What to Pack in Your Carry On When Flying with a Baby

Traveling with a baby is tough stuff, and if you’re anything like me, the idea of flying with a baby adds a whole new layer of anxiety. The anxiety kept me up for weeks before my first flight with Gemma. It didn’t help that I was planning to do it solo! My dear dad ended up accompanying me for one half of the trip to lend an extra hand, which was a huge relief, but I still wanted to pack and act as if I were traveling alone. After all, on the return trip I would be alone, so I wanted to have the experience under my belt.

Deciding whether or not to check or gate check our car seat and stroller was a well thought out decision. In the end however, the decision was easy for me. I needed a safe place to keep Gemma cozy if I was going to be getting through security, passing time in airports, and boarding/deboarding planes solo. Also, little gal is a heavy one, and I worried about how tired I would be if I were to wear or hold her the entire day!

But following that decision came the sheer panic of: how can I fit everything Gemma needs in a day in a carry on? Where will my things fit? And what if we’re delayed or get stranded somewhere? Certainly I couldn’t pack up everything Gemma owns and squeeze it into a carry on bag, nor did I want to be wheeling a carry on suitcase through an airport while pushing a stroller.

So first I had to decide what bags to use as my carry on bags, and then it was time to figure out what exactly needed to go in said bags to make sure we had all of our bases covered.

What Kind of Bags to Use as Carry Ons When Flying with a Baby 

If you’re a minimalist, you may prefer the mom blogs who highly recommend packing for you AND baby in one single carry on. I tried. Desperately. I tried packing everything on my list in 3 different diaper bags before running to Target the day before my first flight and buying a fourth diaper bag that I thought might be a tad bit bigger only to realize, screw it. I need a diaper bag and a purse. So I brought both, and I got by just fine, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Especially because I did not check my carseat and stroller. Since Gemma was in her bucket infant seat and stroller almost the entire time, it wasn’t really a big deal to have a cross body purse and a back pack. See how all these decisions are working together my friend?

Before I share what goes into my diaper bag while flying with a baby, I must absolutely beg and plead with you to get a backpack style diaper bag if you’re even considering flying with a baby. Like I said above, I tried packing in multiple diaper bags before buying  (at the very last minute) the one that completely saved the trip. Everyone had told me “get a backpack!” “you must travel with a backpack!” “a backpack will free up everything!” and all I could think was… a backpack? No thank you. But the fear and anxiety of traveling alone with a baby kept on creeping up on me so I caved. And I bought a backpack diaper bag. And I have never been so thankful for a purchase as I was that first trip.

(I hope by now you’ve already added the backpack diaper bag to your online shopping cart somewhere, because yes, it’s really that imperative.)

My exact backpack style diaper bag is the Eddie Bauer Fashion Backpack in Heather Gray, but I’ve also compiled some of my top favorites from other brands:

Also important is to think about the purse you’ll bring for your own carry on. The details that are most important to be are: cross body, small in size, and full zipper. My normal, day to day purse is a Louis Vuitton Neverfull GM. It’s big. It’s glorious. It fits my laptop nicely (when needed). And when I throw in a red Totesaavy insert it instantly doubles as a diaper bag. But it is not the bag I carry on when flying with a baby. Especially if I’m flying alone with her. The bag is too big. If I put it in the underneath compartment of the stroller, there’d barely be room for anything else. If it’s on my shoulder, it swings around and bumps into things and it’s annoying to have my baby on my other hip. If it’s under my seat on the airplane, there’s no way my baby’s diaper bag will also fit (which is far more important to have handy mid flight). That means… it’s going in the overhead compartment. But oh wait, it doesn’t zip. So if it tips over, things have a chance of spilling out.

When picking the purse you’ll bring with you as a carry on, go small. Go cross body. And pick a purse that has a full zipper or closes well so you can toss it above your seat on the plane and not worry about spilling items.

