seat, for that matter) at the desk beforehand so you don’t hold up the line while boarding.
Please see our separate article on our favorite travel strollers.
For the FULL story on flying with babies, download a copy of my handbook, Flying with Baby. It’s riveting! (kidding)
Travel Car Seats and Devices
All infant seats are perfect for travel, but here are some options if your little one has outgrown her infant seat:
This is the harness of a forward-facing car seat, without the actual seat. 🙂
CARES (child aviation restraint system) is an FAA-approved harness type child safety device, which you can attach to the back of an airplane seat. CARES is portable, extremely lightweight, and easy to install. If you hate carrying your car seat on a plane as much as I do, this is your new best friend. For children who are 22-44 lbs.
Convertible Car Seats
Convertible car seats are the most difficult to transport, mainly because they are heavy, bulky, don’t fit onto a stroller, and certainly don’t roll. However, there are a select few that are travel lifesavers. If you travel by plane frequently, do yourself a favor and pick up one of these lightweight seats.
*Don’t underestimate the difference between toting around one (or two) seats that weigh 10 or 11 lbs vs. seats that weigh 25-30 lbs (most nicer seats, like Britax, etc.). Good day-to-day seats, they are not, but for travel? The difference is night and day.
If you’re flying a lot and plan on taking your seat to the airplane (or to check it at the gate, which I recommend over checking it at the ticket counter), definitely invest in a car seat travel cart, such as the Britax Travel Cart or the Brica Roll ‘n Go (below).
… the crazy things we do for car seats…. no?
*Note that you can also rent a car seat (infant, convertible or booster) with your rental car at your destination.
1. Cosco Scenera NEXT ~ $45+ *Exclusive to Walmart*
The Cosco (NOT Costco – that’s different!) Scenera NEXT is an awesome little travel seat. Yes, it’s bare bones, but so deliciously lightweight. Use it forward-facing or rear-facing (up to 40 lbs). Affordable and less than 11 lbs?? Yes, siree (although you may curse the installation, LOL). For full review go here.
2. Evenflo Tribute LX ~ $59 – EDITOR’S PICK
A bit nicer than the Scenera, the Evenflo Tribute weighs just over 9 lbs. The Tribute has a removable head cushion for older kids, an upfront harness adjustment, and buckle release, as well as a body cushion, though it’s not the easiest to install. *Made in the US of A!
*40 lbs max weight
3. Safety 1st onSide Air ~ $59+
Moving up the ladder, here, the Safety 1st onSide Air seat features advanced air protect® technology for increased side-impact protection. Weighing in at about 12 lbs, this is the shell of the Cosco Scenera + the extra side-impact protection.
See also Safety 1st Guide 65.
Forward-Facing Car Seats
If your child is already forward-facing, do yourself a favor and get a forward-facing seat! These seats act just like a convertible seat in the forward-facing position (5-point harness and all), but without the weight of a convertible seat.
* Sometimes called “combination seats.”
THEN, when your child is ready for a high back booster, simply remove the harness and use with a seat belt. Huzzah!
Evenflo monopolizes this category with the Chase and the Maestro and are must-haves for traveling with a forward facing child (perfect for 3-4 year olds). These seats are MVPs in our arsenal of travel gear.
Eleven pounds, y’all.
Compared to your normal car seat, it’s like carrying a feather. And for $58 or $74? Forget it. You’ll spend more than $100 renting a crappy car seat, so just bring your own. I have both of these seats for my girls and they go on every flight we take. I look at parents schlepping their 26-lb Britax or Chicco (this one is 11 lbs!) and I feel bad for them. Plus, it’s nice to leave your regular car seats in your car. At home. Undisturbed.
Both of these seats include cup holders and are easy to adjust with the upfront harness adjuster.
I have used the following 2 travel boosters extensively. They’re both great, but they each have their pros and cons…
MiFold Travel Booster ~ $39
The miFold is a ridiculously small item that brings the seatbelt down instead of boosting the child UP (make sense?). It’s genius. You can literally stick this in your purse and be on your merry way. The size cannot be beat.
