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Traveling with children alone
I remember the first time I was planning a trip away, as a solo parent, with my 3 children. I can’t deny that I felt apprehensive! I wondered how I’d manage alone…. would I feel lonely? What if something happened? How would I deal with things on my own? It was pretty scary entertaining the thoughts I had. Although, I’d travelled to different countries with my kids ever since they were just a few months old, I’d always been with their dad or with other family members. Being passionate about travel, I was adamant that breaking up with my children’s father wasn’t going to stop us from travelling. I decided, in fact, that it would make our travelling experiences even more fun and exciting. I may not have a ‘shoulder to lean on’ if things go wrong BUT I can make all the decisions (and include my children) without having to argue and disagree with the kids father on where we go and what we do.
I had though, lost some of my confidence and started to doubt myself as to whether I could travel alone with my kids. I sought advice online and I read so many inspiring stories from mums (and dads) who were doing it. Not only were they doing it, they were doing it like a pro…travelling to far flung destinations for weeks, even months at a time. Kids in tow, babies. Hell, some even travelled with their pets too! These parents were bad-ass and I wanted to do what they were doing. So, I booked my first solo-parenting family trip. I wish I could say that it was to some long-haul exotic destination, with one child in a sling, one in a buggy and one casually sat on my shoulders whilst I effortlessly wheeled our luggage about (yeh right!) It was, in fact, a trip to Devon, UK. Going on a 6-hour train journey and staying in a caravan. Still, this was big news! I was starting the chapter of my life where my character was ‘Single Mama/Bad-Ass-Traveller’ and it felt…. freakkking scary! But liberating at the same time.
I’m pleased to say the journey went great, it helped me believe in myself and realise that I can travel as a single parent. That trip to Devon is now a journey we take each year, sometimes twice a year (I even brought our dog once too). I have some family there and it’s such a beautiful part of the UK.
My next step was to venture a bit farther. I was yearning to take the kids abroad, but this brought a whole new level of anxiety. How can I manage 3 children and all our luggage in an airport? What if we lose our luggage? Will anyone understand our language when we arrive at our destination? What if we get lost and aren’t sure how to ask for directions? So many different worries went through my head. I decided that I needed to take the shortest flight possible to somewhere close to the UK, where everyone spoke English and there were good transport links and supermarkets close by. Being a vegan family, the supermarkets were a biggie.
We chose Amsterdam. I’d been there before, everyone spoke English and it seemed to be a family-friendly destination. You can read about our trip in my post Amsterdam with children.
As you can see, I was afraid at the beginning, it took me 4 years to build up my confidence before I stepped on a plane alone with my children. But when I did, it was the most liberating, confident-building, awesome experience ever!
So, if you’re at the stage I was at, you’re anxious or worried about travelling alone with your kids, then this post is for you. You don’t have to wait 4 years like I did, the helpful tips in this blog post are from other parents who have been traveling with children alone. Not only did they travel, they traveled and loved it! Truly inspirational mamas and papas who won’t let the fact that they are or were solo travelling parents stop them from enjoying the world. Remember, too these parents were once where you are, feeling apprehensive about taking off but they did it and so can you, like a boss 😉
14 expert tips from parents traveling with children alone
“When travelling with my two busy boys I always allow them to pack their own entertainment bags. When they were small this involved options to choose from as guidance was needed. They are now pre-teens and packing their own entertainment bags but there is still a small amount of supervision. Liquids and foods need control for flying and charging cables, headphones and power packs are essentials that are triple checked before departure. After the humiliation of having their bags searched and the presence of plastic tat, toddler toys and random other items, packing has since been more considered. I always include a few surprises. Wrapped when they were small and now just awarded when the time is right.” ~ Suzanne Easton from suzanneeaston.com
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“We live as expats in the Middle East, so every summer I make the journey back home to Australia with my 3 littles see family and friends. Since my youngest was 1 I have been making this journey solo. The most important thing travelling solo with multiple children is having your hands free. This allows you to hold hands with older children, handle paperwork, eat – all those useful things!
A baby carrier for years has been my saviour while transiting. I always carry a backpack as well with mine and the baby’s supplies, plus the older two children will carry their own small packs – nothing that needs to be pulled or dragged! The other advantage of using a good structured carrier, it has a front storage pocket. I keep passports, a credit card and any essentials in easy grabbing distance without having to dig through the backpack.” ~ Keri Hedrick from Our Globe Trotters
Find the best baby carriers here and keep your hands free when traveling with a baby.
