10 Tips for Traveling with Two Kids Alone

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I consider myself a pretty confident flyer. I spent most of my 20’s traveling around the world, notwithstanding language barriers, embracing cultural differences and enduring long trips. (Sometimes spending 25-hour-travel days in airports and airplanes). However, nothing can prepare you for traveling with two toddlers. By definition a toddler is between 12-36 months, and I have a 13-month-old son and a 34-month-old daughter, so yes, I traveled by myself with two toddlers.

The morning of our flight, I logged on to Facebook and sent out an SOS cry to my mommy group to give me any tips for handling the journey without the help of another adult. Up until this point, my husband had been by my side, or I had convinced my sister-in-law or mother to fly home with me. I was nervous. Just ten days earlier when flying up to Portland, OR, from Orange County, CA, I looked at my husband in the depths of the chaos and told him there was no way we three could return home without his help. Clark was screaming in the back of the plane for a good 30 minutes. Flight attendants were handing me bags of chips for him to crinkle, and they even dimmed the lights so I could try to force him to sleep. And then...Cooper. She now has her own “big girl” seat, but when told to put her seatbelt on during take-off and landing, she acts like she suffers from extreme claustrophobia and throws tantrums as she tries to get the belt off. That’s just in the plane. In the airport she sees my vulnerability when Cory is off getting the luggage and Clark is strapped to my chest. Naturally, she thinks it’s hilarious to sprint in the opposite direction or to collapse on the airport floor. So yes, I become the mom dragging her screaming child by one arm to move her out of harm’s way. I mean, she literally tried to go the wrong direction down the escalator.

But I am happy to say my desire to seek adventure kicked in and I did it. I survived. So now, I think it only fair to pass on 10 tips for traveling with two toddlers alone:

1.     Do curbside check in if possible when traveling with two car seats, a stroller, a diaper bag, backpack, large check-on bag and two children. Curbside check is like magic. My dad dropped us off, helped unload the car and we only had to carry luggage five feet. By the time I entered the airport, I was two car seats and one huge bag lighter.  

2.     Bring stroller through security. I convinced Cooper to sit in the stroller all the way through security. With Clark strapped to me, I was able to take off my shoes, retrieve my laptop and ipads, set aside all the water and milk for kiddos, all without worrying about Cooper darting off. If you need to, give your children a sucker; in my case during the holidays, a candy cane distracted them during this busy moment.  Warning: Sometimes, but only sometimes, they require you to take off the wheels of the stroller and put it through the machine. If they had done that, I would have given them puppy dog eyes while politely asking if they could just run it through the other machine.

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3.     All about the mindset. When Cooper ran out of the bathroom while I was washing my hands, I could barely get the stroller out the door to chase her when about 10 people started pointing and asking--in a slightly judgmental tone--”who does this little girl belong to?” All I could do is say “she’s mine” and laugh at the situation. Being vulnerable allows you to connect with other people. I cannot tell you how many people offered to help, and without the slightest hesitation, I accepted and said, “Yes, please.” Most were women or older men and all seemed to smile in remembrance of when they once traveled with kids.

4.     Everyone tells you to bring snacks, I say bring Starburst. The amount of time it took Cooper to unpeel each one was worth the wrappers on the ground and the sugar on her teeth. Additionally, I bought multiple flavors of pouches for Clark and Cooper to eat which turned out to be a great form of entertainment. Clark was entertained for a good ten minutes, trying to put the cap on the pouch and taking it off.

5.     Ask for the whole row if there are any open seats. Even when traveling alone with one lap infant, the airlines always tried to leave an open seat next to me when they identified me as a Lap Infant Passenger (Alaska Airlines, anyway). My theory is they are trying to protect their customer satisfaction ratings because no one wants to sit next to a woman with a busy toddler on her lap. Luckily on the flight up, we sat next to an understanding 13-year-old girl who didn’t seem to mind Clark trying to crawl onto her lap to grab her seatbelt, water cup, and iPad. Another important detail I failed to remember when checking in (probably because I did curbside) is to always request an aisle seat. So literally while boarding, I realized I was in a middle seat and Cooper in a window. I had little time to plead my case, but I looked at the attendant and said, “I just feel bad for the person sitting next to us because I am going to have to get out a lot.” Luckily for me, she sensed my desperate cry for help and changed the person’s sit before she even boarded the plane.

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6.     Bring Ergo for the plane if you have to hold baby a lot. Clark is a 27-lb-one-year-old boy who just wants to walk, crawl and climb. The Ergo was a way to get a little back support while I bounced him alongside Cooper’s seat. Even with the extra support, my arms and back were super sore.

7.     Allow screen time. I made it a big deal to Cooper that on the plane she was going to watch a movie, normally only allowed on weekend mornings with daddy. I wish I had downloaded a couple of movies because it was almost impossible to connect to the internet and find a movie without Clark grabbing at the screen the whole time. Also, Cooper became obsessed with these 4-minute movies about sheep on Flight Go-Go entertainment, which meant every 4 minutes, I had to restart the movie. Additional screen-time tips: Find headphones that fit over your child’s ears. For us, a pair of adult noise cancellation Bose works best.  Also, if you have a cover for the iPad that folds back and allows you to hang it on the seat in front of you, I recommend that. It would have prevented Cooper from touching the screen and disconnecting the movie.

8.     Hydro flask with extra milk and a bottle, if not breastfeeding. I know this might be a no-brainer, but I had always been nursing when flying with younger kids. My daughter never took a bottle past 8 months old. So when the flight attendant looked at me with horror when I mentioned I had no milk or bottle for the whole flight, I realized I had done something wrong. I think I was just worried the milk might go bad. So on the return flight, I had a bottle and whole milk on hand. It worked for the desperate moments.

9.     Ask for help. I had to change Clark’s diaper in the middle of the flight, so I was forced to ask the random-mommy-stranger friend I’d made 45 minutes into the flight to watch Cooper while I did it. The flight attendants also mentioned they could help hold a baby during bathroom duty.

10.  Vow to help EVERY mom traveling alone on an airplane for the rest of your life. The experience traveling alone with two toddlers became an exciting adventure for me, one I had conquered by the end of the trip. I felt as if I had climbed a mountain and reached the top. Unfortunately, there will always be people who seem annoyed at the chaos of little ones while traveling, but do your best to look past them and find the ones who glow at the sight of children. And for the rest of your life, help those women traveling alone with kids. It’s an opportunity to connect with a fellow-traveling mom.