What to Pack in Your Baby’s Carry On

  • Diapers. I’ve always flown with enough diapers for 1 entire day. Even when my day of travel was only 4 hours long start to finish. You just never know. You may go through extra diapers because it’s really, really hard to change a baby on an airplane, or you may wind up delayed for hours in an airport that doesn’t sell baby supplies. (Why don’t airports sell baby supplies?!) My special tip? Bring a couple of overnight diapers. We use them on Gemma each night because she sleeps 11/12 hours and they have higher absorption. Put on an overnight diaper right before boarding. If you think you might be able to make it the whole flight without a change, this may just give you the extra coverage needed. I’ve also now encountered more then one type of plane that doesn’t have an infant changing table in the bathroom! I literally almost died when I learned this, but we managed to hold out until the end of the flight in her overnight diaper.
  • Wipes. Make sure you get a nice full package, and splurge on the kind meant for on the go use that has a plastic closing device. No one wants to be cleaning up a blowout on an airplane with dried out wipes.
  • Bottle. Don’t hate me or judge me. But I travel with only 1 bottle on me. Yes, at home I religiously wash and scrub and dry bottles all day every day. But on the go, on planes and in the airport, after a feeding I simply give the bottle a quick rinse with soap and water in whatever bathroom I can find and move on with my day.
  • Formula. I bring enough formula for an entire day, even if I’m only expecting to feed her once or twice during our trip. I preportion each of her usual bottles (80z) and store in a handy formula dispenser. Once we get to the airport I make sure to buy a large bottle of water to keep in my bag as well, so I can mix bottles ahead of her feeding time. In addition to her usual feeding portions (4- 8oz bottles), I also pack a few pre-measured packets of on the go formula. It helps babies ears if they are feeding during takeoff and landing, so in case a take off or landing isn’t timed around her usual feeding, I can easily offer her a small “snack” and not worry about wasting the formula I brought for her feedings. If your baby isn’t picky about nipples, you can buy disposable nipples on Amazon which gives you one less thing to clean while on the go!
  • Bibs. I don’t even want to tell you how many bibs I pack for a single day. It’s embarrassing. But Gemma is a drool and spit up queen, and the messiest bottle feeder I’ve ever seen (still), so we pack heavy here.
  • 2 burp cloths.
  • 2 extra outfits. Yes, 2. I keep 2 extra zip up, footed pjs in my diaper bag because accidents happen. It could be a blowout (the pressure apparently makes babies go), a pee that leaks (because the last time you put on a clean diaper you were awkwardly standing in a 3×4 bathroom wrangling a wiggly baby on a changing table that’s barely the size of said baby all while balancing against the turbulence), a burp gone wrong, or a “whoops I just spilled a bottle of formula all over my baby and the stranger next to me because it’s hard to mix a bottle while holding a baby on your lap in a tiny airplane seat.” Like I said, accidents happen. Bring extra clothes.
  • 2 muslin blankets. I keep 1 on the baby/in the car seat while in the airport, and 1 in the diaper bag for backup.
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Pacifier and clip goes on baby day of travel
  • 1 small toy that can clip onto backpack. Obviously as your baby gets older, toys and books may be more important to keep your LO occupied. But prior to 6 months old, when flying with Gemma we’ve brought a toy like this or this that has a few things to look at and touch, multiple textures, and makes some kind of noise but nothing so obnoxious it will make enemies. I like that each can clip onto her backpack diaper bag so that it doesn’t take up space in either of our bags, and it’s easy to pull off when I need it in a pinch.

What to Pack in Your Carry On When Flying with a Baby

While I do pack a purse of my own (rather than trying to squeeze into baby’s diaper bag), I also realize this is a time to pack lightly. I have yet to have a moment on a plane while holding my infant in my lap where I actually had “down time” to do anything more than just sit and relax and enjoy the quiet.

  • The usual wallet, ID, phone, charger, headphones, etc.
  • Chapstick
  • Extra t-shirt and leggings. I mean it. If you can fit it. Pack it. Remember when I said accidents happen? The time I was flying alone Gemma peed, leaked through her diaper, soaked her pajamas and gave me a huge wet spot right on my lap of my jeans. I hadn’t heeding the advice of another mom in my mom group, and regretted it terribly.
  • Granola bar or another light snack
  • That’s it! Everything else I’d usually carry around in my purse, I check. Because really, I can kill all the time in the world on my phone if need be. I can watch TV shows, read a book, browse online. And I can hold it in one hand if my baby is sleeping awkwardly on my lap / in my arms. The truth is, 99% of your day of travel is going to revolve around worrying about your baby and managing your baby, so you need very little for yourself other than some quick and easy to access fuel for your body!

Like I said in the beginning of this post, there are different approaches to carrying on bags when flying with a baby. Some moms insist on only having 1 bag for the whole family. I say, kudos to them! But I can’t do it. There are also moms who probably bring 3x as many items as I’ve listed above. This is what’s worked for us, and what we’ll continue doing on upcoming flights.

If you’re preparing for a trip with your little one, make sure you also read what I pack in my checked luggage when traveling with a baby, and how we decided what to do with our carseat and stroller when flying with a baby.

Finally, if you think I’ve left something out, or if you have your own tips and tricks for what to bring in your carry on when flying with a baby, please share below in the comments!

Featured image by: Glitter Inc.

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