You’re doing what? “Glaucio isn’t going?” If I had a dollar for every time I heard that question when I told people I was traveling ALONE to Brazil, with 3 kids, from Montana…..well lets just say, I wouldn’t have to travel in the economy class next time 😉
No fairy dust, no benadryl and I certainly am not super mom 🙂 I admit, we all had our moments with delayed planes, all the way to our overseas flight being canceled at 2 am: 2 hours after being boarded and kids sleeping, and of course everything in between.
But these 10 tips helped me keep my sanity, my kids happy, and helped us make it from the snowy town of Bozeman, Montana, to the beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
If I can do it, you certainly can too. And through my trials and errors, hopefully your adventure, whether traveling alone with kids or with someone, will go even smoother than mine did 😉
Family is priority
So here is the thing. When I say I traveled overseas alone with 3 of our kids, I did so out of necessity. Not by choice. We are a family of six + 4 cats and a giant dog 🙂 We live in Montana with our three girls, 6 yrs, 4 yrs and 9 months old. My husband is from Brazil and so all his family still lives in Rio de Janeiro. This includes his 11 year old son, my son. This is both a complicated and difficult situation. So while we are working on getting our sweet boy to Bozeman to be with us, in the meantime we have to either travel to him, or bring him to us. While we shoot to see him yearly, it had been a lot longer since we had visited Brasil. So this year, we decided to make the journey and see everyone.
Why did I travel alone?
Curious yet how I ended up traveling alone with three kids? Here is the thing. My husband has a great job; but like many jobs in the U.S., he only gets two weeks of vacation per year. Fortunately, I’ve chosen a job that has a lot of flexibility, so I’m able to work from wherever.
Since it is currently summer in Brazil, they are on their summer break which is from December to February. To go all the way down there, we wanted to take advantage of as much time as possible with our son and rest of our family. So we decided I would go down early and my husband would meet us for the holidays. It didn’t seem like such a big deal at the time. I’m not sure it even crossed my mind what exactly I was taking on initially.
Honestly, driving in the car on the way to the airport, was the very first time I really thought about what I had signed up for by flying alone with 3 kiddos. I am a planner. So I had spent the last two months reading blog after blog, searching Pinterest and talking to friends to be as prepared as I possibly could. These were my very favorite tips and tricks, and hands down helped me to survive the 24 hrs of flying alone.
In the future, whenever possible, I will always choose to fly with another adult as it is much easier. However, I am here to tell you, that it is certainly doable to travel alone with children.
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1. Mac sports utility wagon
If there was a single piece of advice I could give to parents traveling with kids it is this; DITCH THE STROLLER and buy one of these wagons!
Here’s the thing. I’ve done both, domestically and overseas now. With my oldest daughter, we traveled to Brazil with our expensive stroller. It took a beating and didn’t travel well on the cobblestone sidewalks there. This time I brought the wagon, and I couldn’t have been happier. Here is why you want this wagon:
- It is inexpensive.
Hopefullynothing happens, but in the case it does, whether from going under the plane or while at your destination, it is not expensive to replace.
- It is not bulky and folds down flat easily. The wagon itself is the same width as a normal
stroller,but folds more compactly. (Win!!!) Folding compactly and the included cover helped to protect it when I gate checked it. Plus it was simple to fold down. No buttons, latches or safety locks. This made it easy for me to accept help and tell someone how to do it, or even do it myself with my hands full. My 4 and 6 year oldwere even able to help with this part!
- It can be gate checked! For me to bring a stroller, it has to be able to be easily used in the airport up until we are boarding the plane. This passed the test!
- Practical for traveling with any number of children. If I had just my infant and her car seat, I still would have loved this because it would fit the car seat, bags
andthe diaper bag. With multiple kids, it is much easier maneuvering the airport with a wagon trailing behind you vs. a double stroller. Have you ever tried to walk, let alone rush through an airport with a double widestroller? Exactly.
