I flew with my 5-month old with only a carry-on

The only picture of Edinburgh. And I don’t remember any backstory. SMH

A week before the lockdown last year, my mom had a conference in London and invited me and my 5-month-old son to join her on the trip. We had both been to London before, and we wanted to go somewhere we’d never been for the week before her meetings. We settled on Edinburgh, Scotland. It was stunning, fun, awesome, and this month marks the one-year anniversary of the trip. I took a single picture of anything other than Nathan for the entire trip (typical), so I can’t share how spectacularly gorgeous Scotland is, but I can tell you how I travelled with my baby including packing tips, planning, packing regrets, and more.

I did A LOT of research leading up to the trip. We got the cheapest tickets to London we could find, which meant one two-hour layover in Toronto on the way there, and one one-hour layover in Brussels on the way back. As a general rule, when travelling with kids, I’d say a direct flight is best. It worked out fine for us because Nathan was so young and because of some quick thinking on our part. The layover on the return journey was so short we played it safe and took the Eurostar to Brussels the day before to catch our early-morning flight back to Montreal. The layover in Toronto would have been too short if we had had to go pick up our checked luggage. With an infant in tow, I had enough surprises to deal with so I elected to plan for the worst.

That meant I needed to ONLY have carry-on items. With a baby.

How to pack

First time on a plane!

Nathan had a reduced fare because he was travelling on my lap. People travelling with babies under two are allowed a stroller and a diaper bag in addition to the standard carry-on item and personal item. I have a LOT of clothes, and a LOT of shoes, most of them impractical, and I’ve always packed way more than I need. I once went to Paris for one week, with a different pair of shoes for every day. Obviously, that wasn’t going to be possible this time.

Rather than dumping an array of fashionable clothing items to choose from in a suitcase like I normally would, I had to be very strategic in the pieces I selected. I opted for the 5–4–3–2–1 packing method. I discovered it during my careful prior research (I can’t recall what website) and it worked GREAT. Your baseline is five pairs of underwear and socks, four tops, three pairs of pants, two pairs of shoes, and one hat. Depending on where you’re going, what you’re doing and what events you will be attending, you add PJs, a dress, a fancy top, anything you might need. I used the same method for Nathan, with a few more changes of clothing to account for the high likelihood of him soiling them somehow.

Using that method, I selected pieces that are comfortable, that I like, and that are effortless. I brought a pair of sweatpants, these leggings, and a pair of jeans. I brought t-shirts that go with any of the bottoms and the long-sleeve layering shirt I wore on the plane. This flowy tunic to pair with the leggings was perfect for the dinner party we were invited to.

I debated counting out the specific number of diapers I would need for the whole trip, but the reality is that diapers exist everywhere. I decided not to weigh myself down with tons of diapers and just buy one small pack there if needed.

OK, so I know what clothes I’ll bring. How will I carry them?

Luggage

I have a few carry-on size pieces of luggage, but they’re all the same — wheels and an extending handle to roll it through the airport. But if you’re pushing a stroller, can you really push/pull a piece of luggage at the same time? Not only that — immediately after our flight, we had to hop on the London Underground to get to the train station, where we would then catch a train to Edinburgh. I didn’t know our exact trajectory through London, but I was reasonably sure there would be stairs involved at some point. So I needed something more versatile than a standard rollable carry-on suitcase. I went with this piece of luggage. It’s carry-on size, can be rolled, and transforms into a backpack. To keep everything organized in there and easy to locate, I got packing cubes. My clothes fit in the largest one and my underwear fit in the smallest one. All of Nathan’s things fit in the medium one.

So let’s envision this. I’m pushing Nathan in the stroller with the diaper bag strapped to the handlebar, my personal item in the stroller basket, and my carry-on on my back. So far, so good. Will I need to carry everything in another configuration?… Turns out I will.

The airport

Everyone has to go through security at the airport. We all know that we need to separate our computers from the rest of our stuff and carry our liquids in a see-through bag. But did you know that strollers need to be folded to go through the x-ray machine as well? Forget scrambling to fold the stroller with a baby on one hip while you’re in line for security. At the airport, use the baby carrier. It’ll leave both your hands free to provide boarding passes and identification, and eat a snack while you’re on the move. I have the Ergobaby Omni 360 Cool Air Mesh, which I love. Besides all the different ways you can carry your baby, it comes with a fanny-pack-style pouch that can be detached and should fit passports, boarding passes, phone, snacks & chapstick. Unfortunately, I misplaced mine, so I got a different one for the trip. I think it’s slightly bigger but it doesn’t match the carrier (it did match my diaper bag though). You simply attach it to the belt using the velcro. I kept all toiletries in an easily accessible Zip-Lock bag so that I could pull it out fast in the security line-up without having to dig through all my stuff to find it.

