by Jenna Kutcher
I’m gonna start this post by saying: I was a little freaked out about traveling with a baby when we were planning to head to Hawaii and so I did a LOT of research on alllll the things before we left. I knew we’d survive but I had so many questions: how does TSA work, what do you check, what should go in a carry-on, what’s really necessary…. the list goes on and on. We had four flights in three days on the way out and three flights on the way home, so while we aren’t experts on…. anything, I think that 24 hours in the air with a newborn counts for something, right?
*Before you ask why we had so many flights, we had to reschedule all of our travel 24 hours before we left due to the polar vortex and when we fly out of the tiniest airport (Duluth, MN) we have to go to either Minneapolis or Chicago before making the first big part of the trip! I have status with American Airlines which isn’t in the Duluth airport (yet) so we have to swap airlines, too, if we use our miles! Fun! We opted to break up the 12 hours of airtime and spend one night in LAX, hence a lot of flights and a lot of TSA checks to get us to where we were going.
I had to search article by article to piece together the information and so I wanted to create a comprehensive list of the things I wish I knew about traveling with a babe or the things that could be found in my google search bar before we left. The best part about this post? I’m typing it while 10,000 feet in the air on the way home from Maui while our little baby girl is sleeping in daddy’s arms, so spoiler alert: she rocked it. Here’s all the things I wondered and our experience traveling from Minnesota to Maui with our baby.
First things first: how to pack
As two people who haven’t checked a bag in years and are used to traveling exceptionally light, we were serious about condensing down our luggage as much as possible to make sure that we could manage it on our own. Since we were packing for over a month, we needed to pack thoughtfully not just for her, but for us. Since I had just finished watching Marie Kondo on Netflix, I was inspired to pack smart and stay organized. Here’s how we did it…
1 Full Size Suitcase: (Checked Baggage) We used an AWAY suitcase, full size for this. I used lingerie organizers for baby girl’s clothes and extras, I bought them on Amazon and folded everything into them. I was excited by this because it’s easy to see everything we brought for her and when we arrive, we can just put those right into the dresser without unpacking. We also used two packing cubes, one for each of us for our clothes (funny how we packed way more for her than for us!) In this bag we included our shoes, workout gear, and any extras that weren’t necessary to carry-on! We also brought her Snuggle Me Organic pad and just squished it in there! This was what she slept in when we had to overnight in LA and it worked awesome and didn’t take up too much space since you can pack things inside of it too.
1 Carry On Suitcase: (Carried On) We used an AWAY suitcase, carry-on size for this. We actually didn’t need anything from this suitcase in all of our four flights but we wanted to have it packed thoughtfully in case our luggage was lost or we needed extras. In this bag, we used packing cubes and I included: outfit changes for both her and us, (in case we had any poop/puke incidents) my breast pump accessories, my toiletries, my camera, and extra diapers and wipes. We only opened this suitcase during our stayovers and kept our full-size one shut and sealed, which was great! So essentials were in here and it was our contingency plan!
The UPPABaby Stroller and Carseat: (Checked Luggage) With most airlines you can check baby items for free, so we checked both our VISTA stroller and MESA car seat. We did bring our car seat base along as well, which fit into the travel bag. When we had picked out which items we wanted, we knew we wanted a travel system that would make traveling as easy as possible and so UPPAbaby ended up being our choice. There are tons of awesome options out there and this was a more spendy choice but what’s awesome is you can use the stroller in so many ways, with a rumble seat, with your car seat, forward or back facing… they thought of everything.
With UPPAbaby, you can also purchase travel bags for the stroller and the car seat (which are a bit of an investment) but they protect your gear through the TravelSafe program and if anything breaks while in them, UPPAbaby will replace them, so it’s almost insurance on your gear and since we want it to last a few years, we invested in those bags and they were totally worth it. All you have to do is register your products and use those bags when you travel.
It’s a good thing we invested in those travel bags because when we got our checked stroller, the frame was broken by the airlines. UPPAbaby shipped us a new frame within two days for free because we had it in the travel bags and while we waited, we just hooked our car seat into the stroller base and were good to go! It was incredible customer service! We ended up checking both of these even though you can opt to gate check and we were happy to not have to haul them through TSA and disassemble by the jet bridge. If she were bigger or we had long layovers, we’d likely have brought our stroller through just to use in the airport, but checking them freed us up even more.
Ticketing with a baby
When booking your trip, make sure you denote that you will have an infant in arms. This will be marked on your ticket when boarding. I wasn’t sure what they needed for her… turns out, it’s not much. Hilariously, we had packed her birth certificate only to swap bags last second and leave it behind. Thankfully we had taken photos of her birth certificate and her social security card just in case and so we had those on our phones should we need them. We didn’t need them for any of our flights but we were thankful we thought through a backup plan. For one of the airlines we got an actual boarding pass for her, even though she was on my lap and for the other airline, it was just denoted on my ticket that we had an infant in arms, so this part was easy peasy for us and nothing to worry about.
Going through TSA with a baby
When I was researching this, there was a ton of conflicting information on what TSA would have you do and I suppose it would change a bit if we had opted to bring our stroller through security, but since we decided to check it, I ended up just wearing her in a baby wrap on me for all 6 TSA checks… yes, we went through TSA six times between our flights out and flights home. We did this through all three airports we went through (including Chicago and LAX) and basically they had me just walk through the metal detector and then they swabbed my hands and we were good to go! It was super, super easy and everyone was really kind.
