If given the choice between spending an afternoon at the DMV or engaging in that sweaty, full-contact sport known as baby travel, any sane parent would choose the latter. That’s because flying with babies and toddlers is akin to U.S. Marine Corps boot camp, albeit more intense. It requires the same amount of gear, some of which is essentional and some of which is optional but makes life easier, from travel toys, pillows, and trays to airplane beds and baby headphones. These are things we guarantee: Traveling with kids will inevitably involve a few spills, meltdowns, and glares from strangers. These will likely be out of your control. But we also guarantee that with a few things on this list, you will experience fewer, they will be shorter, and you will have a much better experience.
Of course, there are a few basics: Arrive at the airport early, pack enough snacks to avoid any pre-boarding temper tantrums, and bring a select amount of toys to keep them occupied during the flight. Have kids chew on something during takeoff so their ears don’t pop, consider noise-canceling headphones if they rely on silence or white noise to fall asleep, and ditch any guilt about screen time. If all else fails, know that when traveling with kids, it really is about the destination, not the journey. So focus on the future, because we guarantee that no one enjoys the present during baby travel.
The Best Baby Travel Gear
Any parent knows that leaving home without a supply of snacks is a rookie mistake. We like this stackable snack container, which can also hold formula, so your kid is never whining about an empty tummy. It includes one 10-ounce container, two 6-ounce containers, and one easy-pour lid.
Babies squirm and grab during diaper changes and when you're in a tiny, cramped airplane bathroom, that makes things pretty rough. This brilliant changing pad has sides that fold up and create a barrier to keep your baby occupied with toys, and the foldable pad packs down to a small clutch. Wipe it down to clean it.
A must for longer flights when bags of snacks won't cut it: These handsome silicone plates and cups suction on to the tray table, so kids can eat without making (too much of) a major mess. Plus, it'll keep them busy, because getting steamed baby carrots from plate to mouth is hard work.
The LÍLLÉbaby carrier gives you six options for carrying your baby, from birth onward. It has adjustable seat and leg openings that facilitate proper hip support, frog-leg seating, and curved C-spine position. The straps are adjustable, so parents of various body shapes and sizes can figure out what position suits them best and is most comfortable. And it has a headrest.
Kids can ride on this suitcase, sure. But it fits most economy seats on planes and folds out into a bed. The lid of the suitcase and the extension plate elongate the seat to create a larger surface area while the mattress and side panels create a comfortable space for kiddo to rest.
This lightweight bag has numerous carrying handles as well as two padded backpack straps for sherpa-ing it through the airport. It's made of puncture resistant, water-proof nylon and is designed to keep your car seat germ-free. A pair of drawstring closures and a velcro flap help secure car seats within it and it works with nearly every brand. Once the seat is out it folds into a small carrying pouch.
The Best Airplane Car Seats
You’re going to want to cuddle your baby in your arms. Just don’t. Because if your plane encounters turbulence, your kid can go flying. Thus, you need a car seat. Make sure it’s FAA-approved, and has a label that reads “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft.”
At just eight, yes eight, pounds, this is a pretty dope travel car seat that's also passed FAA muster. It has an aerospace-grade aluminum frame, breathable pads, can be installed with the plane's seatbelt, and when done, it turns into a backpack. It's only for older kids: 22 to 50 pounds.
The Best Kids Travel Trays
Yes, planes are now cleaned regularly between flights. But they're still not what we'd call pristine. This basic travel tray goes over the tray table, and folds up when not in use. Thanks to its cleverly raised sides, crayons and markers won't wind up all over the floor.
Load up this travel tray with all your kid's favorite toys and crafts. While this is billed as being for car seats, we don't recommend it for that use, because it likely hasn't been crash-tested. However, it's great for flights, because it fits onto the tray, and it keeps your kid's stuff contained and within easy reach. No more whining about crayons falling behind seats, or toy cars going missing. It has an attachable storage compartment that can be removed or collapsed to reveal an extra large surface area, if needed, and folds up easily.
The Best Travel Toys
Toddlers will stay busy getting this doll dressed five different ways, and strengthen their fine motor skills by pulling the doll's zipper up and down, fastening the pockets, and doing buttons. It's machine-washable, and comes with a carry clip, so you can attach to anything.
This is the perfect portable design studio for preschoolers. It comes with a nice, wide storage tray to keep all the supplies contained. Kids match and snap the chunky buttons to complete the pictures of a frog, bird, house, tree, truck, and other stuff they'll love and recognize.
Kids four and up can set up a vet clinic on the go, and when they're done, everything packs up nicely in its own carry case. You can choose a pirate playset, or a knight playset. Each one comes with figures and accessories, so kids can play on the plane and pack everything up before landing.
What we love about this magnetic maze toy: It's quiet, it's engaging, and there are no little tiny pieces that will fall off and go missing, thereby rendering the toy last year's news. It keeps them quietly entertained in airplanes and works hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, too. It's a win-win.
Naturally, one of our go-to brands does it again. This time, with a portable sorter set that's going to keep your kiddo happy and entertained. Created for kids nine months and older, Melissa & Doug's sorter set comes in a padded case with two activity sides, and nine textured blocks in various colors and shapes.
Not a toy but just as essential: These volume-limiting noise-cancelling headphones for kids give you up to 22 hours of playtime and 200 hours of standby on a single charge. They protect eardrums with an 85 decibel limit. They're foldable, lightweight, and make daily noise and background sounds up to 22 decibels quieter. The bluetooth feature lets them connect to almost any device, while the optional cable plugs into airplane TVs and lets kids listen when the headphones need to be charged.
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