My family loves to travel and we’ve been lucky enough to visit some amazing places over the years. One thing that held us back when we first started traveling with kids, however, was my husband’s job; whereas I’m fortunate enough to have the freedom in my job to travel whenever I need or want to, my husband doesn’t have the same flexibility, and we found ourselves cancelling trips or turning down offers to travel because he had to work. After a year or two of this however, we decided that this wasn’t going to work for us, and that for me traveling alone with kids was just another adventure. I’ve taken the kids, 5-year old Harrison and 2-year old Grayson, all over the world on my own, and while it is always more helpful to have the extra pair of hands when my husband can accompany us, I’ve grown more and more confident handling things by myself. I thought I’d share some of the tips I’ve learned traveling alone with my kids for anyone else thinking of taking their kids somewhere on their own.
Traveling alone with kids
1. Choose your destination carefully
If you’re anything like me, then your biggest concern when traveling alone with kids is safety, and realistically, there are just some places where it simply isn’t safe to travel alone with kids. When choosing a destination to travel, it’s definitely important to do some research into the area you’re considering to see if it’s somewhere you’ll be comfortable taking the kids on your own. We try not to let fear hold us back from visiting certain places, but I’m also not going to take my kids somewhere where none of us feel comfortable. It’s easy enough to ask around and check the internet to see what recommendations people have for staying in certain places.
Not only is safety a concern, but practicality is too. I don’t want to stay somewhere where it’s super difficult to get around with a stroller, where there’s very little for the kids to do, or other things about the destination that just don’t make it a great choice for solo travel with the little ones.
If you find that somewhere you’d been looking forward to visiting isn’t going to work right now for one of the reasons above, that doesn’t mean that you can never go; it just means that it’s not a great choice for right now. I know that once my kids are older, there are different places we’ll be able to travel to, and that our constraints right now won’t last forever. We have a family travel bucket list and although some of the destinations don’t work for traveling alone with kids now, they will one day, and I’m OK with that.
2. Consider where to stay
There are numerous options when it comes to accommodation, and it’s worth thinking about where you’ll be most comfortable when traveling alone with kids. Regular hotel rooms rarely work for us anymore as they’re too small and no one gets their own space, so instead we choose to stay in either hotel suites or accommodations like Air BNB and VRBO.
Hotel suites don’t have to be as fancy or expensive as they sound, there are plenty of affordable options. On our recent trip to Washington DC, we stayed at an Embassy Suites where our room had a bedroom, a bathroom, a living area and even a kitchenette with things like a microwave and a refrigerator. The additional space means you can have a separate sleeping area to the kids, so that once they’ve gone to bed, you don’t have to worry about turning the lights off and keeping things dark and quiet for them. The addition of a kitchenette is also fantastic; when traveling alone with kids, getting everybody up and out for breakfast every day can be difficult, so being able to keep things like milk, yogurt, and other cold snacks is extremely helpful.
Villa rentals are another great option, since they offer so much more space and are often a lot cheaper than staying in a hotel. The addition of things like a full kitchen, as well as individual bedrooms, and all of the extra space is fantastic when traveling alone with kids, as it recreates that homey feel in a different place. It is even possible to search for places that market themselves towards families and might include things like pack and plays or high chairs.
3. Know what documents you need to bring for plane travel and your destination
When traveling alone with kids, there are certain documents you need to bring with you. When I fly without my husband, I carry a notarized letter signed by him to say that he gives permission for me to take the kids out of the state or the country. I include the dates of the trip, including the return date and sometimes the name of the airline. I’ve only been asked for this letter once when leaving the country and that was two years ago when flying to England from the US, where I wasn’t able to board the plane until the letter had been read by the gate agent. I was also questioned once upon arrival in Iceland as to whether I was the mother of the kids I was traveling with, and if I had permission from their father to travel. Had I not had the letter those times, I would have been stuck; I’m not sure if I would even have been able to continue on to my destination. It’s important to make sure that anyone checking documentation knows that you have permission to travel alone with your kids, especially if you are leaving the country with them.
4. Make copies of all of your documents
Whenever we travel, especially out of the country, I bring copies of whatever identification we’re using, as well as medical insurance information. When I travel alone with my kids, I also bring a copy of the aforementioned note from my husband, as well as copies of their birth certificates and anything else I have that I can use to prove I’m their mother, should the situation arise. I make another copy of all of that documentation and leave it with my husband at home so if anything happened to the copies I’m traveling with, I can call and ask him to send me his copies.
5. Pack carefully and as lightly as possible
This is always good advice when traveling with kids, but especially important when you’re the only person who will be carrying most of the stuff! On a trip last year, we had a six hour layover in New York where we not only had to change terminals, but had to go out past security, check in with another airline, and then go back through security again. I was very careful when packing to make sure that everything I would need to take out for checking in and going through security was in an easily accessible place so I could grab it all quickly, as well as putting everything we would need for the layover at the top of our carry on bags. I also tried to pack as lightly as possible so our things would fit in as few bags as possible and I would be able to manage everything by myself; I have no problem asking my older son to help carry things (see tip number 10), but I knew we’d be landing in Europe in the early hours of the morning and that he’d probably be exhausted and unable to be much help.