- It is multi-purpose. It worked for just bags, or kids + bags. If I had brought a double stroller, I would have been up a creek. There would have been no way to put both bags and kids in the stroller. Instead, through the airport, it held all our carry on luggage; 2 backpacks and a large duffel. If kids were tired (when are kids not tired traveling?!?!), they would lay down on top the bags. For longer layovers, I also could remove bags and lay my baby in there to give her a clean space to move around and give me a break from carrying her. Let me get a little sidetracked and let you know how much this wagon saved me. Our return flight leaving Rio de Janeiro was supposed to depart at almost 11 pm. My
kidsbedtime is strictly 7 pm…even the entire time we were in Brazil. Already, I knew we were going to board the plane, and they would be exhausted and cranky. They did OK going through security and getting to the gate. They rode in the wagon the ENTIRE TIME. It was over a mile walk from security to our gate. Can you imagine a tired, cranky kid having to walk that? Yup. Not happening. This is when it got good. If you want to read more of what happened and see how up a creek I would have been without this wagon…..read more here.
2. Ergo baby carrier
Traveling alone with three kids, I can’t tell you how much it helped having one contained, and my arms free to help or hold onto the older girls.
For me…..I rely a lot on containment when it comes to parenting (at certain times;) An airport is one of those times.
Baby was in the Ergo, and bigger girls were either contained in the wagon, or had to be holding my hands. In the airport the Ergo meant my hands were free to pull the wagon and roller bag, help a kiddo with going potty, eat, deal with boarding passes, let her feed while in the ergo, etc. The list could go on.
On the plane, it meant my arms didn’t go numb from baby falling asleep in them and trying to hold still so I didn’t disturb her. I could “nap” without the worry of dropping her, I could grab items for the girls and help them and myself since I wasn’t trying to do everything one handed. Trust me…. traveling alone, you want both of your hands available and free 😉
This Ergo is amazing because they can face forward or backwards. It’s comfortable for the adult as well as baby with its breathable fabric. The variety of wide straps made it easy for me to wear for long periods of time without feeling discomfort.
Plus I loved the tuck away baby hood! When my daughter would fall asleep, I could snap the hood in place to keep the light off her face. This meant if she fell asleep during landing, she would keep sleeping through the process of deplaning because the lights wouldn’t effect her and between the motion of movement and smelling me, she staying asleep! This hood also meant that I could nurse her while she was in the ergo. I even nursed her while waiting in lines, or walking at times. Hey, a mama has to do what a mama has to do 😉
Best part….it fits a newborn with a special insert, all the way up to a toddler. This is one of those investment purchases that will be worth every penny!
3. Individual snack bags
I made up three separate, one-gallon snack bags for the flight there. One for me, and one for each of the big girls. Can I assume that most kids are similar to mine and that there is nothing worse than tired and hungry kids? This takes care of one of those 🙂
Using the large baggie, I wrote each of their names on the outside, and filled the inside with snacks. I tried to stay away from sugar because let’s face it, traveling alone with kids is hard enough. The last thing I needed was to try and get them to stay seated and quiet after consuming a ton of sugar. My goal was to pack snacks that they weren’t used to having regularly so that they would have that special appeal.
I also included fruit snacks and Dum Dum suckers for take-off and landing for popping their ears if needed. (Yup, they were needed).
When they were hungry, they could eat anything they wanted, in whatever order. When it was gone, it was gone. There was no complaining about wanting a different snack, or who got the last one. They had their own, and they were in charge of it and it WAS AMAZING!
4. Inflatable footrest travel pillow
Ok, seriously….can’t say enough good things about this. I ran across a photo on Pinterest for these, and it opened a rabbit hole for me. There are a variety of brands, I chose this one because of the price point, and I LOVED IT!
First of all, anything that gets shipped straight to my door without me having to load kids in the car, is my kind of purchase.
Second, it deflates fairly small; about the size of a football. Pretty good considering what it provides. After take-off, I could inflate it in about 2 min with blowing. No pump needed.
