You read that right. 21.
Think traveling with a baby means you need to break out the big suitcases and buy all the new products? Think again!
The truth is, you don’t really need that much more than what you keep in your diaper bag. Yes, there are lists out there of baby travel items that are several pages long – but so much of that stuff is just unnecessary.
Now matter how long our trip is – a weekend getaway or a month-long excursion, we travel carry-on only. Even with a baby and a toddler. We know exactly what you need to bring, and what you will regret dragging along.
Yes, travel is unpredictable and you want to be prepared for anything, but with some smart planning and just the few right items, you can travel light with a baby.
Tip: At the bottom of this post, you can download an editable/printable checklist version of these essentials. Score!
This list is geared toward babies up to early walkers. After that point, when you have a legit little toddler, your needs will change. And bonus if you’re traveling with a baby under 6 months – there are definitely some things on this list you won’t need!
Must have items for traveling with baby
Let’s start with something easy. How many outfits should you bring? That depends on if you are planning to do laundry, of course. When we travel with a baby, we always stay at Airbnbs for at least part of the trip, and we always ensure they have a washing machine.
Alternately, you can always take a few hours to run to the laundromat in the middle of your trip, or have it done at the hotel if they offer laundry service.
We generally aim for 3-4 days of clothes for adults, and about double that for the baby (because she is likely to go through a couple outfits in a day).
Don’t forget to pack 2 sets of pajamas – one warmer, one cooler… you never know how the heat/AC will be.
Make sure you’ve got your sunhat (or warm hat), depending on the climate you’re traveling to.
Baby socks or shoes
I know you want all the adorable travel photos, but believe me… the cutesy shoes that don’t stay on your baby’s feet and only serve the purpose of “completing the outfit” are going to sit at the bottom of your bag the whole time.
Think comfort. For a pre-walker, I love Zutanos. I bring 2 pairs of these and call it good.
For an early walker, grab some quality tennis shoes like these StrideRites. Bring 2 pairs for just in case one gets wet. Even in hot weather, I opt for good, safe shoes rather than cute sandals.
Bottles or sippy cups
Bring enough to make it through a day with 1 extra. This is highly dependent on your family, but think about what you bring for a day out in your diaper bag. You’re going to be coming back to the hotel at the end of each day, so you don’t need to be prepared with several days worth of bottles or sippy cups.
What about cleaning and sanitizing them? If you’re traveling somewhere with safe drinking water, just wash them by hand with soap and water. Regular sanitizing is not necessary unless your baby is under 3 months or has a weakened immune system, according to the CDC. (If your baby falls into either of these categories, please seek pediatrician advice before traveling!)
If you are traveling to somewhere with unsafe drinking water, you will need to sanitize them after you wash them. You can do this by boiling them in water for 5 minutes, steaming them in the microwave, or running them through the dishwasher on the highest heat and dry settings.
Most Airbnbs will have at least a microwave and maybe a dishwasher, but even hotels will have a water boiler if you are staying somewhere with unsafe drinking water. So no matter where you go, you will have some way to sanitize your bottles or cups. You can always bring some sanitizer tablets just in case, but I’ve never had a need.
Think ahead about how much formula you will need, and what the best form will be to bring.
If you are traveling somewhere significantly hotter than your own climate, expect your child to go through more formula than usual. We did not plan for this on our first trip, and we were shocked by how much our daughter went through! Just like adults, babies need to stay hydrated when it’s hot out.
Depending on where you are traveling and for how long, it might make sense to plan to buy formula there. No sense in carrying extra tubs if you can run to any drug store and get more. However, in some areas of the world, formula can actually be quite hard to find. There are many countries where it is discouraged, and therefore you can’t find it at convenience stores. You’ll need to find your way to a big box store, which might not be easy in tourist areas.
Remember to only mix formula with clean, safe drinking water. If you are traveling somewhere without potable water, only use sealed bottled water bought from actual stores (not from roadside vendors).
>Formula for EBF babies
If you are exclusively breastfeeding, I highly recommend that you bring a bit of “emergency formula”. Travel can throw some unexpected curveballs at you. Like, maybe you get food poisoning and your production temporarily slows (yup… happened to me!!). If something comes up, you don’t want to scramble to figure out how to feed your hungry baby.
