6 Tips to Flying Solo With Just Your Kids
Flying with little kids is rarely easy, although once you do it a few times there are definitely tips and tricks you'll pick up to make it more manageable. Generally speaking, the more hands you have to help with the kids, the easier the flight experience. But for a wide variety of reasons, you may find yourself flying solo without another spouse, parent, or adult there to assist you and the littles.
My family's travels typically include my husband and two kids (currently 2 and 5 years old), but there have been a handful of times where I found myself flying solo with the kids. Several of my friends told me I was crazy and that they would just cancel the vacation instead of taking their kids by themselves. But I ignored their stance and told myself I could do it. My take is that if there is somewhere you want to go, then flying solo with the kids is worth it. And meeting my parents down in sunny Florida with my two kids to escape the cold of the Northeast was well worth it on multiple occasions.
Spoiler alert: Flying solo with kids is really not bad at all.
1. Ship Items to Your Destination in Advance.
Sometimes I feel like when I am traveling with kids, I am packing up my entire house and trying to fit everything in my suitcase. My first solo flight with my two kids included needing to travel with an endless supply of diapers, formula, burp clothes, baby food and bottles. Instead of bringing it all down with me (which would have taken up a suitcase by itself), I was able to order everything I needed in advance from Amazon and had it waiting for me at my destination. While I had everything shipped to the condo we were renting, many hotels are willing to accept packages on your behalf. Just let them know in advance. I suggest having your items arrive the day before your schedule to land so the hotel doesn't have to hold onto it for too many days (increasing the chances that it may be misplaced), but giving yourself a one day buffer in case of a shipping delay.
Another idea is to use a bag VIP delivery service. You would still check-in your bags at the airport, but they could be delivered to your final destination.
There are also many companies who will deliver baby items straight to your hotel or vacation rental. This includes cribs, high chairs, strollers, etc. This could definitely help lighten your load which is very important when flying without an extra set of hands.
2. Curbside Check-in is Your Friend.
There is rarely a reason to ever enter the airport with your luggage. Get rid of it as quickly as possible with curbside check-in. Yes, it might cost you a few extra dollars (at the very least, a tip), but it is well worth it! Do not try to lug everyone's carry-ons through the airport if you are the solo adult with kids (other than a backpack of essential items you need for the plane). There are many airline co-branded credit cards that help you avoid the cost of checked bag fees.
3. Bring the Right Gear.
Think about the most efficient way to get your kids through the airport while keeping your hands as free as possible. For example, if you have a baby and a toddler, put the baby in the baby carrier and the toddler in the stroller. Of course, you know your child best, but do not expect the toddler to walk the entire way through the airport and dedicate the stroller only for the baby. You may decide this is the time to invest in a double stroller.
Bring carabiners. You can use them on your stroller to hold a handbag, your backpack, or even connect it to your luggage! This is also a way to carry more and still be hands-free.
4. Be Strategic With Your Flight Times.
Pick a time that you know will work well — considering your kids normal morning wake up time, nap times and bed times. Do not book a flight during the "witching" hour or at a time when you are cutting their nap short. While these are suggestions for flying with kids in general, they are even more important when flying solo as you do not have the extra hands to wrangle multiple tired and cranky kids. I personally like picking times that coincide right with nap time. A 1pm flight, for example, has always worked really well with my son's afternoon nap. We get on the plane, he plays a little bit, and next thing you know he is out cold. This allowed me to attend to my daughter, if needed.
If you are flying with kids who are out of the nap stage, evening flights may work well. A 7pm - 8pm departure may ensure that they pass out shortly after the flight takes off, but just make sure that you are able to handle a few sleeping children when the flight lands.
5. Pack Entertainment.
I always have a backpack that I bring on the flight that contains only items my kids will need at 36k feet — snacks, water, coloring items, small toys and a Kindle Fire. Having items that will keep your kids entertained will go a long way on the flight. You'll also want to bring an extra set of clothes. There is nothing worse then a child complaining their pants are wet because they spilled the apple juice and all your backups are stored underneath the plane. Don't go overboard since you do not want to travel with extra luggage, but be mindful of your kids' interests and needs.
Pro packing tips:
- Bring a backpack, not an over the shoulder bag.
- Use ziplock baggies to organize items — all extra clothes in one baggie, snacks in another, keep color items together, etc. This way you can just easily pull out the baggie to find what you are looking for and have some options to contain messes.
- Keep the items you'll most likely use first on top.
- For children 4 - 5 years or older, have them wear their own backpack with items they will need.
This is also a good time to throw most (but not all) rules out of the window. Make the flight that one-time exception where they are allowed an extra lollipop or an extra show on the iPad, just don't disturb others in the process. Breaking your normal house rules might give you that extra peace and quiet needed for a smooth flight. I always load a new movie onto my kids Kindle Fire prior to the flight so there is a surprise waiting for them.
6. Sit in the Back of the Plane.
I find the back of the plane the "family friendly" area anyways, but when flying solo being close to both the restrooms and flight attendants is important. Being in the back allows you to take a child to the bathroom, while leaving the other far away in their seat. You are also closer to the galley (depending on the plane type) where it is easier to ask a flight attendant for more water or snacks. You also have easier access to ask the flight attendant for assistance, if needed.
Being in the back of the plane also increases the chances of being near other friendly families who are willing to help. Or at the bare minimum, they'll give you an extra pass if your kids aren't perfect. The front of the plane usually includes passengers who pay for better seats or have elite status.
Flying solo with your kids is 100% doable. Do not let your fear get in the way and allow you to miss some really fun opportunities with your kids. You can do it and before you know it you'll probably be planning additional solo adventures with your kids!