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Planning stages for traveling alone with the kids:
1. Have the correct paperwork, just in case. If you are only traveling with one parent (or a non-parent guardian), you should get a notarized note acknowledging that the non-traveling parent/ex has permission to do so. More information here and free travel consent letters can be accessed here. Customs and Border Protection recommend the letter have the following wording: “I acknowledge that my spouse is traveling out of the country with my son. She has my permission to do so.” Also include who, what, where, when and why and the absent parents information.
2. Work your way up to big trips:
“I found just going into the city or out to Coney Island was overwhelming at this time. I worked my way up to big trips. My first vacation alone with my daughters to Dominican Republic was at times nerve wracking navigating the airport and customs. But I did it! And you will too!”
3. Schedule night flights so they can sleep:
“I choose to take a late night flight before which they got super excited, but fell asleep at take off and slept through the flight (the main hassle was later getting the rental car, but the kids were asleep sitting on top of each other in the stroller, and if you just get a can it's easier).”
4. Go VIP:
“Look into VIP airport services. I once did this though American Airlines (their 5-Stars service) and it was amazing. They expedited our check-in, expedited us through security, escorted us to the lounge and then escorted us to the plane so we could board before everyone else. we got from curb to lounge to in 15 minutes! I can't pay that every time i travel but if you are alone with kids or or traveling with aged parents, i think it's worth it. see what your airline offers, and you credit cards. and if they don't have anything like this, Google, "Airport VIP service, NYC."
5. Depending on your circumstances and country, your child might need a notarized affidavit from the other parent (and here are PSP member recommended notaries in the neighborhood):
“My husband has taken our kids on vacation to Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic without any question being raised about my absence. But yesterday, when they went to the airport to fly to Belize, they were told they wouldn’t be allowed to get on the plane without an affidavit from me consenting to our kids’ travel without me. The airport personnel said it was Belize’s requirement. A $120 car service ride to Newark airport and $160 to a mobile notary who came to the airport in 20 minutes to notarize the affidavits I wrote up (Google is amazing) got my family on the plane just in time. My husband says that the border personnel in Belize were not interested in the affidavits but one couldn’t know that ahead of time, and since the Newark personnel believed it was required, we had to make it work. Luckily, we were able to pull it off.”
General tips about traveling alone with the kids:
6. Be hands free
“I bought an ergo, so was able to walk around with her (and strapped her to me at take-off). You may want to do that so you could have one strapped one to you and have your hands free for the other?”
7. Ask for help:
“First, ask for help. I feel like I would never be able to get through security with two active toddlers, strollers, etc. all by myself. There are always extra security people around -- I would just ask if one could help me while I was on line before I took the kids out of the strollers. And if not someone official, then just some nice-looking person in line. My guess is that someone will offer. But if not, just ask.”
“Look for the moms or other passengers who smile...they will often be willing to lend a hand if you need it. Really! Don't be afraid to ask for help...people can be wonderful if you give them the chance.”
8. Don’t worry about disturbing others:
“I would try not to worry too much about disturbing others. For me anyway, that concern adds so much to my stress. Just bring along extra earplugs and offer them to people around you if your kids are being disruptive. I did that the last time I flew with my son. No one accepted (everyone's got earbuds or plugs themselves these days), but the mere offer (with an apology) elicited a lot of smiles and sympathy. I imagine most people will be really sympathetic to your situation anyway (and those who aren't really aren't worth worrying about).”
9.. Pack light!
10. Tire the kids out before boarding
“Let the kids get energy out in the airport before boarding.”
11. Encourage sleep with a little help (but check with your pediatrician first!):
“If you want to go the benedryl route, make sure you know in advance what kind of reaction your kids have to it. My daughter had a terrible reaction the first time she took it (she was 18 months and sick w/ Coxsackie virus), so thank god I knew that before flying and trying to take this advice. Instead, you could look into melatonin which can also be helpful for jet lag recovery. Zarbees sells a natural "night-time" cough syrup that has some in it. I've seen it sold in some pharmacies in Park Slope and you can get it on Amazon as well. Give it to them 20-30 minutes before you hope they will fall asleep. Personally, I would also see how they react before trying to use it in flight, even though it's natural and mild.”
