Traveling with Infants: The Essentials

Infant travel tips

Flickr Credit: treehouse1977

After the first few months (or weeks) of having your newborn baby at home, you might be getting a little stir crazy. Or your family or friends who live a few hours away begin clamoring loud enough that they’d like to see you, and you feel brave enough to take a family trip. Traveling with infants can be a major challenge. With a few tricks up your sleeve, you can make the ride a little bit easier. Our guide is broken down into three sections:

Day-to-Day Essentials
Taking Baby Out In Public
Infant Sleep While Traveling

Day-to-Day Essentials for Infant Care

First off, the easy stuff. You’ll need enough of those daily things that your baby needs, including but not limited to:

  • Formula and/or baby food. It’s best to over-estimate how much you need, because these can be expensive when you buy them out of town. You should have enough clean bottles and nipples within reach, as well as bottles of clean water for mixing. One item that can be a life-saver when traveling with infants is pre-mixed, ready-to-feed liquid formula. These seem to taste a bit different from the powder, so make sure your baby likes it before you leave town.
  • Diapers and wipes. Calculate how many you need per day per baby, and then add 20% just to be safe. The importance of diapers is often underestimated! There can be unforeseen blowouts or bouts of digestive issues. Plus, traveling is much easier when you’re not trying to stretch diapers.
  • Baby clothes. Pack plenty of these, and go for comfort over cuteness. Think about what your newborn should sleep in. Footed pajamas or onesies are easier to keep track of than socks. Same thing with single-piece garments over two-piece outfits.
  • Car seat. You have this already, because it’s the law. If you’re flying, be certain ahead of time that there will be a car seat waiting for the ride from the airport to wherever you’re going. If it’s a shuttle and they don’t offer one, bring your own.
  • Stroller. Unless you plan to lug your baby around in his or her car seat the whole time, bring along an umbrella stroller or travel system. See our Pram & Stroller Reviews for some of the best options.
  • Toiletries. Don’t forget the little things like Q-tips, diaper rash cream, and baby toothbrushes. For a full list, see our article on 14 things for baby’s medicine cabinet.

Adjusting Your Baby’s Car Seat

The more comfortable your baby is, the more relaxed he’ll be. That’s the key to traveling with babies. It starts in the car with a properly adjusted car seat.

  • Adjust the straps of the car seat to the proper height. Your baby’s grown since you came home from the hospital. For most car seats, you make this adjustment before putting the baby in because it involves flipping the seat upside down. Set the straps so that they’re at shoulder level or slightly above.
  • Position the baby deep into the seat and in a comfortable posture. It’s OK to use the head support and such that came with the seat, but no after-market products, as these haven’t been crash-tested with the seat. The only thing permissible is a rolled-up receiving blanket. For newborns, you may need two or three rolled-up blankets to keep them upright and in position.
  • Keep the light out. One lesson we learned the hard way on long car trips is that even tinted windows don’t keep the sun out, especially in summertime. It seems like every other stretch of highway puts the sunbeams right in your baby’s face. You might not even realize this because the seat is rear-facing. Get a pair of pull-down window shades for cars. In a pinch, I’ve also tied towels or blankets to the “oh crap” handle above the door. If your baby’s car seat has a canopy, use that too – most of them rotate 180 degrees.

Taking Baby Out in Public

Newborn baby carrier reviews

Baby Carrier Reviews

When you’re traveling, you’ll most likely spend more time taking your infant in public – stores, restaurants, that sort of thing. One thing that you will immediately notice is that babies have a strange effect on people. Complete strangers will approach and greet your baby, often making silly faces or noises to try to get a smile. This stuff is fine. What you  need to watch out for is this: people will come up and touch your baby without asking you. They often don’t even realize it – there’s some base instinct acting here. My grandmother was notorious for this.

