Single Parent Travelling With Children
Although I’m not a single parent, I’ve done my fair share of solo travel with babies and small children. My husband is a pilot, and pilots tend not to get holidays with the rest of us because – surprise, surprise – that’s when airlines are busy! If you’re about to embark on a solo trip with your kids, read on and learn from my mistakes: I’ve run of nappies/diapers while stranded overnight so you don’t have to; I’ve left the toddler’s favourite blanket in a suitcase that went astray so you don’t have to…
…what I haven’t done is research holiday destinations for single-parent families. Most of my solo travels with small children have been to visit relatives in far-flung places, so this article is on the practicalities of getting to your destination in more or less one piece, even if not always totally at peace.
Advice on travelling solo with children
My first advice on travelling solo with small children is: if at all possible, don’t! Seriously, team up with someone else. That way, when you discover your cell phone isn’t working, you won’t have to set the baby down to use a pay-phone, the baby won’t crawl away and you won’t drop your bag when you follow her, sparking an airport security alert. (Okay, I’m exaggerating a little here; truthfully, when my baby crawled off, all I left behind was my favourite hat. No alert ensued, but I never saw that beautiful red velvet creation again. If you were the person who found it in Gatwick airport, please send it back. I still miss it.)
Easier by Train
Of course, it’s not always possible to team up with someone else, but there are ways to make the journey easier. In the days when British Rail existed, they ran an ad that said, “Let the train take the strain.” I second that when travelling solo with small children. On a train, you and your restless toddler can get up and go for a walk: to the buffet car, to the restroom, along the length of all the carriages and back, to a different window where the view is bound to be so much better. And you can play games. It’s far easier to play games with kids when you’re not trying to negotiate the fast lane with traffic slowed to a crawl, which happened because a car has crashed into the central barrier, which happened because the single parent in the front was trying to settle an argument between the two kids in the back or to get a two-year-old to put his seat belt back on.
(Serious aside: parents distracted by children’s arguments are a major cause of car accidents: some studies estimate as high as 25%, and that it takes between 15 to 30 minutes for children under eight to get restless. I speak from personal experience. So if I seem a little biased against the car, crashing with two tinies in the back seat does tend to put you off!)
Travelling With Kids by Car
Assume your journey will take at least twice as long as it did before you had children, if not three times. Plan to stop every hour or so, especially if your children are newly toilet-trained. Even then you can expect “accidents”, so it might be wise to revert to training pants. How well I remember an incident just as we pulled out of a service station (rest area for USA readers) on the M6 motorway, and the glorious aroma that filled the car until we could stop thirty miles further on. Apart from avoiding mess, the other main reason for frequent stops is that it gives your children a chance to run around. Most rest areas in the UK have play areas both inside and out for small children, as do many in other countries. Tire your kids out and then they’ll do that other thing kids do so well (besides making mess). They will sleep.
Some other tips on sleep: Make the most of your children’s nap habits, and leave when one is due. If you can’t do that, try to keep them awake until it’s time to go. Some people like to drive late in the evening or even at night to get more hours of sleeping angels, but it’s never suited me, as I get tired in the evenings too. Besides, if my kids napped in the evening they were then bouncing around at 1am when I so badly needed to sleep. I’d say this method is probably best suited to two adults taking turns to drive and rest, but if you are a late-bird then perhaps it’s worth a go.
Baby’s first airplane trip
Travelling by Plane
For travel by plane with a young baby, the piece of equipment I found by far most useful was a sling. With baby strapped to your front you have two hands free to carry bags and suitcases or to show passports and tickets when required. Besides, have you ever struggled to use the restrooms (toilets for all us non-USA people) with a baby in a pushchair and the maximum sized hand-baggage? Believe me, it’s easier with a sling. That sling comes in even handier in transit or destination airports. Even though most airlines will allow you to keep your pushchair until you board the aircraft, it then goes in the hold and you won’t get it back again until you collect your luggage from the carousel. You’re literally left holding the baby.
Airlines are used to people travelling with babies and small children, so although it may seem scary and new to you, remember staff are aware of the problems you may face. If you need to change your baby in mid-air don’t do it at your seat and then leave the stinky nappy under the seat or in the pocket for airline staff to deal with. (Yes, people actually do this!)
