For as long as I’ve been able to travel alone, I’ve been a globetrotter. I went through life throwing a few things in a suitcase and ticking off the next destination on my bucket list.
Then I met my husband, Lee. The two of us connected over a shared love of traveling and in 2014, we set up Flash Pack, a company for solo travelers in their 30s and 40s.
Since then, jetsetting has become more than just my passion. It’s my job, and I love it.
As our business grew, so did our family. Earlier in 2019, Lee and I became parents for the first time.
But exploring the world as a new mother isn’t easy. It’s no longer possible to pack a bag at midnight and turn up 30 minutes before boarding, or take off on an impromptu weekend snowmobile safari to Finland. You need a plan, and you need to stick to it.
For many new parents, the horror stories and extra baggage mean they hesitate and even put off traveling completely. But my mom and dad instilled a love of adventure, culture and food in me from a young age, because they enjoyed the same. They taught me that education doesn’t begin and end in the classroom. Life is an education.
They were right. Travel has given me so much more than memories and passport stamps. And I want the same for my daughter.
In June, we headed to the Balearic Islands with our 6-month-old daughter on our first-ever family adventure, and I had to completely re-learn how to travel—from what to pack to how to maneuver a stroller in a busy airport during the height of vacation season. But I made a plan and a list of the things I couldn’t leave without, and I stuck to it.
Below are the tips that helped me pack light when I was traveling with my baby.
1. Research what you can pick up when you land.
What you put in your luggage is just as important as what you leave behind. A quick stop at a local store or supermarket when you arrive at your destination should set you up for the rest of your trip. There are many brands that are universal, such as Pampers. If you need to travel really light, there are companies that offer baby gear rental (from car seats to strollers) so it’s possible to leave these at home altogether.
2. Get a stroller that can fit in the overhead compartment.
Not only are most of them cumbersome and difficult to maneuver in a busy airport, they’re huge and you’ll need to check them in. Before we left, we bought a Babyzen Yoyo+. It’s super light and compact, can be driven with one hand (so you can carry your luggage in the other) and folds into a cabin-luggage size. We now use it as our main stroller in London for exactly the same reason, so it’s become more than a vacation expense.
>> See more lightweight travel strollers.
3. Bedding doesn’t have to take up all your space.
For babies, there’s always a concern that they won’t be able to settle to sleep in a new crib, which can ruin your well-earned break. In our house we use a Sleepyhead Deluxe Pod. This baby mattress is really soft, comfortable, lightweight and portable, and can be taken as a carry-on item so our daughter sleeps like she’s at home, even when we’re away.
4. Only pack one or two toys for the journey.
The temptation is to prepare for every possible scenario and tantrum. But for shorter flights, a couple toys are enough to keep the little one entertained if they’re not sleeping. If needed, you can buy authentic toys and crafts at your destination, and support local businesses in the process. Another thing to bring: a pacifier, which can help with earache.
5. DO pack formula milk, breast milk and a compact breast pump.
While I do believe less is generally more, if you’re using a specific brand of formula, bring enough for the duration of your vacation as brands can differ from country to country. What’s more, formula milk, breast milk and pumps can all be taken through security (just pop any milk in a cool bag). This is great if you’re uncomfortable breastfeeding on the plane and also means you can prepare in advance for long journeys and plan for any delays. If you’re taking a pump, choose a compact single pump to save space in your carry-on luggage.
6. Shed items as you go.
If you pack sensibly and bring just enough for your stay, you should be able to travel home a lot lighter. Things such as boarding passes, formula and diapers don’t need to make the return journey. Find a way to dispose of them safely and research what can be recycled at your destination to make room in your luggage for souvenirs that will remind your child of their adventure as they grow older.
7. Re-think priority boarding.
Most airlines offer priority or speedy boarding to parents, and as a solo traveler, I used to watch them board the plane first in envy. But as a parent, I have mixed feelings about its convenience—you don’t want to miss out on valuable cabin space, but it adds an extra 30 minutes to the time spent onboard. Traveling as a couple gives you the best of both worlds; if one of you enters the airplane first with the luggage, the other can wait until later to board with the baby.
Of course, our first vacation wasn’t seamless, and as new parents we’re always learning, but there are ways to make the experience of traveling with a little one lighter and less stressful, and it starts with packing.
Next stop, Costa Rica.
Radha Vyas is the cofounder of Flash Pack, an award-winning travel company rehabilitating the outdated image of the group vacation. Flash Pack connects busy professionals traveling alone to enjoy extraordinary adventures together. Now with a global community of solo travelers and 300 percent year-over-year growth, Radha has seen her business flourish from a back-bedroom startup in 2014 to a thriving brand.