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I don’t know about you but I find packing for my toddler extremely overwhelming, stressful, and downright daunting. I travel with my son 4-5 times per year and the only thing that makes packing palatable is having a list! And I mean a detailed list. When I wing it, I end up packing last minute, I’m stressed and I inevitably forget something. I promise that if you use a detailed packing list the process goes a lot smoother and more quickly.
In this article, I am going to give you a rundown of the items that you’ll find in my suitcase, along with some additional items that you might want to bring. In my experience, there are two different types of packers: the minimalist packer and the pack everything packer. This list can be used for either type of packer. I hope that you find this packing checklist for babies and toddlers helpful in planning your next vacation!
This list is meant to be pretty comprehensive so don’t feel like you need to bring everything that I mention. Just cross off what is not applicable to you and add in missing items in the blanks that I have provided. My predicament is that I don’t want to be caught on a plane or in a car without many of these items. Sure, if you are in a car you might be able to stop and buy what you need. But maybe not. I also prefer to bring as much as I can so that I don’t have to buy stuff along the way. That helps with the budget! My point is to take or leave whatever you do not find relevant to you.
I’ll discuss the different categories and explain why I have included the various items. I’ll also discuss how much of each item I would bring.
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Table Of Contents:
- What Gear Should I Bring on Vacation for Transporting my Baby or Toddler?
- What is in my Diaper bag While Flying with a Baby or a Toddler?
- What Should I Pack for When I Arrive at my Destination?
- Additional Questions That I Have Been Asked
I always bring three modes of transport when flying/driving with the kiddo. I bring a stroller, a car seat, and a baby carrier. I cannot understate the importance of wearing that baby or toddler, especially if you are flying !! I bring a stroller and a car seat because I’ll need them at my destination.
If I am flying I always gate-check the stroller and the car seat (or bring the car seat on board) – as opposed to checking them at check-in. There is a lower risk of your stroller and car seat being damaged if you gate-check them. I also like to have my stroller in the airport because I can put the kid or my bags into the stroller instead of carrying everything.
When you gate-check (or regular check) your car seat or stroller you have the option to insert them into a bag. This can be handy for a few reasons. One, many bags are bright red which makes your items easily identifiable. Second, many bags have backpack straps, so you could actually carry your car seat on your back. Third, some bags come with some sort of padding. The padded bags are unlikely to save your car seat or stroller from being crushed or damaged; however, they do provide a little protection. In any event, you want to inspect your car seat and stroller upon your arrival to check for any damage.
This section pertains to airplane travel. There are a few things that I take on the plane not because I’ll need them on the plane, but because I cannot afford to lose them. A few examples are important documents, electronics, and prescriptions. I typically bring my laptop on the plane, but I have packed it in my checked bag without a problem. If you are going to pack it in your checked bag, I’d recommend making a backup prior to traveling.
In developing this packing checklist for babies and toddlers I had to address the carry-on/diaper bag. If you are flying, this may be the single most important bag that you bring on vacation. If this is an overnight/long-haul flight, you will obviously need more items than if it’s a shorter 2-4 hour flight.
Here are the basics of what you’ll need on the flight:
Bring diapers, pull-ups and/or underwear on the plane. My son is potty trained but when I diapered I used cloth diapers. If we were going on a short flight I’d cloth diaper on the plane and I’d bring one diaper for every two-three hours of traveling. For travel time, be sure to calculate from the time that you leave your house until the time you believe you will arrive at your FINAL destination (not the airport, but wherever it is that you are going). For long-haul flights, I used disposables on the plane and brought a diaper for every two-three hours of travel time. This is an item that it is OK to over pack. You do not want to run out of diapers!
My son is now potty trained (30 months). But on a plane, I put him in pull-ups. I bring 4-8 pull-ups in my diaper bag, approximately a pull-up for every two-three hours of travel. Depending on how newly potty trained your toddler is, you will bring more or fewer pull-ups. If your child is in underwear, I’d bring 2-3 extra pairs in case of accidents. This is no place to be a hero. When toddlers have to go, they have to go. If your kid has to go and you are stuck in line boarding, you can’t run to the bathroom. Or if you are on the plane and there is a queue for the toilet, it could be 5-10 minutes before you can get into the bathroom. You do not want your child piddling in the aisle waiting for the bathroom.