Most airplane toilets nowadays have baby-change facilities. If you have a toddler you can take them with you when you go to change your baby and leave the toilet door open to give yourself more space. Many airplanes have toilets situated near the galley and most cabin crew members will even enjoy amusing your toddler. And if it’s your toddler who needs changing, just watch as the cabin crew queue up to hold the baby!
Diapers, Nappies and Taking the Train
Talking of baby changing, even if you use cloth (and well done if you do) it’s best to use disposables when travelling. Otherwise you could be carrying a lot of poo a very long way. There are many environmentally friendly varieties around. A friend, who was far better at organising her solo trips than I, used to order a bag of Tushies to be delivered to her destination. This works whether you are visiting friends or staying in a hotel – my friend even had a delivery sent to France. Her trips were mostly made by train, which, like me, she found the easiest way to travel. Her advice for long train journeys is similar to mine for cars: break the journey often, take a stroll around to nearby park and give your toddler a chance to run around. She also found it useful to have a small baby in a sling and as he grew to use a baby backpack. My friend even took the sleeper train with her baby, sharing a bed and managing just fine. She booked a first-class ticket on a special deal, which meant she had a cabin to herself. In the UK, the sleeper service now provides a Samsonite travel bubble cot for your baby sleep in. (These don’t seem to be available in the USA as yet.)
The Serious Bit: Some Important Things to Consider When Travelling Solo with Children
Children under 18 travelling abroad with one parent may require additional documentation. In particular many Latin-American countries ask for this. Check with the consulate of your destination.
Confirm with the airline the day before departure that a sky cot is booked for you, if needed.
However tempting it is to skimp on hand-baggage – DON’T! Delays happen, suitcases get sent to the wrong airport and it’s best to be prepared.
Toddler’s favourite toy or comfort object.
Enough nappies/diapers to get through delays, and a change of clothing for your baby or toddler.
Toothbrushes and small tubes of toothpaste and other toiletries you will need at your destination - in a clear plastic bag to get through security.
Colouring books or other activities your children will enjoy.
Any medication you use, especially inhalers or diabetic medication for yourself or your children. Even if you don’t expect to use this on the flight it’s best to be safe. Contrary to what many diabetics believe, they are allowed needles in their hand-baggage.
Joy, Joy, Joy
My own overnight journeys when my girls were little were on a ferry, and it was easy. We booked a four-berth cabin for the three of us, the girls had the bottom bunks and I had a top. We roamed around the ship for a while, played in the play area, and then went back to our cabin and got into pyjamas. The girls then bounced on their bunks, on my bunk, on their bunks, on my bunk, on their bunks…
Okay maybe it wasn’t so easy after all.
Here’s what Caledonian Sleeper Trains’ website has to say about taking toddlers on their trains: “A 2 to 3-year old can sleep quite comfortably head-to-toe with an adult in the lower berth, if you can get the little so-and-so to sleep when he’s so excited about being on a sleeper train of course.” The same applies to ferries!
So, maybe, if your journey is long, the plane isn’t such a bad idea after all. Just so long as you do as I say, not as I did, that is! If your travels involve changing airplanes don’t assume you will leave the transit airport the same day as you arrive, especially if it’s snowing, especially if your final destination is on a small island not far from the Arctic Circle where the airport closes shortly after it gets dark. Yes, the airline will put you up in a hotel when you are stuck in a strange city overnight, and they will even provide something to wrap around your baby’s bottom when your supplies have run out, but it might be a bit of a stretch to call it a diaper or a nappy. As I recall, the filling filled and then broke into lumps that resembled sawdust and were visible through the transparent-when-wet cover. On the upside, the hotel provided a travel cot, and my enduring memory of that night is of my nine-month-old baby bouncing in that cot with an enormous grin on her gorgeous face.
And in the end, dear reader, that joy is why we travel with our kids is it not?
More on Flying with Small Children From Other Writers:
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Yvonne Spence
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on August 30, 2012:
DMVmimay, so glad you found this useful and thanks for your comment.
DMVmimay on August 29, 2012:
thanks for the information, very useful .. vacation together with baby made it easy :)) keep posting.
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on June 28, 2012:
Kelley, thanks so much. Since this was my first Hub of the Day I do feel fond of it.
