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About a year ago, my son and I took a solo trip to visit my parents in Atlanta. My spouse couldn’t come with me, so this meant that Charlie and I would be embarking on our first trip alone. Not only would I be traveling alone with a toddler, but we’d be going cross country from Seattle. I cannot begin to tell you about the amount of fear I had prepping for this trip. It was like I had never traveled with him before. I shouldn’t have had any angst. And no offense to my darling hubby, but he falls asleep almost immediately anyway, on the plane. What would be so different this time? Love you babe…
Traveling Alone 101
I’m not going to pretend traveling alone with Charlie was easy, but honestly, it wasn’t as hard as I thought. The scariest parts were flying to and from Atlanta. But since I had help, once I arrived, the actual trip itself was fun. I mean, with Gramps and Mormor around, I had three sets of hands to manage my crazy little 1-year old. He may look innocent, but don’t let that dashing smile fool you!
In terms of trip readiness and pulling all the supplies together, I didn’t really experience much change to my ‘normal’ run-down of things to pack. I.e. diapers, 3-4 outfits (my folks have a washer and dryer to help keep the packing light!), etc. More or less, the challenges would come from the actual flight itself.
The solo travel really began once my spouse dropped me off at the airport. He’s a doting husband and kindly offered to get us there, before he had to rush off to work. But once we crossed the threshold into the airport, I was on my own. With that, I’ll share what I learned.
- Get to the airport early.
- Once out of the car, immediately hook up the Brica Roll and Go to your car seat (see my post titled The FAA and Getting to Europe. Airlines are very particular about the FAA Approved sticker.) Throw on your diaper bag and push baby with one hand and your roller carry-on with the other. I typically bring my son’s rolling luggage along for him, when I have my spouse to help, but for this trip, we opted out of bringing that along. You’d think by now evolution would catch up with moms and let us grow additional arms.
- Get through security check as soon as you can. Don’t dilly-dally and wait until the last minute to get into the terminal. If you can, do the TSA Precheck. You just never know when you’re going to experience the World War III of meltdowns. It may happen anyway, but wouldn’t you rather be in the terminal? Well, I realize you’d rather it not happen at all, but we all know that’s not realistic.
- Since you got to the airport early, walk around…a lot! Regardless of how long or short your flight is, your little one won’t want to sit on your lap for the entire trip perfectly quite. The more you walk around ahead of time, the better. Once beyond the TSA checkpoint and near your gate, I find it’s good to take your toddler out of the car seat and run around a little. That said, just the energy of the airport will wear them out, so if you have a runner, don’t compromise the safety. Charlie loves to watch the planes come in and take off. So going to a less crowded window in the same terminal as your gate is a great way to chat with them about what they’re seeing as well as getting out some energy.
- I know many of you may hate boarding your flights early, but seriously, take advantage of this offering. You can’t easily carry your toddler, the car seat, diaper bag and carry-on all at once. This also let’s your kiddo get acclimated with the plane surroundings. Many times the flight attendants have brought Charlie a wings pin. He would wear this proudly. Also, if you need milk, getting on early can help you get the attention of a flight attendant to bring something to drink. Furthermore, I’ve been really lucky to get the help of a flight attendant to provide a second set of eyes as I’m hooking up the car seat and stowing all of our supplies.
- TIP: TSA will allow you to bring your child’s liquids (i.e. a full sippy cup preferably in a clear container) through the checkpoint.
- Seriously, ask the flight attendants for help! That said, don’t be surprised if you get a little bit of an eye roll. On the flight home from Atlanta, we had one particularly cheeky attendant. He was clearly on his way off the clock and didn’t care much for helping me on or off the plane. That said, this has been the exception and not the rule in my experience.
- If you can, book a nonstop flight. For one, you have a better chance of the airline not losing your luggage and two, you’re not going to have to deal with schlepping everything on and off the plane and then on and off again.
What I would have done Differently
- Normally I love bringing the car seat onto the plane. It’s a place for Charlie to sit comfortably and in something familiar. Also, I need it when I land and I don’t have to wait on the jet way for them to bring it up from under the plane. That said, it’s so bulky. In traveling alone, you don’t always have that second set of hands to carry it and everything else. I must have looked peculiar walking down the isle with my child aimlessly walking in front of me. You do need a harness, however, and the Cares Airplane Safety Harness would work fine. I may ship the car seat ahead of time if we go alone again.
- I debate whether or not to bring a carry-on. On the one hand it’s nice in case your luggage gets lost, especially with a toddler, but on the other, it was really quite challenging lugging everything down the isle.
- Consider shipping some of the items ahead of time, i.e. diapers. My parents already had a crib, stroller and high-chair, but reducing our carry-on luggage would have been, again, nice.
Overall, the trip wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. In fact, I’m really quite proud of myself for being so ‘brave,’ Once we landed in Atlanta, my mom got a special pass to meet us at the gate. It was great having her waiting there and of course tears of happiness were streaming down our faces. My mom, whisked Charlie out of my very tired hands and pushed him through the airport to help grab our baggage.
For now I’ll end this post with saying that we had a great time. I’ll share some of the highlights from traveling alone with Charlie in Part II.