Over the years, I have traveled more alone with my kids, than with my husband. On these flights, I’ve seen it all…good and bad. Here are my tips so you can learn from my mistakes. Not sure what to pack in your carry-on? Our post What to bring in your carry-on, when traveling with kids post lays out all of the must have items, to cover all bases.
Stroller: This is sort of a two-fold item. When your children are still small and you’re using a stroller, or will need it once you get to your destination (aka Disney-I will have tips on this specifically when we cover Disney vacations) always wait until boarding to check your stroller. You can optimize all storage in the stroller to hold onto your everyday items, like your diaper bag, and also anything additional, like a carry-on or laptop bag (any remote working Moms out there? 🙋🏼♀️). Anything with long straps can be hung over the handle. That way, it doesn’t take up valuable space. Some people may think bringing an umbrella stroller would be better since it’s smaller and folds up more compactly. Don’t do it! I’ve always been against umbrella strollers because of their lack of storage space. Yes, the stroller may be smaller, but then you’ll be carrying everything else that you could easily fit in your everyday stroller. If you’re going somewhere you’ll need the stroller, but your kids can handle the airport without a stroller, still gate check it. I get nervous with a stroller breaking if it’s checked, as it’s thrown around. When your kids are older and can walk on their own for the duration of time in the airport and flight, and you won’t need at your final destination, I’d say ditch the stroller. I started doing this when my youngest was around 2 1/2. I was nervous the first time I traveled without the stroller, but it made me realize how it wasn’t necessary, once my kids were old enough. Also, kids that are walking a lot are usually more tired 😉. Security and boarding were much easier.
Backpack: It took me years to figure this out! Rather than carrying a pocketbook and/or diaper bag, use a backpack while traveling. So many times, I was trying to balance a diaper bag, baby, pocketbook, laptop bag, toddler, and probably 80 other things, only to end up with sore shoulders and back. Even when my little one was still in diapers and using bottles, I used the backpack while traveling, rather than my diaper bag. It evenly disperses the weight and leaves both hands free. There are a ton of options online now that are actually diaper bags that are backpacks with all the necessary compartments, changing pad, etc. I also would use it in place of my pocketbook. In fact, after using it once to travel, I ditched my diaper bag completely and never looked back! ✌🏼 There are a ton out there that are great, just be sure to make sure you order a regular size backpack, not a small version that tend to be popular. I found my bag for less than $30 on Amazon. For some of my carry on bag necessities, check out my post specifically on that here and in my YouTube video
Boarding: As mentioned in the Flying with Kids: From Start to Finish post, be sure to preboard. This will give you ample time to gate check your stroller, find your seat, and get settled. If there’s a crowd in the way at the gate, politely push through. This is a non-negotiable for me.
Kids carrying their own backpack: If your kid is old enough to wear a backpack to daycare or preschool, they’re old enough to carry their own backpack when traveling. This will lighten your load immensely. All of their things should be kept in their backpack, including any toys or books. I usually let my kids pick out what they want to bring. However, you MUST check what they pack because kids will pack the most random things they “need” to bring, like 70 matchbox cars (not joking here, my son once packed that). Another things to take into consideration would be the weight of the bag. If there’s too much in there, you’ll just end up carrying it and that’s torture. As mentioned in my other post, What to bring in your carry-on, while traveling with kids, I also will buy a new toy or two before our trip, that my kids don’t know about. During the flight, I’ll surprise them with it and (hopefully) it’ll keep time entertained for a while since it’s new.
Baby carrier: This is all dependent on the age of your child. It can be a huge help to carry your baby in the airport, keeping your hands free. However, I’d wait to put the baby in the carrier until after security, as you’ll have to take it off to go through security, which can be a pain to also have to take it off/on and put the baby somewhere (if your stroller is jammed with stuff). Another great use for the carrier is while you’re in flight. Having your baby close to you will comfort both of you and also make it easier to tend to a needy toddler or kid.
Kids pulling their own carry-on: This goes hand in hand, no pun intended, with my previous point. This is usually for kids that may be a little older. However, if you have a toddler that has an older sibling, they’ll probably want to bring their own carry-on too. I don’t necessarily do this for all flights because most times I can fit one or both of the kids stuff in my or my husband’s suitcases. When we are going on shorter trips or when I just don’t want to spend another dime to check another bag, I will pack my kids carry-on suitcases with all of their clothes for the trip. It’s amazing how much you can fit into those bags, following the packing rules I’ve established over the years! Should I have a post on packing? Let me know your thoughts in a comment. There are so many options out there for all ages. They are made to be easily pulled at kids height and fit perfectly in the overhead compartment or, sometimes, under the seat in front of you. The suitcases may be small but, trust me, you can fit enough for a 11 day vacation in it for a 6 year old, including shoes. I’ve done it! This won’t just make less for your to lug, but save you some money, unless you’re flying one of the airlines that charge for carry-on bags. Always take into consideration the cost of a couple carry-on bags vs. checking one large suitcase. Crunch the numbers and see what’s most cost-effective for you. Some airlines have strict guidelines on carry-on bags and if you’re flying on a small jet (usually for short or commuter flights) sometimes everything will need to be gate checked. Each airline is different and their guidelines and constantly changing.
I scored my daughter’s carry-on clearance at Target for $11! There’s a wide variety of costs for these type of suitcases. I don’t suggest investing a ton of money into this because they’ll only be into whatever the character is on it for a few years and unless you’re traveling all the time, it will hold up for the few times you use it. I find the ones with the soft shell are better than the hard shell for carry-on bag. Additionally, if you’re carrying it on, you will have your eyes on it at all times and it won’t be getting thrown around, like your checked bags. Another thing, and this is just me being me, I wouldn’t suggest getting one with your child’s name on it. The airport has so many people and, God forbid, your child gets separated from you, a stranger would already know their name. I know I’m crazy, but just something people don’t always think about.
Less is more: Over the years, I realized that everything I thought I needed (and lugged with me) when I first started traveling with the kids, was not needed. If you have your bases covered in your carry-on and items in case there’s an accident, flight delay, etc. you’ll be good.
Not worrying about others: This is huge and maybe should have put it first, but I wanted to save, what I think is, most important for last. I know worrying about bothering people around you and getting dirty looks can be one of the most stressful part of traveling. It took me a couple flights to realize that it DOESN’T MATTER.
First off, most people are nice and understanding. You will, no doubt, have at least one person offer to help you. People see you traveling alone with kids and totally sympathize. You know, like when you make eye contact with another Mom at Target when their toddler is having a meltdown and know that they totally understand what you’re going through. Also, babies make people happy. It’s just a fact. You will be trying your best to keep your kids occupied, but it’s impossible to have them be perfect the entire time…and that’s okay!
Now, I can count only once in all my travels that I’ve had someone that wasn’t nice. I’ll spare you all the details. Long story short: she was a miserable person that I’ll never see again.
The way I look at it, we all pay for tickets and want the best flight possible. All you can do is try your best to keep your kids happy and behaved. 99.9% of people recognize this. It’s not worth a speck of our energy to worry about the few cranky people you may encounter. So many times, while doing what felt like a walk of shame off the plane after a flight when one or both of my kids were less than perfect, I had people go out of their way to tell how impressed they were with the kids and what a great job I did. There are some really great people out there! YOU GOT THIS.