“Always pack light when you’re travelling on your own. It’s easy to put in things for every eventuality, especially when you’re travelling with young kids, and people are generally very helpful when they see you’re on your own with a baby or child but knowing that you can carry all your bags AND a small child is best. Even when kids are old enough to have a small backpack or pull a little kids’ suitcase, I’ve found myself holding the lot when my daughter has been tired or trying to make a connecting plane while your stroller is checked in.
Anything which leaves your hands free makes life even easier too – a baby carrier, sling or toddler backpack for example, or I used a hip-seat until my daughter was about four. Not only does that mean you’ve got both hands to sort bags, it’s also a lot easier on your back than trying to hold them at the same time! When my daughter was little, she always used to doze off in the baby carrier which was a big bonus on long journeys and helped avoid too many exhausted meltdowns during travelling.”~ Cathy Winston from Mummy Travels
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I converted my Osprey Nebula Laptop Backpack into a diaper bag because it has SO many zippers, compartments and places to stay really organized.
I use packing cubes or wet/dry bags inside the bag to stay organized with things like diapering supplies, spare clothes, toys, snacks and even my own supplies like a jacket, itineraries, guide books and more.
When you are traveling solo with a toddler, you don’t have time to dig around messy bags trying to find passports, tickets and sippy cups! Having everything in a really well organized bag can make all the difference in maintaining your sanity while out exploring with your little one!” ~ LeAnna from Well Traveled Nebraskan
Click here to find the best diaper bag for all your baby essentials.
“My best tip for solo parent travel is that less is best! I try and only have ONE carry-on for all of us so that my boys are not loaded down on long haul flights and when we are transiting through the night. I pack a change of clothes, snacks for them, water bottles and their comfort animals! For me, besides my laptop and phone, I am busy tending to their needs to worry about needing anything else. Everything else gets checked in, including car seats. Now, I often choose a backpack so that I can have my hands free, something that can fit them as well as a day bag. If that doesn’t hold everything I have a small under the seat rolling carryon. When they were younger I would use a cross body bag so I could piggy-back one kid and push the other in an umbrella stroller. A cheap stroller is all I took as we used it only at the airport.” ~ Lindsey Nieminen from Carpe Diem Our Way
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“My biggest tip for traveling as a solo parent is to take night time flights! I recently flew cross-country with my baby and chose to do an overnight red-eye specifically so he’d sleep through it. Yes, our sleep time was shorter than usual and somewhat interrupted, but my primary goal was achieved… I didn’t have to deal with a bored, fussy, or hungry kid!
We were each more tired than normal the following day, but managing a cranky baby was far easier at our destination than it would’ve been in-flight. I’ll take that any day over having to entertain a child on a plane for several hours. From here on out, when I need to fly with my son (and especially if I’m traveling as a solo parent), I’m going to fly overnight whenever possible!” ~ Mary Beth from M B Sees
“Travelling with children solo can have its challenges, but with some thoughtful preparation and useful items to take along, travel is one of the best experiences we can give them.
Whenever I get on a plane with them, I always make sure I haves a whole load of snack options. Especially when they were under 2, I found it was pretty difficult to distract them with ipads, TVs (let along more wholesome items such as books and games). Food is much more likely to work!
I also found (and still find!) with my kids that if they’re hungry then they get really badly behaved; not good for anyone’s stress levels! As it can be very unpredictable to know when you’re going to get food on a flight (and whether they’re going to like it), having your own stash of varied (ideally healthy) snacks is a lifesaver!” ~Clare from Epic Road Rides
Order healthy snacks for your journey here.
“I was always comfortable with travelling with a baby and toddlers. I firmly believe adventure and adversity builds strong family bonds between parent and child and you can cope with anything together. But you do need to ask for help sometimes, and you need to avoid making judgments about who you call on based on appearances. On a budget flight back from a wedding in Slovakia a few years ago I had my one year old on my lap on the plane. I was seated next to a rugby team from the Midlands. Expecting them to be the rowdy ones in the row, I was mortified when my daughter projectile vomited all over me. There was no way the small toilet could comfortably accommodate both of us without a tantrum (from me not her) so I cautiously asked one of the rugby boys to take her. When I arrived back to my seat, the whole row of lads had charmed her and she had charmed them back. For the rest of the flight I enjoyed a rest while they were fully employed catching her toys as she span them into the air like she had just joined the squad.” ~ Kirstie from Family Adventure Project
Don’t forget your baby travel essentials!