The major downside to this – versus a seat that’s super obvious like the Bubble Bum – is that it takes more time and attention to buckle and unbuckle it. You sort of have to know…. how to do it. I wouldn’t leave it up to a random person driving carpool to do it right (but I’m super anal). It’s takes some adjusting and some… finagling.
It is somewhat difficult to remove the belt from the guides on either side (the red parts shown above) — and it can be frustrating for kids trying to do it on their own. At the end of the day, this seat is best if small folded size is your top priority – and you don’t mind dealing with a little finagling. If you need a “no brainer” seat, on the other hand, I recommend the Bubble Bum…
FWIW, the MiFold is the one I bring on airplane trips. I can stuff it in the outer pocket of my suitcase and it’s sooooo easy 🙂 The Bubble Bum is a little more cumbersome to transport, but easier to use.
When we Uber around with the kids in the city or whatnot, I always bring my MiFolds because they fits in my purse! So rad.
Yes, the BubbleBum inflates (and deflates!) when not in use. And yes, it’s safe! Car seat technicians love this thing.
The BubbleBumCan be used for kids weighing 40-100 lbs (ages: ~4-11 years, although remember that harnessed seats are much safer for the littlest ones). Since the BubbleBum is a mere 13” wide, you can even fit three seats across the back seat of a vehicle!
Again, even totally deflated (I can never get all of the air out for some reason…), it’s a bit larger than the MiFold (I can fit the MiFold in my purse or outer pocket of my suitcase, but this one is a bit bigger). The advantage again is that it works just like any other booster – no guesswork.
A baby carrier is absolutely essential for travel, especially for air travel. It was the #2 most important rated item (next to booze), and I totally agree. If you don’t use a baby carrier, I don’t know how you do it!
Your regular baby carrier will work, but here are some travel-specific carriers made to be even more lightweight and compact (if you care about optimizing).
1. Infantino Sash Wrap and Tie Carrier ~ $34
Compact and cozy; great for travel. And the price is right!
2. Boba Air Baby Carrier ~ $69
Light-as-air (under 1 lb!), the Boba Air is ergonomic, made of sturdy nylon material, and can easily fit into tight spaces for travel. Conveniently folds into a hood pouch.
It’s helpful to have at least one baby gate wherever you’re staying to contain baby, if needed.
Please see Childproofing Travel Gear, Hacks and Advice
VTech Audio Monitor ~ $39
We’ve used this monitor for travels for years and for the price, it gets the job done. The range is decent (we can be sitting on the beach with a baby inside and you can still get reception). It’s not perfect, but it does the trick!
Totokan Cordless Baby Monitor ~ $209 on sale ($199 on Amazon when in stock)
The Totokan baby monitor can sync with your phone even when you’re somewhere that doesn’t have Wifi. It gets between 4 and 5 hours of battery life when it’s not plugged in (so you can use it camping – assuming there’s a way to recharge it), and its rugged case makes it water resistant and good for outdoor use. It also features night vision, a wide field of view, and a zoom lens.
A manual pump is imperative for travel, IMO. If you need to pump during a flight, in the car, or at the airport, you can do so pretty easily. I have used my hand pump while on a road trip (sitting in the back seat with a crying baby) since you can’t nurse while the car is in motion. Just pump and bottle feed since certain people-who-shall-remain-unnamed (ahem) hate stopping.
I suggest the Lansinoh Manual Pump because I dig the shields and the two-phase expression, but any hand pump will work.
Travel Nursing Pillow
If your baby is still very young (less than 4 months) and you’re reliant on your nursing pillow, you’re in luck!
An inflatable version of the My Brest Friend. Who knew? Packs flat to fit in a diaper bag or purse. Ideal for travel. Great for tandem feeding twins on the go as well!
That is all, folks.
Have a great trip!!! Keep your expectations low and your spirits high. Cheers!
- Travel Accessories for Young Kids
- Childproofing Travel Tips, Hacks and Advice
- Flying with Baby – Meg’s eBook