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- Survival Tips for Solo Travel with a Toddler
- 1. Book an earlier flight.
- 2. Pay to choose your own seats if necessary.
- 3. Take the stroller.
- 4. Take the car seat, too.
- 5. Don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help when needed.
- 6. Give yourself plenty of time.
- 7. Plan the trip around the toddler's needs and wants, not yours.
- 8. Relax the rules.
- 9. Do something for you.
Traveling with young children isn’t exactly a walk in the park for any family. However, when a single or solo parent traveling with a toddler, you can quickly become overwhelmed with thoughts and questions about what to bring, what to do, how to deal with unpredictable tantrums, or how you’ll even make it through the airport with only two adult hands to spare. Here’s how a single mother survived her first trip flying solo with a toddler.
Survival Tips for Solo Travel with a Toddler
I’ll never forget the year I took my first trip with my son. He was only two years old. I had booked my trip on a whim following an unexpected layoff. And when I say “unexpected,” I mean that the trip was booked on a Wednesday evening, and we were scheduled to take off for San Juan, Puerto Rico that upcoming Saturday.
The moment I pressed the “Book Now” button, I immediately began to panic as I realized that I had not a clue what I was doing.
I scoured website after website looking for advice on how to survive traveling alone with a toddler. Eventually, it dawned on me that the only way that I would learn how to travel with a young child is to just do it.
So how exactly does one survive solo travel with only two hands and a toddler whose unpredictable temperament can go from zero to 100 in 10 seconds? Here are nine ways:
1. Book an earlier flight.
As a single mother traveling alone with a toddler, a calm and peaceful airport and flight experience is the very first key to survival.
Although I am NOT a morning person by any means, I made it a point to book the very first 8 am flight out. Booking the first flight on the schedule gave us more time to enjoy our destination by getting us there at a reasonable time. In addition, this early flight ensured that he was fresh, I was fresh, and that everyone around us was fresh and in a good mood.
If I had chosen to do so in the late afternoon, I surely would have been up against nap time and crowded airports. Not to mention, it’s almost certain that I’d be on a full flight!
2. Pay to choose your own seats if necessary.
Nowadays, it seems that every single airline is capitalizing off of passengers wanting to choose their seats ahead of time. As a single parent traveling alone with my child, my biggest fear was not being able to find two “economy” seats available during seat selection and having to break the budget to pay for “premium” seats that were actually together.
Well, let me tell ‘ya—breaking budget is totally worth it in this case. Unfortunately, the Families Flying Together Act that was passed by Congress in 2016 requiring children age 13 and under to be seated with their parents and guardians still has not been put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration. This leaves plane seating a gamble for parents who choose not to purchase premium seating together.
When we took our trip, I knew I had the choice of “winging it” and hoping that another passenger would be friendly enough to switch the seat they had paid for if we did, in fact, end up separated, or just suck it up and pay the extra dollars to guarantee I’d be next to my son. I chose the latter.
3. Take the stroller.
Trust me here. I fought with the fact that it was another thing weighing me down, especially when my child was very capable of walking. However, my son very much enjoyed being able to sit back, relax, and be pushed around everywhere. Did I mention that it made a perfect “bed” for nap time during those long walks along the beach?
It wasn’t until months later during our second solo trip together that I realized just how thankful that I had a sturdy umbrella stroller handy to strap him into when we quickly needed to get to our gate, and when I was the one who ended up needing that emergency potty break. Try going to the bathroom when you have a toddler trying to open the door, run off, and touch everything in and around the toilet. Not fun at all!
The Angel Babyz Umbrella Stroller Travel Bag was a life saver when transporting the stroller, allowing me to keep it clean and compact. The shoulder strap was also extremely helpful in freeing up a hand when the stroller wasn’t in use.
4. Take the car seat, too.
This was yet another thing that I struggled with—did I really want to drag along a heavy car seat with me knowing that I was already limited on hands? Well, let me say that I was SO glad that I took it with me for his very first trip.
Aside from the obvious safety aspects, having the car seat gave my son a familiar source of comfort which kept him content throughout the entire flight and made it that much easier for him to fall asleep (but not until the final descent, of course). He also enjoyed being able to use his favorite sippy cup and put it in its usual place next to right him in the cup holder.
