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35+ Tips For Flying Solo With A Baby, Toddler, Or Kid

Written by Katie Hintz-Zambrano

Photography by Photo Via Baby Care Journal

Traveling with a child can be nerve-racking. And even more so if you are doing the task completely solo. Luckily, if you do a little planning ahead, some common rookie mistakes—and resulting headaches—can be avoided. Here, we’ve culled tips from our jet-setting friends who have mastered taking their babies, toddlers, and little “big kids” on flights all by their lonesome. Read their tried and true tips, take them to heart, and feel free to add your own in the comments below.

Booking Your Flight:
-Make sure the times that you’re flying coincide with your child’s regular sleep cycle. Preferably, book a flight while your child would naturally be sleeping so that he or she will sleep during the journey, and only need to be entertained for a portion of it. If your child isn’t great about sleeping on planes, make sure he or she is well-rested and fresh off of a nap before boarding, so that you don’t end up with a cranky, overtired tot.

-Try to book a child-friendly airline by reading reviews and asking your friends. We’ve heard good things about Virgin and Jet Blue on domestic flights. Some bend over backwards to help, with free upgrades, hooking you up with empty rows, lounge access, etc.

-If possible, avoid connection flights in busy hubs, and minimize plane changes or layovers, which increase the likelihood of missing a connection or losing your luggage.

-If you’re flying international with a baby, try to book the bulkhead bassinet seats. Also, remember to book a ticket for your lap infant before you get to the airport.

-If traveling internationally, make sure you have a notarized consent to travel document from your partner/child’s other parent. The airlines will typically give your partner authorization to escort you to your departure gate if you ask, and an extra pair of hands can be a huge help.

-Check and see if your airline gives families priority through security and boarding. If they do, take advantage of it and get settled into the plane before it’s crowded.

-If you’re able to fly First Class, more power to you. It does make things easier.

-If you can plan anything else ahead—meal requests, seats, taxis, etc.—it’ll also help.

-Once you land, try to have someone ready to receive you and your child(ren) at the other end, so that you can relax and get adjusted to any timezone changes.

Packing For The Trip:
-Try to pack as light as possible, and be super organized when packing things. Try dividing your carry-on stuff into small, color-coded or clear bags (or Baggu pouches) to make it all easy to find when it’s jumbled together.

-Pack one big piece of luggage with both your and your child’s things in it, and check it. Then carry-on the bare minimum that’ll also get you through the night, should your packed luggage get lost.

-Make sure you pack more overnight diapers and pull-ups than you think you’ll need, a slim-size of baby wipes, a spare set of clothing for the baby and an extra shirt (and maybe leggings) for yourself, should a messy situation occur (plus, an empty plastic bag to stash those dirty clothes). And, of course, your kid’s lovey.

-Pack snacks! Healthy popcorn, puffs, fresh fruit, formula supplies, Annie’s organic gummy bunnies (which your tot can chew on during take-off and landing), squeezy pouches, and other relatively mess-free meals. Plus, a sippy cup (loosened before flight, so it doesn’t shoot liquid everywhere!) that you can dump the airplane apple juice or water into. Don’t forget to pack snacks for yourself, too, and try to eat something substantial (both you and child) before you board.

-Your entertainment packing list should look something like this: Books (especially sticker books or books about planes), small toys, crayons and paper, Play-Doh depending on how messy your kid gets with it, a fully loaded iPad, noise-canceling headphones, an iPad charger. Bonus points if many of those things are brand-new toys that make their debut on the plane. One mother we talked to swore by the entertaining capabilities of masking tape (stick on, rip off, repeat), as well as Wiki Stix and Grimms magnetic puzzles. Think about what your child is into and purchase accordingly.

What To Wear:
-Comfort is key for both you and your tot. Think about easy layers that can add up to a cozy outfit once the flight gets chilly. Lots of pockets (bonus points if they have zippers) are great for stashing your tickets, ID, snacks, binikes, etc. PJ’s are great for kids and will hopefully encourage some on-flight sleep!

-Wear slip-on shoes to help get you through security (and pack a pair of socks for cold flights).

-Carry a backpack instead of a purse through the airport.

-Don’t wear anything you care about too much, should any big mess occur.

-Think about bringing an oversized scarf that can double as a blanket, window shade, nursing cover, etc.

Navigating The Airport:
-Try to arrive early, to avoid extra stress-induced panic, and to let your little one run around to get some of that energy out.

-Make the airport an adventure, pointing about every airplane, tram, and other airport vehicle, to entertain your kid. Make getting your ticket a big deal.

-Bring a carrier, like an Ergo, for small children and babies, and an umbrella stroller for a child that’s older (and who will actually sit in it). The umbrella stroller can also double as a cart for your carry-on.

-Look into playgrounds and playspaces in your airport before your flight, so you can plan ahead.

-Lots of moms swear by carseat travel carts that allow you to pop your carseat on top, use it as a stroller in the airport, and then check the whole thing (for free) at the gate.

-Other mothers prefer renting their carseat or borrowing one from a friend at their destination (or even Craigslist-ing it!) instead of schlepping one through the airport. Same goes with pack n’ plays and travel cribs.

-If you do pack and bring your own travel crib, say it is a stroller when you check it, so that it’s free.

-Prep your kids before you even get to the airport with books about your upcoming journey. We like this one, this one, and this one.

Sleeping On The Plane:
-If you can get your baby to fall asleep in an Ergo or other baby carrier before or during the flight, it can free up your hands for other things.

-If your child sleeps in a sleepsack, pack it and try to use it to aid sleep on the plane. Try mimicking other at-home bedtime habits like reading specific books, cuddling with loveys, etc.

-Ask the plane’s staff for extra blankets and pillows to help build a cozy sleep nest.

-If you’re breastfeeding, it’s a great tool to soothe the baby, help with ear pressure, and hopefully lull him to sleep.

-One mother we know suggests preparing a bottle before entering the airplane, but only feeding the bottle after dinner for bedtime.

The Mental Game:
-Try not to get too worked up about your trip before it actually starts. Do as much planning and prepping as possible, but try not to let the anxiety of traveling with your child get to you. The fact is, it’s happening! And you’ll deal with it as it comes.

-Once on the flight, divide your time into 15-30 minute increments (or however long you can stretch it), debuting a new toy or snack along the way. Count every hour under your belt as a victory, and that much closer to your destination.

-Don’t worry about your baby crying on a plane and upsetting fellow passengers. We’ve all been children before, we’ve all had crying fits, and there’s no need to compulsively apologize for something that’s natural and out of your control. Plus, you’re the one that has to deal with soothing a fussy child, not them. Have some compassion for yourself.

-Relax. Take deep breathes, celebrate and enjoy the easy bits, and you’ll inevitably get through the tough parts, just like you do on the ground.

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