Traveling Alone: Infant & Toddler
Traveling alone with one small child is a task that can be hard to wrap your mind around if you’ve never done it before. I recently traveled on an airplane alone with a broken foot, my two-month-old and my two-year-old. I’d been traveling alone with my daughter Amani for two years, starting at 2 months old. Our little bundle of joy, Evangeline, had already flown at ten days old and was the perfect little no-fuss traveler. In fact, I find that traveling with an infant is easy. However, this time I was faced with the unpredictability of my now toddler and additional things I would need to carry for both children.
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Here is how I did it:
I traveled with one large piece of luggage for myself and my two children. If I had needed two pieces of luggage, I would have used a “piggyback strap” to bind them together, making sure I could physically drag my luggage behind me with one hand while driving a stroller with the other. I pack my luggage very strategically using both packing cubes in different sizes and different colors for each traveler. I also use Ikea drawer organizers, folding our clothes using the Konmari method. This saves space and allows me to visually see what’s packed for each person. It also helps me ensure I don’t overpack. I can unpack in under five minutes!
For travel with two children, I use the Peg Perego Book stroller which folds by simply squeezing a bar on the undercarriage. I love how smooth the Book stroller rides and how much storage it allows in the undercarriage. Plus the footprint is narrow for single-width doors. However, by using a double-wide stroller I don’t have to worry about breaking down the stroller and putting it on the conveyor belt for airport Security. If you use a stroller that is single width or if any of your stroller pieces can be disassembled to fit on the belt, you would be required to do so. This could be challenging to do – especially if you are wearing a baby on a body carrier or managing a toddler. Keep in mind that a stroller can also be used to carry car seats and/or car seat bases to the gate if you choose to wear your child on the body carrier or have them walk alongside the stroller.
In the past, I traveled with my infant (under age 1), using the light-weight Baby Trend Click-and-Go Stroller. The seat doubles for your stroller and car, easily clicking on and off. For getting through the airport, I set the car seat base in the car seat and drive the stroller. I carried my infant on a body carrier, dragging my luggage behind me. It sounds difficult but it is easy! The car seat base is as lightweight and can be easily installed in thirty seconds.
There are three options for traveling with car seats.
1) Check the seats with your luggage, and then later rent a baggage trolley.
2) Put both seats and their bases in your double stroller. In this case, you can “wear” a child on a body carrier and/or have a child (ren) walk alongside the stroller
3) Rent a car with both seats. Keep mind you will be required to install them yourself and they usually do not come with directions. Safety first – set your infant in the infant seat in the driver seat. Contain your toddler in the front passenger seat. Now juggle! Get the toddler seat installed first. Then set the infant temporarily in that seat and install the toddler seat.
I carried my infant in my Ergobaby body carrier inside of a kangaroo coat. The kangaroo option is ideal because it keeps germs off your baby. I can take off the kangaroo panel when I don’t have my child with me. I have also used that down panel to cover my child in the stroller.
I used safety leashes for my toddler when I needed to take her out of the stroller. In fact, I would already have the leash on her while sitting in the stroller.
I used a vinyl “stadium” backpack as my carry-on bag and as my purse. Using a clear bag allows you quick access to items, and gives you the ability to hide what you want in secondary bags, giving everything a tidy “home”. I also used a separate simple tote for my tablets, packing the cords away in my checked luggage. This makes it easy for me to whip out my electronic devices for airport security, without other things falling out of my bag. Lastly, I use a small waist bag for my id.
While I did not travel with breast milk this time, I have traveled with a week’s worth of both frozen and fresh milk on more than one occasion using a high-quality Igloo cooler bag. In fact, you can bring as much frozen or fresh breast milk and formula as you like. You can also request your milk be “hand checked” (in the United States) versus going through the scanner. As the effects of the scanner on your milk are unknown, I’ve always had my breast milk hand checked. Just let them know as soon as you approach the security belt and allow for extra time.
Securing your Children & Belongings
Here is are some strategies I use to secure my belongings:
- Neoprene Luggage wraps for all of my belongings (same color for all)
- Luggage tags
- Labels on stroller on the undercarriage
For my children:
- Disposable Identification Bracelets- I use these both on the inside and outside of clothing. Remember to put name and address towards the skin, and not on the outside for all to see.
- Safety Leashes – A wrist to wrist leash for general safety, while you are away, is very effective for parking lots, amusement parks and shopping. A hands-free vest leash is ideal for an airport.
- GPS Tracker – I used a hiking tracker for my toddler but there are several other options specifically made for children.
Mainstays: Inside my Luggage
Hand and Body Warmers
I always carry hand or body warmers inside my checked luggage when going to a cold location. These can keep you super warm in the most extreme weather. They are great on the outside of a heavy jacket or blanket when it comes to my children.
Emergency Medical Kit
Some emergency supplies I never leave home without blister band-aids, Neosporin, Imodium, infant Tylenol, a thermometer.
Inside my Carry-On
I use wet bags and clear reusable sandwich bags inside my carry-on. I pack my carryon in the order in which I am going to need things. Food and milk need to be separated in a Ziploc on top so that I can whip it out for security to check. I also carry an empty bottle for each child.
I travel with diaper one size larger than my children normally wear and/or nighttime diapers.
I use Ziploc freezer bags for messes – one garbage bag and for wet bibs or items I will need to wash.
I always bring a “bribe” bag with sugar-free lollipops in case I need to pull out all of the stops! Of course, this is one of the bags that are opaque inside my luggage.
Overview: Travel Booking & Logistics
I book an aisle seat and a middle seat so I can get up to change diapers or in the event of a toddler meltdown. I get to the airport about an hour earlier than I normally would get there for my flight if traveling alone.
If you can book your flight when your child normally naps or sleeps that would be ideal. However, beware of the flight where your child may be overtired or where their sleep may be interrupted if the timing is not perfect – especially if your child is sleep trained. That can backfire on you!
I wheel my stroller with my toddler seated and infant on the body carrier to the gate. I wear shoes, such as crocs that I can simply kick off. If I have milk to be hand checked, I notify security and go from there.
At the gate, I get a seat close up to the desk… I breastfeed, formula feed, and/or feed in general right away. I save my seat by the gate using my jacket when I go to the bathroom and change diapers closer to boarding time.
As soon as someone gets to the desk at my gate – I try to get my seat moved to the back where we can be alone and not bother anyone.
As a passenger with small children, I am one of the first able to board the plane. I break down my stroller down at the end of the breezeway. At that point, my toddler already has her vest leash on when I take her out to walk in front of me. When I get to my seat, the very first thing I do is shut off that overhead vent. I truly believe this is the number one thing you can do to keep your children from getting sick on a flight. I also keep my infants head covered on top, even if I take her off the body carrier or out of the coat.
On takeoff, I’ll get everyone drinking to help them adjust to the air pressure.
During the flight, a tablet can occupy my toddler. Don’t make the same rookie mistake I made on my first flight with my child. Be sure to fully download any children’s applications from home. This is usually a two-step process. Adding children’s applications to your tablet does not give you access to them. Click on each one and fully install them.
I bring small toys with me that usually can fit in the palm of Amani’s hand. The number of toys varies depending on the length of my flights. For a longer flight, I carry a small duffle full of toys and activities. I bring small toys which are new that my child hasn’t seen before, or has not seen in a while. You can get some good ones at the dollar store and second-hand stores.
I expect and prepare for the worst so that I am never stressed out or disappointed. YES – I do it alone… and you can too!