Travel Gear for Baby: What You Actually Need To Travel With Kids, From a Man’s Point of View
The baby gear you really need doesn’t include a crib.
Ditch the baby crib, buy a baby cage. My wife and I have had the great “privilege” ( that’s what we are going to call it today) of raising four children together, while being avid travelers. Traveling with children is not always easy, but it is not NEARLY as difficult as what you might believe. We often pack up all of the children and embark on last minute adventures that span the country. Call it a healthy dose of confidence mixed with a little bit of stupidity but we don’t steer away from doing much of anything just kids are in tow. In fact, we embrace it.
We are firm believers that traveling is good for kids. Travel exposes children to the world outside of the tiny social petri dish we all call home. The world is so much bigger than wherever we are at any given moment. It is important for children (and adults) to experience and understand that. Even babies benefit from travel. If you want to be mobile with a baby the best thing you can do for yourself is ditch the baby crib and buy a baby cage (also known as a Pack ‘n Play or play yard but hereon referred to as baby cage).
Here are our thoughts on this piece of baby travel gear.
Baby gear lessons we learned the expensive way.
The no crib lifestyle is my opinion but let me lay out the background. Kid #1 had a crib but also slept in a portable play yard regularly. Crib was moved twice as rooms were rearranged before it was ever used. We were unable to use that crib again due to moves and that drop sides are now a no-no. Kid #2 we moved three times before the baby even slept in her crib. It was too wide to fit through a door and it was heavy. We bought it because it could transition into a toddler bed. It never made it to that stage. It was a monstrosity so when move #4 came into play we sold it. By then Kid #2 was in a toddler bed (that we found second hand for $20) and Kid #3 was sleeping in a pack and play. Kid #4 has never owned a crib. It never made our newborn checklist. It wasn’t a baby essential. He started out his life in a rock and play and transitioned into the pack and play from Kids #2 and #3. That $30 bought from a friend play yard may be the best investment we’ve ever made.
Not using a crib makes traveling with baby easier.
If I could impart only one piece of advice to new parents it would be to completely abandon the idea of using a baby crib. Cribs are the #1 boat anchor that virtually every parent buys for their kids and it is completely unnecessary. Contrary to popular belief, baby cribs are not a baby-must have, and quite frankly are more of a hindrance than they are anything else. Cribs are BIG, expensive, heavy, difficult to assemble, and an absolute liability to any family aspiring towards mobility. What you need, is a good quality baby cage (Pack and Play).
There are many benefits to using a pack and play over a crib, chief of which is mobility. One of the most daunting tasks when traveling with a baby (or toddler) are sleeping arrangements. Use a pack n’ play full time and you bring the same bed that your child goes to sleep in every night wherever you go. The comfort and security of home is 100% mobile. The ability to quickly and easily set up a familiar sleeping environment for the kiddo ANYWHERE you go is a life (and sanity) saver.
Cribs make it HARDER to travel because the sleeping environment that your child has grown accustomed to cannot easily be recreated while on the move. Use a fully mobile sleeping system and setting up shop at a grandparent’s house or family cabin is easy. This applies doubly so for the family friends you convinced to babysit for the weekend so you and your significant other can have some alone time (which, coincidentally, often kicks off a vicious cycle of perpetually needing babysitters).
Picking the best portable play yard.
Buying the right baby cage is crucial, as not all portable play yards are created equal. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money, but quality is important here. If you can afford to buy a high quality Pack ‘n Play new, go for it. It will still be SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than a crib. However, there are many good deals that can be found in resale stores with a little bit of research.
Tip: Want to make sure your baby gear is safe? Check for recalls before buying here.
We have used several pack and plays. The best of the best has been (hands down) the Pack ‘N Play Sport Outdoor Play Yard by Graco. Unfortunately, this model is no longer made. However, these two options are very similar- Exqline Portable Safety Kids Play Pen and the Summer Infant Pop N’ Play Deluxe Ultimate Playard. These pack and plays offer a lot of space to take a toddler all the way through to a toddler bed, are relatively small when collapsed, and are very easy to setup and take down. Some models also come with a retractable “hood” that gives it the feeling of a tent. Several of our kids absolutely loved having the hood closed on top, others preferred the top open. Our Graco model has survived hard use by 3 children and is easily one of the single best pieces of baby gear that I have ever had the privilege of owning.
Hint: If you’re thinking of heading off on a flight with baby check out these tips!
What a Newborn Really Needs
In the beginning, when the baby stays wherever you put them down, requires swaddling, and resembles an under cooked meatloaf, you don’t even need a full on Pack and Play. What you need is a Rock and Play (also very easy to find in resale shops and secondary market for a good price). These little gems can easily move from room to room, and fold down for travel with virtually no hassle. In my, experience these things were absolutely crucial in the first months/ year of having a baby. Again, it is important to buy the right one. This is the one were using which proved to be lightweight, durable, and an overall good buy. All throughout Paramedic School my youngest sat in one of these next to my desk while I studied, often for hours at a time. We bought a cheap used one to keep in the bathroom so we could take quick showers in peace.
Living the minimalist baby lifestyle with a new baby.
These small changes in parenting tactics have allowed us to raise veteran travelers (yes, even the 2 year old). They can navigate security screenings and successfully occupy themselves on long road trips with rules like “ no electronics during the day light.” I know that for a lot of families out there that are “aspiring travelers”. While this may seem like an unrealistic or even impossible goal (and it wasn’t always easy to get there), But I assure you that it can be done… as long as you approach it with the right philosophy and equipment.
Most of the crap that is on the market for babies and toddlers is completely unnecessary. While these “baby essentials” masquerade as sources of convenience and comfort they provide neither. In many cases they make getting out into the world more difficult. Those rolling fortresses marketed as strollers are a GIANT pain in the ass, heavy as hell, difficult to maneuver, and REALLY expensive. Then, to top it all off, they are touted as being “easily stowable “ because they fold in half. Folding in half while somehow still remaining the size of a Volkswagen is not my idea of convenient.
This or course brings me to my second installment of Gear You Actually Need To Travel With Kids, a Man’s Point of View, Ditch the Stroller, buy a Backpack carrier. Coming soon. We’ll link it when it’s live!