Traveling with your kid(s) can be stressful. Traveling by yourself with kids really stinks. There’s no backup to call when things go awry, and you’re left to juggle the load by yourself. But just like with most things, preparation is the key to avoid disaster.
When I flew to Houston to visit my friend, it was my first time flying solo with a child. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect because my kid was fairly mobile (unlike when we went to Disney at 3 months old, and he was a potato, who did nothing but snuggle and nurse).
Here is what I learned:
Wear Them Through Security
If your kiddo is still little enough to wear, wear them through the airport and security. It leaves both of your hands free and prevents you from needing to gate check your stroller.
Plan to Gate Check Your Carseat
If there are extra seats on the plane, most airlines will allow you to carry on the carseat and use it in the seat next to you at no extra charge. Otherwise, you can check it at the gate. Why check it at the gate? You get it faster after you land; there’s less chance it will be tossed around like a football on it’s way into storage for the flight; you’re sure to get it after you land (in other words, it’s less likely to go missing at the baggage claim).
When flying, having snacks/bottles/access for nursing/teethers for take-off is essential to avoid the whole ear-popping, kid screaming mess. Kid needs to be swallowing to keep the pressure regulated in his ears. Snacks also are helpful during the flight when baby gets bored.
We like to use our RePlay snack stacks to keep a variety of snacks handy while taking up minimal space.
Bring a variety of toys in your diaper bag to provide adequate distraction. When we flew, I kept mine in a Lalabye Baby Quick Trip wet/dry bag so that they stayed clean and provided the whole “what’s in the bag?!” mystery for my baby who likes to pull things out of things. The snap handle also allowed me to either stuff it in my diaper bag (a backpack style JuJuBe) or snap it through the loop at the top of the bag.
Allow them to bring a small carry-on backpack of their own (only if they can be trusted to carry it, so you don’t end up with yet ANOTHER thing to carry). Have them put a few of their favorite toys and activities (nothing with lots of parts unless you’re willing to lose some) for them to access on their own during the trip. This can include a tablet or electronic device, too, but be careful to not let them choose things that make the bag too heavy. I usually limit my kids to 5 things, and I try to keep one of them something that will hold their attention for longer, like the magic coloring books (like these from Imagine Ink or these from Melissa & Doug) or one of these mini storage boxes that can hold Legos and has a Lego plate for building on top.
When I drove 7.5 hrs to Traverse City to see my grandpa, it was the longest trip I’ve ever ventured by myself with both kids. I wasn’t sure how well my almost one year old would handle such a long drive, but he did fine.
Here is what I find helpful:
Feed ‘Em and Entertain ‘Em from above apply for driving, too, but also…
Run ‘Em Out
Wear them out and then leave an hour before nap-time or bedtime. This always ensures me at least 3 hours of straight driving with calm, sleeping kids. Don’t forget to go to the bathroom before you leave and cool it on the liquids in the car so that you don’t have to stop before they wake up!
Get ‘Em Out
On long trips, get out of the car and go into a restaurant for dinner. It’s a pain; I know, but it’s worth it for the stimulation and stretch time out of the car seats for both kiddos.
Change It Up
When things get rough, stop for gas, let them get out and stretch a bit, feed them, change them, and provide a new activity. I would nurse the baby, give my big kid a treat from inside the gas station store or from my packed back of snacks, and give each of them a different activity to do for the next stretch of the trip. For my big kid, that meant putting the Lego box away and coloring instead. For the baby, that meant putting the teether away and getting a Oball rattle instead. Gotta keep it fresh!
Keep It Organized!!!
Did I use enough exclamation points there? Because this is the part that makes or breaks how smoothly a trip can go. If you’re on the side of the road trying to clean baby puke off of your 18 month old’s car seat and your toddler (because you missed a turn and Google Maps took you on back roads that were winding and full of hills, and that was no bueno for your kiddo) and you can’t find the bag with a change of his clothes or (Lord, help you) the baby wipes, your bad moment is about to turn even worse. You may end up having to use your favorite sweatshirt to do what you can and have your toddler ride in just a diaper covered in blankets until you get to your destination. Just saying. #truestory
Here’s my biggest tips for keeping things organized no matter if you’re flying or driving:
- Make a list for EACH kid (and yourself) before you pack, and check it off as you go. Double check the lists before leaving your house.
- Keep the snack bag and toy bag visibly within reach!
- Know where everything is. This makes it easier to 1. find things and 2. tell someone else where to find things later on when we’ve reached our destination. Easiest way to accomplish this is to color code what you can using wet/dry bags or packing cubes. I like to use wet/dry bags to coordinate my things both by kid and by activity within suitcases, too. For example:
- Charming green wet/dry bag is for clean diapers/wipes. (Go!)
- Down By The Bay red wet/dry bag is for dirty diapers/wipes. (Stop!)
- Harold’s Purple Crayon purple wet/dry bag is for snacks.
- Each kid picks a print to house the toys they want to bring in the car.
- My Pirate’s Life for Me wet/dry bag is for pool stuff like bathing suits and goggles.
- My Freshly Squeezed wet/dry bag is for kitchen stuff- bibs and our RePlay kid plates and utensils.
- Each kid has a print that is “his” for his clothes. Lucas gets Wish; Everett gets Love Above; and I put my things in Merrily. I put daytime outfits rolled up tightly into rolls into the large Grab ‘n Go wet/dry bags, and pajamas rolled tightly into rolls in the small Quick Trip wet/dry bags. This makes unpacking and repacking a breeze, and it allows my 5 year old to know exactly where I put his pj’s so that he can get them himself!
- I usually bring a pail liner for collecting and storing dirty clothes, too.
- I store toiletries in wet/dry bags, as well, to protect my suitcase from leaks.
Now, go forth and organize! Plan! Pack! And have fun! You can do it! Yes, by yourself!