Another thing I was careful to do, since I was alone with the kids, was to pack plenty of things for Harrison to do if I was occupied with Grayson, especially on the plane. While he’s very independent and keeps himself occupied very well, I wanted to make sure that if I had to go and change Grayson’s diaper or was holding him while he slept, Harrison would be able to grab himself a snack or find a book to keep himself busy. This is a helpful post on things you can buy from the dollar store for plane travel with kids that include toys, books and games. I also packed my diaper bag carefully to make sure that everything was on hand for Grayson if I was similarly occupied with Harrison. For more tips on packing a diaper bag for plane travel read through this post.
It’s also worth considering any baby travel products you might be bringing like strollers and car seats to make sure what you have is as lightweight as possible. For a list of the travel products we use when we travel, tried and tested by us, visit our travel shop.
6. Give copies of your itinerary to family or friends
We’re not big planners and it’s very rare that we have go anywhere with a set routine, so this tip is easier said than done for us. But we do have things like flights and hotels planned, and I make sure my husband (and usually my mom!) know when our flights depart and arrive, as well as where we’ll be staying. I also mention if we plan on being anywhere particular on any given day, just so other people have a general idea of where we should be. I always check in with my husband as soon as our flights land or we reach a hotel so he knows we made it safely, and if he doesn’t hear from me around the times he thinks he should, he’ll reach out to me. At least one other person should know where you are and what you’re planning to do, and make arrangements to check in with someone at certain points during the trip.
7. Consider renting baby products
When traveling alone with kids, you’ll probably have enough to carry without trying to also juggle things like a stroller, car seat, portable crib, or other bulky items needed for babies and younger kids. If you can make it to your destination with as little of this as possible, but might need some of it when you get there, consider baby rental companies. There are plenty of different companies out there, some of which are dedicated to particular cities, regions or states, that offer everything from strollers and cribs to diaper pails and baby toys. The less you have to carry with you, the better!
8. Think about what you can buy at your destination
Along with renting products at your destination, if there are other things you can buy once you get there, that’s even less you have to carry on the journey (in other words, less you have to carry by yourself!) Things like diapers, baby formula, even snacks for the kids can take up space in your bags and while you’ll obviously want some of those things for the flight, consider buying what you can when you arrive. If you’re within the US, consider using services such as Amazon Prime to have groceries and other supplies delivered to your destination. Also think about whether or not you can buy medication at your destination, and what you might want to bring with you (read more on what happens when kids get sick on vacation here). Again, the less loaded up you are when you’re solely responsible for the little ones, the less stressed you’ll be.
9. Bring a light, practical bag
When traveling alone with kids, I try to make sure I have a lightweight bag for everyday sightseeing. I try to always bring a backpack so that my hands are free to hold those of the kids, and I try to find the lightest bag possible, so that when it’s weighed down with all of the things we need throughout the day it isn’t unbearably heavy.
10. Assign tasks to older children
This has been one of the most helpful things I’ve found as my oldest son has grown up; giving him things to do has not only been a huge help to me, but teaches him some responsibility and gives him confidence as he learns how to travel. From our first trip with just the three of us when Harrison was only 3-years old, he was given his own backpack that he was responsible for carrying on the plane and I taught him the basics of plane travel so if I was off changing Grayson’s diaper, he knew how to ask for a drink and how to put on his seat belt if there was unexpected turbulence. Now he’s 5 years old, he can help me push a stroller, pull a light suitcase, and I trust him to keep his younger brother occupied for a few minutes if needed. This helps to take some of the burden off me, but also teaches him the basics of travel. One of the reasons I love to travel with my kids is to show them how to handle things like flying, taking road trips, behaving appropriately in hotels or museums, and other experiences that they wouldn’t get at home. As my kids get older and I can give smaller tasks to them, I hope it will help them become more confident travelers and instill a love of seeing new places that they will take with them.
11. Keep things organized as the trip goes on
I have a tendency to pack a very, very organized suitcase with things in specific places – and then let it become a giant mess within 24 hours of being at our destination. When I travel on my own with the kids, I try hard not to let that happen; when I’m trying to get myself and my kids ready in the morning, the last thing I need is to be digging through a messy suitcase to find clothes for the day or that spare camera battery. Before I go to bed each night, once the kids are asleep and I have some time to myself, I sit down and organize not only my main suitcase, but my day bag as well to make sure everything is easily accessible. I repack the day bag for the next day with things like fresh snacks or more diapers, and lay out everyone’s clothes for the next day. It doesn’t take long, but it saves so much time and stress in the mornings.
12. Ask others to take photos for you
This is one of those ‘do as I say and not as I do’ tips – I’m terrible at doing this! While writing this article I had a hard time finding pictures of myself with the kids on vacation; plenty of pictures of the kids of course, but very few of myself with them. One of the things I am striving to do in the future is take more pictures with myself in them, be it the dreaded selfie or asking other people to take photos of us. Living close to Walt Disney World and visiting often, it’s second nature to me to ask people if they’d like me to take their photo and people are always willing to reciprocate. Even if you’re in another country and there is a language barrier, it’s easy enough to mime taking a photo and holding out your camera or cell phone generally gets the point across. Just be careful where you do this of course, and who you ask; the last thing you want is to hold out a cell phone only to never see it again!
13. Be careful with where you post information on social media
When we travel in general, but always when I’m alone with the kids, I try to be careful about the photos and information I’m posting on social media that might indicate that I’m alone in a specific place with two children. I wait until that evening to post photos of where we’ve been during the day, or wait until we’ve moved on to a new place to mention where we were previously. I have public accounts on places like Instagram where it’s easy to see where a photo was taken, and I’d rather wait until we’re not in that place anymore to post the image with the location.