A few weeks ago, I made my first solo dad travel with my 4 year and 18 month old. My wife attended a conference in Charleston and I took the kids down to meet with her on a direct two hour flight from Boston. You can read about my trials and travails when flying alone with young kids here.
I’ve by no means mastered solo dad travel with my kids but learned a lot from my experience. If you’re a dad (or mom) flying alone with young kids, let me share some tips for how to survive it! Though, as any traveling dad knows, you can never predict the future, so we should probably add the words “if possible” to the end of every one of these tips, haha.
Get a good night’s rest
The most important tip for flying alone with kids relates to the night before. All parents know that overtired children tend to meltdown much more frequently. The night before a flight often stresses me out. I have to parent AND I have to pack. If I’m alone that creates even more stress.
Still, I can’t overemphasize the importance of everyone getting as much rest as possible the night before the flight. That puts you and your kids in the best position for success – especially since naptime the next day will at best be in a new environment and at worse be non existent. Prioritize a good night’s sleep.
Pack as lightly as possible
Now I cheated a bit here: since my wife met us in Charleston we sent the majority of the kids clothes with her. Still, you want to pack lightly. Even if you check bags (we checked a car seat), you somehow need to get to the baggage counter and from the destination baggage claim to your transportation. This can be logistically difficult – my 4 year old gets lazy about walking and my 18 month old often refuses to sit in his stroller.
Every extra bag you bring takes away an extra hand you have to deal with problems. So we went with my backpack (including all our toys, games, food, diapers, wipes, emergency clothes), the car seat bag slung around my shoulder, and a single umbrella stroller. I spent some time with my son strapped to my chest in the Beco while pushing my daughter in the stroller, but other than that walking around the airport wasn’t too bad thanks to packing light. Just focus on the essentials and make your airport experience much less stressful.
TDAD Tip: Use curbside check-in if you have a bag to check and you’re not a glutton for punishment like me.
Keep the kids fed – but not too fed
Usually a fed child is a happy child. If you’re traveling during regular meal time hours be sure to have a plan for how to feed the kids. In my case we ate an early brunch at the airport before we boarded our 11:18 AM flight.
You also want to bring snacks for the plane (I know I’m not blowing anyone’s minds here). One tip, if you pack your food in small tupperware boxes those can double as toys once the kids are done eating the snacks. Also another random tip, I like to leave my kids thermos’ open before takeoff so the pressure differential doesn’t cause a milk explosion once we’re in the air.
One cautionary note: don’t feed your kids too much. Take it from a fellow traveling dad.
Keep the kids entertained with options that won’t weigh you down
Obviously most people, even the stingiest screen time parents (my wife), generally bring tablets on the plane. Of course, for kids like ours, they don’t have the stamina to watch for too long so you need other options. You don’t want stuff that’s too heavy, so I try to go easy on coloring books and markers (though they are a necessity). I don’t worry too much about my daughter, she’s old enough to mostly entertain herself, but it’s tough to keep an 18 month old busy.
Like I said, small tupperwares work well. You can hide things in them which definitely takes up a lot of time. I also have a small toy phone that he absolutely adores – that’s good for 10-15 minutes. One cheap, easy, and light trick is stringing together a bunch of paper clips. That offers a variety of methods of play but you also don’t care if you lose some paper clips. My favorite entertainment for my son? Hiding food in small boxes. Since he loves to eat and loves to play, it kills two birds with one stone and keeps him happy!
Formulate a solid potty plan
I felt quite a bit of apprehension about what to do on the plane about the bathroom. I predicted, correctly, that my daughter was a bit too young to want to stay by herself in her seat and so I knew changing a diaper would entail all three of us squeezing into a tiny lavatory. (For the record, I’d be comfortable leaving her by herself in the seat if she was comfortable – where would she go?)
I decided my best bet was to hope we wouldn’t need to use the bathroom. So we made sure to get to the gate extra early (aka five minutes before boarding, I always show up at the last possible minute). We went to the family bathroom, son in carrier, and all three of us took care of our business before we boarded. Quite an adventure even in a full sized bathroom.
Luckily, nobody went number 2 in their diaper and my daughter held it the whole flight. It’s not like I cruelly asked her to hold it, she just didn’t need to go, for the record! My plan if we had to go? Son in carrier. Daughter stands behind me (if she won’t wait outside) while I change him. You can usually just unclip your carrier and lay your child directly on the changing table. Then we switch positions so my daughter can go, wash hands, then bail.
All families will be different, but if you’re flying alone with young kids, formulate that potty plan!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
In the end, I didn’t need help on my flight, but I prepared myself to ask it. As a dad, or maybe just as a dude, I think it’s in my nature not to ask for help. I don’t need no stinkin’ directions! But since I knew I was outnumbered, I knew if I needed help I’d ask for it.
Whether it be getting through the terminal, needing extra napkins on the plane, or a flight attendant to distract one of your kids for a spare moment – ask nicely for help if you need it! The worst they can say is no.
I learned this in Charleston when I had to get lunch for the kids by myself. I called Pizza King, on King Street, and asked if they would be willing to bring the pizza out to me since I had the two kids in the back of the car. They did and they got a big tip out of it too!
Trust your instincts and don’t worry about anyone else
My final tip? Trust your instincts. You know your kids better than anyone else, you know what they need. Maybe all of my tips won’t work for your kids. Don’t just follow them because of a random blog post. Think about your kids, their wants, their needs, what they like, what they hate, and prepare yourself accordingly.
As long as you’re trying your best and doing your best to support your kids, I’d suggest not worrying too much about what people around you are thinking. That’s a luxury that you might be able to afford if your partner is around, but when you’re by yourself, just give the kids all the attention! Don’t pay those random strangers no mind.
Anyway, these are the seven tips I have for flying alone with young kids. What are some of yours? I’d love to hear them in the comments!