Jun 11, 2021

7 Tips for Solo International Travel with an Infant

My family is scattered across the globe. That's the simplest explanation I can give for why I found myself flying internationally with a four month old infant and no other adult to help.

In ordinary times, having family all over is the best thing ever - having a very diverse family makes the whole world feel so much smaller and closer together. There's always an excuse to explore a different place and having my mom live in a cozy house in the German countryside where there's always a room ready for me and my husband (and now our daughter!) makes it feel like we have a second home.

Traveling with a baby
It's the perfect counterbalance to our fast-paced Manhattan life. Where Manhattan has skyscrapers, my mother's village has trees. Where Manhattan has 24/7 fine dining delivered, my mother's village has a produce garden in her backyard and a couple cute grocery stores in walking distance.

It's great.

But her first grandchild, our daughter, was born (check out her birth story!) during the pandemic. Germany's vaccine efforts are lagging and even though she's over 50 she's still waiting to be vaccinated. 

My husband and I were both fully vaccinated by the start of May and I couldn't wait to introduce our daughter, Emma, to my mom and the rest of the family. So we planned a trip with our infant!

Things rarely go according to plan in life and this trip was the same. My husband ended up being unable to come, Emma ended up having her 4 month vaccines the Monday before our planned Saturday flight, and she was due for her 4 month sleep regression right around our trip weeks.

I considered not going. I considered going for more or less time. I considered not going again. But I wanted to go, so I shortened the trip to just one week from the original two and off we went, just me and my four month old daughter.

And guess what? Traveling solo with an infant surprisingly well!

Traveling with an infant

Emma hates car rides and doesn't have much experience with them, since we live in Manhattan and haven't left our neighborhood much since she was born. It's one of those pandemic pregnancy/early parenthood things! 

The drives to and from the airport were the only time during the entire trip that Emma properly cried. And she bawled, it was heartbreaking! Fortunately we quickly learned that pacifiers would calm her right down during car rides - they're not something we usually use, but traveling (especially solo) with an infant is survival mode. We stuck to our no screens rule, even during the long flights, but pacifiers were something I was okay with giving into just for the duration of the trip.

I scoured the web for anything and everything I could find about traveling with infants or traveling solo with a baby before the trip, so I wanted to put together my own list of tips as a trip post-mortem. 

1. Get your travel documents in order as early as possible.

This is even more the case with pandemic travel, but first passport appointments can be hard to come by. You can't just do it electronically, since it's their very first passport, you have to actually go into the passport office or embassy to do it.

Since Emma is a dual-citizen, she needed both her US passport (to re-enter the US) and her German passport (to enter Germany) in order to travel. We got a US passport appointment without too much trouble, but the German one only came through in the last minute as an emergency appointment, even though we'd been on the waiting list for months already!

I'm sure it's much easier to get appointments when there isn't a whole pandemic going on, but it's still always a good idea to get your documents in order early.

2. Be ridiculously organized.

When you're traveling solo with an infant the number one commodity you're lacking is free hands. You won't be able to sort through your stuff to fish a passport out at immigration, or look through a messy bag for the spare diaper or swaddle cloth you're in need of.

That's why your travel bag needs a lot of compartments. So many compartments. All the compartments!

I kept our travel documents and my wallet in one ziploc bag in an easily accessible front pocket. I kept medications (baby tylenol, dramamine, etc.) in a separate pocket. Diapers, wipes, diaper ointment, and a couple swaddle cloths to throw down for changes in another pocket. Everything I needed for breastfeeding (a hakaa, disposable cleaning cloths for the hakaa, a nursing cover (though I ended up just not caring most of the time), and swaddle cloths to use as burp cloths) in another pocket. Toys and crinkle books in another pocket, etc.

3. Pack entertainment for baby, but don't overpack.

When packing toys and books for traveling with a baby there is a really fine line between not packing enough and overpacking. You want a few different options, in case baby gets bored of the favorite toy or it gets dirty, but you'll also be very short on hands if you're traveling solo and you don't need more to schlep.

