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Step-by-Step Guide for International Travel With an Infant

international travel with an infant




Written by:

Barbara Mighdoll

So you've got this adorable new addition to your family and you're itching to introduce them to the wonders of the world. Good news! The third and fourth months of your baby's life are the perfect time to start traveling – road trips, domestic flights in the United States, and yes, international trips too. Your little one can snooze through most flights (especially in a comfy bassinet seat) or car rides, doesn't require their own plane seat, and can be easily transported from place to place in a compact stroller.

But hold on, there's a bit of groundwork for you new parents to lay before you can jet off on international travel. It might seem like a mountain of tasks, but trust me, it's easier than you think! We had grand plans to whisk our firstborn, Caden, off to the South of France or Tuscany, Italy… and then, well, COVID happened. So, our dream three-week family trip got postponed until our second baby, Willow, was born. We learned A LOT about traveling internationally with an infant (and toddler) from our trip to Italy when Willow was 2 months old.

We were so eager to travel that we'd already booked our flights and accommodations before Willow's arrival, so when it came to getting her passport, we had to be quick off the mark. Now, our kids are seasoned travelers, ready to globe-trot with us at a moment's notice. Aside from numerous U.S. destinations, they've explored Mexico, Italy, and next on the list… Portugal. 

Needless to say, we are big fans of travel as a family, and I’m here to show you it can be done with tiny little newborns!  I hope these baby tips and tricks for international travel that we've picked up along the way will be helpful to you.

1. Secure your flights and bulkhead seats before your baby is born

When to book your flights

Book your trip far in advance – you aren’t going to want the stress of planning an international trip when you are a sleep deprived, exhausted parent of a 2 week old. Figure out the ideal dates for your trip based on when you expect your baby to be no less than 8 weeks old. You may be asking… how soon can you travel with a newborn? Most pediatricians recommend waiting until your baby is at least 2 to 3 months old since your baby’s immune system is still developing. Check with your doctor for guidance.

You're going to want to buy refundable tickets for travel. Yes, refundable tickets might be a bit pricier, but they're worth every penny for the peace of mind they offer in case either baby or Mama aren't up for international travel. Again, you should consult with your pediatrician before traveling. We haven’t done this, but you may want to consider travel insurance depending on your circumstances.

Seats to reserve

Plus, booking well in advance means you're more likely to snag those coveted bulkhead seats. Of course the extra space is nice, but that's where you can also secure the airplane bassinet so that you don't feel the need to buy your baby an extra seat for long haul flights. Do check with your airline to confirm which seats – the ones by the window or the ones in the center of the plane – have bassinet access. For instance, when we flew United, we initially bought the row of bulkhead seats by the window, only to find out that the bassinet attachments were only available in the center group of seats. So, we had to switch.

You may be having the big debate of splurging for business class. My 2 cents: at minimum get yourself Premium Economy (one class up from Economy Plus). But if you plan far in advance you can take advantage of credit card bonus point deals to upgrade yourself to Business class tickets in time for your trip!

international travel with an infant: airplane bassinet
airplane bassinet

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2. Obtain your baby’s official birth certificate and social security number ASAP

To apply for a U.S. passport, you'll need your baby’s birth certificate and their social security number. Both of these can only be obtained after your baby is born. In the hospital, you'll likely receive a certificate, but for your baby’s passport, you'll need the “certified birth certificate” (issued by your city, county, or state, depending on where you live). Once you get the official birth certificate, double-check that both parents’ names are printed correctly as it will be used as proof of parental identity. Typically, you'll receive the official birth certificate one to two weeks after giving birth. In some cases, you can request to pick it up instead of having it mailed if you're in a rush and the records office is nearby.

Pro tip: Get in touch with your hospital administration (or whoever handles processing) ASAP once your baby arrives. They usually only submit to the City/County/State once or twice a week, so you'll want to get it in early if you're in a rush, definitely before the weekend. There can be added fees for expediting, but if you're pressed for time for an international trip, ask if there's anything the hospital can do to speed things up.

3. Complete Form DS-11, but hold off on signing it

The DS-11 form is the official application for your infant's passport. You'll need your baby’s social security number to fill out the form, along with the basics like date of birth, place of birth, gender, and contact info for both parents. You can find the Form DS-11 right here. *Important* don't sign the forms just yet — you'll need to sign in person during your passport appointment!

When you submit your application, you'll also need to send both the original copy of your baby’s official birth certificate (don't worry, they'll mail it right back to you!) and a photocopy of it. Both parents need to submit their own IDs. This, along with the birth certificate, verifies that you are indeed the baby’s parents. Your passports or driver’s licenses will work for this. You'll need to bring your passport/license to your appointment, along with copies for each of you.

Pro Tips: 

  • If you're in a rush, schedule your passport appointment before your baby arrives. We did this and walked right into the post office when Willow was 7 days old.
  • Make sure your identification copies are on white, 8.5” x 11″ standard paper, black and white, and single sided.
  • If you've adopted your baby, you'll need to bring your adoption decree and copies of it as well. 

4. Attend Your Passport Application Appointment as a family

The Passport Appointment

You'll need to schedule an in-person appointment with both parents/guardians present. If one parent can't make it, fill out a “Statement of Consent” (Form DS-3053) for the non-appearing parent and get it notarized. You'll also need a clear copy of the non-applying parent's government-issued photo ID, front and back. In most cases, I highly recommend making this appointment as soon as you have the birth certificate and social security number just in case there's a wait!! Our local post offices only accept appointments 4 weeks in advance. While you wait for your appointment date, start preparing all of the forms and materials you need to bring with you.

During the appointment they'll take your baby’s passport photo, review all your forms, and check your identification. Then, you'll sign the DS-11 form in front of them, they'll attach your baby’s photo to the application, and you'll pay the fee to officially submit it. It’s $100 for the passport itself, and $35 for the processing fee. It’s important to note that the state department is a bit old school, and you must submit a check (personal, certified, cashier's, traveler's) or money order payable to “U.S. Department of State”. Unfortunately, credit and debit cards are not accepted. 

Ahead of your appointment, confirm if the location offers passport photo services because it's time to take that perfect shot of your baby for their passport, but don't worry, there's a bit more flexibility with baby passport photos. It's understood that getting a photo of a newborn with their eyes fully open, looking at the camera, and sitting up is a tall order. For tips on a DIY passport photo, check out tip #3 on this baby passport FAQ.

Tracking Your Baby's Passport Progress

After your application is submitted at your appointment, you can track your baby’s passport application with the government’s passport application tracker. For expected processing times, check out tip #7 on my baby passport FAQ.

Forgot this critical step?

Forgot to get your baby a passport and now have no time before your trip? Don’t panic. There are services for this. There are some qualifying criteria first: 

a) If you have not yet applied, you must be traveling internationally within 14 calendar days. 

b) If you have already applied, you must be traveling internationally within 5 calendar days. 

If one of these circumstances describes you, then you need to quickly find your nearest Passport Agency and call their office to make an appointment. You can find a map of these here. Be aware that these agencies and centers are different from passport acceptance facilities (for example, USPS is an acceptance facility but not going to cut it as a passport agency when you need urgent results).

Pro Tip: If you choose to expedite your passport processing, there is an additional $60 fee. Technically, that $60 additional expedited fee is for once the passport arrives. To avoid issues with mail transit, you should invest in certified tracking or pay additionally to expedite (yes this is on top of passport, processing, and expedited fees).

5. Select spacious accommodations with home-like amenities

When traveling with an infant, your choice of accommodation can make a big difference. Instead of the usual hotel room, consider booking a vacation rental that offers more space and home-like amenities.

Having separate sleeping and living areas can be a lifesaver when traveling with a baby. You can put your baby down for a nap or bedtime in a quiet room, while you relax, squeeze in a workout, or plan your next day.

Look for accommodations with a kitchen or kitchenette. Having the ability to store and prepare baby food, formula, or breast milk can make meal times easier and more flexible. Plus, you can save money by eating meals in. We personally love shopping local and cooking meals with fun local ingredients.

Also, consider the location of your accommodation. Staying in a central location can reduce travel time and make it easier to return for nap time or if you forget something. 

Pro tip: check if your accommodation offers baby gear like a crib or high chair. Many family-friendly accommodations do, and it can save you the hassle and space of bringing your own.

family villa in Tuscany
our villa in Tuscany

6. Plan a conservative itinerary

Traveling with an infant means slowing down. Gone are the days of jam-packed itineraries, adventurous bucket list checking outings, rushing from one tourist spot to another. With a baby in tow, you'll want to plan a more relaxed and flexible schedule. Our go-to is always TripAdvisor to research the best local spots and tours.

Babies need frequent breaks for feeding, diaper changes, and just to relax and play. So, instead of trying to see everything, pick one, yes I said one, big outing each day. This could mean wine tasting at a beautiful winery in Tuscany, soaking in the sun with a beach day in the South of Spain, or exploring The Louvre followed by a picnic lunch in front of the Eiffel Tower. 

Also, consider your baby's nap times. If your little one sleeps well in a stroller or carrier, you might plan your day around a long walk or a museum visit during nap. If your baby prefers a quiet, dark room, you might head back to your hotel or vacation rental for nap time.