For a baby still counting single-digit ounces, a 4-pack of these 2-oz ready-to-feed bottles are perfect for an emergency supply. Plus they come with a nipple, so you don’t need to bring a bottle. For an older baby or to pack even lighter, these travel packs each make a 4oz bottle. You will need to bring a bottle for just in case.
Manual pump (for breastfeeding or pumping mamas)
This is something that I rarely see on other baby travel supply lists, but it is one of my baby travel must haves! If you are breastfeeding, even if you don’t usually pump, you should have a manual pump for just in case.
Maybe you’re planning to drink and want to pump a bit ahead of time in case baby wakes up while you’re drinking. Maybe your partner will take the baby for a couple hours while you have a lounge down by the pool. There could be any number of situations that you haven’t thought about where it would be nice to have a pump for just in case.
If you need to bring your regular pump, I recommend bringing a manual pump as a back up for just in case you get stuck on the runway for a while or your hotel has a power outage or (gasp) your pump breaks.
I did not include the regular pump on this list, but of course that is an essential if you are a regularly pumping mama. You can find my recommendations for the best breast pumps for travel here!
Diapers and wipes
Unlike formula, you are guaranteed to easily find diapers and wipes anywhere you travel. Bring a small pack – more than enough for the plane ride and the first few days, but plan to buy more once you’re settled.
For cloth diaper families, it takes a bit more planning. We bring our cloth diapers for every trip (although we supplement with a few disposables to keep things flexible). You can read all about traveling with cloth diapers here.
You’re inevitably going to need somewhere to put wet clothes or dirty diapers at some point. Grocery store bags will do in a pinch, but you want to have something you can seal. Ziploc bags work fine for this if you don’t own a wet bag.
Ideally, you will have 2 or 3 of these. I generally bring 1 wet bag and a pair of Ziplocs as back-ups.
Pacifier or lovey
…or whatever it takes for your baby to sleep. When you’re traveling, you want to recreate as much of the home sleep environment as you can. Download a white noise app on your phone if baby sleeps with a white noise machine. Bring that favorite snuggle toy.
When you are getting ready for your trip is absolutely NOT the time to start pacifier weaning. If that thing will help your kid sleep when you’re traveling, bring it! Actually, bring two, because you’ll probably lose one.
A home-like sleep setting is just one of many tips for helping to prevent and treat baby jetlag that you can read about here!
In addition to your child’s favorite lovey for sleep time, bring 1 or 2 favorite toys and 1 or 2 new toys to open on the trip.
You truly do not need to bring the whole toy box. Choose whatever fairly small things your child enjoys playing with right now and call it good. I’m guessing you’re not planning to spend the bulk of your vacation time sitting around in the hotel, after all! Choosing items that can easily come on a day out (perhaps they clip to your stroller) is a great idea. Easy to clean is a bonus, too.
It’s also nice to have a couple new toys that you can pull out at just the right moment. These could be new toys that you intend to keep, or small temporary toys that might not survive the trip (window clings, a couple crayons, stickers, etc.)
Baby’s favorite blankets
You will want to have the blanket that your baby is most comfortable with – something that reminds her of home. If you haven’t noticed, I’m all about anything that will help baby sleep more comfortably, because that is the most important thing to get right when you travel with a baby!
You’ll also want an extra muslin blanket or two. These are great to add an extra layer, to use as a nursing cover, to prop baby up for sitting, or when it is just a bit too hot for the regular blanket.
Toothbrush and toothpaste
If you’re pre-solid foods, skip this. If you’re in the “we have 3 teeth that we occasionally brush” phase, I would skip this. But if baby has teeth and you are regularly brushing at home, go ahead and bring this along.
One trick that we do to lighten the overall packing load is to share toothpaste. But because babies don’t dig adult toothpaste, we all just use baby toothpaste while we travel.
You have a few options when it comes to where your baby is going to sleep. Most hotels and many Airbnbs have cribs available that you can rent. The advantage is that you don’t have to bring anything. The downside is that you don’t know exactly what you’re going to get… they can be dirty or even unsafe. On top of that, most hotels charge a nightly fee for the crib.
