Updated April 2017
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!
Fret not, dear parent, you CAN do it (but do bring some booze just in case things get hairy). See also: Best Travel Accessories (headphones, games and such).
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 repeatedly (e.g., grandma’s house), it’s well worth it for grandma to get her own gear. 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. (coming soon: Grandparent’s Gear Guide)
Travel basics generally include the following:
- Travel Crib or Pack ‘n Play
- High Chair
- Infant Bath Tub (for 0-6 month’ers)
- Lightweight Stroller
- Car Seat
- Baby Carrier
- Baby Gate
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.
Bottom line: If someone else can provide it – let them!
You may also want to bring items that help your baby sleep, like a white noise machine. My Marpac Dohm goes wherever we go, but mainly because I’m addicted. For a travel sound machine check out Homedics Mini Sound Spa. I usually bring a baby monitor too, although you can also use a variety of apps for an impromptu baby monitor (requires two cellular phones).
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 playard). Will a regular PNP do the trick? Yes, absolutely. However, many parents prefer the lightweightey-ness and portability of a travel crib.
Travel cribs are in the neighborhood of 11 lbs, while regular playards (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 carry 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….).
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. *Includes mattress pad and fitted sheet.
For 0-3 Years
1. Lotus Travel Crib – EDITOR’S PICK ~ $199 (sale price), normally $249
The Lotus Travel Crib is our top pick, followed closely by the BabyBjorn Travel Crib (below).
The crib, mattress and backpack weigh 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 stupid 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).
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.
2. BABYBJORN Travel Crib Light ~ $198 (sale price), normally $299
At a close second is the Babybjorn Travel Crib Light, which also weighs around 13 lbs.
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 on the Lotus Crib and is held off the floor a couple of inches, so some say it’s more comfortable.
Bottom line: You’ll be very happy with either of these cribs. Essentially, the Lotus Crib is more compact and easier to carry (backpack-style), sits on the floor and has a cool zippered door, but perhaps isn’t as comfortable. The BJORN is incredibly easy to set up, may be more comfortable, but is a little cumbersome to transport.
Another option is the Valco Baby Zephyr ($119).
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. Munchkin Travel Booster Seat ~ $32
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.
3. Ciao! Baby Portable High Chair ~ $50 – Top Pick for Car Travel
This camping-style chair is great for car 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 ~ $69
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).
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 ~ $14
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, y’all, I promise. You’re welcome 😉
Travel Strollers and Such
Lugabug ~ $69
If you don’t want to bring your stroller on your flight, check out the Lugabug. It attaches to your suitcase, so it’s ideal for parents with carry-on luggage (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. Max weight is 60 lbs. Highly recommend. Better to use it with higher quality luggage (for cheap luggage, you risk breaking the wheels).
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 an umbrella stroller or another lightweight/travel stroller to lighten their load.
If you’re checking your stroller on a plane trip, remember 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.
For the FULL story on flying with babies, download a copy of my handbook, Flying with Baby. It’s riveting! (kidding)
A. Umbrella Strollers
Remember, if you’re checking your stroller at the gate, you may consider a gate check travel bag, like this one from JL Childress (although I don’t futz with these, they take too much time).
1. Summer Infant 3D Lite ~ $63, 12 lbs – ECONOMY PICK
Many parents agree that this stroller is perfect for travel because of the anti-shock front wheels, which work great over light terrain like cobblestone and dirt (don’t use on gravel or rough terrain). The 3D Lite comes with a decent storage basket (for umbrellas, at least) and a cup holder. [read more here] They also make a version that specifically holds a lot of gear called the 3D “Tote”. It will give you some much-needed storage for your travels.
2. UPPAbaby G-Lite ~ $179, 11 lbs
The G-Lite has it all: it folds down smoothly, has a generous sun canopy, stands when folded, and weighs a mere 11 lbs. The build quality of UPPBaby strollers is superior, so this is the stroller that will last many years. However, it does not recline (otherwise, it would be heavier, ya heard? ). [read more here]
For a reclining version of the G-Lite, check out the more popular G-Luxe. A little heavier (15 lbs) and more expensive, but with all the amenities. Both have the same great quality we expect from UPPAbaby. [read more here]
B. “Travel Strollers” (non-umbrella)
There are other travel strollers that are very lightweight, but have a more boxy fold; therefore, they are not technically umbrellas.
1. Urbini Humming Bird Stroller ~ $68+, 6.61 lbs
A stroller less than 7 lbs exists! At just 6.61 lbs, the Urbini Humming Bird is the lightest and cheapest non-umbrella stroller we recommend for travel and quick trips. Fast and easy to assemble and disassemble, but perhaps not the greatest quality stroller.
