One of the biggest challenges of traveling with little ones is that you still need to manage their day-to-day needs — feeding, bathrooming, play, and sleep — without all of the comforts and conveniences of home.
For being so little, babies and toddlers sure need a lot of stuff! The sheer amount of things I needed to pack when we first started traveling with a little one felt so overwhelming; but over time, I’ve learned that instead of trying to bring all the things, simply having a few of the right things can really make a big difference.
So, if you’re feeling intimidated about traveling with your baby or toddler, I’ve got you covered with family travel gear recommendations to help make your time away from home easier. The best travel gear strikes that fine balance between serving an essential function while also being portable and easy to use, and these things do just that!
For Getting Around
The Cosco Scenera Next is pretty basic as far as car seats go, but it checks so many boxes that makes it perfect for traveling with young children: it’s lightweight, easy to install, affordable (only ~$49 and can be used over and over again versus the ~$10 a day to rent a car seat), easy to clean, and approved by the FAA for use on airplanes.
We use the Cosco Scenera Next as our dedicated travel car seat anytime we fly. We prefer to use a car seat on the plane for our children (ages 4 and under) whenever possible since it provides a safe, familiar, and sanitary place to keep them contained and help them sleep.
When considering travel strollers, look for one that has a compact fold (there are many now that fold down to carry-on dimensions so it can be stored in the overhead bin on airplanes), the ability to recline, some sort of sun shade, and is relatively easy to maneuver. We love that the Mountain Buggy Nano meets all of these criteria and has a universal car seat adapter system so you can use it with an infant car seat for little babies.
One of my favorite travel-gear hacks is using the Mountain Buggy Nano Stroller with the Cosco Scenera Next Car Seat attached! This trick is so handy for when you are flying with a toddler, stroller, and car seat— our daughter is simply able to sit in her car seat attached to the stroller so there’s no need to bother with any extra contraptions to transport the car seat. Here’s a video demo of this amazing hack.
A comfortable, easy-to-use baby carrier is a must for traveling with a baby to help you stay hands free while keeping your little one close. Baby-wearing is especially helpful when the journey involves air travel, train, or any other type of public transportation.
We love Tula baby carriers for the easy-to-use, ergonomic design that’s comfortable without adding too much bulk.
We’ve taken the Phil & Teds Travel Crib on multiple international trips with our toddler. It’s lightweight (just 6 lbs!) and breaks down into a compact bag that fits easily into our larger check-in suitcase with plenty of room to spare. Like most travel cribs, the mattress is pretty thin and basic so we usually cushion the area under the crib with additional blankets.
Toddlers will outgrow this travel crib sooner because of its space-saving design; but, if you are flying and want the flexibility of bringing your own crib for your baby, the ease and portability of this travel crib just can’t be beat!
The Lotus Travel Crib is another great option for babies and toddlers, especially for road trips or if you are staying at a few different places over the course of the trip. The set-up and break-down of this crib is super fast and easy—it folds up in just a few seconds— and has greater longevity than other travel cribs because the mattress rests on the floor so there isn’t a weight limit. However, it does have a larger footprint than the Phil & Teds Travel crib so if you are flying, it is likely you will need to check it in separately or bring it as a carry-on.
A dark room is key to helping babies sleep more soundly in a new place. This portable blackout curtain folds up into an easy-to-pack size and has worked great for stays at the grandparents and airbnbs. Blackout curtains also work wonders for encouraging toddlers to take that much-needed midday nap.
A white noise machine creates a familiar, soothing sleep environment and drowns out random noises to help your child sleep better away from home. If you already have a white noise machine that your little one is accustomed to using at bedtime, definitely prioritize space in your luggage to bring it along; if you are wanting something more compact that can be used on the go, the Yogasleep white noise machine is just 3.5 inches in diameter, charges by USB, and can operate up to 6 hours off a single charge.
If you are sharing a room with your baby or toddler while traveling, the Slumberpod is a godsend. The Slumberpod is basically a little pop-up tent that can fit over a Pack ‘n Play, travel crib, or even a toddler mattress to provide your little one with a private, dark place to sleep. It has a steeper price tag, but if you visit family often or stay regularly in a single hotel room as a family, it may be worth it for getting extra sleep and better naps.
Meals are so much more enjoyable when your baby has a place to sit that’s not your lap. This foldable high chair sets up in seconds and is perfect for taking on the go! It’s lightweight and packs up neatly in a bag that is easy to carry on it’s own or throw it in your luggage, stroller, or backpack. The detachable tray is on the smaller side, but that’s what makes it compact and perfect for any airbnb or hotel, camping, the beach, restaurants, and the park.
If you need to sterilize bottles, breast pump parts, pacifiers or teethers when you are on the go, this is the perfect solution! These microwavable sterilizing bags can be reused up to 30 times, kills 99.9% of bacteria, and only takes up as much space as a ziploc bag.
For the Bathroom
A travel potty in the back of the car has been such a lifesaver for us on trips! Being able to opt out of gross gas station bathrooms and the outhouse at national parks is such a relief when traveling with a potty-training toddler or preschooler.
I love that the Summer 3-in-1 potty can be used as a potty seat, potty topper, and step stool while still remaining compact in size. For hotel or airbnb stays, the potty topper and step stool makes the bathroom kid-friendly so that preschoolers and little kids can use the bathroom independently just as they would at home. When we are out and about, we line the inside of the potty with a disposable, absorbent liner for easy, mess-free cleanup.
If you are staying somewhere without a bathtub, this inflatable tub is a great way to give the baby a bath without trying to maneuver around a sink or risk having your little one fall down in the shower. This tub inflates to provide a padded safe place for baby to bathe and when you are finished, it deflates for easy storage without taking up much space.
If you aren’t already using packing cubes in your family’s luggage, trust me— you need these in your life. Packing cubes keep everything compact and organized, especially when you are packing all of those tiny pieces of little kid clothing. I like assigning a different color for each family member so that anyone in the family can easily grab our own belongings out of the giant suitcase without rummaging through a big pile.
A comfortable pair of child-sized headphones is a must for on-the-go screen time (lest you want to listen to cartoon voices and the annoying rings and dings of games for hours on end). The iClever headphones are padded, foldable, has volume control to protect little ears, and allow for audio sharing for multiple kids.
Putting an older toddler or preschooler in charge of their own backpack is such a great way to lighten your own load on travel days!
Whether we are traveling by car or plane, I always pack my daughter her own backpack with a water bottle, change of clothes, snacks, headphones, and a few small toys (crayons, stickers, pop-it, and these cute little animal erasers that she currently loves). Even if she isn’t actually carrying the backpack around much (like on a road trip), it’s still helpful to have the things she will most likely need all in one place.
For little ones prone to dry skin, eczema, or bloody noses, a portable humidifier is great to have on trips, especially for travels during the winter months or to places with a dry climate. The Bell+Howell Personal Humidifier turns your standard sized water bottle into the water tank so you don’t have to worry about lugging around a humidifier with a giant tank!