Being a germophobe, I don’t like strangers touching my baby, especially his hands which are likely to return any moment to his mouth. Here are the strategies I use to prevent it:

  1. Block access to the baby. If your car seat or stroller has a canopy, use it. Keep your baby close to you at all times, so that you can use your body as another barrier. See our review of newborn baby carriers to learn about some great options for keeping baby close but your hands free.
  2. Be ready to speak and act. If I see someone reaching for my baby, I ask them to stop. If necessary, I will physically block their outstretched, likely-unwashed fingers. I do try to be nice while doing this; one phrase that seems to help is when I say “Oh, sorry, he’s just getting over a cold.”
  3. Keep hand sanitizer with you at all times. Use it liberally on your baby’s hands in the event that someone touches them. You should also use it yourself after touching door handles, cart handles, cash, public-use writing utensils, that sort of thing.

Baby High Chair / Shopping Cart Covers

One of the best baby items that we ever bought was a highchair/shopping cart cover. These serve several purposes. First, they’re soft and padded to protect your baby from the hard surface of the chair or cart. Second, they help catch anything that your baby might drop, such as a pacifier. Third, they act as a germ barrier between your baby and whatever the previous babies in that chair have had. People are always coming up and asking where we got ours.

travel high chairPortable High Chairs

Another very useful item to pack along for baby road trips is a portable high chair. This is something I always seem to forget when we’re going places with the kids, and them I’m always kicking myself for it. Portable high chairs like the Ciao Baby travel high chair have so many uses for when you’re out and about with a baby:

  • A clean place to plop the baby when visiting friends
  • At a picnic or outdoor party, somewhere safe and bug-free for baby to sit.
  • An excuse not to borrow the dirty or rickety old high chair from someone’s garage
  • A slight reduction in the mess your little messy eater will leave behind

Helping Your Infant Sleep While Traveling

Traveling with your infant is easiest when he’s sleeping. Unfortunately, babies have trouble sleeping in strange environments, and you can’t take the entire baby room with you. Still, with a little bit of planning, you can bring along a few essentials to help establish a comfortable, portable sleeping setup for your infant. Alternatively, if you’re traveling to the lake cabin or grandparents’ house, what better place to install a mini crib or bassinet? That way your little one always has a place to sleep and call their own.

  1. Pacifier clip. At home, if the pacifier falls on the floor it’s no big deal. A quick rinse and wipe, and you pop it right back into the baby’s mouth. When traveling, it’s another story. If it falls in the car you can’t find it; if it falls on the floor of a restaurant or store or hotel room, there’s no way you’re putting it right back in. Enter one of the best inventions ever for baby care: the pacifier clip. It fits most pacifiers and attaches snugly to your baby’s outfit or sleep sack. There’s always a pacifier handy when this thing is attached. Don’t leave home without one.
  2. Travel crib or pack-N-play. Your baby needs a soft, protected place to sleep while you’re traveling. Traditionally, you lugged along a pack-N-play (also called a play yard) for your baby to sleep in. High-end models come with built-in bassinets, changers, and compartments, but those don’t travel as well as the basic pen does. But there are some other options out there: compact folding bassinets and cribs designed to be travel friendly. See our review of portable travel cribs for some of the best options there.
  3. Portable swing. We have a Fisher-Price portable swing like this one, we love it. It folds up flat enough to stick behind the front seat of the mini-van. It runs on batteries, is quiet, and very soft. Babies love this thing. An added bonus is that this swing is small enough to keep in the corner of a room, and keeps your baby off of the floor. For a breakdown of the features, see our comparison of baby swings.
  4. A portable night light like this one, which is rechargeable and comes in a variety of animal shapes, is a comfort you can take along with you. The trick is to use the same light at home, so that your baby is accustomed to it. See our guide to night lights for babies for details.
  5. Sound machine. You won’t be able to control much of the noise in a car, on an airplane, or even in your hotel room. To soothe your baby and provide some white noise, look into a baby soother or sound machine. They even make portable versions of these.

Establishing A Routine for Putting Baby to Bed

bedtime routines for babyOne of the most important things you can do to help your baby get to sleep is establish a daily routine. You should start this the day your baby comes home from the hospital! A bedtime routine has two parts: a schedule specifying the times of day that you put your baby to bed, and a series of events that you go through every time before doing so. Since our main goal is to get a baby to sleep through the night, we’ll focus on the nighttime routine.