So. In the airport I’ve got Nathan in the front-carry position and the diaper bag on my back. I’m rolling my carry-on luggage, carrying the folded stroller (which comes with it’s own bag) on one shoulder, and my personal item is hanging on my rolling luggage. Heavy and bulky, but doable.

The stroller

Let’s talk about this stroller. If I’m going to have to carry it in addition to all the rest of my stuff AND my baby, it’s gotta be light. Unfortunately, most of the super lightweight travel strollers are no good for babies who can’t sit up alone yet. One of the only ones that does work for younger babies, is the Guzzie & Guss Oxygen stroller. We LOVED it on this trip. It weighs 12 pounds, you can fold it with one hand, it can go flat for the little ones, it has suspension on it’s wheels, and it’s SUPER maneuverable. For reference — I used it for Black Friday shopping in Manchester, New Hampshire before Nathan was even four months old, and he slept through most of it. Storage isn’t great, so I got a mommy hook to easily and quickly attach bags to the frame. With all the walking and souvenir buying we did in Edinburgh, it definitely came in handy.

Obviously, my mom helped me with everything and I didn’t end up having to carry all this stuff alone. We were even able to check my carry-on in the end to make it even easier. But my mom has tendonitis and can get very bad migraines, so again, I needed to prepare for the worst, and ensure that I would be able to manage things myself in case she was incapacitated.

Now. I’ve thought of a lot of the details, but I feel like I’m forgetting a few things…

Weather-wise

I’ve heard people say that first-time moms are more intense when it comes to packing a million things to be prepared. Maybe that’s what happened. Maybe I’m just a badass with a sixth sense, because we ended up needing almost EVERYTHING I packed. Pretty late in the prepping game I realized that we were going to the UK, and their weather isn’t the same as ours (duh). It rains there. A lot.

Keeping the different potential carrying configurations in mind, how was I going to keep us warm & dry? I needed a raincoat, rain boots, a rain cover for the stroller, and a rain cover for the baby carrier.

With my body type, it’s a struggle to find a raincoat that protects my behind and my legs. The one I got worked well at first, but as we walked around and my body temperature rose, condensation built up inside it and I ended up getting wet anyways. I’ve since traded up for this one, but I haven’t really put it through any rigorous testing so I can’t say if it’s any better.

Rain boots are too bulky to pack in a carry-on, so they needed to be comfortable enough for me to wear them travelling and easy enough to toe off in the airport security lineup while carrying Nathan. These Hunters worked great for me.

I got this cover that pins to any rain jacket you’re wearing to protect Nathan in the carrier, and a few hours before our flight, I ran to Walmart to get this stroller cover because I couldn’t find ours.

On the plane

I didn’t want to have to deal with tiny baby clothing items on the plane so Nathan wore onesies whenever we were travelling: comfortable for him, easy to keep track of for me. The carrier was key during the flight. When Nathan got restless, I was able to wander with him without tiring my arms. I changed him at my seat when he needed changing. Having my mom next to us gave us the extra space we needed for those maneuvers.

I made sure to wear layers to be able to peel them off if I got to hot, or pile them on if I got cold. They were also useful for coverage when breastfeeding. I’m not shy when it comes to breastfeeding, but it can be kind of uncomfortable when you do it in close quarters with strangers, like in economy on a transatlantic flight, or on the London Underground.

Food

Everyone’s baby feeding journey is obviously different. I was lucky enough to be able to breastfeed exclusively from birth. knowing I was going to be travelling, I chose to wait as long as possible to start Nathan on solids so that I wouldn’t have to carry any specific food for him. I forgot about myself though.

Unfortunately, we got stuck on the tarmac in Toronto for about three hours before finally taking off for London, England. Make sure to BRING SNACKS. You don’t know what might happen, and if you don’t have enough energy, things will go downhill fast. Lucky for me, my mom was there to pressure the flight attendant into giving me some food & drink before takeoff since I was breastfeeding. But I made sure to have snacks thereafter.

Regrets

The ties I used to attach my personal item to my luggage as I rolled it through the airport didn’t really hold things in place well. My bag kept swinging over the side when I walked. I don’t think the ties are intended to be used with anything but a hardshell suitcase. I was using this diaper bag as my personal item and it’s equipped to slide onto your luggage, but that doesn’t work on luggage with a single-rod handle, like mine. If you’ve got a fix, let me know.

I got myself a Trtl neck pillow because it seemed smaller and less bulky than a regular one, but I didn’t like it at all. It wasn’t stiff enough to properly hold my head while sleeping on the plane and it was just as annoying to store as a regular full size neck pillow.

I didn’t bring many toys and books but I didn’t really need to bring any, besides Nathan’s travel Sophie. He was more interested in my plane snack wrappers than anything else. I should have gotten a leash for his teething toy though. He dropped it out of the stroller at Paddington Station. I later got these, which have come in extremely handy.

Journalist turned marketer turned mom & more.

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