And don't forget to plan some downtime for yourself too! Traveling with a baby can be exhausting, and you'll enjoy your trip more if you're not worn out. So, whether it's a leisurely lunch while the baby naps, a quiet evening cooking dinner with local ingredients in your villa, or even a relaxing bath after the baby's bedtime, make sure to take some time for yourself doing absolutely nothing.

The goal of your trip is to enjoy your time as a family, not to see and do everything. So, take it slow, be flexible, and savor this special time with your baby.

international travel with an infant: wine tasting with a baby

7. Add a lap infant to your flight reservation

Next up, you'll want to add your infant to your flight reservation as a lap child. Even though your baby will be on your lap for the journey, airlines still need to know they're coming. This process varies by airline, but typically, you can add a lap infant during the booking process or by calling customer service after you've booked your own ticket.

While your baby might not need their own seat, there could be additional fees for a lap infant on international flights, but the cost is nothing compared to an adult fare. So, make sure to check with your airline about any extra costs.

Pro tip: As soon as you walk onto the airplane, ask the flight attendant to set up the baby bassinet after takeoff if you were lucky enough to get the bulkhead seats. It's a good idea to board during family boarding for extra time to get on the plane and get situated in your airplane seat.

8. Set up your baby for Global Entry

Consider setting up Global Entry for your baby. This program can make re-entry into the U.S. a breeze, saving you time and stress at customs.

To do this, you'll need to apply for Global Entry for your baby, just like you would for an adult. The process involves filling out an online application and scheduling an interview.

Keep in mind though, unlike TSA pre-check, even if both parents have Global Entry, it doesn't extend to your baby. Each individual, regardless of age, needs their own Global Entry to use the expedited lanes.

Pro tip: You can actually do your interview upon arrival back in the U.S. from an international trip. This is called “Enrollment on Arrival” and it's a great way to knock out the interview without an extra trip to the airport.

9. Schedule baby’s vaccinations at least 2 weeks ahead of your travel

Check to ensure traveling with your infant is safe by your doctor. Ask about the specific vaccinations your destination requires, whether your baby can wear sunscreen or bug spray, and the methods to protect your baby from diseases prevalent in the area you plan to visit

If you plan to travel when your infant is 8 weeks old, you can usually administer most, if not all, of the 2-month shots safely from 6 weeks old. We chose this approach for Willow to ensure her full protection by the time we traveled when she was 8 weeks old. *I am not a medical professional, and you need to consult with your pediatrician on what is best for your family.

2 month shots

10. Buy the right baby gear

The must-have baby gear

You’ll need the right baby gear to make your travel simpler. Here are my must-have travel essentials along with the actual brands we use:

If the hotel or vacation rental you’re staying at does not have a crib, you’ll also need to bring a lightweight portable travel crib (we love the Guava Lotus) and depending on the age of your baby, you'll also want the Slumberpod. However, I strongly recommend booking one that does have a crib so you don’t need to pack this!

international travel with an infant: baby gear

The nice-to-have baby gear

Some other items I couldn’t live without: I highly recommend packing the Baby Bjorn Bouncer if your baby is not sitting up on their own yet. It may be bulky to travel with, but you can bring it as a carry on in this handy Travel Bag and it's 100% worth the hassle to have a safe place to set down your infant while you are getting ready, during meals, really any time of the day. Another travel must for me was the SnuggleMe Feeding Pillow, which allowed for hands free feeding on the airplane, and hands free napping on Mama on the airplane or during meals out and about.

11. Craft a smart packing list

Packing list for your infant

Packing for a trip with an infant requires a bit more thought and planning. You're not just packing for yourself anymore, but for a tiny human who has their own set of needs. So craft your packing list well in advance of your trip.

First, make a list of all the everyday essentials your baby will need. Diapers, wipes, clothes, feeding supplies, and comfort items like a favorite blanket or stuffed animal.

Second, think about what you'll need for the flight itself. Pack enough diapers in your carry-on bag for 3 days, and 3 changes of extra clothes – you never know if your flight will be delayed, diverted or canceled.

Third, consider what you can buy like diapers and formula at your destination. But if you are like me, and are very particular about the products you use on your baby or if your destination is a bit more remote, I recommend utilizing the extra space in your checked car seat bag to fill it with enough diapers for your trip.

Fourth, plan for the medical unknowns. Pack an infant thermometer, infant tylenol, infant ibuprofen, infant benadryl, medicine dispenser, nose frida with extra filters, saline spray, natural vapor rub, antibiotic ointment, bandaids, adult tylenol, adult cold and flu medicine, and tums. You can usually find most of these items at a local pharmacy, but pharmacies often don't operate 24/7.

Lastly, pack items that will help maintain your baby's sleep routine, like a portable white noise machine, swaddle or sleep sack. I love how small the new Hatch’s Rest Go sound machine is.