“Whenever travelling solo with my little one I always take carry on food that can be eaten without the use of a tray table! There is nothing worse than having a wriggly baby and a tray table full of hot food that isn’t cleared for an age! Taking on a sandwich means you can eat on your own, or more likely, baby’s schedule without worrying about knocking something over!” ~ Leona Bowman from Wandermust Family
Check out these children’s food containers on Amazon.
“Trying to get out of the house on time when you have children is a challenge in itself. Going on a long trip is another story. This takes a lot of pre-planning, mothers often have to be strategic about it. As a mother of two boys under 10 years old, I have been traveling with them since my oldest was 8 months. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
- Make a list, way before you leave. Just write down whatever comes to mind, anything you think you need for the trip. You can always clean it up later.
- Carry on bags. Backpacks are your best friend. As soon as they are old enough to carry a pack, it will be a good help for you.
- The backpacks should have most of the plane necessities such as a change of clothes, wet and dry wipes, snacks, activities, an empty water bottle (to fill in the airport).
- Additionally, a sturdy, smooth and easy to maneuver 4-way rolling luggage is a plus! My little one actually ends up riding on it when he gets tired of walking or can’t keep up. It also allows me to keep track of my two kids since they are next to me and the luggage.” ~ Cristy Murray from Alaska Mom Life
Time for a new suitcase? Be prepared and find easy-to-maneuver luggage here.
“Asking for help is a sigh of weakness, right? That was how I felt before I travelled around Asia for 20-months with 3 young kids as a solo parent. I learned very fast, especially when travel involved an aeroplane, that I could not be super-mum and had to ask for help.
If anyone offers to help you on the plane, with luggage, to entertain your toddler or to hold your baby. Let them and say “Yes, please!!”. If you are struggling – Ask for help!
Utilise any help afforded to you as a solo parent travelling with young ones. You might be surprised what services the airport offers. For example, skipping long lines. The use of a buggy if the departure gate is far away. The use of the elevator so you don’t have to manage all the stairs when you board the plane.
If we had access to an aero-bridge it was fine as I could roll our carry-on bags. However, that was the exception rather than the rule. Often we had to get onto a bus at the departure lounge then transverse wobbly stairs to get on the plane. Then do it all again when we arrived. Doing that with a baby, a 3-year-old and a heap of luggage is challenging to say the least
If you get attitude from flight attendants, and if you travel enough, you will. My best tip for getting help without needing to ask is boarding or disembarking slowly. I have never seen such helpful staff when they need you either seated or off the plane for cleaning.
Travelling solo with kids taught me so many things. The main thing I learned was it was okay to be vulnerable and to ask for help when I needed it. People want to help, mostly, so let them! ~ Alana Tagliabue from Family Bites Travel
“After 8 years of traveling almost exclusively with my son as a solo parent, the best tip I can provide is to preview everything with your kids. Previewing is parenting speak for talking through what is coming up with your kids. I’ve found that one of the best ways for kids to know what’s coming up is to tell them, over and over again.
While previewing things, you can also set expectations and give your kids things they can help with. Not only does it help you as the solo parent to have your child take on responsibilities, it also helps them feel proud of themselves and build independence. Even toddlers can be given tasks to take care of and positive encouragement about how helpful they are!
Over time this develops helpful, independent travelers who become an asset in the journey!” ~ Karilyn Owen from No Back Home
“Traveling as a solo dad with my two-year-old boy was a daunting thought when I first learned that I would be taking him to another state via multiple connecting plane flights. He had never been away from Lyric (his mom) and although we have traveled a lot together as a family I usually wasn’t the one to think of everything. One of my biggest tips is to make sure that you allow plenty of time for everything and that you don’t plan to do too much in one day. I also recommend you bring plenty of lightweight books and small toys for the plane (and for other activities) in a packing cube so that you can keep your little one easily entertained. Bring plenty of options for snacks that your little person likes because the food will be different than what they’re used to. If your child isn’t fully potty trained then I recommend putting them in overnight diapers when going on a plane (or car ride) longer than two hours because otherwise, you may end up with wet pants (this happened to us). Which reminds me, you should bring several changes of clothes! Lastly, go with the flow, have plenty of patience and have fun with it because it’ll be an adventure no matter what.” ~ Asher from Asher and Lyric
Packing cubes, possibly one of THE best travel product inventions! Find yours on Amazon for easy, organised packing.
Why not check out The Frisky’s guide on essential items you will need for traveling.