12. If they are old enough, get the kids to help you and each other:
“My almost 4 year old loves it when I say I need her help to take care of her 2.5 year old sister. We talk through the things that are so helpful to do, (sharing with her, holding her hand, playing nicely together on the plane, making sure she stays close to us all the time etc.) and she bursts with pride to be mommy' big helper and have lots of responsibility. It also makes her behavior very good, as she is so busy being "grown up" that I don't have to worry about her being fussy. Would your 5 year old accept such a mission? (Obviously I don't leave it totally up to her to watch the 2 year old but at a ticket counter or similar things when you can't keep your eyes on your kids every second, it is such a relief knowing my older one will always alert me to something I should be noticing.)”
“My oldest has always assumed the role of my little assistant and is very helpful.”
“Bring lots of snacks, games, crayons and paper are big and books for your kids to read. I would also buy their own little luggage so they can pull themselves. When my children were old enough to this, it really helped with my load of what to carry. Make sure all your luggage rolls and use a backpack to keep your arms free. People will assist you along your travel. My younger daughter is a social butterfly so we meet people and become friendly everywhere we travel. In fact, this past vacation, we became friendly with two families and we took turns watching the children.”
13. Let parenting rules go. Junk food and bribes are no longer a no but a must have!
“I suspend lots of rules...my goal is a peaceful flight...so I have been known to let my kids eat their way across country. I just bring healthier snacks (popcorn, cheese sticks, raisins) and some treats, just in case. While I never considered vacations restful until recently (my kids are now 5 and 9), they were fun and the time spent with them just doing fun stuff without the usual hustle to/from work/school was priceless.”
“For the plane - lots of bribing and prep talk for the older one, how you rely on his/her help, make him/her feel important. Lots of entertainment - small toys, and yes - some screens for backup. Make sure the 2yo has a seat, makes things easier (if he turned 2 he has to). And whatever meltdowns happen - just think how much fun this vacation will be, how nice of a break. Most people are understandable and will give you a hand, incl. flight attendants, there are very few exceptions to this.
14. Know it’s only temporary:
“Have a great time! You are going to be exhausted, but the best advice I ever had on long flights is that it will come to an end. The flight will be over and you'll all be in one piece.”
15. Travel with an airline you love:
“I traveled with my daughter between Zurich and NY at least 6 times before she was 2.5 years old. They were all night flights, and it was tough at times but totally do-able. My biggest recommendation is to travel with an airline that has a great reputation. My experiences on United were awful because the flight attendants visible cringed as we boarded and often refused to help with small things like helping me put things into the overhead storage. This rotten reception increased my stress and definitely made things worse than they had to be. Conversely, it was a pleasure to fly Swiss Air because we were welcomed, and asked repeatedly how they could help. Just knowing we were welcome helped me relax and happy mommy helps to make a happy baby!”
“In terms of flying alone, I find flight attendants tend to be nice and helpful (as do other passengers in the TSA line).”
Words of encouragement:
“I started liking my independence. I liked that I could choose where to go and what I would like to do. If I wanted to go the Thai restaurant instead of the Italian at the resort, it was my choice. And when you reach your vacation destination, and settle by the pool or the beach, you will be so happy to see your children playing and it will all be worth it.”
“And yes, you will see other “happy” families of four when you are just three, and then you might feel blue like I do, but then I come to and acknowledge my gratitude for having the means to travel with my children. I am very fortunate.”
“You should definitely go. While I’m not pretending that it can’t be stressful to travel with small children I guarantee that you can absolutely handle it and that it will feel very liberating and empowering to do that on your own. Travel light, pack lots of distractions, don’t hesitate to bribe, and reach out to friendly strangers; people love to help. However, at your destination do get a sitter and pamper yourself. It’s your vacation, too!”
Finger food, games, toys, books, stickers, iPads, coloring books on more - many parents have shared awesome advice about all the different ways to kids busy and happy en route. All the tips about that can be found in the travel section article “Travel Toys and Activities for the Plane.”
More important reading:
Have you read theTop 10 Frequently Asked Travel Questions About Traveling yet? GoHERE to find out where to find the answers to popular questions.
Here are some checklists to check out: