How to travel solo with the children is a tough question most parents have to face. With good planning and practice, it doesn’t have to cost you your sanity or turn you away from travelling. Better Preparedness is here to help! Fellow parents, share your tips and secrets for others to benefit in the Comments section below!
There are different reasons why we must travel solo with our children on a regular or permanent basis. It can be for practical reasons or work schedules but also due to a divorce or death of a parent.
In my case, work and school holiday schedules make it that I’ve quite frequently travelled ahead with the children. I’ve made countless solo trips and many of those have been door-to-door trips lasting 30-40 hours, and some missed connections. You can do it!
1. Practice Makes Perfect, for you and your children
It can be tiring, especially when your children are in a hands-on intensive phase, but it’s usually manageable, and you and your children will continue to improve. This can be hard to imagine when your toddler has a fatigued-induced meltdown, or he/she can’t fall asleep well into the night flight. Practice makes perfect.
2. Be Organized and Have Packing Lists
Have a closable folder and keep all your papers organized so you can access what ever documents you need in a flash since you’ll frequently have to present this or that document at various stages of your trip. You want to be able to find each item without stress and not loose things!
As part of being organized and to prevent forgetting important items, develop packing lists. As the kids reach the age of 5 or 6, they can start packing their clothing following a paper list with hand drawn symbols and quantities on it. Just make sure you look over their selection and add missing items to ensure you have the range of clothing required for the trip.
3. Ensure You Have All the Required Documents (and Have Photocopies!)
Do your research about the airline and country requirements, and ensure you have every paper or document you’ll need. Domestic versus international travel changes things, as well.
Remember that document requirements can change over time or overnight, such as your nationality suddenly requiring a visa for that country. Do your homework.
Here are document types:
- Valid passports for you and your children
- Tickets (keep track of those checked luggage tags and take a photo of each suitcase beforehand)
- A signed letter of consent from the other parent for each child and have a signed photocopy of the passport from the other parent
- Are the Children Birth Certificates required? Where we are at present requires the long-form birth certificate or a certified copy for each child. I dislike bringing the original birth certificate since I worry about loosing it but I worry about a “certified copy” being rejected by the airline or immigration official in front of me for what ever reason.
- Immunization booklets, if needed.
- In the case of a divorced or deceased parent, you may need to have certain documents or certificates.
Top Tip: Always have a full set of photocopies of those documents with you and an extra set with someone else back home should you ever loose your belongings.
4. Entertainment, games, and pastimes
We like to let the children pack their books, toys, and some activities but keep it a reasonable quantity and split the load between the carry-ons and the rest can go in the checked luggage.
While we let our children have some iPad time to play some games, we tell them to manage the battery level so that it doesn’t run out on them. (Yes, we usually have a battery pack to be able to recharge the iPad but they don’t need to know that.)
While on the plane, assuming they have personal video screens, that’ll keep them busy. That said, I find kids reach a saturation point and having books and a colouring book or notebook with a small pencil case to be handy.
Packing up all the gear during the descent can give you a few more minutes to ensure you have everything rather than waiting to be on the ground and having excited kids eager to exit the plane.
5. Children Ages
Once your children are older, you will never look back and be sentimental about travelling with an infant or toddler, or a combination thereof. Don’t get overwhelmed when your baby is “That baby” that cried or melted down, it happens to all of us. You can do it. When you are on a flight with someone else’s “That Baby” and you see the parent doing their utmost, give them a nod or thumbs up of support. We’re all in this together!
Be organized with your age specific gear such as you’re your diaper bag and spare clothing for if a child is airsick or the tray of food spills on their lap.
Be proactive and take advantage of bathroom opportunities when you find them since you may have longer periods where it’s not possible to go to the bathroom. For peace of mind, a family bathroom can enable you to bring your multiple children and bags into the bathroom with you.
And remember points number 7 and 9.
6. The Number of Children Changes Things
The number of children can increase the difficulty level but assuming they aren’t twins and infants, you’ll have children of different ability levels. Empower the older children to take care of certain tasks. Instead of just telling them what is next, ask them to guide you through the next security checkpoint. This will help build experienced child travellers.
7. Sleep When They Sleep: Go easy on watching those extra movies!
I’ve made the error in some long-distance flight itineraries of watching extra movies once the kids are finally asleep. Now I try to sleep when they do. This because they don’t usually sleep for a long time and it’ll be hard for me to sleep when they’re awake.
8. Choose Itineraries That Facilitate Normal Sleeping
When possible for long haul night flights such as crossing the Atlantic or Pacific Ocean, try to choose a flight that starts later in the evening. My kids want the satisfaction of having watched a movie and eaten the airplane meal, and by the time they’re done that, they should be primed for falling asleep.
Certain seating arrangements can facilitate sleep. For infants, some airlines have a bassinet, but they can be hard to get and you need to be sitting at the bulkhead.
9. Snacks, Drinks, Formula, and Baby Bottles
Airport food is expensive and often junky. Pack a variety of healthy snacks and keep some treats in reserve.
Annoying restrictions such as liquid volume limits can make it hard to bring some juice boxes but maybe you can find some small ones. Bring a refillable water bottle for each person that can be refilled after the security checkpoints, filled by the restaurants or in the bathrooms in the departure area, and refilled by flight attendants during the flight and before you land. Keeping hydrated helps keep the energy levels up.
Baby formula or bottled breast milk is usually allowed by airlines when flying with infants and young children. Check the airline regulations ahead of time. Bring some small packs of formula that you can mix on the go. If bringing some bottled formula or breastmilk, advise the people at the security controls.
Sippy cups are great for avoiding spills even for kids who have already outgrown sippy cups. Instead of the flight attendant filling an open plastic cup, hand them the sippy cup so that you won’t have to clean up spilled apple juice.
10. Pack Strategically for Carry-ons and Check-in
Ensure you have what you need for the duration of the flights, and plan for if your check-in luggage is delayed or lost. It’s easy to have too much stuff which can present its own challenges, so be strategic.
For young kids, it can be a challenge when you have to lug a stroller, pack-and-play bed, car seat, etc… Put your name on all your items. Have your packing lists and strike off items that are a waste of space or for things you can borrow at the other end of your trip such as those bulky items mentioned above.
You can do this! Practice and improve.
Please share your experiences and comments below. What’s worked for you? What could you recommend to others?