Wishing you a great family vacation! I'm soon off to travel solo with 2 now-much-bigger children. As usual hubby is staying at home. :-(
kelleyward on June 28, 2012:
What a fantastic hub! We will take our annual family vacation soon so I'm bookmarking and sharing this! Voted up! Kelley
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on March 16, 2012:
Hi Alezafree, Glad you enjoyed this. I didn’t know how to use stock photos when i did this hub, so I used my own! That baby is 14 now.
I have added some dividers to make your hub stand out more, I think I was probably editing it as you commented! Thanks for your comment and for linking.
A Freeman from Las Vegas, NV on March 16, 2012:
Very nice Hub! I love that you touched on different types of travel. And I love that you used original photos!! Thank you so much for the link. I have also linked from my hub to yours!
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on February 06, 2012:
Thanks very much for your comment, and thanks for including your experience with the baby sling. It is great to get examples from readers. How great you have lovely memories of traveling with your son.
Rastamermaid from Universe on February 05, 2012:
I've been traveling solo with my son since birth,luckily I've never had any problems.
Babysling was my best friend when he was smallest.Traveling with him so small is a beautiful memory and something he looks back at with amazement.
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on January 30, 2012:
I love it Kelly, the images that conjures up are hilarious!
Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on January 30, 2012:
Haha! I'm going to make sure I bring her color books for long car rides:) lol
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on January 30, 2012:
Hi RHW, I’m so glad this has given you hints on how to deal with your friend! LOL
Don’t think I’ll ever see that hat again. :(
Kelly Umphenour from St. Louis, MO on January 30, 2012:
I'm with Ardie - my husband is also a work a holic....while I think it's fine I do like to travel quite a bit. I'm going on a trip with my best friend in a couple weeks to Texas so I read this and got many helpful hints on how to deal with her! Haha!
Seriously - great ideas - I hope you get your hat back!
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on January 16, 2012:
Hi Ardie, Ah so you have also had the joys of solo travel with kids! I certainly made plenty of errors too, but they came in handy when writing this hub!
Thanks for your comment.
Sondra from Neverland on January 16, 2012:
This is a fanastic hub, no wonder it got chosen for HOTD!!! I often travel with my kids alone because my husband is a work-a-holic and doesn't take vacations. I wish I would've had these tips before I had to learn through trial and error hahah Great hub Melovy
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on November 24, 2011:
Thanks very much for reading and commenting. I found the same thing you did - that people love to help out when you travel alone with small children. So making the most of the support others offer is another very good tip. Thanks for adding to the hub.
Danette Watt from Illinois on November 23, 2011:
My husband was in the service and when my older son was an infant/toddler, the 2 of us would often go to visit my family because I was so lonely. I met many helpful people on our trips, everyone always willing to lend a hand to a mom with an infant or entertain a toddler while we hung out in the waiting room. Good tips here!
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on September 30, 2011:
Hi Painted Seahorse, Thanks very much for reading and commenting. I pity your Mom -that sounds like a journey to trump the worst of mine!
Brittany Rowland from Woodstock, GA on September 30, 2011:
Great advice! I remember Mom taking the three of us on a train all the way up the East Coast to see our grandparents, and it must have been challenging for her because we were so little and getting into everything. I accidentally pulled the tablecloth off the table in the dining car, spilling all the dishware. Then my brother fell off his bunk in the middle of the night and was bleeding heavily from his forehead (he still has a knot on his head from that and several other incidents). I don't know how Mom handled all three of us like that, and all because she hates flying!
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on August 10, 2011:
Invitationwrite and amsall
Thank you for the votes up. Glad you enjoyed the hub.
Thank you for comment, and hope the tips do come in useful for you one day.
amsall from Saint-Louis, Senegal on August 10, 2011:
Just voted up. Awesome!
Ravi Singh from India on August 10, 2011:
Thanks for your tips.I don't have kids now, but will be useful for me in future.
invitationwrite on August 08, 2011:
Voted Up. Useful.
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on August 07, 2011:
Oh Wow! I’ve been away with my now not-so-small children - what a wonderful home-coming.
Thank you everyone for your congratulations, and for the ‘votes up’. I am awe-struck by all your kind comments, and so thrilled that this Hub has been Hub of the day. I am pleased that people find it useful and especially pleased that it has brought some laughter. I really enjoyed writing it, and this accolade is such a wonderful bonus.
I apologise for not replying to each of you individually, and I will be taking a look at everyone’s hubs as soon as I can.