Why Establish a Bedtime Routine?

Establishing a bedtime routine for your baby early on has many, many advantages. It helps you plan your day and evening. It saves time. It helps you to remember to do everything, like put on a night-time diaper. A good routine also teaches your baby that certain events will be followed by him or her going to bed. It’s a subtle reminder that this isn’t just a nap, this is the big sleep overnight. In time, you’ll find that a sleep routine relaxes your baby and prepares him, physically and mentally, to fall asleep. Do it right, and he’ll usually be asleep the moment you put him in bed.

When to Start the Routine

It might surprise you to learn that putting your baby to bed early can help him or her sleep longer. This seems counter-intuitive, I know, but it worked for my boys. It turned out that we were keeping them up until 8:30 or so, and they were ready for bed by 7:30. So start your baby bedtime routine early enough to have your baby ready for bed when the first signs of sleepiness show. See Benefits of an Early Bedtime for details.

Elements of A Baby’s Bedtime Routine

Here are the seven basic steps that you’ll probably follow when putting your baby to bed at night.

  1. Bath
  2. Bottle and Feeding
  3. Burping
  4. Clean Diaper
  5. Sleeping Clothes
  6. Rocking and/or Soothing
  7. Pacifier
  8. Room and Bed


This is optional, but a bath is a wonderful way to get your baby clean and relaxed. Make sure the water is the right temperature. If you use a little cloth-covered baby holder in the bathtub, splash it with warm water right before you put the baby in. If these things get wet, they become chilly and your baby won’t like it.

See our article on 7 steps to the perfect baby bath.

Baby bath routine

Baby Bathtub


Your goal is to get the baby to eat as much as is comfortably possible. For most babies, the amount of food ingested is directly related to how long they’ll sleep afterward. For newborns, this is milk. If you’re not nursing, make sure the milk is nice and warm. Not lukewarm, but body-temperature warm.

As soon as you can give your baby cereal, make that a part of the nightly routine. If your baby is old enough to start solid food, give that around dinnertime. Let it sit a bit, and then follow with a bottle.  See my post on nighttime feeding for more.

Baby feeding routine

Baby Cereal


You will need to burp your baby thoroughly, to help prevent gas discomfort and nighttime spit-ups. Do this after solid food, too, since even spoon-fed babies can get bubbles in the tummy.

If you’re having trouble getting a burp, or your infant seems to have some discomfort, see my post on helping babies with gas.


The importance of diapers for sleep is something you might not fully appreciate. Usually, changing a baby right before feeding and burping is just fine, as long as it’s not noticeably wet or dirty.

If you find that your baby often wakes up with a very wet diaper, look into Huggies Overnites. These have extra padding to wick away more moisture during the longer sleeping hours. We used them from size 3 to size 5.

Overnight Diapers


You should always change your baby into fresh clothes before bed, ideally nice soft pajamas with covered feet and long sleeves. Don’t put the baby to bed in day clothes. I highly recommend that you swaddle a newborn. If you aren’t going to swaddle, use a baby sleep sack or sleeping bag keeping him warm and snug. Avoid overheating your baby! At most, infants should have one more layer on than an adult might to feel comfortable. See my guide to what a newborn should sleep in.

Sleep Sack

Rocking and/or Soothing

This is the winding-down time just before you put the baby to bed. Rocking the baby in your arms or a rocking chair is a great soothing technique. You might also try reading to your baby, a great habit to get into.

See our list of favorite baby bedtime books for some suggestions of short but soothing night-night reads.

Favorite Baby bedtime books

Bedtime book


A good, clean pacifier should be part of the routine. Keep a couple of extras in the bed in case you need to find one in the dark. I was surprised to learn that pacifiers are recommended by pediatricians to protect against SIDS.

Once your baby is asleep, you don’t have to stick the pacifier back in if it falls out. See also our recommendations of the best baby pacifiers.