So, how does one carry both the car seat and the stroller while handling a toddler, you ask? During our first trip, I invested in a Go-Go Babyz Travelmate, which was dream come true. The Travelmate allowed me to attach the car seat to the device, and push or pull it around like a dolly either with or without my son in it. Some parents even choose to use the Travelmate itself as a stroller in the airport!
5. Don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help when needed.
Looking back, I now think it was a little silly that I did so much stressing out over wondering how I would do every single thing on my own. Why? Because it turned out that most people were very helpful and willing to help out when they saw me struggling, especially in the airport.
If someone asked if they could help me do something that I knew would make my life easier, I let down my guard and let them. When it came down to installing the car seat on the plane, I wasn’t afraid to ask if I could board early to do so—and they let me.
Once I mentioned that I was traveling alone, the airport staff and flight attendants would do little things to keep a smile on my son’s face, such as giving him extra snacks or a pair of “wings” to stick to his jacket to make him feel more important. It’s the little things like this that make traveling alone with a child that much easier.
6. Give yourself plenty of time.
When traveling solo, I arrive at the airport with just enough time to get through security. Grab some snacks, and make a bathroom break or two before the plane starts boarding.
But when adding travel with a toddler, it’s a whole different travel game, right? And we have to add at least an extra hour to figure in additional time for potential tantrums and extra potty breaks. And then let’s not even go there when my son wanted to be on toddler time, taking his own sweet time to stop and look at everything or try to pick up the smallest objects off of the ground.
When booking our flights, I made sure to only look for nonstop flights, or those with no less than a two-hour connection time to allow for the above situations.
7. Plan the trip around the toddler’s needs and wants, not yours.
As much as I love to see different places and things when I travel, I knew that when traveling with my son that I needed to try and see the world through his eyes. What would excite him the most? How could I make the trip more interactive or entertaining for him?
I talked to him and showed him photos to get him excited about going. I asked him what kinds of things he was most looking forward to doing. Most of all, I forced myself to be flexible, knowing that the unpredictability of his young temperament would cause any itinerary that I may have had in mind would for us go straight down the drain.
8. Relax the rules.
At home, we may have limited screen time, specific naptimes or bedtimes, restrictions on certain foods and when they can be eaten, and boundaries on when and where playtime can occur. Sometimes it just makes everyone happier if you let some of those things fly (especially when you are literally flying…on the plane).
Surprisingly, I found that once we arrived at our destination, people were encouraging of letting my son run around explore, which ultimately made him happy and feeling like a child should.
I’ve heard many a parent say that vacation is the “same s**t, different scenery.” Well, in my opinion, that’s only if we let it. It’s a vacation for them too, and they also deserve to relax and enjoy it while we sit back and enjoy the smiles and joy on their faces.
9. Do something for you.
At times, traveling with my son felt like a marathon…one that I was running alone. It was an absolute MUST that I did something for myself. And, I did not feel one bit of guilt when I chose to order a cool and refreshing adult beverage to sit back and relax in my beach chair with. I also didn’t feel one bit of guilty ordering that cold glass of sangria to cool me down while we waited for our dinner.
I figured that I had already spent the time, money, and energy making the trip happen and that I was blessed to be able to do so alone with my child, so I deserved to take care of ME as well.
At the conclusion of the trip, I learned that I had in fact made the right decision to JUST DO IT. Yes, it was scary in the beginning, but it wasn’t long before I discovered that traveling solo with a young child is an empowering experience…and certainly one that neither of us would forget or regret.
Thank you so much for this! I am taking my toddler on her third airplane trip this November/December 2022 internationally to Greece and Paris…. our first trip was to Maui from CA which was a 5 hour trip that I did not prepare for at all and just “winged it.” It was a nightmare 5 hour trip… our second trip was a 45 min flight to vegas. I am learning and still stressing about it, but as you said, you just gotta do it!
Janeth Jabien says
Thanks Kimberly, it helps a lot!.
I’m a solo parent also, planning to bring my 2year old on a vacation trip.
Kim Orlando says
I remember when….This is a great list for grandparents who want to take a toddler on a trip too. I especially love the Relax the Rules tip – takes the pressure off of all. My add: Some of us need to plan down time because we are programmed to be programmed. Do whatever you need to do to get a break.