The Blagsmith from Britain on August 06, 2011:
I am a father of two and I remembered the acute embarassment when they decided to fight before take off. The cabin crew quickly gave them a kiddie pack to quiet them down. Well done on hub of the day.
mkrandhawa from India on August 06, 2011:
Congratulations on your hub of the day and after such a short time being on hubpages.Well said.
Forrest Decker from Ocala, Florida on August 05, 2011:
Hi I am a father of three little girls I have not travel alone. I had my wife to help but your advice is still good with couples traveling with young children. Job well done "Hub of the Day".
Recipe Gal on August 05, 2011:
Those are some good tips! In just a few months my husband and I are planning an overseas/half way around the world move with a four month old. Luckily I won't be alone, but your advice is good for those of us not traveling solo too!
Amelia Griggs from U.S. on August 05, 2011:
Well said and congrats to you for your "Hub of the Day"!
JS Matthew from Massachusetts, USA on August 05, 2011:
Congratulations on being selected for the Hub of the Day!
You provided some very useful tips here! Thank God my kids are older! Cute photos as well! I voted Up and will share!
Joseph De Cross from New York on August 05, 2011:
Congrats! for you efforts in putting this hub together. Hopefully will reach actual parents all over..!
Diane Ziomek from Alberta, Canada on August 05, 2011:
I would first like to congratulate you on achieving Hub of the Day! My children are older now and it is much easier to travel with them; I didn't do many trips alone with them when they were little. I can appreciate the advice you have provided and have voted your article up and useful. I am sure the day will come when I will have grandchildren and will quite possibly be traveling with them; the advice will still apply. Thank you!
Carrie Smith from Dallas, Texas on August 05, 2011:
Congratulations on being the Hub of the day! You make some great points here, and offer good ideas when traveling with children. The first time I ever found out what a "nappie" I was in South Africa and thought they were talking about napkins. Thanks for making me smile!
Voted up and awesome!
Sinea Pies from Northeastern United States on August 05, 2011:
I laughed at your diaper recommendation...very good point! Great hub and welcome to hubpages!
FloraBreenRobison on August 05, 2011:
Congratulations on your hub of the day and after such a short time being on hubpages. I do not hav any children, but I am related to people who are single parents-some whose children are little, some whose children are grandparents.
ershruti304 from Shimla on August 05, 2011:
An outstanding hub
Paradise7 from Upstate New York on August 05, 2011:
Traveling with kids is no picnic; still, I think it's better to get kids acclimated to travel when they are quite young. There's something very broadening about visiting different countries, and children have a completely open point of view; they are the most susceptible to both the glories of travel; also its trials.
Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on August 05, 2011:
Comprehensive hub filled with many useful tips for parents, single or together, to travel with their young children.
Congratulations on making Hub of the Day!
Carolee Samuda from Jamaica on August 05, 2011:
Very helpful information about traveling with children. I don't really have any but I am sure this information will come in handy, I may be able to pass them on to someone I know who do have children.
SubmissionWork from India on August 05, 2011:
Nice to see that you shared your experience here and helping other mom.
Clicked on useful and awesome.
jacqui2011 from Norfolk, UK on August 05, 2011:
Nice to meet you Melovy. Congrats on being picked as hub of the day. Well written with some fabulous info. Well done. Voted up and useful.
Thelma Alberts from Germany on August 05, 2011:
How I wish I have read this article with full of tips 25 years ago! It could have been easier for me travelling with my kid. Voted Up. Useful.
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on August 04, 2011:
Hello tipoague, Thanks for reading and for leaving your kind comment. Glad you enjoyed the hub. Those 10 hour journeys of yours sounds quite an undertaking, I'm impressed!
Tammy on August 03, 2011:
Terrific hub! I use to travel 10 hours by car with two small ones, seventeen months apart, to visit relatives. Against my grandmother's wishes, I use to travel at night so the kids would sleep most of the way. In the ten years of traveling this way, I only had one small mishap. Luckly enough, my children slept through it. Fabulous hub! Voted up!
Yvonne Spence (author) from UK on August 03, 2011:
Hi Simone, Thank you for visiting and for your kind comment. I'm glad you found this hub useful - and encouraged as hearing this from you helps me feel I must be on the right track with Hubbing.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on August 02, 2011:
Traveling with small kids is hard for everyone involved, but ESPECIALLY the poor parent! I'm so glad you've put together these helpful tips. What a fabulous Hub!