I am an ex-pat mom. My partner was born and raised in Belgium; we met eight years ago in my hometown of Montréal, Canada. After the pandemic, we decided it was time for a change and moved our little family overseas to the land of chocolate and waffles (and rain). So far, we love our European life, but being far from my friends and family can be tough. A couple of weeks ago, on a whim, I decided to fly home to Montreal to visit. At first, I planned on going solo, but then mom guilt hijacked my plans. I mean, would I visit my parents and not allow them to see their grandkids? *sigh*… I booked three tickets for my 4-year-old daughter, my 16-month-old son and myself. Yup, just me and the kiddos. Here is how I survived flying alone with my kids for seven hours.
Don’t overpack your carry-on.
When it comes to packing with kids, failing to plan is planning to fail. You want to be prepared for multiple scenarios while not overdoing it. Nothing is more annoying than rummaging through an entire bag when you know exactly what you need. When travelling solo, you want to have nothing but essentials and to be able to grab what you need quickly and easily (without emptying the contents of your bag on the airport floor.) Here are my go-to tips:
- Pack one bag per child. If your kids are old enough to carry their backpacks, then have them be responsible for their belongings. If you are travelling with a baby and need a larger bag for diapers and such, squeeze your spare clothes in the baby’s bag. My daughter had her own backpack, while I shared the diaper bag with my son. I used a small cross-body purse to easily access my other items (card holder, phone, earphones, a few makeup items, and toiletries).
- Use wet bags to compartmentalize each bag. They come in multiple sizes and are super sturdy. Use one bag for extra clothes, one for entertainment (more on what I packed later), and one for snacks. For a baby, pack diapers, wipes and spare clothes in the same compartment to make trips to the bathroom easier; no need to haul your large diaper bag in the aisle. Wet bags are also practical for soiled clothing; they often have an extra pocket in the front to separate them from the rest of your items.
- Invest in a family passport carrier. Having everyone’s documents secure in one place will be more manageable.
Comfort is key
Make sure your kids are comfortable for long-haul flights (or shorter flights that can feel endless for kids). They will be seated for hours, so stretchy pants and cozy clothes are a must. Also, dress them in layers because if you’ve flown before, you know cabin temperature can fluctuate as quickly as your toddler’s mood. Before boarding our return flight (the much dreaded Red-Eye), I switched the kids into their pyjamas. Not only were they comfier, but it also gave them a cue that it was nighttime (I was secretly hoping they would doze off straight after take-off…nope. They did sleep eventually, but not at the same time, so there was no rest for this mama.)
If you are flying with a child under two, then you can save the cost of an extra seat and have the child on your lap the whole trip. Doing this will work for some mamas, especially if it’s just you and your baby or your kids have a bigger age gap. In my case, I couldn’t imagine managing my 4-year-old with my wiggly toddler on my lap for seven hours. Just the thought of it gave me deep anxiety, so I chose to invest in a seat for my son. He was installed comfortably in his car seat (which we needed for the trip anyway). He was comfier for naps, it was easier to feed him and allowed me to go to the bathroom with my daughter while he napped. I understand it is not in everyone’s reach. If you want to save on that extra ticket, having your baby in a carrier or sling can help you manage meal times and naps. And don’t forget to ask for help. The flight staff will offer you support when needed.
Keeping them entertained
I had all kinds of tricks up my sleeve. Each child had stickers, crayons, and a colouring book. My daughter also had a pair of earphones so she could watch movies. I’m personally not huge on screen time, but if there ever was a time to break this rule, this was it. For my son, I packed a busy board with velcro shapes, zippers and buttons, he loved it.
Another great hack is music. Playing some of their favourite songs (at a respectable volume) can help brighten their mood or get them to sleep, just make sure they are available offline if you are using a streaming service.
Essentially, you know your kids and are the best judge of what will keep them (somewhat) happy for a few hours straight. A good tip is to have a balance between things you know they love and a few items they haven’t seen before for the element of excitement and surprise. Here are a few ideas.
Snacks, snacks and more snacks
There will be no hangry meltdowns on my watch! I packed so many snacks. From fruit slices to apple sauce pouches, and granola bars. I was prepared. Even if there are serving a meal on your flight, having a few of your kids go to snacks will come in handy if there are delays, or if they are picky eaters and you don’t have the energy to negotiate with them. I also packed an insulated water bottle for each of us that I filled once we passed security.
Does your child take a bottle?
My son only needed one bottle for the flight, but I packed extra formula (pre-measured in a jar) in case of any delays. The flight attendant heated it when we needed it. Click here if you have questions regarding guidelines and restrictions for milk and formula on board a flight.
Surviving the airport
To save yourself from carrying an uncooperative child in addition to your carry-ons, refrain from checking your stroller with your luggage, even if your small child can walk. It’s best to have a compact, umbrella-type stroller. Most airlines will allow you to hand it over at the gate right before boarding (be sure to check with your airline before your trip).
Although we packed pretty light, I did have to haul the stroller, the kids, the bags and my car seat from security to the gate. It was a lot, but lucky for me, my hubby accompanied me through the airport pre-security, then a gentleman offered to help me all the way to my gate. People will probably offer you a hand if they see you struggling, but don’t hesitate to ask if they don’t.
Be sure to feed your kids before arriving at the airport. It’s best not to count on squeezing in a meal between security and boarding. You don’t want added pressure from a hungry child on the verge of a meltdown if the wait is longer than anticipated.
Stay calm, mama!
Now that you are perfectly packed and ready to go, remember that flying alone with your kids will probably be tough. There might be meltdowns. There will be unhappy passengers, and some might even give you the “ how dare you bring your noisy brats on my flight” look. Just take a deep breath, mama. You don’t have to apologize for taking your kids on a flight. Focus on their needs (and yours) and let the rest fade into the background. There won’t be room for guilt, and you’ll need all your energy, so don’t waste it worrying about the other passenger’s well-being.
You’ve got this!
This is excellent advice! I’ll save this for my next trip as I have a 4 yr old and a 1 yr old
I loved reading this – such good tips!!
Omg, wet bags! I never thought of that! My kids are bigger, but still they would be super helpful… Thank you!
Postbump Theory says
Thank you for your comment Rebecca. I am glad you found this post helpful 🙂