International Travel with a 6-Month Old Baby Tips and Tricks
Once my son turned six months old, we decided to do two big trips with him – one to Mexico and one to Japan. The destinations couldn’t have been more different, nor could the trip experiences. For one we mostly lounged on the beach, and for the other we hit 4 different cities traveling on public transportation the whole way.
We learned a lot from those experiences. Here’s everything you should know before traveling internationally with your six month old:
Get a Passport and Potentially Global Entry
No matter how young they are, yes, your baby does need their own passport. If you have Global Entry and want to use the expedited line, you will also need take to get your baby their own Global Entry prior to the trip! Although TSA pre-check extends to children, everybody has to have their own global entry regardless of age. Keep in mind these are US rules. Your country may have different ones depending on where you’re from.
To get the passport, I recommend taking your own passport photos, then making an appointment either at a post office or an expedited passport agency, filling out all of the paperwork, and then waiting for the passport to arrive. Keep in mind you will need the birth certificate first. Depending on which state you live in, there could be a delay in obtaining a copy.
Since we wanted to travel by the time my son was 5 1/2 months, we made sure to pay extra to expedite the passport. If your trip takes place even sooner, consider using a passport agency for a quick turnaround. Unfortunately they only exist in major cities. Find out more about passports here and Global Entry here.
Leave Extra Time for Everything
We arrive at the airport much earlier now than we ever did before having a baby. The first step is ordering an Uber and quickly installing the car seat before we go and taking it out once we get to the airport. From there, check in usually takes a bit longer because babies are required to have a printed boarding pass, and we usually have baggage to check.
Unless your baby is exclusively breast-fed, chances are you will have some baby food along with you whether you’re traveling with formula, expressed milk, or any combination of the two. Your baby might also already be on solids, in which case you might have baby food. All of this is allowed by TSA, but you’ll need to leave extra time as they’ll perform extra checks on the liquids over 3oz. Read more about TSA with a baby here.
Once at the airport, you’ll probably need time to change the baby and potentially do a feed before boarding. Look for a family bathroom to easily take care of everyone’s needs at once. Most US airports also have Mamava lactation pods for breastfeeding or pumping, or nurseries.
If you’re mainly pumping like I was, I highly recommend bringing portable/wearable pumps along. I can’t imagine exclusively pumping without them! Here’s the pump I used.
What to Bring (and How to Pack Light)
It seems like the younger the baby is, the more things they need. Still, when we traveled to Japan, we had to pack light and could only bring what the two of us could feasibly carry through Japan’s train and metro stations. That meant one large bag, a couple of backpacks, and a large purse for the three of us to share.
This is my minimalist packing list. No matter what, I’d bring:
- Plenty of very absorbent diapers. There’s really no contest when it comes to the best brand to prevent leaks – Coterie.
- Multiple changes of clothes for the carry on.
- A comfortable carrier for the airport. This is the one I tend to use and this is my partner’s favorite.
- More than enough food for baby.
- Small toys. We love the ones from our Lovevery subscription.
Most airlines will allow you to check a stroller and car seat as hold luggage at no cost. Diaper bags usually do not count against carry-on allowance, either. You can also gate check your car seat and stroller, though be prepared for extra checks at security.
How to Survive the Flight
Flying can be the most nerve-racking part of international travel for a lot of parents. Nobody wants to be the one with the screaming baby on board. Plus, how do you keep them entertained for 13+ hours? Thankfully I’ve found that at 6 months, babies are pretty easy to travel with. They’re usually not crawling yet, so lap sitting is less of a big deal. Here’s what to consider:
- Babies usually do not fly free internationally, even if they are sitting on your lap! They usually cost 10% of the adult fare.
- If you’re able to get in the front row, you can sometimes reserve a bassinet ahead of time. Call your airline to inquire.
- We usually fly coach with our little one, but we have flown business class our baby as well. If you have the miles or funds, this makes tummy time and sleep easier.
- Breast, bottle or binkie at takeoff and landing to help with their ears. This is key for a happy baby!
- Try to maintain nap times and wake windows as usual.
- Bring small toys or books to keep baby engaged during wake times. So far we have completely avoided screen time.
- Airplane bathrooms have changing tables. Bring a portable changing mat for airport and airplane changes.
Also, if your baby cries, it’s OK. It bothered me the first time it happened, but then I stopped caring. Sometimes babies cry, and they are a part of society. They’re allowed to fly like the rest of us! Plus, I’m never going to see any of those strangers again.
Dealing with Jet Lag
One of my biggest fears about traveling internationally with my baby was dealing with jet lag. When traveling to Mexico, we were two time zones ahead, so we just kept my baby’s normal schedule and shifted everything two hours later – I didn’t mind sleeping in! But Japan was 16 hours ahead, so we had no choice but to adjust.
