If you follow me on Instagram, you saw that I recently took a trip home to Oregon to visit my parents for a few weeks before school started. While I was able to hitch a ride with my parents on the there, I had to fly back with the kids – alone – because Bubba is still out of town for work.
In case you've forgotten…I was 7 months pregnant at the time have 3 kids. And my oldest is only 4.5 years old.
I'll let that sink in for a second.
I posted THIS PICTURE explaining that I not only survived the journey, but we actually all did pretty darn well! I had tons of questions asking how I survived/managed traveling solo with such young kids, so I thought I'd share some of my tips before I forget them all (I am pregnant still, after all – my existing brain cells are hot commodities right now).
I share TONS of tips for traveling with young kids in some of my popular posts (Tips and Tricks for Traveling with Kids, Road Trip Survival Tips, Travel Prep Made Easy, Cruising with Kids, and Traveling with Baby to name a few). But here are even MORE tips for you. I now introduce…
Tips For Traveling [Solo!] With Young Kids:
Tip #1: Travel light!
Packing light is a must when traveling with kids, but ESPECIALLY when traveling solo…because there's so much other crud you have to bring along! …stroller…car seats…diaper bags…baby carriers…kitchen sink…
I packed 2 weeks worth of clothes and shoes for all 4 of us into one suitcase. (P.S…we recently bought a luggage set for the first time since marriage. We got THIS LUGGAGE and we are IN LOVE). Sure, I had to do laundry every few days on our trip. But that's why God made laundry machines.
Here's what our luggage situation looked like:
Our luggage consisted of: Rolling backpack for Priya (just turned 3) and Hutch (4.5), small backpack for Beck (18 months), a mini backpack for me (to take the place of my purse), floral carry-on to carry diapers, electronics/headphones, etc., the 3 carseats, and an umbrella stroller.This was the first time I've ever traveled without my favorite double stroller (explained in THIS post). But we just couldn't fit everything in the car so I opted for the simple umbrella stroller. I have THIS ONE, which is pretty standard when you look at a stripped down, small-as-they-come, basic umbrella stroller. I still prefer traveling with my double for a thousand reasons but the umbrella served us fine enough.
Tip #2. Use Curbside Check-in
Parents of the world, you'd be CRAZY to check in anywhere other than right at the airport curb! It's worth the $1-$2 per bag tip – TRUST ME. We dump it all on the curb, check in and get our boarding passes right there, and head straight to security carrying only the stroller and our backpacks/diaper bag. Worth. Every. Penny.
Tip #3: Have your kids carry their own bags
As I explain in many of the travel post linked to above, I've started making my kids carry/roll their own rolling backpacks and it's been AWESOME. I started when my daughter was 2. Here's what I pack in their bags:
- Their own crayons, markers, pens, pencils, and coloring items (based on age)
- Their own coloring books/paper (my favorite EVER is the Color Wonder stuff – specifically the Travel Totes and the coloring packs). Expensive, yes, but worth EVERY PENNY when traveling. And I can find some on clearance at Walmart from time to time.)
- Their own snack bags (see next tip)
- Their favorite blanket
- A non-spilling sippy cup with juice or water (yes, I take it right through security – just let the TSA know and they scan it for explosives but will still let you take it through just fine). THESE cups are my favorite because they wash up well, don't leak, and don't have any removable stopper things that get gross like with other cups.
- Books, little toys, or other entertainment based on interest and age.
- NOTE: All electronics and expensive/breakable things go in my carry-on bag. They are still kids, after all!
Some people ask “what happens when your kids don't want to carry it?” or they say “my kid would do that for 3 minutes then I would end up carrying their stuff the rest of the trip.” I hate to say it, but that is 110% the parent's problem, not the child's problem. If my kids were to drop their bags and say they didn't want to carry them any more, we would walk off and leave them on the ground. Sounds tough…and it is! Luckily the kids are basically guaranteed to roll with my bluff and pick up their bags (throwing a fit and crying, I'm sure). But if I had to, I would teach them a lesson and either leave it behind, or I would take it away and not let them have it back for the rest of the trip – no matter what. You teach your kids a lesson like that once and I promise, they will never do it again.
But looking on the bright side, my kids have never thrown a fit about it. They think it's SO COOL to have their own bag and carry it around. Even Beck carried his little monkey backpack on his shoulders from time to time. Make the backpack cool, have your kids help pack them with things they love, fill them with new surprises, and they are bound to think it's a great experience with it.
Tip #4: Pack individual snack bags
In the past I made the mistake of packing large bags/boxes/containers of snacks and dishing them out to my kids when traveling. It caused a few problems:
- They never seemed to like the snacks I packed and complained about them
- I would try to “ration” the snacks because it seemed like one kid would want to snarf them all right away, and the other kid(s) would be left with nothing
- It was super bulky for me to carry around
- It caused a huge mess
- They would usually fight about getting the last of this or the last of that if it was a snack/treat they really enjoyed (like fruit snacks)
To solve these issues I now pack my kids individual, identical snack bags. They carry their own in their rolling backpacks. They can eat any snack they want from their baggie, any time they want. When it's gone, it's gone.
