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5 Tips for Flying Solo with a Toddler

A few weeks ago I took my second solo flight with Julia. Last time she was 15 months and this time she was 18 months, and boy, oh boy, what a difference three months make. I held her as a lap child last time, but this time I opted to buy her own seat. With a growing bump, I wasn’t too keen on holding her for three hours, so letting her have her own seat was the best option for us.

Honestly, I LOVED going this route. Not only did my arms get a break for three hours, but I actually got to read AND take a nap during the flight. I can’t remember the last time I felt that relaxed, especially on a flight. Oh, and get this: she even fell asleep before we took off. Thank you very much, airplane white noise!

With another flight under our belt, I wanted to share five things I think helped with this particular solo flight:

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1. Be Organized: 

This trip was a little less than one month long and would be through the tail end of summer and the beginning of fall, which posed a little bit of a packing conundrum. My goal is always to take as little as possible on trips, so this is what I packed:

  • One large suitcase: with everything for me and Julia; I always pack my empty purse last and then I take…
  • One backpack for me: I like to keep my hands free, so everything goes on my back. My backpack held my wallet, laptop, ipad/kindle, hand sanitizer, and any other knick knacks I needed.
  • One backpack for Julia: (I got her a Skip Hop backpack a few weeks before our trip) with diapers, wipes, diaper cream, medicine (just in case), (new) snacks, and toys.
  • Umbrella stroller: We picked up a cheap stroller the night before we left for our cruise, and it’s come in more than handy. Best $10 we ever spent. We do have a larger stroller, but that would just be too bulky to take on a trip, so I like using the smaller one for navigating through an airport. 
  • Car seat: Julia’s regular car seat is a Diono Radian RXT, which is WAY too heavy for me to carry on my own, so I knew I wanted a second car seat (not just for traveling, but as a backup for our second car, or in case the babysitter needs it in a pinch). I discovered that people recommend the Evenflo Tribute LX Convertible Car Seat, especially for airline travel since it’s light and super easy to install; it also had really great reviews. I’m SO happy I bought this car seat! Best purchase ever.

 
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2. Get Familiar

I felt really unprepared the first time I flew solo with Julia. It was just a fast-paced experience and I wish I felt more in control. So this time we got familiar with everything and essentially did a trial run before we ever left the house. I had the new car seat in the house for about a week before we flew so she could get accustomed to it, and I tried maneuvering everything (backpack on my back, suitcase in hand, and stroller in front of me) before our trip. I didn’t want to be at the airport and realize that I couldn’t steer the car seat and roll the suitcase at the same time. Luckily, Julia loves sitting in her stroller, and she equally liked sitting in her new car seat, so I’m happy she got familiar with her new seats before the trip.

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This was my setup: Julia in the stroller (holding our tickets), her backpack on a handle, the car seat on both handles, my backpack on my back, and my comfy shoes on my feet!

3. Mobilization

This part still excites me SO much. I was really worried about how in the world I’d carry the car seat, push a stroller, and pull a suitcase. Then, I saw on some of the Hellobee boards, that people suggested attaching the car seat to the stroller handles. GENIUS. Pure genius. It worked perfect. Granted, a child needs to be in the stroller so the whole thing doesn’t tip over, but it works like a charm. As far as the suitcase goes, I checked it in at the curb-side check-in so I wouldn’t have to worry about it.

After that, it was a breeze. This was the first time I wasn’t wearing a baby through security, so I was worried about the extra stress there, but it turned out to be okay. As I was going through security they actually told me there was a stroller/family lane and I was directed over there (I’m not sure if this is at all airports or if I just encountered a really awesome TSA agent, but it’s worth checking into). Everything was much more relaxed and I didn’t feel rushed or stressed.

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4. Ask for Help:

Seriously…ask for help. People are usually more than
willing to help once they actually notice you’re doing it on your own. I was
really worried about how I’d walk down the tiny plane aisle carrying Julia, a car
seat, and two backpacks. I boarded at the family boarding time* and the
second I made eye contact with the flight attendant at the front of the
plane, I asked for help. He was a gem and ended up carrying the car seat to our row,
so I could fold up the stroller (for gate check), and carry Julia to our
seats. She sat/climbed in the seat next to me while I got everything hooked up. I would rather ask for help than get stressed and try to suffer on my own.

