Minimalist parenting: How to travel with a newborn without needing a truck
Our baby daughter Zoe (named after the Greek word for “life”) was born on July 12th this year, and almost immediately we were bombarded with well-meaning but gloomy advice. No more restaurants for you two, then. You will be needing all these things. Basically, we should expect our lives to be over! While many parents assume they need to stop traveling when they have a baby, we decided to give it a go after her 6 week vaccinations, and see what happened. In her first 4 months of life, Zoe has already spent 25 days around Japan (Tokyo, Kyoto, Fukuoka, Chiba), 4 days in the Netherlands (Amsterdam), 17 days in Greece (Athens, Mytilene), 4 days in Scotland (Stonehaven, Glasgow), and 2 days in England (Stoke on Trent).
Many people ask us how it is to travel with a baby, expecting a slew of horror stories. However, we’ve found that travelling with a baby enriched our travel experience, without particularly inconveniencing us. That said, we tend to be quite minimalist parents, even when at home. We are not dependent on a ton of crap, so we can leave the house with a few minutes notice and for trips, we still travel with our usual two suitcases, just packed a bit more tightly. We’ve gotten many questions about how we do this, especially from new or expectant parents, hence this post.
Do note that our daughter is currently 4 months, so this is about travelling with a newborn. There won’t be anything about travel high chairs, convertible car seats, toys to keep baby entertained, teething etc. When she gets older, I may post a Part 2 about all that!
Disclaimer: It goes without saying that this is all based on our own experience traveling, with our own baby, and certain things may not work for everyone!
Minimalist feeding: Breastfeeding
You definitely know all the health benefits of breastfeeding, but had you realized it’s also the most convenient feeding method for traveling and outings? Formula comes with A LOT of paraphernalia that you have to lug around with you everywhere, even to a short restaurant visit. With breastfeeding, everything you need to feed your baby is always on you, and once you both get better at it (there is a bit of a steep learning curve, but it’s so worth it!) all you need to do is throw a boob in the baby’s general direction and continue with whatever it was you were doing (eating, talking etc).
Also, a little known benefit of breastfeeding is that exclusively breastfed babies often (but not always) poop less! Because breastmilk is so nutritious, it’s absorbed so well that it leaves little waste to be excreted. Therefore, pooping every few days is perfectly normal, provided the baby produces enough wet diapers and gains weight well. With formula, babies poop several times a day, and cleaning up poop is no fun, especially on the go (and formula poop tends to be stinkier too!).
A few more tips for breastfeeders on the go:
- Reusable breast pads can save a lot of suitcase real estate, and they’re very easy to hand wash in the sink.
- I used a nursing pillow in the beginning, but once we both got the hang of breastfeeding, I weaned myself off it. There are women who can’t leave the house because they’ve become so dependent on their nursing pillow. Treat it like training wheels, not like a life raft.
Minimalist sleeping: Bedsharing
Our daughter sleeps with us, so we don’t need to carry any cribs, bassinets etc. All we need is a queen bed or larger (we have a California King at home, but we can manage with a queen — we’ve even slept in a double bed with her, though I wouldn’t recommend it, it was very uncomfortable). Not only does bedsharing have a ton of benefits for both parents and baby, it’s the most minimalist option too. I still remember people asking me in the first month how I was handling the sleep deprivation, and I’d respond “What sleep deprivation?”. When the baby is next to their mother, they sleep much easier, because they’re exactly where biology tells them they should be. You also don’t need to fully wake up to feed them in the middle of the night, you just put a boob in their mouth and you both go back to sleep.
Worried about safety? If you follow the Safe Sleep 7, it’s actually safer than baby sleeping in a nursery. Bedsharing has been practiced by most cultures over the vast majority of human history, as it’s the most biologically normal option. In Japan all the hotels assumed we would bedshare, it is totally the usual thing there, and their rates of SIDS are among the lowest in the world. The portability is just an added benefit!
Minimalist diaper changing: Chux pads
As most experienced parents will assure you, a changing table is one of the most pointless things you can buy. Soon enough, you realize that the bed is a far superior surface for this, all you need is a mat to protect the linens from leaks and smears. The mat is also useful for changes on the go, either as lining for changing tables or for somewhere to put the baby when there’s no changing table (we’ve even used it on the floor).
There are reusable mats that claim to be portable because they fold up, but in practice take up a lot of space when folded, and while they’re not that big in suitcase terms, they take up your entire handbag when out and about. Chux pads are a far better option (thank you for the tip Natalya!): They are very compact, padded, and you can just throw them away if they get too dirty. About 4 Chux pads consume as much suitcase real estate as a “portable” changing mat, which is about as many as we now need for a month-long trip. We needed more at first, but we have gotten much better at not soiling them over time, primarily by making sure there’s a either a diaper or wipes under the baby at all times.