I also brought through breast milk and wasn’t positive how all the rules worked on that, but you can essentially bring any amount of breast milk through. I had two filled bottles in my carry on and I just placed those bottles into a tray and they went through without any difficulties. My pump was in our carry on and so my bag got flagged twice but they just peeked at it and let me through without any issues. Again, way easier than I thought.
I highly, highly recommend wearing your baby through the airport if they are small enough and are comfortable being worn. My Solly wrap came in super handy during our travel days and I would basically wrap her in when we got to the airport, wear her through security, and I didn’t take her out until we were seated on the plane and had sanitized everything in our vicinity! Then after we landed, I wrapped her back on to free up my hands to grab our bags. Not only did it feel like we were keeping her more protected but it freed up my hands and made navigating the airport way easier.
On the plane with a baby
With a lot of airlines, you can board early as a family. So you’re now those people who qualify as guests who need a little extra time! This is awesome because you can get on and get yourself and baby situated before the long line starts. We bought Babyganics wet wipes to clean all the surfaces around us before we took her out of the carrier and then we got our spots all set with the things we wanted for ourselves in flight and what we’d need close for her. I basically had: diapers, wipes, a swaddle blankie, a change of clothes, pacifier, and hand sanitizer in a little tote that was within reach.
This isn’t new advice but it worked really well for us, but the trick is to try and nurse or feed during takeoff and landing to help their little ears adjust! I did my best to try and time out her feedings so that she’d be hungriest around when our flight was taking off. I had an extra sweater in my bag and used our plane blankies to give me a little more padding and to make nursing a little more comfortable but nursing on the plane worked really well. We also had a pumped bottle as back up in case Drew needed to feed her but we didn’t end up needing it on any flight. She basically ate, slept, and stared the entire time and didn’t make a peep (which I think everyone around us was grateful for!)
I did change her on the planes. Over the toilet in the lavatories are a little fold-down table to change them on. It’s not awesome, but we had brought along a changing pad and so it wasn’t all that challenging to change her in the bathroom there. Full disclosure, we also changed her in my lap once right before we landed. It was just a soggy diaper so it didn’t stink and I wasn’t sure if I could get it done before the seatbelt sign went on again.
I was a little nervous to be “those people” with the small baby but overall everyone loved her and was super kind and encouraging to us, especially the flight attendants. We used my sky miles and flew in first class, so I was concerned at what people would think but everyone was awesome and one guy even turned around after a 6-hour flight and said, “Whoa, you had a baby on here the whole time?” I have to admit: we are really lucky Conley rarely cries, we get it, not every flight will be like this. On both of our long flights, they sent us home with a bottle of wine so either it was to celebrate how good she was or they thought we just needed more alcohol in our lives, either way, I’m not complaining.
Baggage claim and beyond
This part made me so thankful to have a partner with me because for those solo-parenting, I bow down to you…. There is SO much stuff. So even with us packing relatively light, we had our hands full when leaving baggage claim. I wore Conley in her carrier and carried the car seat in the travel bag and wheeled a suitcase while Drew took the other suitcase and wheeled the stroller, we both had our backpacks on our backs.
It was a lot to handle and we had our hands full but we were able to navigate shuttles and get to our rental car without any problems using this system. Let’s just say that we got in our workouts and had to just prepare to carry the loads… attitude is everything. For those flying solo, I’d definitely get a luggage cart to help you get out of there with all of your items or encourage you to pack as lightly as possible! If you can have a larger taxi like a minivan, it can help make the travel easier. We also had to set up our car seat in the cab and our taxi driver was really understanding and lovely.
Pack lighter through renting gear
One thing a lot of people don’t know is that many destinations have baby gear that you can rent or use! At our condo’s we have a pack and play, a DockaTot, and a high chair for our guests, so always check to see what your destination might have that you can use during your stay. We ended up renting a SNOO bassinet for our month in Hawaii since that’s what Conley sleeps in at home and we love it. The rental service dropped it off at our place the day we arrived and then they come to pick it up when we are done. It’s so awesome keeping our routine with bedtime and keeping things consistent, especially when sleep is at play.
On the travel days out to Hawaii and our final nights when we stayed at The Andaz, she slept in her Snuggle Me Organic and in a swaddle with her white noise and in a crib at the hotel and she did great with all of that change from routine and our normal schedule. Many rental companies have things like: strollers, wagons, pack and plays, bassinets, and more that you can use during your trip which can allow you to pack lighter.
What I wish I would have known
Leading up to our trip, I had a lot of nerves: would she be okay? Would we regret it? What if she cried the entire time? I had spent a lot of time piecemealing articles together trying to find the simple answers I hope I covered for you today. Overall, our travel experience with a 6 week old was incredible. Even with a lot of flights to and from Maui, we smiled, laughed, and had a great experience. So much of it is YOU. Be prepared for some curveballs, a blowout or two, and the need to hit your “call light” to order a vodka drink if things get a little crazy. You can do this, you will survive, and you’ll be thankful you were adventurous and went for it.
We are so grateful Conley rocked the travel and it gave us the confidence to know that we can still go on vacations and just bring her along for the ride. My best advice for traveling with a baby is to stay relaxed, set low expectations, give yourself extra time, and a lot of extra grace, and embrace the chaos! You are making beautiful memories for your family and proving that you really can do anything! You got this, we believe in you!