*Keep your child’s mood in mind. The first time I flew solo I wish I waited until the end of all the boarding before getting on the plane, since Julia was too antsy to sit still this long. This time, I knew she could handle sitting in her car seat from the beginning.

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5. Distraction is Key: 

I packed Julia’s backpack with (what I thought was) plenty of new snacks and toys, but it turns out that those actually didn’t distract her for as long as I wanted. What did distract her? Stickers, the in-flight guide, looking out the window, and my iPad mini. Trust me, this isn’t the time to be squeamish about screen time. I downloaded Julia’s favorite show, PAW Patrol on Amazon, and it bought me at least an hour of quiet time (yup, an hour)! Next time I’ll get a lot more toys and snacks, just in case I need more of a distraction.

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So those are the biggies. Even though Julia is still rear facing in the car, I decided to forward face her on the plane. She meets the requirements and I read that if she’s forward facing I would be able to “hide” behind her seat so she couldn’t see me. When she ended up falling asleep, this was the perfect time for me to get some shut eye. It also meant that I didn’t have to entertain her the whole time. She’s currently 34″ tall, and for the record, her toes barely graced the seat in front of her—in case you were worried about her kicking the seat.

Giving her in her own seat, while expensive, was SO much easier on me. Holding a child in your lap is one thing when they’re itty bitty, but once they start moving around? Forgetaboutit. I have one more flight with her coming up, so I’ll update this if I need to after that trip.

Have you flown solo with a child in their own seat? Do you have any tips you’d like to add? 
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8 Comments

  1. I've flown solo with my kids a few times. And I think when they are younger, they are SO MUCH EASIER! We just flew back from Maine in August … I put both of the kids in seats together, with me across the aisle on the first leg … and that was my biggest mistake! They annoyed each other, fought, drove me crazy, and probably everyone around us, too. The layover was the hardest … because they were so antsy and ready to get home to see Dad. But the second leg was easy. I put the youngest with me, and the oldest across the aisle. The woman sitting with her was playing a game on her ipad and let my daughter help, so I had one less kid to entertain. And my son played games on my phone in airplane mode. We survived {barely} but I cant say I'm looking forward to doing it again any time soon! Ha!

  2. We've flown overseas with our two under two almost 4 times now and I'm still not an expert. We bought the wheels you attach to your car seat that basically turn it into a stroller. The problem was that it BARELY fit down the aisle. They were a big hassle. I don't know if you've seen the device that attaches your car seat to your rolling carry on, but that's on my list of things to try next time!

  3. I flew with my then-3 year old for the first time this year. I bought the good, lightweight carseat, and the airline attendants were VERY helpful. My mistake was not checking everything. Simply trying to board the plane was a hassle! My husband waited with the older kids to board (so they could get as much movement as possibly before a long flight to Hawaii), and I had o take so much on board. On the way home, we checked almost EVERYTHING.

  4. Thanks for writing about the car seat. I remembered you had written about it and I was able to come back and see which one you recommended. We got Ethan's new clicktight today, it's heavy and I have a feeling if we travel and don't get him a seat and have to check it….it will be broken when we get it. It's pretty heavy, so I can see them throwing it around. Definitely going to purchase this seat for traveling, so THANK YOU! 🙂

  5. yes, backpacks all the way! One for me and one for Red. Hands free and still everything portioned out! We also snag a drink with a cap/lid right after security, or bring our empty camelbak bottles Red can certainly get thirsty like a camel!

  6. Thank you for the carseat over the umbrella stroller handles idea! I would *never* have thought of it, and it is so genius. It is still really light and convenient too! I didn’t think my Cosco Scenera Next carseat would fit over my tiny Cosco umbrella stroller, but it totally does. I will also be wearing a backpack with our things for the flight, and I am now feeling as confident as is reasonable about flying solo cross country with a toddler for the first time!

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