About a year ago, I took an unexpected trip half way across the country with my 1-year-old while my husband was away with the military. No family or friends could go with me, and add to that I’m disabled and it was daunting to say the least. We more than survived, we thrived, so much that when another occasion popped up that required me and my girl to hop on a plane and do it again, I was actually kind of excited.
Then, it sunk in: she was going to have her own seat. Would she sit still? What about the bathroom? Short attention spans and less naps? What about her sheer lung capacity when screaming? Was this actually going to be harder than carrying around a cuddly if wriggly baby?
Surprise, it went so well I actually enjoyed it. So here’s my tips for traveling on your own with a toddler. They are specific to flying, not international, relocating, or road trips. Just you and your little one on a plane.
- Try to pick your flights by the timing. If your kid has anything resembling a schedule, mostly around sleeps and eats, glancing at the cheapest flights by times will make a completely different experience.
- Have everything ready to go and easy to reach on the plane because you won’t have long to look for things or have extra hands. You will need – in a light rain jacket pocket, for example – whatever you are going to use to buy things, your phone, your boarding passes, and your ID. Avoid taking too much and having to search it.
- Likewise, pack super light. Fortunately, there is very little you can’t buy when you get there. So, just take minimal clothes and the only the amount of things your child will need (like pull ups). Having one carry on makes your life easier so many times during this journey, from security to getting to the gate to boarding to cost to getting out of the airport. Avoid bulky blankets and try to pre-mail or hide any special loveys to avoid losing them. Think of it as a go bag.
- Dress comfortably including easy to remove shoes. Remember, planes can get quite cold and weather can be very different from take off to destination.
- Download some free educational apps and turn on airplane mode with the device of your choice. This will automatically disable purchases in games. While most professionals recommend screen time should be limited for this age group, using it for some of the flight can be fun, quiet, and educational: in other words, lifesaving.
- A book or activity book can also be a useful, light take along. Toddlers lose interest in things quick, so it’s best to have options. Windows, social skills, exploring their simple surroundings and flight magazines – these can all pass time too.
- Bring snacks. Not only does snacking give them something to do fairly quietly and keep their sugar regulated, but it can also help with the ear popping at high altitude.
- Explain every thing you will do beforehand to reduce anxiety. Try to make a game of trains, ramps, escalators, elevators, and security. Point out things you see and colors. Let them walk as much as possible, buckle themselves, wash hands, and even hold a “ticket.” This will give them a way to get moving and get out their energy while they feel less pushed and more engaged and adventurous.
- Take a deep breath. A meltdown isn’t the end of the world. A delay isn’t either. The simpler you travel and the more thoughtfully you prepare, the easier it will be. Be confident and optimistic about your adventure. Your attitude will brush off on your child and the people you meet.
- Finally, accept help. Take advantage of early boarding. Know your car seat flies free if you need it. If you look for help, you will find it.