For this price: not too shabby — the storage basket is roomy, the stroller stands upright when folded, and accommodates up to 50 lbs. Users note that the Humming Bird is not meant to roll over uneven surfaces. It reclines to an extent (enough to nap, perhaps), and has tall handlebars (good for tall parents). Available at WalMart.
2. Zoe XL1 Best V2 ~ $199, 11 lbs
11 pounds, y’all.
Not sure how many kilos that is, but you can Google it.
The Zoe XL1 is a great all-purpose lightweight stroller – and perfect for travel. They focused on the things parents love the most, like a huge canopy, a quick, one-handed fold, and a large basket.
The seat reclines 165 degrees (3 months+) AND you get all the extras for free: a parent cup holder, a child’s cup holder, a snack cup, and a belly bar. All that. If you’re looking for an inexpensive, do-it-all travel stroller, look no further.
*We love the double – the Zoe XL2 as well – check out the full review here.
3. GB Pockit ~ $179, 9.5 lbs
Just watch this 30 second video below. ‘Nuff said.
The GB Pockit is in a class of its own — it folds soooo ultra, ultra small — about the size of a large book. It too weighs 9.5 lbs, but you can throw this one in a large backpack (you can’t with the others).
Fewer amenities with this one (small canopy, small storage basket, etc.), but perfect when space is at a premium.
4. Mountain Buggy Nano ~ $209, 13 lbs
The Mountain Buggy Nano has an on-board car seat adapter and weighs only 13 lbs, which is also less than many umbrellas. Traveling with this stroller is no problem due to its compact fold and accessories, including a shoulder strap and a travel bag. Best of all? Because it doesn’t have umbrella handles, you can steer it with one hand.
See the baby show demo of the Nano below:
The Nano has a maximum weight capacity of 44 lbs (~4 years of age).
5. Babyhome Emotion ~ $195+, 13 lbs
As of mid-2017, Babyhome is no longer available in the US – all of their inventory went back to Spain. That said, we are leaving this review up (for now) as you may still be able to locate a few pieces in store or online. Yes, we are sad about this too!
The Emotion was designed to be a “do-it-all” stroller with high-end touches, all while remaining lightweight and super compact.
It’s 13 pounds, you guys. YEAHHH, you heard me. One-handed steering. Perfect for travel!
6. Baby Jogger City Tour ~ $159, 14.21 lbs
It’s the same City Mini we know and love, but even more compact!
*If your destination calls for all-terrain, definitely, definitely consider the City Mini GT — not exactly a travel stroller, but the most compact of the all-terrains out there.
The folded stroller fits neatly into the backpack-style carry bag (included). The weight is only 14 lbs (vs 18 lbs. for the regular version). This is a travel stroller that still gives you a nice comfy reclining seat and most of the amenities you’d find in a larger stroller.
See also the amazing Babyzen Yoyo, which is awesome for travel, but more of a stroller you’d buy and use every day due to its price ($495).
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 GO-GO Babyz, the Britax Travel Cart, or the Brica Roll ‘n Go (above).
*Note that you can also rent car seats (infant, convertible or booster) with your rental car at your destination.
1. Cosco Scenera NEXT ~ $44+ *Exclusive to Walmart*
The Cosco (NOT Costco) 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 ~ $45+ – 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. *Made in the US of A! ‘Merica!
*40 lbs max weight
3. Safety 1st onSide Air ~ $78
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.
11 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, and I feel bad for them.
Both of these seats include cup holders and are easy to adjust with the upfront harness adjuster.
For your older children who are already in a booster, the BubbleBum is AH-mazing.
Yes, it inflates (and deflates!) when you’re not using it.
Can be used for kids weighing 40-100 lbs (ages: ~4-11 years, although remember that harnessed seats are much safer for the little ones). Since the BubbleBum is a mere 13” wide, you can even fit three seats across the back seat of a vehicle! Yes, it’s safe! Car seat technicians love this thing.
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.
1. Infantino Sash Wrap and Tie Carrier ~ $29
Compact and cozy; great for travel. And the price is right!
2. Boba Air Baby Carrier ~ $65
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.
Height: 27 in, Width range: 38-60 in
The Safety 1st Wide Doorways Fabric gate is lightweight and easy to carry, and it includes a storage bag. Users like the durability and being able to see little ones (and pets) through this wide, transparent gate. * Fabric gates are also cheaper than wood or metal ones in general.
A manual pump is imperative for air travel. 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.
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.