I had one for each girl and it allowed them to stretch out on the flight while watching their tablets, kept them from swinging their legs or kicking the seat in front of them, and turned the seat into a bed for our 10 hr overnight flight from Texas to Brazil. My kids slept from takeoff until I woke them up an hour before landing for breakfast. Convinced yet? 😉
I know, tablets seem to be the go-to for travel with kids these days….and I understand why. I do my best to limit screen time at home when kids can be kids. But you can bet with 24 hrs of travel, having to stay seated on a tiny seat and to be quiet for that long….that the tablet was open for unlimited use.
I did bring a variety of other activities in case, but never ended up needing them. We chose the Amazon Fire kids tablets because again, inexpensive so if something happened, it wasn’t the end of the world. Not like breaking an ipad at the start of a vacaction!
We grabbed these on a Black Friday special. Along with the lower tablet price point, it is backed by a 2 year worry-free guarantee. If it breaks during that period, then you can send it back for a free replacement! Don’t know about you, but that sounds pretty darn good when its being used by kids.
Finally, the easy-to-use parental controls allow parents to personalize screen time limits, set educational goals, filter age-appropriate content, and also manage web browsing and content usage. Not having to monitor their activity as closely after being set up before we left meant that I could nap when baby napped. The primary use of these tables was as a form of entertainment to keep the kids busy and these were perfect for that.
Again, forget the idea of sharing when it comes to travel. Plan for it not to happen; and if it does, then it is just an added bonus. We had one tablet + headphones for each child and it was great. There was not a single bicker, argument OR punch over sharing. Win for this mama!
6. Family sized passport organizer
The hardest part of traveling alone with kids is the amount of STUFF you need. I feel like I packed everything plus the bathroom sink. That was with packing ahead of time and pairing down.
Going through check-in, security, customs….anything with waiting and a line, having something to keep all our important documents together saved a lot of stress and confusion in the moment. I loved one like this one. It fit all 7 passports easily, cards, ids, birth certificates and authorization to travel. Not once did I have to scrounge around in my bag for passports or an ID that were in different locations.
Again containment and organization. Make sure you have some method of keeping all your passports and important travel documents together. A huge plus if it can be one item for all!!
7. Travel pillow for you + kids
Traveling is exhausting. Daily life with kiddos is exhausting. A full day of both…..yup, you get it; extra exhausting.
As a general rule of thumb, the more comfortable you are, the more likely you are to sleep. This is especially true with kids. Choose a pillow or blanket that reminds them of home, so they can get comfy and relax.
My good friend made these amazing blankets that also folded up into a pillow. I attached them using a carabinear to their backpacks. Yes, it was a little bulky, but being attached to the outside of their backpacks, it didn’t take up valuable inside space and they didn’t tend to get in the way since they were attached to the back of the backpack. Definitely worth it!
For me, I found this amazing blow-up travel pillow on Amazon again. It goes across your body like a messenger bag allowing you to lean into it. It can be used on either side of your body, has a soft washable cover, inflates in three puffs, and can be used in a variety of ways. This was beyond perfect not having a window seat to lean against. I would dare to say that this was more comfortable than a window seat. It was that good.
8. Travel medicine bag
A huge part of traveling with kids is being prepared. I had a small medicine bag with some of my “what ifs”. I ended up only needing a couple, but I would have been up a creek had I not packed a kit and something came up. Better safe than sorry.
It also was great to have items I knew worked for us in case we needed them while in Brazil. A lot simpler to grab from your medicine bag then try and translate and search in a drugstore.
- Kids melatonin (recommended by our pediatrician for helping fall asleep on the overnight flight as well as for the first few nights there to make it over the jet leg-hump!!!!!)
- Kids Dramamine
- Kids Tylenol
- Prescription medications for both myself and the kiddos
- Tylenol for me
- Eye drops
- Zicam for fast cold relief
- Neosporin + Band-aids
9. Economy plus + infant bassinet
A necessity if you are traveling overseas, and even more so if you are traveling alone with kids is the airline bassinet. After booking online, I called right away about the infant bassinet.
For those not familiar, its a bassinet, that attaches to the bulkhead of the plane. This means your baby gets a small “crib” and you get a break from holding them! Plus the bulkhead seats mean you get more leg room space. Win all around!