 Room and Bed

The room should be dark, with the possible exception of a night light. The bed should be empty of extraneous blankets, stuffed animals, clothes, etc. Turn on a soother or sound machine to help your baby relax.

Put him in, make sure his blanket is secure, and leave the room. Note, it’s advisable that you put your baby to bed while he or she is still awake. This teaches your baby to soothe himself to sleep, so that he can fall asleep on his own.

Portable Nightlight

It is critical that you set a pattern and stick to it as much as possible. The bath-bottle-bed routine is a classic, and it works because it trains your baby that when those things are done, it’s time to go to sleep. Once the baby is settled and asleep, it’s probably a good time to hit the sack yourself. You hear this bit of advice over and over: when they sleep, you sleep.

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Choosing a Night Light for Baby

choosing a night light for babySome say the room should be totally dark when the baby goes to sleep. For newborns that fall asleep on their own anyway, this is perfectly reasonable. As babies get older, the process of going to sleep becomes less automatic. Teaching your baby to fall asleep by himself or herself is important to do at a young age. To succeed, you should make everything as routine as possible – sleeping on a set schedule, in an environment that’s always the same. This means putting the baby to bed in the same bed, facing the same direction, in a room with constant temperature.

Should my baby have a night light?
Choosing a night light
Projection Night Lights
Portable Night Lights
Basic Wall Night Lights

Should My Baby Have A Night Light?

Controlling the level of darkness in the room matters as well – at night, it’s easy to keep a room pitch-black, but this has some disadvantages: first, you end up stumbling into everything and possibly poking your baby in the eye because you can’t see. Second, if your baby’s room has windows, the room will generally be lighter during the day even with shades and curtains drawn.

Using a night light in your baby’s room can offer several advantages:

  • It helps the parents see better in the dark so that they can get around
  • It can provide a more consistent level of light (and sound) for your baby at bedtime
  • It offers a comfort to babies who don’t like falling asleep in total darkness.
  • Fancier nightlights that change colors, play music, and project lights on the ceiling keep your baby entertained while he’s in bed.

Choosing a Night Light for Baby

As with most baby products, there are hundreds of products available. Choosing the best night light for a baby’s room depends on a number of factors: the size, the brightness, the availability of an outlet, the cost, etc. Here’s a selection of night lights of various kinds, from the basic to the fancy-pants models.

Projection Night Lights

The latest night lights do more than simply glow – they project lighted shapes or designs on the ceiling.
These are all the rage right now. One of the more popular ones is a turtle that projects a constellation
of stars up on the ceiling (he also comes as a sea turtle or ladybug). Undoubtedly these use a bit more
electricity, but they provide relatively safe and passive entertainment for your baby before he falls asleep.

twilight turtle night light for baby Twilight Turtle Starry Constellation Night Light
This turtle night light projects a complete starry night sky to the ceiling of your baby’s room in blue, amber, and green light. Embedded in the star patterns are eight actual constellations including the Big Dipper. It has a 45-minute auto-shutoff and runs on three AAA batteries (included).This night light plays music for up to half an hour as well. In 2013 this was the #1 selling baby item on Amazon. It’s also available in sea turtle and lady bug forms. We love it so much that we have a whole article on starry night night lights.
twilight turtle night light for baby Summer Infant Slumber Buddies Elephant
Since virtually everyone seems to have the Twilight Turtle, I went looking for a different. I found this adorable elephant “Slumber Buddy” from Summer Infant. It has all the features of the turtle — the projected stars in different colors, a 5-10-15 minute timer, 5 different melodies, etc. — but it costs about half as much and you can buy it at
Fisher-Price Zoo Crib’N Go Projector Soother
This combination projection night light, music player, and crib mirror attaches to the side of your baby’s crib. In soother mode, it projects a night light image on the wall that changes between two different scenes, and plays music for 18 minutes (classical music or lullaby).Alternatively, you can remove the projection partand it’s a crib mirror for your baby to look at and play with.
baby projection night lightbaby projection night light Homedics Soundspa LullabyHomedics projection night light
We have this night light, which has about three hundred reviews on Amazon. It creates a soothing environment for your baby to go to sleep, complete with a gently-rotating image projection (3 different options) and sound (heartbeat, ocean surf, rainforest, or one of three lullabies). There’s an automatic shutoff timer that’s easy to use; you can set it for 15, 30, or 45 minutes.Our twins and their 2-year old sister loved the image projection. Unfortunately, we’ve had to exchange it because the projection rotation feature stopped working; this seems to be a common issue. When it works, though, this is a bright, entertaining night light.
projection night light mobile Fisher Price 2-in-1 Projection Mobile
This is a combination music box, mobile, and projection night light. The mobile has four little stuffed animals (a teal whale, white polar bear, green alligator, and yellow lion). You can remove the mobile part and just use it as a music box that projects to the ceiling.It takes two AAA batteries and includes a remote control. There are three different music settings as well: classical music, ocean white noise, or heartbeat/womb white noise.