If you do rent the hotel crib, bring your own crib sheets. I learned this the hard way, as well.
You can eliminate uncertainty by bringing your own travel crib. There are a few different styles, but no matter what you choose, it will add to your baggage. To us, this is a worthwhile use of 1 carry-on allowance.
Many families love the Guava Lotus, which is an ultra-portable pack n play that you can wear like a backpack. If you want to go the pack n play route, this is the one I recommend.
We prefer the tent-style travel bed. Check the age limitations on these – some do not have an infant-safe sleep surface. We use the Joovy Gloo and love everything about it (you can read my full review here). It is safe for even the youngest of babies, but will last until your kids are ready to sleep in a bed by themselves.
For older babies (who can’t just fall asleep in your arms and stay asleep wherever you put them), you can make the transition to sleeping in a travel crib easier if you spend a few weeks leading up to the trip on travel bed training.
Maybe it’s because I’m a teacher, but I really can’t go more than a couple days without reading to my kids. And again with the comfortable sleep thing… if you read books right before bed at home, you will probably want to do that same thing on vacation. Babies love routine.
Books also add one more form of entertainment for a fussy baby.
I usually bring 3-5 books, and I choose ones that travel light. I love Indestructibles for babies, and they are paper thin. Then I choose a few paperback story books and call it good.
Books are also great to have for the airplane, especially as you’re getting closer to bed time and want to avoid the screen.
Travel car seat
I’ll start by saying that this is not always a necessity… it depends on your trip. But more often than not, I bring a car seat when I travel with a baby.
There is a massive debate out there about whether or not you should fly with car seat. That is 100% your decision, and I go into a bit more detail about the pros and cons in my ultimate guide to flying with a baby if you want to learn more.
If you do decide to bring a car seat, you will absolutely want to buy one specifically for travel (unless you are still in the bucket seat, in which case you can usually just bring that). Convertible car seats are massive, and on top of potentially not fitting on the airplane, think about lugging that thing everywhere you go. No thanks.
The Cosco Scenera Next [cheapest at Walmart but also available on Amazon] is a cult favorite with traveling families, and for good reason. It is safe, lightweight (7 pounds!!), and ultra-portable. It is also super cheap, starting under 50 bucks depending on the fabric style you choose.
There are other awesome travel car seats out there, like the Safety 1st Guide 65 and the Cosco Apt 50. But the Cosco Scenera Next is a great choice for families who don’t want to spend a fortune for something that they only intend to use when they travel. We own two of them… one for each child.
Would I want to use it as an everyday seat? No… it lacks the comfort and the bells and whistles that most car seats have these days. But that’s why it is 7 pounds and so affordable. It’s perfect for travel.
If you want to consider leaving the car seat at home, check out my guide to safe, car seat alternative transportation on vacation.
First aid kit
Ah, yes. That thing that I never used to bother to bring. I learned my lesson stuck on a boat with a baby with an ear infection, and no baby-safe medications to be found. (Thank goodness for the one other family with a toddler on board, who saved us!! Because they knew to bring a first aid kit.)
The thing is, baby medications can be super hard to find. Especially internationally, when you don’t speak the language. Can you be sure that you’re getting the correct dosage of baby ibuprofen?? Not really. And that is if you can even find baby-specific medications.
Pack a baby-specific first aid kit with small amounts of baby-safe pain killer, Pedialyte packets or ORS for dehydration, bandages and antiseptic cream, any prescriptions your baby has, along with all the normal adult things you might need (may as well make sure everyone stays healthy). Be sure to check with your child’s pediatrician for suggestions.
You can read more ideas on how to prepare for your baby getting sick while you travel here.
This is also where I keep diaper cream. I don’t bring the whole tube for a trip, but I do squeeze a bit into a small travel gels container and put it in the kit just in case.
I suppose this could technically fit in the first aid kit, but it deserves its own mention. You will want to make sure that you are bringing plenty of baby-safe sunscreen. This is my hands-down favorite. We’ve been using it for four years now, and my children have never had even a mild sunburn with it on. (My older daughter has gotten burned while wearing the standard spray stuff.)
It goes on kind of thick and takes a bit of work to rub it in, but that is always going to be the case with a zinc-oxide sunscreen. Once it is on, it doesn’t feel oily, which I love.
This stuff is reef-safe, baby-safe, and water-resistant. It just works. Read my full review and more about sunscreen and babies here.
Many pediatricians say you should not put sunscreen on a baby under 6 months, and instead just be sure to keep baby covered at all times. This is worth checking in with your pediatrician about. When we traveled to a very hot Thailand with a 4 month old, the recommendation was to use the sunscreen (along with a sun hat, of course), because there was no way we could guarantee that we could keep her out of the sun the whole time.
With a really young baby, I will use this on myself (at least my shoulders, arms, and face) as well. If my baby is going to end up licking me, I’d much prefer she licks baby-safe sunscreen than whatever is in that spray from the tourist shop.
If you are embracing minimalist travel with baby and traveling carry-on only, make sure you get the 3oz tubes, and bring a few.
Cloth high chair
It took me several trips before I broke down and bought one of these… not because they are expensive (they’re not), but because it seemed like one of those extra things that we wouldn’t really use.
I was so wrong.
Did you know that in many places around the world, high chairs are not common in restaurants? We didn’t. But we definitely have spent some entire trips holding the baby for every meal, and that is just not fun.
I love this little cloth high chair. It’s tiny when folded – about the size of a man’s wallet. And my baby does not love to be in it, but she will tolerate it at least for a while, and that makes all the difference in being able to enjoy some of our meals while we’re traveling.
Painter’s tape is the duct tape of travel. Seriously – it is the perfect temporary, harmless solution to all the problems you haven’t thought about yet.
I especially love painter’s tape for babyproofing. Use it to cover outlets, tape up blinds, keep a drawer closed… it is not going to keep out a super determined toddler, but it will deter most babies and at least buy you some time to notice that your baby is trying to get into a cabinet.
Find more tips for babyproofing your hotel room or Airbnb here.
Baby food pouches
A baby’s gotta eat, right? I love food pouches for travel. They are so convenient, quick, and portable.
I heavily lean toward the protein-packed variety over something like applesauce or purely fruit pouches. I tend to rely on pouches more heavily than other foods when we travel, so I want to be sure that I have pouches that will fill my baby up and meet more nutritional needs.
It’s not that we feed the baby pouches for every meal, but they are a go-to when we’re not sure we can find something in the restaurant that will work.
These are another thing that I bring a full supply of, instead of relying on finding them when we’re at our destination (unless we are traveling domestically… I’m not saying other countries don’t have these, but I know how to find them in America). A full supply might look like 1 or 2 per day, depending on how much my baby is currently eating.
…sometimes. This is where you are going to want to do a bit of research on your destination. How stroller-friendly is it? Are you staying in the center of, oh say, Rome? Where the streets are cobblestone and sidewalks are unheard-of, and museums and restaurants are unlikely to let your stroller in? You might just want to skip to the next section.
If you are staying somewhere that you think a stroller will be beneficial (and not a massive burden), then you’ll probably want to get a travel stroller. A travel stroller might just be a lightweight, cheap umbrella stroller. Or you might want to jump on the “pocket stroller” bandwagon.
Pocket strollers are ultra-light and foldable strollers that are ideal for travel. Some of them tout folding up small enough to fit in the overhead bin, which saves you needing to worry about how the airline treats your stroller.
There are more affordable options on the market, however. Check out the gb Pockit+ and the Zoe Tour+ for a lower price point. For us, this is our everyday stroller, so we were willing to spend a little more to get the one we wanted.
This is essential if you are going somewhere that is not stroller friendly, but I would also argue this is essential even if you are bringing your stroller.
There will always be times while you travel that having a stroller is inconvenient. If you’re traveling internationally, keep in mind that most of the world is not stroller-accessible in the way that we are used to in the States (thanks to the ADA, which guarantees wheelchair access almost everywhere we go… parents with strollers benefit from that as well!).
Babywearing makes travel with a baby easier. It might take a bit of getting used to if you never babywear at home, but it will be worth it when you have an easy way to get baby around on your trip.
There are many different types of baby carriers (read about all the different styles of baby carriers here), and it really comes down to what works best for your family. For example, will both parents take turns wearing it, and so it needs to be quickly adjustable? Do you need something that will take the pressure off for a long day of hiking, or would you rather have something lightweight and breathable for hot, sunny days?
Ergobaby is a travel favorite, and the first baby carrier I traveled with. They are sturdy and strong, ergonomic, and they have different styles to match what your family needs.
A few other great options are the Baby K’tan and the LILLEbaby. Ultimately, the right baby carrier is a big decision that requires a bit of research and maybe some trial and error. This is best to figure out well ahead of your trip, if possible!
Bonus: Beach gear
If your trip includes a beach or pool, you’ll need a few extra items. I have a whole list of baby beach items here if you want a ton of ideas, but if you’re sticking with the theme of minimalism, here are the things you really need:
Swimwear: something cute for the baby to wear in the water.
Swim diaper: I highly recommend getting a reusable swim diaper, even if you have zero interest in regular cloth diapers. They have so many advantages over disposable swim diapers, and you can read all about reusable swim diapers (and how they work) here. My hands-down favorite brand is Green Sprouts.
Green Sprouts also has swimsuits with built-in swim diapers, so that’s one less thing to bring!
Inflatable water toys: this isn’t necessarily essential, but it is nice to have somewhere to set your baby while you float around the pool together. I love water snuggles and all, but an inflatable floatie doesn’t take up any space in your luggage and is so much easier in the water! (You of course need to still stay right there with baby – but baby gets a bit more freedom to splash in the water and you don’t have to hold him!)
What’s notably not on this list, and why:
Many lists of essentials for traveling with baby include spoons, bibs, placemats, and plates. I brought spoons once, and never used them. Why? We were staying in Airbnbs and hotels that had small kitchenettes, meaning they had at least a minimal amount of dishes. Or we were eating at restaurants.
Yes, your baby is used to that nice silicone-tipped spoon you use at home, but that is one more thing to deal with at the restaurant and then wash. Just use the metal spoons or save a few plastic take out spoons. He really won’t mind.
As far as bibs and placemats and plates, I usually feed the baby when we travel (unless it’s something like Cheerios) to help contain the mess. A hotel wash cloth or paper towel will do just fine, and then you don’t need to worry about cleaning.
Travel is not the time that I want to focus on building those independence skills, anyway.
This includes things like fingernail clippers, shampoo and body wash, baby lotion, a baby-specific brush or comb, baby oil, a nasal aspirator… those things you occasionally need. Unless you’re traveling for over a month, leave them at home.
Clip those fingernails the day before your trip. Accept that you probably will not be bathing the baby every day, and that is okay. When you do, just rinse with water or carefully use a bit of the hotel-provided shampoo or body wash.
If your baby has a reason to specifically need one of these items (perhaps she has extra dry skin and needs lotion daily), great! Bring it! Otherwise, you are not likely to miss any of these things on your trip. And worst-case scenario, these are all items that are fairly easy to find.
I am surprised at how often I see this on lists of baby travel essentials. Even the most portable of baby baths is not something that I want to carry with me everywhere I go.
There are many ways that you could improvise this, but my favorite is just to take a bath with the baby. Assuming we are staying somewhere with a bathtub, we get some skin-to-skin snuggles and everyone wins.
If there is no bathtub, I do the same thing but in the shower. If it is slick, I might do this sitting down or kneeling to feel more safe. It is always helpful to have your partner nearby to help so you can hand the baby out when she is done, and have a bit of shower time to yourself.
How are you feeling? Stressed out? Overwhelmed? Shocked that I didn’t recommend you travel with your bottle drying rack?
Traveling light with a baby isn’t for everyone. If you feel better having all the things, then bring them. But if you feel like a little travel minimalism is in order, this list of travel necessities for baby should get you through just about anything your trip is likely to throw at you.
See anything that you think I am absolutely missing? Or maybe something that you think is unnecessary? Let’s chat about it in the comments!
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Originally published December, 2020. Updated June, 2022.