Some domestic flights have them and most international, but make sure to call your airline to reserve it. When you are traveling with an infant, it also means you get upgraded to Economy Plus for FREE! That paired with the inflatable leg rest and pillow meant that I got to put my legs up and sleep too 🙂 Rested mama= happy mama and kiddos 🙂
10. Take care of yourself
When you are sitting on that plane waiting to back up from the gate and listening to the safety instructions….have you ever really listened to what they are saying? Every flight, every time, they talk about in event of loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop. Yup, ok got that.
Now the next part…..if you really take a second to think about it, it’s there for a specific reason. Secure YOUR mask first before helping those around you. This!!! It’s so simple, yet so important.
This advice can be applied to any and all aspects of life and is so important to creating a less stressful life. This also rings true when flying alone with kids. Sure, you will find yourself constantly helping your kids to be as comfortable as possible.
But make sure you have not only packed some items for you, but that you make taking care of yourself a priority. Even if it is as simple as asking for extra water for yourself from the flight attendant. If you are taken care of, you will be more relaxed and find yourself with more patience in order to deal with whatever travel throws your way.
Here is what I brought that made a huge difference for me:
- Compression socks. Every time I travel, I find that my feet swell up to the point that when I go to deplane, I can’t get them to fit back in my shoes. At the end of the flights, you will be exhausted. There will be enough chaos trying to wrangle kids, as well as replace items taken out of bags during the flight, and then getting everyone off the plane. The last thing you will feel like doing is dealing with the frustration of trying to squeeze your feet into shoes that don’t fit after flying. Invest in a pair of good compression socks for those long flights. Not only do they keep your feet warm on the cold plane, but for the first time ever, my feet didn’t swell at all! I loved this pair from Amazon.
- Don’t forget your skin! I don’t know about you, but that recycled dry air does a number on my skin….every single time. Normally, on those long overnight flights, I sleep with my makeup on from the day before. However, every time, I wake up with my skin feeling stretched and tight. On top of starting the day tired, waking up feeling gross and dirty, with my skin so dry that I could feel it stretching; that didn’t feel like I was starting the day off on the right foot. This time, I tried something different. I actually packed a bag with some items for me. Oh my goodness, let me tell you what a difference they made! I woke up, my skin felt hydrated, and I started my day just like I do at home, cleaning my face and putting on my make up. I actually felt “refreshed” and ready to tackle the last part of the journey of flying with my kids 🙂 These are the products I used and I stand behind them 100%! –Makeup remover wipes– Give your skin a chance to breathe and get that makeup off your face for the night just like you would at home! I even used these on my kiddos before bed. It helps you feel just a little bit cleaner 😉 –Hydration serum– You know that plane air will be dry. Why not be prepared so that your skin doesn’t feel so tight from lack of hydration when you wake up? This brand is my favorite. Your skin feels amazing afterward. Plus I even used it on my hands which always tend to dry out as well. It’s even carry on size approved!
Win win!!! –Lash serum– I wish I could claim my lashes are all my own…..my kids inherited their dads ridiculously long, thick and dark lashes….lucky kiddos 🙂 But I have this magic tube I use every night to make my own look fabulous, so you can bet I stuck this in my carry on bag 🙂 –Oil-free makeup that won’t clog your pores. There are so much bacteria on a plane. I feel like every time I fly I end up with acne because I touch my face, or leave my make up on while I sleep. Well, I found this new bottle I’m obsessed with. It provides buildable coverage with SPF and won’t clog your pores. Plus it does double duty. It perfects your skin but also protects it. Think skincare + makeup mixed into one magic bottle. I don’t know about you, but my mama life is filled with finding ways to simplify and anything that “kills two birds with one stone” is my kind of product. This bottle does just that!