Portable Night Lights

Portable night lights offer another option – these are either rechargeable or run on batteries. The main advantage is that they’re generally baby-safe and you can take them with you on trips or in the car. Kinderglo makes a series of rechargeable ones that are BPA-free and safe to touch. There are also numerous toys that serve as portable night lights; the Playskool Gloworm is one that lights up and plays a little song whenever the belly is squeezed.

Kinderglo Elephant/Moon Rechargeable Night Lightsportable baby night light
Kinderglo makes a portable night light that runs on rechargeable batteries. They have a single, large button that changes the color to red, green, or blue. These LED night lights are safe to handle and BPA-free; your baby can touch and play with them.There are several designs available including brontosaurusbaby night light dinosaur and quarter moon night lights.
Boon Glo Nightlight with Portable Balls
This modern night light could be right out of a science fiction movie. The powered base has LED lights, which charge the removable balls on top of them so that they glow in the dark. The balls themselves are about the size of a ripe plum and contain no electronics in them; they’re safe to handle and durable enough for a toddler to play with.The default mode is soft bluish-white light, but it has an option to slowly cycle through different colors. This space-age night light will entertain and impress in retro or modern decor nurseries.
gloworm baby sleep doll Playskool Lullaby GlowormPlayskool lullaby gloworm
Our daughter received one of these Playskool Gloworms as a gift, and at first, we didn’t even open it. Turns out, when we got it out of the packaging, she loved it. When you press its belly, the worm’s face lights up (for about 5 seconds) and plays a little song that lasts about 15 seconds.Change it out of demo mode, and it plays some additional songs (including Pachelbel’s Canon in D) which are a bit longer, say 30-40 seconds. The battery life was pretty good and I like that this doll is soft and ultra-portable. We’ve taken it on trips with our daughter; she’ll press it over and over again until she falls asleep.

Basic Wall Night-Lights

Even standard night lights have come a long way in recent years – most of them now use LED lights, which are far more efficient, and the designs are always getting better. The down-side of these lights is that they have to be plugged directly into an outlet, which isn’t always available in a convenient location in baby’s room.

Safe baby night light AmerTac Flat Panel Night Light
Your basic rectangular LED night light, this one in blue. These offer a nice, soft glow but they might be brighter than you’d like for a baby’s room. They’re good for bathrooms or hallways, though. The blue light is soft, and should never burn out (as traditional night-lights used to do).No bells and whistles here; if you plug it in, it turns on. One nice feature is that it’s thin and will be flush against the wall if possible, and thus makes a good outlet cover.
Megabrite LED Color Changing Night Lights
These color-changing LED lights with photo sensor are entertaining for babies and toddlers both. They plug right into the wall and change from red to green to blue to white when you push the botton.The only disadvantage to these is that they draw your toddler’s attention to the outlet, even though they cover it pretty well.

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The best crib mobiles in musical, black/white, and organic categories. If your baby baby won’t sleep, this guide will help you diagnose and fix the problem. With cold and flu season approaching, here are 14 things for baby’s medicine cabinet. Establishing a bedtime routine is a critical for teaching babies to sleep through the night

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Choosing A Night Light for Baby