Living on the opposite side of the country from all of our friends and family has made us frequent fliers. Since Avery was 6 months old we have been trekking cross-country like a three-ring circus. Three years later I feel like we finally have it down. Perhaps that’s why I was insane enough to agree to flying cross-country by myself 6 months pregnant with my toddler.
The trip was exhausting and the two days of travel were not the most enjoyable of my life…but they were definitely not completely miserable.
Here are my tips on how to survive a long flight with a toddler by yourself (and pregnant if you should be so insane!)
Don’t fly on a red-eye
Red-eye flights are a great option if you know your little one will sleep AND you have your spouse or another responsible adult flying with you. Here’s the reality of the “red-eye” flight. The first 2 hours the lights will be on. They are bright. They are exciting to a toddler. They are NOT conducive to sleep. If you are lucky your toddler will crash on the plane. If you are like me and many others…your toddler will not easily fall asleep due to the excitement of the plane ride, the sounds, the lights, the people. Trust me, the red-eye aftermath is no bueno – especially if you are traveling solo.
Pack LIGHT (for the plane at least)
I’m a terrible packer. I wait until the day before and inevitably pack WAY more than I should. The first time we flew we might as well have dragged a u-haul through the airport. We packed an insane amount of stuff. After years we finally got it down to a science. And the key is pack as light as possible for the airport – especially if you have a layover. Make sure that the bags you choose allow you to have your hands free and ready to go. I got this super cute backpack and it was worth it’s weight in gold!
Plan ahead for diaper changes
Do MOST of the work at your seat before you go into the TINIEST bathroom you will ever encounter. Strip baby down to just a diaper or for toddlers take off pants so just in a diaper from waist down. Make a “diaper pack” for the plane: put each diaper in its own ziplock bag with a small ziplock of wipes and a disposable diaper mat (I like these ones cause they are EXTRA big which means your kiddo is less likely to touch yucky stuff) in the same bag. This way when you go to do a diaper change you bring only what you are going to use and not a bunch of extra things to fumble with. Bonus you can put the stinky diaper right into the ziplock bag after changing.
Bring milk, water or a pouch to suck on during take-off and landing
The change in pressure is no bueno for little ears. This is especially hard for young toddlers that aren’t old enough to understand what is happening and that drinking/sucking on something even if they aren’t thirsty or hungry will make it better. We could never convince Avery to drink milk or water, but he would suck on a pouch. I suggest bringing 3-4 pouches and letting them choose. Have them hold onto it during takeoff and when you start to feel your ears pop, then open it up for them. This way you prevent the dreaded “pre-mature” pouch consumption. Those things are gone in less than 15 seconds after opening, and it’s miserable when you give it too early and they down it before the wheels lock up into the plane. Trust me. Wait.
Get the bulkhead (front row) seats if possible
I know I know – but you can’t put anything under the seat in front of you, how will I get all my stuff?! The bulkhead is heavenly. You can pull out a little bag of “takeoff supplies” (pouch, water, a couple of books) and keep next to you or the car seat, and then once the plane reaches cruising altitude you can bring down your bag until it’s time for landing. The bulkhead gives you a TON more room…which means you can stand and rock your little one, your toddler can sit and play on the floor (we bring a Monkey Mat for this – because, well, plane floor = EW!), and you can easily move around your car seat.
Bring your car seat
It is way safer and often easier – especially if you brainwash them young into believing that the plane won’t fly unless they are buckled in. A couple of things to know.
- You HAVE to put the car seat in the window seat. If you don’t have a window seat, you need to have the gate agents switch your seat. They shouldn’t have an issue doing this.
- Be careful when installing the car seat (especially convertible ones) on the plane – ask for a seat extender and make sure you tighten the extended end so that you can easily release the buckle. We have had a couple of times where the seat got “stuck” because we didn’t use an extender and after we tightened the buckle it ended up in a way that made it impossible to “open” and release the seat belt once we arrived at our destination. If this happens you have to wait for a tech to come and physically remove the seat from the plane to get the car seat undone. It is embarrassing and stressful (especially when you are missing your connecting flight because of it.)
- The trick to getting the car seat nice and secure is to install with the seat reclined, tighten and then return the seat to the upright position.
- If you are traveling with a convertible car seat – this Go Go Babyz Travelmate is a MUST HAVE! We have tried a number of the “bag” options that you carry on your back or “pull” through the airport, and they all are awful and one more thing to carry/wrestle with. We stumbled upon the Go Go Babyz Travelmate and it was a game changer. You can strap your car seat onto the dolly and then put your little one in it like a ‘stroller’ as you go through the airport. While I recommend letting your toddler run around through the airport to get out energy, when you are traveling alone with kids, you need them locked and loaded sometimes…and this allows you to do so seamlessly without having to haul a stroller AND a car seat through the airport (can you say 3-ring-circus?!) You will NOT regret getting this, I promise…just whatever you do, don’t waste your money on the stupid bags no matter how many great amazon reviews they have…you will spend the whole trip cursing at it and fighting to get it to roll and not flip over.
Set realistic expectations
Ok, this may sound super negative, but it helps me to think “today is going to suck.” I know, I know, glass totally half empty. BUT think of it this way…if you plan for the worst, then when things don’t go horribly, you will be pleasantly surprised. Alternatively, if you convince yourself it will be great and sh*t hits the fan, you will be even more stressed and upset. Flashback to traveling alone with Avery at 18 months overnight when he refused to sleep, our second flight was delayed 4 hours and he screamed the WHOLE second leg of the trip (FIVE FULL HOURS.) I’m not sure who cried more that trip. After that any trip we have gone on has seemed like smooth sailing, because NOTHING has been that horrible since.
Ask for a ‘gate pass’ when you check in for the flight
Most people don’t know that this is even a possibility, but ‘passengers requiring extra assistance’ can have a non-ticketed passenger help them through security and to the gate. This is solely at the discretion of the ticket agent, but in my experience if you kill them with kindness and act SUPER overwhelmed and helpless, they approve it with no questions asked. This way if you are traveling solo style your husband or someone else can help you baby wrangle through security and keep all parties entertained and happy until it’s time to board.
Get some books about flying
Airplanes and airports can be super fun and exciting…they can also be overwhelming and possibly scary to your little one. Getting some books about flying and going through the airport can help prepare your little one. Here are some of our favorites.
Hope for the best
I know I said plan for the worst…but that doesn’t mean you can’t still send some happy hopeful wishful thinking juju out into the world.
And for my other frequent flyer mamas, let us know on social media @rockinmamalife your favorite travel hacks with the little ones!