Along with diapers, I also bring some sort of wipes; I personally use Water Wipes, but any wipes will do. Wipes are also good for wiping hands, etc. In that same vein, I bring some sort of baking soda/anti-bacterial wipes, for wiping down nasty surfaces. I also bring a small pack of Kleenex. Lastly, I bring an empty plastic grocery bag and/or a wet bag for soiled or wet clothes.
For the baby, I would pack 2-3 changes of clothes, depending on how young the baby is. In my experience, younger babies tend to have more blowouts and spit-ups than older babies; pack according to your baby’s bodily functions. I also bring a sweater and a muslin blanket. The sweater is self-explanatory but the blanket can be used as a nursing blanket or as a blanket for the bassinette. Planes can get hot and then cold and I have found that muslin breathes very well but is also warm. For overnight flights, I pack pajamas but pajamas are not a must; you could also just dress them in a long sleeved shirt and some sweat pants.
I always bring an extra shirt for myself- spit ups happen, body odor happens, etc. However, recently a long-time friend recommended that I bring a full change of clothes on long-haul flights. Her 8-month-old daughter vomited all over her on their way back from Poland and her entire outfit was soiled. This is also not a bad piece of advice in case your checked bag gets lost.
I also bring a book, magazine, etc. whatever you like ‘to do’ on the plane!
You definitely want to bring food/snacks. Ask your airline if they have a baby meal and if they say ‘no’ ask someone else just to be sure. You want to pack enough food for the duration of your flight. Some things that I bring are pouches, chopped fruit, goldfish, hummus and pretzels, (soy) yogurt, Lara Bars (those fruit and greens ones) or the Kind pressed bars, applesauce, PB&J, cheese slices, Pediasure- anything that your child will eat and that will hold for a few hours.
The Transportation Security Administration
Check out the Transportation Security Administration’s website for what food and drink you can bring on a plane.
The general rule is that each passenger can bring a quart sized bag of ‘liquids’ on the plane, no one of which may exceed 3.4 ounces.
The most important thing to know here is that this rule does not apply to liquids for an infant or toddler; however, you must bring these items through security “in reasonable quantities” so don’t go overboard.
According to the TSA website, “an infant is defined as a child who must be physically carried by an adult throughout the screening process. A toddler is defined as a child who receives assistance in walking by an adult throughout the screening process.”
The website specifically mentions formula, breast milk and juice as being exempt from the ounce limitations, however, I have also brought pouches and other ‘liquids’ that were larger than 3.4 ounces and not had a problem. You can also bring your sippy-cup with liquid through Security. They will test these items for explosives.
You should inform the TSA officer of what items you have and have them all in one bag. You can also tell the TSA officer if you do not want your formula, breast milk or juice x-rayed or opened.
I always bring my Kindle and a few toys on the plane. Even if the flight has in-flight-entertainment I bring the Kindle. I also bring a new toy, book or sticker pack—whatever— just something new and novel. The $1 bin at Target is great for this! If it’s an overnight flight I bring a stuffed animal or something from baby’s crib.
What you pack for your destination will be largely dependent upon your destination’s climate, type of accommodation, duration of the trip, mode of transportation, access to a grocery store or corner store and whether or not you will have access to a washer and dryer. (Side Note: many places around the world have washers but no dryers). So check these things out prior to departure and pack accordingly.
If you are flying know your bag weight allowance and also check your baby’s bag allowance. Even if your child is flying as a lap-infant, chances are they have a bag allowance.
My advice is to pack early and only pack the bare necessities; buy the rest when you get there. If you want to save money by bringing items with you so that you don’t have to buy them when you arrive then get very specific about the quantities that you’ll need and pack accordingly.
Another way to cut down on overpacking is to do laundry at your destination. So if you are traveling for 10 days then pack for 5 days and do laundry once, or if you are you traveling for 15 days then do laundry twice (or pack for 8 days and do laundry once).