Your packing list

For your own packing list, I know it is HARD, but I recommend fighting the urge to overpack for the “just in case” moments. Instead, build a thoughtful capsule wardrobe to save space in your luggage and minimize shoe options (both Jason and I basically lived in our Birkenstocks for 3 weeks in Italy). It’s a fun project during your middle-of-the-night feedings in those hazy first few weeks of newborn life 🙂

For luggage, we brought 3 roller bags: two large checked bags and one small carry-on bag. My favorite carry-on bags are Beis The Carry On Roller or July Carry On Pro.

12. Plan for breast milk and formula on the flight

Nursing while traveling

If you're breastfeeding, consider your comfort and privacy while on the move. Many airports offer nursing rooms, but on the plane, you might want a window seat for a bit more privacy. A nursing cover can also be a lifesaver (literally every single friend of mine owns this one). Personally I opted for this with Caden, but with my second baby, Willow, I embraced feeding in public and cared less about modesty.

international travel with an infant: nursing on an airplane

Pumping while traveling

If you are at all reliant on pumping, bring your breast pumps with you in your carry-on bag. The last thing you'll want to stress about is your luggage getting lost with your pump in it. I also highly recommend bringing a manual breast pump as a backup in case your pump stops working or you lose a part.

I tested multiple coolers and ice packs and these are the winners to bring with you on the plane:

Using formula while traveling

For those using formula, pack enough for the long flight and bring 3 days of extra formula in your carry-on luggage for any unexpected delays or difficulties in finding formula at your final destination. Pack a travel sized formula container and ask the airline for hot water.

Pro Tips: 

  • TSA allows you to bring a reasonable amount of breast milk, formula, and baby food for your infant. It's exempt from the 3-1-1 liquids rule, but you do need to declare it at security.
  • Pack a few extra bottles, a bottle warmer and portable bottle cleaner and soap.
  • Pack these breast pump cleaning wipes for on-the-go pumping.
  • To avoid ear pain, plan to feed your baby during takeoff and landing.

13. Strategize airport security

Navigating airport security with an infant requires a bit of strategy when you have young children. Jason and I literally talked through the entire ordeal prior to arriving at the airport – who would wear the baby, who would lift the stroller, etc.

If you do not have TSA pre-check check if the airport has a family lane. These lanes are designed for families, and can make the process smoother without having an annoyed traveler giving you dirty looks behind you.

Baby gear like strollers and car seats need to go through the X-ray machine. Decide who will be in charge of folding up your stroller. If you bring your car seat through security, you'll need to clip the straps together and flip it upside down to go through the machine.

Wear your baby in a baby carrier if possible. This frees up your hands for handling IDs, tickets, and luggage. In most cases, you will not be asked to remove your baby from the carrier during the screening process.

Plan to do a diaper change after you get through security, before boarding.

Pro tip: If you are traveling with the UppaBaby Vista, it won’t fit through the X-ray machine. You’ll need to wait for a TSA agent to conduct an extra security check. This stroller is bulky and heavy to be traveling with, which is why I’m the absolute biggest fan of the UppaBaby Minu V2.

14. AirTag all your checked baggage

When it comes to international travel with an infant, keeping track of your belongings becomes even more crucial. Airlines, unfortunately, can misplace luggage, and this risk seems to increase with international travel. To help prevent this, consider using Apple AirTags on your checked luggage, including gate-checked stroller bags. Use different colored keychain holders and assign the colors to your Find My app. Make note of which bag is which color. The airline actually lost our gate-checked stroller when we went to Italy and it took 8 days to get it back. By having the AirTag we were able to locate our stroller and help the airline coordinate delivery.

Always make sure to have your most valuable and essential items – like passports, wallets, and necessary baby supplies – in your carry-on luggage. And when it comes to gate-checked items, make sure they're securely packed and labeled with your contact information. 

15. Enjoy exploring the world as a family!

Once you reach your final destination, expect jet lag to take three days to wear off. We had one of the most magical experiences on our international family trip to Italy during our parental leaves. Will my kids remember it? No, but there is photographic proof they were there, and it was made so much more special because of it.

international travel with an infant

So, there you have it, a step-by-step guide full of my best tips to traveling internationally with an infant. Follow these steps to enjoy the adventure of a lifetime with your little one. If this still seems too overwhelming, but you're anxious for a getaway, consider a roadtrip (and here are some tips)!

Interested in an extended international trip with your baby?

And if you are ready for an extended international trip, I’m excited to share we’ve booked a two-month “Boundless Life” experience next summer. This program is for digital nomad families, with co-working space for adults and daycare, preschool and elementary school for the kids. Want to join us? I’ll be writing more about Boundless Life and our decision to take this adventure soon. But in the meantime, 2024 cohorts are almost sold out, so book an intro call, and use code NEWMODERNMOM for €400 off your trip. 


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