When we were first expecting Julia, I went mad with researching all of the baby gear we would need (Lucie’s List was one of the best sources out there and I recommend it to everyone I know who’s expecting). Since I didn’t want to stop traveling just because we would have an additional carry on, part of that research included what we should own for future vacations. We’ve always packed light, so while other blogs I read recommended a host of travel items, I wanted to make sure that the things I was buying could fold up small and were absolutely necessary for traveling with a baby. One other key criterion was that whatever we bought had to work for both my husband and me. He’s very tall (6’5″) and I’m of average height (5’6″) and curvier than him, so we prioritized items that would work for a wide range of body types and that were gender neutral.
Here’s what we ended up with:
Diaper Bag – Jujube “BFF”
I bought mine in the Herringbone “Queen of The Nile” print from Amazon, but it’s also sold at Nordstrom and I’ve now regularly seen it sold for less on Zulily. I was so excited about this bag that I actually bought it when I was only 2 months pregnant so that we could use it on a trip to a friend’s wedding in Peru, where it made an excellent day bag. It was, however, my first foray into the “baby tax” (aka take a normal thing, associate the word “baby” with it, and add about $100 to the price), but I feel like we’ve gotten our money’s worth. What I love about it:
- It converts to a backpack or messenger style bag, so it’s easily interchangeable
- It comes in prints that are a little more adult, so my husband/brother/dad don’t mind carrying it, and it also doesn’t scream “I CARRY POOP CONTAINERS” in the same way that other bags do.
- Unlike most backpack-style diaper bags, it is wider than it is deep, so you don’t have to blindly navigate through an abyss when you desperately need that hand sanitizer.
- There are enough pockets that I didn’t need to buy separate organizers for the inside, and the lining, while not waterproof, is easily wiped down if your toddler squeezes an entire pouch of pureed apples and spinach in it (not saying that happened to me, but if it did….).
2. Umbrella Stroller – Summer Infant 3D Lite
We bought this from BuyBuyBaby with one of the 20% off coupons that you magically start to get in the mail when you’re expecting (note: you can also use Bed Bath and Beyond coupons there, and some of the more generous store employees will let you use multiples) and bought the blue color since it was less expensive than the more popular black (which does go on sale on Amazon for around $70). Here’s why it has worked for us:
- It’s tall enough for my husband. He’s about 6’5″ and didn’t like some other popular strollers because they were uncomfortable to push
- It’s lightweight (about 12 lbs). I’ve carried this thing up and down multiple flights of stairs by myself and I’m not going to win any bodybuilding competitions soon
- Unlike many lightweight strollers, it reclines (as in, you can change a diaper if you need to)
- Storage – significantly more space available under the seat than other light strollers as well as a cupholder (great for holding your sangria in Madrid’s Mercado de San Miguel or your coffee for a walk around the black) and a small velcro pocket on the back that’s useful for storing a map or some spare napkins.
- The price was right – the next closest option for us was the UppaBaby G-Lite, which was almost twice as much and didn’t recline or have much storage (although it was also tall enough for my husband). I’ve seen the way baggage handlers throw strollers on the ground to meet that 20 minute baggage guarantee, so I’d rather have them wreak havoc on a less expensive possession.
One downside is that the wheels aren’t the best on this guy. They are perfectly functional and have withstood cobblestone streets in Europe, but they’re not going to be a good choice for soft surfaces (like sand and dirt) and the front wheels have a lot of trouble on the smooth concrete floors that some places have. One other thing that would have come along with a more expensive stroller is a bigger umbrella top. This one will provide some sun/rain coverage, but we’ve used a light muslin blanket for more coverage when needed.
3. Infant stroller – Chicco KeyFit Caddy
Plain and simple, this guy weighs next to nothing and was compatible with our infant car seat (the KeyFit 30). It can practically carry an elephant in the storage bin, has convenient cupholders and a small closing compartment near the handles and can be opened/shut with one hand. We used this for most of our stroller needs until Julia was about 9 months old and we had to switch her out of the infant car seat. We bought ours at BuyBuyBaby with another 20% coupon, but it’s widely available.
4. Baby Carrier – Beco Gemini/Lillébaby CarryOn Airflow
We tried on SO many baby carriers before landing on the Beco Gemini. I rejected a lot of them if they were difficult to put on by myself (the Ergo was this way for me, although many people love it) or if they had to be adjusted in a very involved way to fit both my husband and me (also, I never did get the hang of a sling even though I desperately wanted to own a beautiful linen one. It was like merlot wine – everyone kept telling me I should love it, but I just couldn’t). The Beco was a great option for us because:
- The cross straps made it easy to put on and tighten for both my husband and me (note – it is very comfortable as a back carrier, but the cross straps do make it harder to put on by yourself in this position)
- It doesn’t require an infant insert for newborns. Because who needs another piece of equipment when babies already come with so much crap (pun intended)?
- The waistband and shoulder straps are very sturdy and padded, so they’re comfortable for long wear
The Gemini has been with us since day 1. Julia is about 25 lbs now and quite tall (she was 33.5″ at her 18 month appointment), so I’ve recently started the transition over to a Lillébaby Toddler Carrier (the Carryon Airflow) and love it so far. It provides more back support for front carrying and is easy to put on by myself for front/back carrying. It also has a pocket and a hood, which were sorely lacking on the Gemini, and a wider seat for a bigger kid. We haven’t traveled with it yet, but will update this post when we do.
Things we bought and didn’t use, or didn’t bother to buy:
- Travel crib – we have a Graco Pack and Play that we used for the first 4 weeks at home, and that we use when we have baby guests, but we opt to stay at hotels or apartments that can provide a crib or pack and play. If Julia has trouble sleeping, it’s usually jet lag related, rather than a specific bed.
- Travel tub – we registered for a tub that got used once before I figured out that just getting in the bath with Julia was easier. No travel tub here!
- Travel highchair – we purchased a fabric one for our first trip to Europe last year that never got used. It’s not bulky by itself, but we just didn’t really want to carry it around and there were plenty of high chairs in Lisbon (and the seating in Madrid wasn’t conducive to a high chair where we went). Nowadays, Julia mostly wants her own seat, or to sit on my lap, so while we might bring it again for our trip this spring, I don’t picture her using it.
- Car seat cart – we bought the Brica Smart Move Car Seat Transporter from Amazon at the recommendation of a blog that I love (The Traveling Child). It arrived and even though it only weighs 8 lbs, it felt SO heavy that we returned it. Also, we would probably never bring it instead of a stroller, and most of our long distance travel has been to larger cities where we didn’t need a car seat (and we choose not to use one on planes). I could see this possibly being useful if you had several kids, were traveling for a longer period of time, or were planning to bring your car seat on board a plane.
We started with the basics I listed above on a domestic trip from Seattle to Philadelphia when Julia was 2 months old. While the things we need may change as Julia grows or we expand our family someday, these items were a great start and enabled us to make traveling with a baby as simple as possible. What are your travel essentials with kids?