This post may contain affiliate links. See my full disclaimer here
One Parent Holidays: How to Rock Solo Travel With Your Child
Traveling with toddlers and taking an airplane with a baby is hard enough. Throw solo parenting into the mix and the struggle is real. Hats off (as always) to those single moms and dads out there who are rocking it every day for their kids. I’ve traveled a few times solo with each of my kids because my husband was unable to take time off work. Navigating the airport security, check-in process and finally the plane itself is a challenge but the experience is well worth the stress! Regardless of your reason for a one parent holiday, here are my best tips for rocking the single parent travel with a child.
Child Travel Consent Form
Did you know that children traveling with one parent require a consent letter? I had no idea that there was a travel consent letter until I heard about it on a facebook group I’m on. Thankfully I did, as I was asked at the border if I had my letter!! PHEW!
There are different requirements depending on the country that you live in. We are Canadian so we used this sample parental consent letter for travel. US residents can check out the requirements for their travel consent letter here. For other countries, please check your requirements!
With a Baby
I’ve taken one trip without my husband with my youngest who was 8 months at the time. I did have the help of my mom for part of the trip and I was thankful for that because babies are hard work!! After going on this trip I felt so much more comfortable with the idea of traveling solo with my kids.
My get up for solo travel at the airport:
- A baby carrier
- Uppababy Vista stroller frame with Maxi Cosi car seat
- A backpack diaper back (I use the Ju-Ju-Be and love it)
- One carry on bag
Getting through security
I put the baby in the baby carrier and all the other stuff in the stroller and off we go. I have all my liquids and my laptop all ready for the airport security line so I don’t have to spend forever rummaging through my bag when we get to security.
At security, they will make you take the baby out of the carrier, so I try not to have my baby asleep for this time. They will also inspect your stroller and you will have to take everything out of it and send it through the scanner. I make sure I’m wearing leggings and a cotton T-shirt so there is no possible way that I will sound the metal detector. If you are traveling with a baby you are exempt from certain liquid limits for formula and baby food. Read more here.
Once we pass through security we head right to the washroom to get organized and freshen up for the flight. I try to find a family or accessible washroom to use so that we are less cramped and I can actually go pee too without any sort of crazy acrobatics!
Once we are in the airport it’s time to relax and walk around with the baby carrier preflight. Grab a coffee or tea and go for a stroll, you’ve got this mama!
** note: pee breaks are limited when you are traveling solo so I tend not to drink too much!
On the plane
I try my best to time a nap with the flight time so at least an hour of the flight will be taken by glorious sleep! With my first (the challenging sleeper) I would tend to start power walking 15 minutes before boarding in the carrier to get him to sleep. He was so difficult to get to sleep that I needed the motion and it made sense to get him asleep before boarding.
My second is a much better sleeper so I found it easier to bring him on board awake and try to get him asleep with the movement of the runway. During takeoff I would “shush-pat” and soother like it was my job and I usually saw some heavy eyes (wahoo!) This way I had a longer chunk of the flight with him asleep.
My “bag of tricks” for the flight includes 1) unlimited boob 2) unlimited snacks 3) a few small toys but mostly 4) playing with everything on the plane like cups, papers, seat belts, the window etc etc. We do a few trips to the bathroom as well purely for entertainment value ????
I haven’t done more than a 4-hour flight with either of my kids and I don’t have a particular desire to do so at this point. We still have so much to explore in North America that I would prefer for my youngest to be at least 3 before we do a long haul. When we do, Hawaii is first on my list!!
Getting bags and getting out of there
As much as possible I try to avoid checking bags when I’m traveling solo. It makes it so much easier to be able to skip that baggage pick up line on the way out. Check out my packing hacks here to learn how I get all our outfits organized and compact for our trip.
Then we hit the road! With a baby in a bucket car seat, there is a lot more flexibility for car options because a bucket seat can easily be strapped into to a cab or limousine. On my trip with my little one, we took a cab which was great because I could catch a little bit of rest on the way to our destination.
With a toddler or preschooler
I just got back from an amazing trip to Legoland with my eldest son, who is almost four. We had an amazing time and traveling at this age was quite relaxed compared to my baby trip above.
My get up for the airport:
- Uppababy Vista stroller (you can NOT beat the basket on this one)
- Cosco Scenara Next car seat (fits perfect in the Uppababy basket)
- Backpack diaper bag with stroller clips
- One rolling carry on
- One child size backpack (we have the Pottery barn one and ???? love it)
Getting through security
I had two totally different experiences on my most recent trip. Big shout out to the Niagara Falls, New York airport for being the best airport ever. Depending on how helpful (or not *ahem* Sanford airport) the airport security officials are can make all the difference!
I keep my son in the stroller until the last second after I have loaded everything on the conveyer belt. I have the liquids and my laptop easily accessible so that I can put them quickly on the belt. The car seat is a bit of a pain but it will fit through the scanner. I then pass off the stroller and walk through the metal detector with my son.
While we are waiting for the stuff my son is likely to start trying to run off or whine or complain so I try to give him a task like putting back on his shoes or “looking for the white bag” to distract him a bit. A big sigh of relief when we get our stroller back and I can strap that little sucker back in ????.
We always go for a washroom break right after security to get ourselves organized and inevitably reorganize all the stuff that just got a bit mixed up after the security chaos. I find a family washroom where my son can’t pull any escape shenanigans and take a second to regroup.
Usually, after this, we head to our gate. I don’t like to arrive too early, especially for solo travel with a toddler so we only have a few minutes of time to kill which is easily done by watching all the planes out the window.
If you have a longer stop, check out my post on 15 ways to keep your kids entertained at an airport here!
On the plane
Listen, there are times when trying to reduce screen time is a great idea. We are trying (and succeeding!) all the time. When you are at home and could be outside enjoying the outdoors or doing crafts or playing lego or whatever, we all probably need to work on our screens (me too for Instagram!). Planes, however, are just not one of those times! There are no prizes for taking your toddler on a plane and not bringing an iPad. iPads are perfect for planes, they pack a lot of punch into one small device that doesn’t take up a ton of precious space. Check out my post here on the best educational apps my son loves. We also bring a few new Hot Wheels cars for my son to play with on the snack tray. That usually buys us a good 30 minutes of entertainment!
I am blessed that my eldest son, who by all accounts was a terrible sleeper as a baby, almost always falls asleep on planes. The hush of that engine noise really soothes him to sleep. Must have been all of that hairdryer blowing I did next to his crib when he was 3 months old ????????. On our recent trip to Florida (2hr flight) my son fell asleep before the plane took off and woke up just before landing. I was one happy mommy!!
Baggage claim and we’re off
We try to take carry on only so that we don’t have to wait in line for baggage. My son ALWAYS tries to figure out a way to kill himself on the baggage conveyor so it’s best if we just whiz by that little ride as fast as we can!
I take advantage of all the extra baggage allowances you get for having a toddler when we fly. Most airlines will let you have a diaper bag for free!
With a toddler, I almost always rent a car because the car seat situation is a bit more difficult at that age. I was typically renting car seats with the rental company until I found out about the Cosco Scenara Next from a friend. This is the best toddler travel car seat around. It is lightweight, fits in my Uppababy Vista basket and was cheaper than the price to rent! I use it only for travel so that I don’t risk damage to my every day seats. You can read more about my travel car seat recommendations for every age here.
Have you traveled solo with your kids? How was it? If you have any tips or tricks drop me a line in the comments below! Now that I have my confidence to do it I’m thinking I might try solo + two kids next (Ahh!!)