The Best Gear for Traveling with Babies and Kids


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Dec 29, 2023

The Best Gear for Traveling with Babies and Kids

Traveling with your littlest people can feel overwhelming for new and experienced parents alike. Equipping yourself with portable, practical gear can help—from making the trek to the airport gate

Traveling with your littlest people can feel overwhelming for new and experienced parents alike. Equipping yourself with portable, practical gear can help—from making the trek to the airport gate smoother to getting a good night’s sleep in an unfamiliar space.

We polled well-traveled parents and caregivers for their must-haves when they leave home, then we compared the top choices, including favorite travel car seats, strollers, high chairs, travel cribs, blackout shades, and more.

Above all, we looked for lightweight, easy-to-use equipment that can be packed down to fit into a suitcase or toted around easily—giving you one less thing to weigh you down on your next flight or road trip.

One of Wirecutter’s picks for the best travel car seats, the Cosco Scenera Next is light enough (only 6.8 pounds) to chuck into a car-seat backpack and hustle through the airport, as I do every time I fly to see my in-laws. And once I arrive at a new destination, I can install it in taxis, Ubers, or the grandparents’ cars in two to three minutes. One drawback of this convertible car seat, though, is that some kids may outgrow it early because of the low position of the shoulder straps. We recommend the no-frills Cosco Rise booster seat for older kids who are at least 40 pounds or 43 inches tall.

With a smart travel bag that can be either carried in-hand or worn as a backpack, the 15-pound Guava Lotus Travel Crib packs a lot of versatility. We compared it with the similarly designed Chicco Alfa Lite Lightweight Travel Playard and BabyBjörn Travel Crib Light, and we liked the Guava Lotus Travel Crib the most for its portability, comfortable mattress, and large side zipper opening that allows you to nurse or cuddle your child, then roll away—making it easy to transfer a sleeping baby, especially in a strange room. Breakdown is clear enough (match stars and moons to fold up the frame), but you do have to fit it in its bag just right; it doesn’t have a lot of wiggle room.

The JetKids CloudSleeper inflatable travel bed efficiently packs down into an 11-by-15-inch travel cube—about the size of a thick sheet cake—and comes with a manual pump inside the bed that inflates it in a few minutes. The sides are raised higher than the middle, creating a cozy cocoon feeling that makes my 2½-year-old son feel safe. Plus, I like that it’s large enough to last until he’s 6 or 7. The downside is that it isn’t a bargain. The Hiccapop Inflatable Toddler Travel Bed is more affordably priced but also much bulkier packed up (roughly two basketballs side by side).

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If a completely darkened room helps your child go to sleep, the Tommee Tippee Sleeptime Portable Blackout Blind may be worth the packing space. One 78-by-51-inch shade—large enough for a standard-size window—folds down easily into a legal-envelope-size travel bag. We’ve found that the shade’s many suction cups stay up well, though it can be irritating to attach the tiny Velcro sections along the edges so it fits a smaller window. If an absolutely blacked-out room is essential, you may want to consider The Sleepout Portable Blackout Curtain 2.0. It costs about five times as much, but it has cleverly designed angled suction cups that prevent any light from bleeding out the top of a window, and it stays up for days without needing to be readjusted.

Phil&teds’s foldable Lobster Clip-On Highchair can be used at home, then easily packed up into its travel case to take on a trip. One of our picks in our guide to the best high chairs, it works for babies and toddlers up to 18 months and allows a tot to sit more upright than similar clip-on seats. It also works on more tables than other clip-on chairs, with claws that can safely grip tables between 0.8 and 3.75 inches thick—a broader range than other similar seats. The 4-pound high chair is small enough to fit into a suitcase, and the fabric zips off to be washed.

We also love the Fisher-Price Healthy Care Deluxe Booster Seat, a longtime pick in our high chairs guide. It’s much less expensive than the Phil&ted high chair but also bulkier, making it more appropriate for a road trip rather than air travel.

If you want to leave a pricey monitor at home but still want to keep tabs on your child while on the road, the VTech VM5254 is an inexpensive local-video monitor (meaning it doesn’t require internet access to connect) that also comes with a convenient night-light. Another of our picks in our guide to the best baby monitor, the more versatile VTech RM7868HD, can pull double-duty at home or on the road since it can be easily set up with or without Wi-Fi—plus it comes with a night-light to save your toes in an unfamiliar room. Note that due to security concerns, we recommend connecting baby monitors to Wi-Fi networks you know and trust, and not unsecured, public networks such as those at a hotel.

The YogaSleep Hushh Portable Sound Machine is made by the same company that makes the YogaSleep Dohm, one of our picks for the best white noise machines. The size of a hockey puck, this compact version includes three sound options and can carry an eight-hour charge via USB, so you can hook it onto a backpack, stroller, or baby carrier for naps on the go. My family has found the Hushh machine invaluable for camping trips too. Just be wiser than me, and make sure it’s charged so it lasts overnight—or you too might see your baby’s eyes pop open at 5 a.m. once birds begin to sing.

One of our picks for the best kids headphones, the Puro Sound Labs PuroQuiet includes active noise cancellation, making it ideal for travel and helping sensitive ears navigate noisy spaces. Kids can connect wirelessly to a device (such as a tablet), or you can use the included cable to watch onboard movies or daisy-chain headphones together so two kids can listen to the same device. If you’re looking for a more affordable option, the Onanoff BuddyPhones Explore+, our budget pick for toddlers, is also a sturdy set of headphones with volume-limiting circuitry to protect young ears.

I moved cross-country with the Babyzen Yoyo2 in a station wagon (one baby, one cat, two adults, luggage, a cooler, chairs, and a tent), and I was incredibly grateful for how this stroller packs down to the size of a thick briefcase. Weighing less than 14 pounds, the Babyzen Yoyo2—which Wirecutter is currently testing for an update to our guide to the best travel strollers—has become my go-to for zoo trips and long car rides. It’s also come in handy while navigating a confusing airport terminal undergoing renovations. Instead of searching for an elevator, I quickly folded it and slung it over my shoulder to move up escalators or stairs.

We’ve been recommending the Melissa & Doug Water Wow On the Go Travel Activity as a great kid gift for years, and they’re especially well suited to travel. The pages are reusable, and the water brush adds color to the pictures. Once the page is dry, the color disappears, allowing your child to start over and rediscover the trucks or butterflies again and again.

We also love the Schleich Farm Animals 4-Piece Set for packability—and potential to keep little hands busy during travel. One of our favorite gifts for 2-year-olds, the life-like figurines can inspire stories about going to a grandparent’s house or searching for lost treasure—or something else that buys you at least 15 minutes. The trick, of course, is to wait until travel begins to unveil any new goodies (you can even wrap them to make it extra special).

This article was edited by Ellen Lee and Kalee Thompson.

Kerry Davis

Kerry Davis is a freelance writer based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Tech reporting has been her main beat for 10 years, but she has branched out into covering baby gear since becoming a parent, which has also made her obsessed with trying every packaged toddler snack she can find.

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