Our flight out took place in the afternoon, so we kept our usual nap time and by the time we landed, it was nighttime in Japan so we went straight to bed. When our baby woke up early or in the middle of the night, we just kept things quiet, dark, and fed and rocked him back to sleep. For the most part, he adjusted better than I usually do! Within a few days, we were on Japan time.
Back at home was a little rougher. I traveled to over 60 countries before having my son, and I have always struggled more with going east than west. The same was true for our baby. Our flight back home was an overnight flight, so we slept on board, but since we landed at night due to the time change, it was tougher to get to sleep and adjust back to Pacific time. Still, he did better than I did and was back on his normal sleep schedule within four days.
Baby Sleep Abroad
How can you practice safe sleep abroad and how should you handle naps and bedtime? Every baby is different. Some of them will nap just fine in a baby carrier or stroller, others need darkness and to be kept to a schedule. Some are somewhere in between.
For our trip to San Pancho, Mexico, we decided to stay in the same vacation rental for the week with our only transit being to and from the airport. It had two bedrooms and its own the kitchen and living room, which made eating, sleeping, and nap time easy. We didn’t have any set schedule or goals other than to chill out and enjoy ourselves. Maintaining nap time and bedtime was easy in this scenario.
We brought along his portable bassinet since the rental didn’t have one. If you’ll all be in one room, consider bringing a Slumberpod as well to create a dark sleep space without having to go lights out at 7pm for everyone.
Our trip to Japan was a different story. We didn’t have space to bring a bassinet. He mostly had his naps in the baby carrier and would sleep on the floor beds offered by our accommodation at night. We only found one hotel crib for him out of the four places we stayed. He certainly did not sleep as well that trip as he normally would, but it was worth it to travel together as a family.
You can also consider using local baby gear rental companies abroad to cut down on luggage, or booking accommodation that has baby bedding.
Baby Products Abroad
Depending on how long you’ll be gone, you might want to re-up your baby products abroad. I would Google your destination and see what the options are for baby food, formula, diapers, and whatever else you may need. Depending on how small the town is that you are visiting, you may need to make a stop before you get there to get provisions. Since we only went to Mexico for a week, we brought enough with us, but I did see baby food and formula in both large and small grocery stores.
In Japan, we ended up buying diapers locally, which are sold at drug stores. They also had formula and baby food, which I would have happily tried had we run out. Since we do baby-led weaning, we mostly bought his food at grocery stores and fed him in the room or shared what we had at restaurants as long as it didn’t seem salted. Candidly we didn’t worry too much about solids and mostly did breast milk and formula since he was only six months old.
Cleaning and Sanitizing Abroad
Unless you exclusively breastfeed, you’re going to need to wash baby bottles and potentially pacifiers and teethers abroad. I always bring our portable bottle washing station as well as these microwave steam clean bags. They are tiny and can be used up to 20 times. It feels like the ultimate parenting hack, though it does require a microwave.
In Japan the tap water is potable and rooms almost always come with hot water kettles. In Mexico, our rental had a home water filter and UV system. If you’re worried about the cleanliness of the water, boil it first if you can. You can also bring your own water filtration system to clean the water before using. I prefer this to using bottled whenever possible to reduce plastic waste, though we did use bottled water for his formula in Mexico.
Adjusting Schedules and Expectations
When I traveled without a baby previously, I could pack so much into my day. I would often wake up for sunrise or photograph the stars. These are two of my passions but I have yet to do either one on a trip with my baby. Traveling with a six month old is different.
Adjust your expectations for how many things you are going to do in a day. You are probably not going to cross as much off of your bucket list. Your baby is going to need to sleep, it’s going to take more time to get out the door because you need to make sure the baby is fed, the diaper bag is packed, the diapers changed, etc. This is something that was hard for me to adjust to at first.
But with the right understanding of the difference of traveling with a baby – putting their needs first – it’s a rewarding experience. I loved how people interacted with our son in Japan, and it was so beautiful going to the beach with him for the first time in Mexico. You’re not losing out on experiences, you are exchanging them for new ones.
All of that said, it’s easier to plan and take a trip where you have just one destination and aren’t going to be moving. But although our Japan trip with major transit days was a lot more involved, I still enjoyed it immensely.
Research what type of transportation you’ll be using ahead of time and discern whether you need a car seat or can travel without one.
Can you rent at your destination? Are you mostly taking public transport and won’t need one? We brought one to Mexico for the ride to and from the airport, but did not bring one to Japan, and I am so glad that we did it that way each time! It all comes down to what you’ll encounter abroad, and that’s location-dependent.
When it comes down to it, traveling with your baby is going to be different than traveling without. But we found traveling with a six month old to be the perfect age. They are alert enough to take in their surroundings, usually aren’t yet crawling and are therefore easier to contain, can be interactive with people but don’t usually have stranger danger yet, and since they are only beginning solids, feeding is a bit easier.
I’m so thankful for the family trips we took and I’m glad that nobody scared us out of traveling internationally with our six month old. Enjoy your journey – you got this!
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