I found about 3 crinkle books and 3 favorite toys, plus one brand new toy for the novelty effect, to be the right amount. My little girl loves playing with cotton swaddle cloths and staring at people, especially since she hadn't met many people in her entire life up until that point as a pandemic baby, so she didn't need a ton of toys. You know your child best, so it's okay if you need more - just remember that at hour 13 of your trip your shoulders will be aching and you'll be resenting any unnecessary object chaos.

4. Use a rolling carry-on and babywear instead of bringing a stroller or carseat.

Babywearing infant

My little girl loves being worn and walking around with her tied close to me is a great way to settle her down, so babywearing was a no brainer. I ended up being super glad that I didn't bring a carseat or a stroller with me, because I just didn't have the hands to deal with schlepping all of that through the airport. 

We did need a carseat for the drives, but I checked it right away and picked it up again with my checked luggage. I highly recommend that. I doubt we would have gotten much use of it in the airports and I was so happy not to have to lug it around with me.

As for the rolling carry-on rather than a backpack, our little girl was already around 18lbs by the time I did the trip and that starts feeling quite a lot heavier after a few hours of wearing her! Having a weight on my front and my back would have been exhausting. The rolling carry-on made it much less of a hassle!

5. Request a bassinet in advance.

Many airlines offer infant bassinets for long-haul flights, generally at little to no additional cost. Make sure you request them in advance, because they're not likely to be able to get it for you last minute! Lufthansa's cut-off was a request something like 52 hours before the flight.

Emma doesn't like being put down (she's a very cuddly baby and likes to be on me at all times if possible, especially in new situations) so we didn't end up using the bassinet at all, but it was nice to have the option. If I had the sort of baby who didn't need to contact nap 100% of the time, it would have been amazing to put her down in it for naps and get a chance to eat a meal or drink some tea without having to work around her!

6. Set things up so you can have as much rest as possible before and after the trip.

I didn't get any sleep at all on our red eye flights. On our travel days I was up for over 30 hours straight and that was exhausting. And on the way back home to NYC Emma had quite a rough time with jet lag so there was little night sleep for the first days back!

I was so glad I hadn't scheduled the return days full, so there were opportunities to rest during the day. 

7. Don't forget to eat and drink.

I gave myself time reminders to have some food and water, because it's so easy to forget to take care of yourself when you're trying to keep your baby (and fellow travelers, by extension) happy without help. Caretakers in general often have trouble giving enough attention to their own needs and that's only exacerbated during travel! 

You'll need energy, so eat plenty of food and drink enough water to keep you from getting dehydrated on the super-dry airplanes. The last thing you want when caring for a baby is to feel poorly! Similarly, make sure you're prepared with dramamine or your preferred travel sickness medication, Tylenol or your preferred pain killer, and anything else you may need to ward off common travel ailments.

I'm going to end the list of tips there, so it doesn't get overwhelming. These are my top tips anyway! 

I suppose if I were to add one it's to not expect the travel itself to be fun. I've always loved traveling, but frankly traveling with an infant is exhausting. It doesn't necessarily need to be miserable, but it's exhausting. Don't hold yourself to your usual standard of having a blast and enjoying the journey. Surviving the journey is enough when you're traveling with a young baby.

I'd always rather travel truly solo than with an infant. But the travel itself doesn't need to be fun - the time at the destination was so worth it! It was wonderful introducing Emma to family and taking her out into nature. Even though I was quite tired by the time we got back home to NYC, I had a great time and was glad I went. We're already planning a trip back in a few months!

Have you traveled with children? What are your tips?


  1. I'm glad your travel with your little one went well! Thanks for sharing these tips!

  2. Ahh it sounds like an amazing time, such a great post for tips!

  3. I remember travelling when my son was 3 months old, it was honestly so stressful - even when they're well behaved you panic about all of the 'what if' situations! Well done :)

    1. I'm considering doing the same trip again in a couple weeks and I'm already anxious about it!

  4. This is super helpful thank you so much! I'm travelling with my 1 year old and 3 year old next week so I now know what to expect :-)


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