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Traveling with a baby is challenging. You might get exhausted simply thinking about the amount of … stuff … you need to pack. Streamlining where you can makes sense. Want to know what you don’t need? A crib. Radical, right? Here’s what you need to pack for baby instead.
Ditch the baby crib, buy a baby cage. My wife and I have had the great “privilege” (that’s what we are going to call it today) of raising four children together, while being avid travelers.
Traveling with children is not always easy, but it is not NEARLY as difficult as you might believe. We often pack up all of the children and embark on last minute adventures that span the country. Call it a healthy dose of confidence mixed with a little bit of stupidity but we don’t steer away from doing much of anything just kids are in tow. In fact, we embrace it.
We are firm believers that traveling is good for kids. Travel exposes children to the world outside of the tiny social petri dish we all call home. The world is so much bigger than wherever we are at any given moment. It is important for children (and adults) to experience and understand that.
Even babies benefit from travel. If you want to be mobile with a baby the best thing you can do for yourself is ditch the baby crib and buy a baby cage (also known as a Pack ‘n Play or play yard but hereon referred to as baby cage).
While there are lots of baby travel gear you’ll need (this is our list of the top baby travel essentials), a crib is NOT one of them.
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Baby Gear Lessons
The no crib lifestyle is my opinion, but let me lay out the background:
Kid #1 had a crib but also slept in a portable play yard regularly. Crib was moved twice as rooms were rearranged before it was ever used. We were unable to use that crib again due to moves and that drop sides are now a no-no.
Kid #2 we moved three times before the baby even slept in her crib. It was too wide to fit through a door and it was heavy. We bought it because it could transition into a toddler bed. It never made it to that stage. It was a monstrosity so when move #4 came into play we sold it. By then Kid #2 was in a toddler bed (that we found second hand for $20).
Kid #3 slept in a pack and play.
Kid #4 has never owned a crib. It never made our newborn checklist. It wasn’t a baby essential. He started out his life in a Fisher-Price Rock with Me Bassinet and transitioned into the pack and play from Kids #2 and #3.
That $30 bought-from-a-friend play yard may be the best investment we’ve ever made.
Not Using a Crib Makes Traveling with Baby Easier
If I could impart only one piece of advice to new parents it would be to completely abandon the idea of using a baby crib.
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Cribs are the #1 boat anchor that virtually every parent buys for their kids and it is completely unnecessary. Contrary to popular belief, baby cribs are not a baby-must have, and quite frankly are more of a hindrance than they are anything else. Cribs are BIG, expensive, heavy, difficult to assemble, and an absolute liability to any family aspiring towards mobility.
What you need, is a good quality baby cage (Pack and Play).
Pack ‘n’ Play vs. Crib
There are many benefits to using a pack and play over a crib, chief of which is mobility.
One of the most daunting tasks when traveling with a baby or toddler is sleeping arrangements.
Use a pack n’ play full time and you bring the same bed that your child goes to sleep in every night wherever you go. The comfort and security of home is 100% mobile. The ability to quickly and easily set up a familiar sleeping environment for the kiddo ANYWHERE you go is a life (and sanity) saver.
Cribs make it HARDER to travel because the sleeping environment that your child has grown accustomed to cannot easily be recreated while on the move. Use a fully mobile sleeping system and setting up shop at a grandparent’s house or family cabin is easy.
This applies doubly so for the family friends you convinced to babysit for the weekend so you and your significant other can have some alone time (which, coincidentally, often kicks off a vicious cycle of perpetually needing babysitters).
Picking the Best Portable Play Yard
Buying the right baby cage is crucial, as not all portable play yards are created equal. This doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money, but quality is important here. If you can afford to buy a high quality Pack ‘n Play new, go for it. It will still be SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper than a crib.
However, there are many good deals that can be found in resale stores with a little bit of research.
TravelingDad Tip: Want to make sure your baby gear is safe? Check for recalls before buying here.
What We Use
We have used several pack and plays. The best of the best has been (hands down) the Pack ‘N Play Sport Outdoor Play Yard by Graco. Unfortunately, our model isn’t made any longer but they’ve released a new version.
These two options are also very similar- Hiccapop Playpod and the Bellaby Extra Large Playard. These pack and plays offer a lot of space to take a toddler all the way through to a toddler bed, are relatively small when collapsed, and are very easy to set up and take down.
Some models also come with a retractable “hood” that gives it the feeling of a tent. Several of our kids absolutely loved having the hood closed on top, others preferred the top open. Our Graco model has survived hard use by 3 children and is easily one of the single best pieces of baby gear that I have ever had the privilege of owning.
Read More: If you’re thinking of heading off on a flight with baby check out these tips!
What a Newborn Really Needs
In the beginning, when the baby stays wherever you put him or her down, requires swaddling, and resembles an under cooked meatloaf, you don’t even need a full on Pack and Play. What you need is a Fisher-Price Rock with Me Bassinet (also very easy to find in resale shops and secondary market for a good price).
These little gems can easily move from room to room, and fold down for travel with virtually no hassle. In my experience, these things were absolutely crucial in the first months/ year of having a baby.
Again, it is important to buy the right one. This bassinet is the one we’ve used. It has proven to be lightweight, durable, and an overall good buy.
All throughout Paramedic School, my youngest sat in one of these next to my desk while I studied, often for hours at a time. We bought a cheap used one to keep in the bathroom so we could take quick showers in peace.
Living the Minimalist Baby Lifestyle
These small changes in parenting tactics have allowed us to raise veteran travelers (yes, even the 2-year-old). They can navigate security screenings and successfully occupy themselves on long road trips with rules like “no electronics during the day light.”
I know a lot of families out there are “aspiring travelers.” While this may seem like an unrealistic or even impossible goal (and it wasn’t always easy to get there), I assure you that it can be done… as long as you approach it with the right philosophy and equipment.
Most of the crap on the market for babies and toddlers is completely unnecessary.
While these “baby essentials” masquerade as sources of convenience and comfort, they provide neither. In many cases they make getting out into the world more difficult. Those rolling fortresses marketed as strollers are a GIANT pain in the ass, heavy as hell, difficult to maneuver, and REALLY expensive. Then, to top it all off, they are touted as being “easily stowable “ because they fold in half. Folding in half while somehow still remaining the size of a Volkswagen is not my idea of convenient. (If you insist on using a stroller, check out this list of TravelingMom-recommended travel strollers.)