- Toothbrush– Again, it’s a given that you’ll be exhausted. Chances are the second you finally get your kids sleeping, you will want to just crash or watch your movie for some “you time”. However, trust me on this. Along with cleaning your face and waking up feeling “fresh”, waking up with brushed teeth felt amazing. Also being able to brush again in the morning and walk out of that plane with my face washed and hair and teeth brushed
….I felt like a whole new woman 🙂 My dentist recommended this brand. So far so good 😉
- Sleep mask– It’s bound to happen; someone sitting close by will turn on their light in the middle of the night. It’s hard enough to sleep on a plane. So cover your eyes so that you don’t get woken up by little nuisances. As a result, you will get more sleep, which will help you wake up feeling more refreshed. I made the mistake of bringing just a normal, fabric sleep mask that I had laying around at home. It worked ok, but if I had it to do over again, I would give this brand a try!
- Book– Now
inall honesty, I never actually had the time to read because my connections all ended up being so close. However, had we had a longer connection, I might have pulled out the tablets for the kiddos so I had 30 minutes to regroup and recharge before putting my mama hat back on. Although I didn’t have time during the flight, I took advantage of the reading time while we were there! Beach + a book = my dream 😉
- Headphones– Same thing, never actually even watched a single movie. But if I had needed a second to calm down or re-group, I could have put them on, blocked out the outside noises (including my kiddos), and listened to music or my favorite podcast.
- Snack bag– When it comes to flying…..if you are packing it because your kids might need it….you should probably be packing it for yourself. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only adult that gets cranky when I get hangry 🙂 Alongside packing snack bags for my kids, I made a special snack bag for myself. You know what? I ended up eating it all. A hungry mama isn’t a happy one. Do all of you a favor, and start filling some bags to pull out when needed. Guaranteed it will be at inopportune times when purchasing snacks isn’t available 🙂 Kids timing is impeccable 🙂
I know firsthand how hard it can be to think of yourself when so much time and energy go into taking care of your kids. This is something I struggle with on a daily basis. If there is a single take away you take from reading this post….this is the most important advice I can share. Don’t forget yourself. Make yourself, your comfort and your sanity a priority. You will find that it will make you more relaxed and patient which will trickle down to your kids, and it turn will make this whole adventure of flying solo with kids a more enjoyable and relaxed experience 🙂
If I could choose just 1 piece of advice to share with you…..ACCEPT THE HELP!
Offers to help will come. From a variety of people; random strangers, flight attendants, pilots….just say yes.
I am stubborn, very independent and I hate asking for help. Had I chosen to decline help offers, my experience would have been vastly different. It came in many forms; someone taking me to each airport and helping me check in and carry things until I had to go through security, taking my carry ons and stowing them in the overhead so I could just wrangle my three kids, carrying children, bringing extra water + snacks or watching my kids so I could go to the bathroom. At one point I even asked a woman to hold my baby because I looked over to see my 6 year old with a bloody nose in the middle of the flight.
You don’t need to be super parent and attempt to do it all alone. You already are, just by taking on this adventure. Say “Yes.” Trust me, you will be immensely glad you did.
So that’s it…..my top 10 favorite tips to survive flying alone with kids. Feel free to drop your ideas below! Who knows…your recommendation might save a future parent 🙂
This is hands-down the best travel-with-kids article/blog I’ve read: the wagon was GENIUS and I got so many compliments from strangers in the Atlanta airport saying, “how come I didn’t think of this?!”
The passport holder was a game-changer as well as we went through customs.
Sally, I am so glad to hear that the wagon made such a difference for your travels as well! I can honestly say it is the only reason I made it through my flights with 3 young girls alone:) thanks for taking the time to reach out!!!
This was a great post! I definitely still plan on traveling often when my husband and I have kids and this is encouraging to see that it is still possible! Thanks for sharing!
Pay for extra legroom. If you can afford it, upgrade to a seat with extra legroom. It makes holding a lap child much more comfortable, plus there s more room on the ground for your bulky diaper bag. You can even lay the baby down on the ground on top of a blankie. Though airline regulations state children are allowed to sit on your lap until they are two years old, we suggest buying a seat for your kid if they are over 18 months old, especially if it s a longer flight. That way they can sit in their own seat, play with their toys, and if you re lucky, take a nap.