Baby/toddler clothing is pretty easy-don’t over think it. For my two-year-old, I pack 2 outfits for every day of travel. When he was younger I packed 3 outfits for every day of travel. But if you find that you rarely have to change your child’s clothes then pack less. If your baby has blow-out after blow-out then pack more. You could also do something like 2-3 outfits per day- so for seven days of traveling, you’d pack 18 outfits (unless you were going to do laundry while there).
This will be dependent upon the criteria listed above. To reduce the number of clothes that you pack try to pack/wear layers. That way you will have to do less laundry and the clothes you bring are likely to be more versatile. Another tip is to try and pack outfits that you can dress up or down so that you don’t have to pack two outfits per day (for example, if you like to go out at night).
Traveling while Diapering a Baby or Toddler
I used to pack my diapers because I cloth diapered, but even if you use ‘sposies you may need to pack your diapers depending on the type of destination. Towards the end of when my son was in diapers, I would pack 6 diapers per day. One for nap, one for nighttime and other than that I would change him four times per day. The smaller the baby the more times you’ll likely be changing it during the day. For those who are cloth diapering, I would also bring a small and medium-sized wet-bag (one for the diaper bag and one for the accomodation).
Traveling with a Potty Trained Toddler
If your kid is potty training or newly trained traveling can be dicey. I personally want to put my kid in pull-ups as infrequently as possible, but I also don’t want him pee’ing everywhere while traveling. Know your child’s limitations and how long s/he can hold it. Also, be cognizant that while traveling you may have a lot less control over where/when/how you can use the bathroom.
On the topic of potty training, initially, my son was freaked out by public potties. He still uses a toddler potty at home but now he’ll sit on the adult potty while we are out. I purchased a travel potty seat to bridge the gap between the toddler potty and the adult potty.
If you are taking a road trip you can bring a potty in the car with you. This is a pro-tip from my dear friend Kaleina-she put me onto the potty-in-the-car tip! I keep this potty in my car at all times for when kiddo has to go! You can also buy collapsible ones if you’d like to pack one in your suitcase and bring it with you.
If you are traveling outside of the United States run a quick Google search to familiarize yourself with your destination’s toilet system. Many countries around the world do it differently than the United States. You do not want to be caught off guard with a little one who is iffy on our way of doing things let alone some hole in the ground.
Here I have included what I pack, generally. You will probably add a number of personal items to this section of the list; I have included extra lines for that purpose. I’m a minimalist when it comes to toiletries. Toiletries are heavy and when weight limits are an issue they are typically the first items to go for me. If you are staying in a hotel (or even some home shares) then the venue should provide you with shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and soap (at a minimum).
My son is 30 months old and I still bring a bib and burp cloth for each day of travel. He’s messy when he eats so a bib cuts down on the number of wardrobe changes and burp cloths are good for wiping up messes. I usually pack two sippy cups- one to be in use and one that will be getting washed. I also pack a toddler fork and spoon. Spoons are generally not an issue, toddlers can work with the typical adult spoon but adult sized forks can be scary.
When we arrive at our destination we usually do a grocery shop. Depending on your type of accommodation that will dictate what food items you can buy (quantity and perishable vs. non-perishable). I pack Ziploc baggies and plastic grocery bags to parse out snacks and lunch on a daily basis. The plastic grocery bags are also good for wet or soiled clothing.
I also bring a snack container for my toddler (in the carry-on) and empty water bottles so that we can fill up the bottles and not have to pay for bottled water upon arrival!
If you are packing for a baby then what you’ll bring will depend on whether you are breastfeeding, formula feeding and/or whether you’ll be pumping on vacation. Bring any equipment that you’ll need from home so that you are not scrambling upon arrival.
Another note, if you are packing your breast pump and traveling overseas then bring a voltage converter. I made this mistake in Ireland and blew my pump motor and had to get a hand pump (eye roll) because I wasn’t about to drop €200 on a new pump.
If you are traveling internationally, there are places throughout the world that heavily restrict what food products you can bring into their country. In my experience, many of these places are island nations. So although you can bring these items on the plane you cannot bring them into the country. One example is New Zealand. New Zealand is very remote and they do not allow certain fruits, vegetables, or seeds into the country. I almost got into real trouble bringing an undeclared orange into New Zealand. Check with the Customs section of your destination to see if there are any country-specific restrictions on food or other items.