It has completely eliminated every problem listed above! Now I don't have to haul tons of snacks everywhere, they don't fight over the snacks any more, and they never complain because they have 100% control over what they eat and when. It's magic, I'm telling you!
Tip #5: Electronics will save your life, so use them sparingly.
As explained in THIS POST, I have my kids go on an “electronics fast” before we travel. That way when I bust out the iPads and DVD's again, they are excited by them. I do the same with a few of their toys and activities – I hide them at least 1 week prior to the trip so it's exciting for them on the trip.
We happen to have 2 iPads (my husband won them both, lucky me!) that we load up with movies and apps that don't require wifi. I also bring my laptop and play DVD's on it. (P.S that pink iPad stand is awesome.)
I don't let my kids watch electronics until we are on the airplane, in the air usually. I have them go to their backpack activities instead. In this case, our flight was delayed by an hour (UGH!) so I let them watch 20 minutes or so before getting on the plane because they started getting reeeeeeeally cranky.
By the way, over-the-head headphones are a MUST.
I used to use earbuds with my kids then wised up. I bought them each their own (bright and fun, of course) headphones. Mine were all $10 or less and work great! (Really, how cute are THESE $10 Monster's headphones??)
They are a bit bulky to pack, but they stay on their heads way better. To keep them from tangling I kept them all in a gallon ziplock baggie in my carry-on bag which helped tame a cord mess.
I will say…if you know me you know I am NOT an electronics person at home (especially after my son's near-death experience) but when traveling solo with small kids, embrace it and do what works!
Tip #6: Put all the kids in diapers or pull-ups…even if they are potty trained.Going to the bathroom with kids (especially when flying solo) is THE. WORST. When on a plane I have to leave 2 of the kids (including the baby) alone in the seats and rush the 3rd kid back to the bathroom, get them settled, leave them, then rush back to check on the other kids, then go back to finish helping the bathroom kid. It's nuts.
To make life easier for everyone, I put my kids in size 5 diapers or pull-ups (for the potty-trained ones) and if push comes to shove, I tell them to pee in their pull-up (I tell them the pilot said it was ok), and we'll just throw it away and change them once off the plane or in a better spot. Survival mode, baby!
Tip #7: Reward good behavior BEFORE it turns bad.
I packed some fabulous bribery ammo with me, including fruit snacks and suckers (exciting treats for my kids). Every 15-30 minutes of them being good, I bust out a treat to reward them for good behavior. It is always more effective to keep them happy and reward good behavior BEFORE it turns south and you have to beg, plead, punish, or bribe. Suckers are also great because even my 18 month old can eat them without help. Just be sure to bring LOOOOOTTTTSSS of wet wipes with you!
Tip #8: Discipline and understanding are both a must.
Sure, kids will be kids and you need to be understanding when your kids are tired, overwhelmed, hungry, or nervous. But in general, my kids know that I won't put up with their crap (pardon my french). I do NOT put up with fighting, teasing, or disrespect for each other (including myself), tantrums, and excessive whining.
No, I'm not perfect, and no, my kids aren't perfect. But in general, my kids are great travelers and really get along pretty well. I've learned if I set a clear standard early on and follow through with threats, they will learn that they can't get away with acting like snots!
If my kids start acting up here are ways I diffuse or handle the situation:
- Feed them and/or distract them. Often times they are getting fussy because they are exhausted and/or hungry. So try to solve that issue first.
- Separate them. If they are fighting, I physically move them away from each other.
- Positive rewards work best, but if they are being stinkers then I start taking away privileges and/or toys/treats.
- Find a place for them to RUN. Traveling is hard because kids are sitting STILL for so long! I will find a corner or empty gate and let the kids run wild. I let them be silly, loud, goofy, and work off their wiggles. We run relays, play red light green light, Simon Says, or I time how long it takes them to run to certain points in the airport. Keep them close and don't let them disturb other people…but let them be little.
Tip #9: Take care of YOU
Just like your kids, if you are tired, hungry, hot, annoyed…YOU will probably have a hard time behaving as well! I treated myself to lots of great treats and junk food, a good gossip magazine, and some caffeine to take the edge off. Set a good example for your kids and do what you need to do to KEEP YOUR COOL.
Tip #10: Accept the inevitable ahead of time…but know that you CAN do it!
Just know in advance that it's going to be hard, crazy, chaotic, and wild. If it's anything less than that, you'll be pleasantly surprised! I don't believe in letting the fear of traveling with kids keep me from having a good time and experiencing things in this world. Yes, having kids is hard. Traveling with them is even harder! But you're the adult, you are the parent, and you CAN do it! It will be over before you know it, and the tough travel is most likely worth the amazing trip so be prepared, plan ahead, keep your cool, and for heaven's sake, reward yourself for surviving.