Traveling alone with a child can be daunting. I should know—by the time my daughter was a year old she had already survived a dozen international flights and lived in or visited six countries. And while I am not a single parent, circumstances have forced my daughter and I to live apart from her father for nearly half her life. Here are a few things that have made our travels go smoothly:
* Pack extra clothing in your carry-on
Planes can get quite cold, so make sure to bring a sweater or warm sleep suit for your child. Have at least two other outfits tucked in your carry-on, as well as several packages of baby wipes. You can never have too many baby wipes. I even use them to wipe down the seat and surrounding area so there are slightly fewer germs for my daughter to catch.
* Pack as many toys and books as possible
Yes, we should all be traveling light in general. But babies and small children need entertainment on long flights and a teddy bear and rattle are not going to get you across the Atlantic.
* Pack extra liquids for babies, unless exclusively breastfeeding.
Babies dehydrate quickly, and the airplane air is very dry. Pack extra milk and water, which security will allow you to carry (though you may have to taste it). If you’re breastfeeding, breastfeed more often and make sure to stay hydrated. Pack extra food for older babies, as most airlines no longer provide baby or toddler food.
* Check in early
You never want to have to wait in a long line or rush through an airport with a child. Make sure you have plenty of time to check baggage, change diapers, feed your child, and buy a water bottle after security.
If possible, check in 24 hours in advance from your home computer, and request that updates on your flight be sent to your phone.
* Keep your stroller until the gate.
You could be traveling long distances in the terminal, and you don’t want to lose track of your child. Strollers and car seats are not considered luggage and can be checked at the gate.
* Ask for help
Inevitably, you will need to use the airplane bathroom. This is impossible to do with a child. I worried about this, but found that flight attendants were always willing to hold my baby for a few minutes. Some even requested the privilege. If they are busy, fellow passengers can help. I found that other women traveling with children were the most likely to offer assistance. Sure, normally you wouldn’t leave your child with a stranger, but at least you know that a kidnapper couldn’t get very far.
* If you plan to take a taxi on arrival book a car ahead.
The last thing you want to do after a long flight is wait in an endless line with a tired kid for taxis. Make sure you make transportation arrangements before your trip to avoid stress.
* Choose a child-friendly hotel and make sure they know you are traveling with a child
I always let hotels know I have a baby so that when we arrive a crib is already set up. No one wants to wait ages for housekeeping to arrive with a crib at 3 am. One hotel even left us baby pool toys.
* Request a refrigerator.
This is critical if you don’t want to be eating every meal in a restaurant. Store yogurts, fruit, cheese, veggies and take-out meals so you can have leisurely meals in your room and save some money.
* If you have an infant, invest in a travel highchair.
When my daughter was little, we used the Sack-N-Seat high chair, a cloth seat that allows you to easily tie your child into any adult chair. It rolls up in a tiny ball and was our handiest possession. Other brands make similar travel seats.