For me, this is one of the most important categories. Prior to booking an accommodation, I think about where my son is going to sleep. If you are staying in a hotel then I’d call in advance and reserve a crib or pack n play so that they do not run out (I’ve had this happen to me and they had to get a PnP from another hotel). When I contact the hotel I also ask whether we are getting a crib or PnP and I bring the appropriate sheet. In my experience, it’s a crapshoot as to whether they’ll provide a sheet for the baby bed.
If you are staying in a home share (AirBnB or HomeAway) ask the host if they have a crib or PnP prior to booking. Many hosts do not have items for children (bed or highchair) and they will not acquire one for you.
For nighttime, I bring most of the items from my son’s crib so as to re-create his home bed as much as possible. This may be unnecessary, but it’s just a habit that I have developed. I pack his toddler pillow, his baby blanket, sound machine, stuffed animal and the baby monitor and camera.
This is another area where I try not to go overboard. Typically, I bring basic medicines (Ibuprofen or Tylenol), children’s sunscreen, children’s bug spray, and a basic first-aid kit. I bring the sunscreen and bug spray because I like to use natural products and they’re not always available at the destination. You can put together a basic 1st aid kit with a thermometer, some alcohol swabs, gauze pads, Band-Aids and maybe some Neosporin. I usually only bring this if we are going camping or will be somewhere remote. Lastly, I would also recommend packing your prescription medications in your carry-on in case your checked bag is lost/delayed.
I’ve listed off a few items that may be nice to have but also may not be necessary. Where you are going, for how long and the mode of transport will dictate what extras you can or will want to bring. For instance, if you are embarking on a road trip you’ll be able to bring a lot more stuff than on a domestic flight where the luggage weight restriction is 40lbs. If you are doing a week-long beach vacation then you might want to bring additional books, toys, puzzles and games for your child.
The few ‘extras’ that I travel with are a mini cooler (it’s really just an insulated Igloo lunch bag) and occasionally we travel with a portable highchair. The mini cooler that we have is pretty small and collapses down pretty flat; I believe it was $6 bucks. The portable high chair that we have is really more of a harness that you strap over the back of a chair. It’s very useful for meal times if your child is likely to fall out of a chair, but it’s also good for containment purposes!
I roll my clothes. But another good way to pack is to use packing cubes!!
A road trip is very similar to airplane travel except that you have more flexibility in what you can bring. The caveat is that just because you can bring more does not mean that you should!
For a road trip, I’d definitely bring the toddler potty, a few more activities for the children to do in the car and I’d buy the majority of our food at home and bring it with us. You can control what you buy and how much you spend so much more when you are familiar with the grocery store. If you are not into packing out a bunch of food then familiarize yourself with where the grocery stores are at your destination. We’ve been to places where the largest ‘grocery store’ is really a corner store and the selection can be limited. My son eats like 5 things so I need to know that I can either bring or buy these items when I get to where I am going.
You will still pack many of the items mentioned above and in the packing list. The biggest concern for a beach vacation is the sun.
In the sun you have three lines of defense. The first line of defense is going to be your child’s clothing. I like to get a swimsuit and/or a rash guard where the fabric/weave provides some sort of SPF. You also want to have a wide-brimmed hat (again preferably with SPF).
The second line of defense is a good sunscreen; I prefer a natural sunscreen.
And then third, I like to have a sun canopy; you can nap your child in the canopy or get some much-needed respite from the sun. We bought one from Aldi on the cheap, but you can also find a good one on Amazon.
Lastly, I like to have some good water shoes for my son. These provide a little protection from the sun, but also provide a little protection from rocks or other sharp objects on the beach.
- The best thing to do is to buy a luggage hand scale (they’re like $10 bucks) and weigh your bags before you even leave your house.
- If you have multiple checked bags the simplest thing is to re-distribute if one bag is over but one bag is not.
- Next option is to load up your personal or carry-on bag with the overage as these bags are not weighed.
- Pro Tip: I cannot take credit for this tip. I got this tip from my good friend Mrs. Gagos. If you are flying and you check your car seat, throw it in a car seat bag. There is no weight limit on the car seat bag which means that you can throw miscellaneous items into the bag and it will not count against your baggage weight limit.
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