Expecting your first little one? If so, the sheer quantity and variety of baby gear on the market these days is probably overwhelming you as you attempt to register for baby gifts. And, if you plan to travel with your baby, figuring out which gear will work best for road trips and airplanes is even more intimidating.
Have no fear! After four years of extensive first-hand travel experience with our little one, I have some thoughts to get you started. The key is to focus on compact, multi-functional items so that gear doesn’t pile up. With our Top 10 travel gear picks, you are certain to have the ultimate travel-friendly baby registry.
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Travel Gear for Baby’s First Year
1) Compact, nimble stroller or stroller frame
I regularly see parents lugging behemoth strollers through crowded TSA checkpoints and struggling to fold them for gate check on the jetway while impatient travelers back up behind them. Don’t be one of those unlucky souls! When you travel, you should endeavor to bring the smallest and nimblest stroller that still meets your needs. Some airlines now have weight limits on the strollers they will check, so be ready. Be aware that if you check your stroller often, it is possible that it may be damaged, so don’t check anything you cannot afford to replace. Depending on your travel habits and the ages you plan to travel with your babies, you may want two different solutions.
For younger infants, your best bet is a stroller frame that is compatible with the “bucket” infant car seat. Stroller frames are light, have a basket, and can be easily gate-checked when if you take the car seat on board (consider buying a seat for your baby instead of traveling with a lap infant). We bought the Maclaren Easy Traveller, which has been discontinued, but plenty of similar products exist. The Baby Trend Snap N Go or the Chicco Keyfit Caddy Stroller frame are highly-reviewed and both about $100.
A word of warning – check carefully to make sure the carrier is compatible with your car seat. Not all the products are inter-operable.
For older babies or toddlers (or whenever you do not take a car seat on a trip), a quality umbrella stroller like the Maclaren Quest Arc is a good bet. It has ample storage underneath, you can fold it with one hand, and it proved extraordinary nimble on three Disneyland trips when even the best of strollers are put to the test. It is a pricey product (about $250), but you can often get a good deal by buying the previous year’s model from a retailer at a discount.
2) Car seat & stroller travel bags
If you are going to fly with a car seat or stroller at any point, you need a bag to protect it from airline baggage handling. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen car seats or strollers returned with grease all over them when they aren’t bagged. If you just want to go cheap and lightweight, we’ve loved the “Gate Check” red bags (available for strollers and car seats). They will not last forever, but at $12 apiece, you can afford to replace them a time or two.
If you are going to be carrying your car seat a lot, you may want to invest in a car seat bag with wheels. These products are very important for those long walks from parking lots to airport terminals.
3) Pack N Play
Pack N Plays are must-haves even for non-traveling families, so I’m guessing most parents-to-be have one on their registry already. If you are going to check a Pack N Play on your airline travels, you might want to consider registering for one of the cheaper models in case it is damaged by the airlines. We bought one that was only $60 or $70 and it had everything we needed for at home or on the road.
4) Compact booster for feeding
Once your little one is eating solids, it is really nice to have a seat to contain the mealtime mess. If you are traveling and staying in a condo or house, we’ve found that a travel booster seat with tray is a really necessary product to have. It takes awhile for most children to be safe sitting on their own.
For an even more compact option if you are going to use this product only occasionally, there are quite a few cloth harnesses on the market to secure your baby to standard size chairs. I’ve tried and liked the Cozy Cover Easy Seat.
5) A good baby carrier
Most parents choose a carrier of some sort, but if you are going to travel a lot, choosing the right carrier is even more important. Frankly, there is no universally-right choice here, as each child has his or own preferences. We bought the ErgoBaby, which is a great ergonomic option for babies and toddlers. The only problem is that our daughter hated it, as it is a carrier in which the baby must face inward (update: our son, however adores it). We have also invested in a Baby Bjorn, but it is not as comfortable and isn’t good for older babies and toddlers. My advice? Try lots of options once your baby comes and use it regularly so your child is used to a given carrier when you do travel. That may have been part of our mistake the first time around.
Travel Gear for Toddlers
6) Travel potty
Much cleaner than rest stops across America! A travel potty is a must-have product for road trips where bathroom availability and cleanliness is questionable. We carried it in our trunk for more than a year after my daughter was trained for whenever we were on the go. It uses regular Ziploc-style plastic bags as liners.
7) Toddler air mattress
Toddler air mattresses are great travel beds for the years after your toddler has outgrown the Pack N Play, when your toddler might not be ready for a big bed without bedrails while traveling. This air mattress is really lightweight and you can easily bring it as a carryon in the travel bag provided. Another thought: tuck it in the bag you use to check your child’s car seat (we buckled ours into the car seat straps to keep it stable, but we separately hand-carried the small air pump that comes along with it so it wouldn’t get broken in the checked luggage process).
8) Bubble bum booster seat
I’ve blogged before about the BubbleBum – an innovative product, an inflatable booster that you can use in lieu of a carseat once your preschooler is 4 years old and 40 pounds. You can easily deflate it in seconds and toss in your backpack for travel. No more lugging that car seat through airports and rental car shuttles! It is always available in a variety of colors on Amazon.
These are items that I have not personally used or bought, but that I know have been successful choices for other traveling parents I trust.
9) CARES harness
The CARES harness is the only FAA-approved device (other than car seats) for restraining toddlers in airplanes. CARES is a 4 point harness similar to what you’d find on a car seat or stroller, that you secure over your child’s seat. You do have to ask that the person behind you lower their tray table to install it, so get on board early to avoid awkwardness with strangers. I wish we had discovered this when my daughter was right around 2 years old and in a really squirmy stage! It has a limited shelf-life, as it is only approved for toddlers 22-44 pounds. But if you will likely travel a lot when you have a 2 or 3 year old, this might be worth the investment, particularly if you hate carrying car seats aboard.
Check out my full review of the CARES harness so you can check it out in action.
10) Go Go Kidz TravelMate Car Seat Carrier
This car seat carrier is another product that I opted not to buy personally due to cost and size, but that I know many parents swear by it. If you plan to bring your front-facing carseat on board planes quite a bit, it is probably worth the investment to make lugging the car seat easier. However, we only used our infant “bucket” car seat on planes (with a stroller frame to roll it), and then opted to either check a cars eat or rent at our destination most times when our daughter was a bit bigger. You may want to wait and see how your travel patterns establish themselves before making the investment. And, of course, if you invest in a CARES harness, this product becomes less necessary.