Minimalist transportation: Doona and Baby K’Tan
The Doona is definitely one of our best purchases: it’s a stroller that converts to a car seat so we don’t have to lug both around. It’s especially great when moving around with taxis and rideshares, where it would be a huge pain to carry a car seat. Taxis open their trunk when they see the stroller, then get surprised when we tell them we don’t need it. A few drivers were concerned about the folded up wheels soiling their car, but we showed them that they don’t touch anything.
One disadvantage of the Doona is that it probably won’t last very long: the size and light construction means that I doubt she will be able to use it past 1 year, possibly less. But for now, it works great!
Sometimes, a stroller is not ideal. For example, in places with lots of stairs, or limited space. A baby carrier is ideal for that, but structured baby carriers occupy a lot of space. For small babies, the Baby K’Tan works quite well and is much easier to put on than a wrap. We like the Active much better than the Original, as it’s less prone to sagging over time and overheating. Chris puts the loops around his neck and wears it as a scarf when not in use. Bonus: Any wrap doubles as a baby blanket.
Minimalist bathing: In an adult bathtub with a parent
We never use a baby bath at home, so we never needed one when traveling. Every bath Zoe has ever had was in a normal, adult-sized bathtub, on me. Not only is it comforting for the baby to be on their mother and makes it easier for them to enjoy bath time, it’s also a great bonding experience. I also fill the bathtub quite a bit so she can also practice floating, which she seems to enjoy (I make sure to hold her head so that she doesn’t dunk her nose in the water if she moves abruptly), which is something you simply can’t do in a baby bathtub.
On that topic, all you need in terms of bathing supplies is baby wash, a comb and some sort of non-glass container for rinsing. You don’t need a sponge, your soapy hands work just fine for that and sponges are a pain to pack because they take ages to dry.
Minimalist tummy time: On the bed or on you
You may use a tummy time mat at home, but you don’t really need it, the bed or your chest works just fine (OK, Chris’ chest works better for that because there are no distracting milk fountains there) and is far more convenient for travel. Also remember that time spent in a baby carrier also counts as tummy time!
Minimalist diaper bag: A big handbag
As long as your handbag is sufficiently large, you don’t need a diaper bag. Many other moms will insist you do, but if you ask them what they put in it, it turns out they are planning for a nuclear apocalypse. For most outings, a Chux pad, 2–3 diapers, and a small pack of wipes was more than enough. Others pack extra outfits but we’ve only needed that once in the dozens of times we’ve taken her out. It was not convenient, but we managed without it (I rushed her home in my jacket). My handbag has this minimal kit, plus all the usual stuff, plus a 13" laptop.
Minimalist pumping: Haakaa silicone pump
Any electric pump, even the most portable ones like Willow or Elvie, is still quite large for a suitcase. When we’re traveling, we’re with the baby almost all the time. Having a way to express milk — so that we could have a night out at a restaurant that doesn’t allow children, for example — has proven useful on occasion. The Haakaa is ideal for this. It’s very small and cheap. You put it on the other breast while breastfeeding and it collects the excess milk from let-down. It won’t collect enough milk for a full day in daycare, like the electric pumps, but we don’t need that when travelling. It was fairly easy to collect enough milk for one feeding with it, over the course of a day.
So what do we carry then?
So far I’ve mostly discussed what we don’t need when traveling. But what do we actually pack for the baby? This is our list, YMMV:
- Enough diapers & wipes for about a week
- 4–5 Chux pads (for a month-long trip)
- Liquid coconut oil (MCT oil) for diaper rash and many other uses
- Pacifiers & pacifier clips (until 3 months, she now hates them, but every baby is different)
- Clothes, pajamas, socks
- Drool bibs (after 2.5 months)
- Gas drops & 2-3 Windis (until ~3 months, gas tends to get better after that)
- Infant Tylenol & thermometer (just in case, never needed it so far)
- Owlet smart sock monitor
- Bath supplies: small plastic bowl, baby wash, baby comb, lavender essential oil (for relaxation, not necessary but we like it and it’s small!)
- Nursing & expressing supplies: Haakaa, small bottle, reusable breast pads
- Electric nail file for babies (Using nail clippers on a baby is SCARY!)
We could probably reduce this list even further, but for us this hits the sweet spot between underpacking and overpacking. Your family’s sweet spot may be different!
So, new or expectant parents — your life isn’t over and you won’t need a truckload of supplies! Any other baby travel tips? Tell us in the comments!