Adventures Getting There: Travelling Solo with a Preschooler

Cameron and I have done a lot of flights, in planes ranging from five-passenger single-prop floatplanes to great big cross-continental flights. Okay, we’ve not flown to Australia or Europe. But still, I feel qualified to offer some advice. I’ve seen many posts on the parenting forum that I frequent concerning “I have to fly alone with my kid, how will we survive?”

So here’s what I came up with offhand. Any other suggestions, thoughts, must-haves? Comment and share!

Coping tricks and planning hints:
•    Accept from the get-go that things probably won’t go as planned
•    Prepare in advance if your little one hasn’t flown before. Talk about the flight, what happens at the airport, what happens on the airplane. Very first trip? Maybe do an outing to the airport one afternoon, to get acquainted. Think of it from the child’s perspective – it’s a hectic, loud, busy place. We have a great little book for the airport stuff, called “Busy Airport.” It’s a lift-the-flap book that talks about checking in, going through security, boarding the airplane, and the different people they’ll see in the airport. It’s an older book, and some things have changed a little bit (automated check-ins now, having physical tickets, and ‘stewardess’ is an outdated term), but Cameron can’t read yet so I insert the appropriate change.
•    Establish long ahead of time that kicking the seat ahead of you, tossing toys over the back, throwing things, and screaming are not acceptable behaviour.
•    Do what you can to avoid meltdowns. It’s hard to put a kid in time out on an airplane, and they seem to know that they hold the trump suit. They can scream on a plane and you’ll have to deal with the embarrassment and pressure from other passengers. Sooo, keep’em happy, avoid situations that lead to meltdowns, avoid known triggers (I avoid chocolate for Cameron on a flight for certain), have planned rewards for good behaviour. You know your child’s nap time and ‘witching hours’ so try to not push your luck by cramping those.
•    Have your child help pack his or her own suitcase and carry-on. Just as a kid is more likely to eat a food he helped prepare, he’s more likely to be happy about trekking through the air port if he’s carrying his own carry-on backpack
•    Ensure that the child’s essentials are in that carry-on. Cameron’s contains one book he chose, his blanket, his bunny, his sunglasses and hat, a change of shorts and underpants just in case, and two toys.
•    Pack the minimum required. Two bags per child plus your own plus a carseat plus carry ons plus sweaters, jackets, whatevers is a lot of hassle and stress. Cameron gets one bag, I pack one inside a larger one for myself (my family has a habit of sending us home with lots of stuff, not that I’m complaining). So that’s two bags plus carseat, Cameron carries his own backpack, and I have a purse and a bag. Reasonable. Any more than that and I start to get stressed.
•    If potty-trained, get the child to go pee before boarding. But be sure you leave enough time for the child to decide she needs to do something there that would take significantly longer.
•    Pack so that the things you’ll need early on in the flight are in one bag, and later in another. Put the ‘later’ bag in the overhead bins, and the ‘early’ one at your feet. Part way through, tidy up and put away the ‘early flight’ stuff, as your child starts to get bored with them, and change out the bags. This way it’s not all right there and accessible so you can keep things fresh, it keeps the clutter under control, means you’re not rooting through a stuffed bag for things, means you have less at your feet and yet aren’t jumping up and down to get stuff down from overhead.
•    I’ve always hated flushing on-flight toilets. They’re LOUD. Cameron hates them too. So if you have a noise-sensitive little one, get all set, and flush as you open the door
•    I know it’s expensive, but treat yourself to a glass of wine. Seriously. Not necessarily several, I’m not saying have a party, just … relax. Going on holiday is supposed to be fun.

What to pack in your carry-on bags?

•    If your child has anything required for comfort or soothing, make sure it’s with you of course! Blanket, stuffie, soother, flashlight, pair of fuzzy socks, whatever.
•    Bring books your child likes (and helped pick out), that you don’t mind reading several times. Be prepared to do this – if you bring five books, read each three times, that can be easily an hour in total.
•    If allowed, bring snacks. Eating passes the time!
•    For upset tummies, try candied ginger. I’ve had troubles with mostly-mild motion sickness most of my life, but gravol isn’t an option for me when I have to look after Cameron. So, ginger it is. Works pretty well.
•    Bring a DVD player or computer, and the child’s fave shows.
•    Pack a few small toys and be prepared to play with them. Even better if one is a favourite that he or she didn’t see you pack.
•    Pack crayons and paper. If your child likes drawing, great. If not, draw on demand for a bit, or make up a silly story and illustrate quickly as you go.
•    If possible, purchase a few small NEW items. I usually buy Cameron a small something at the airport (like a matchbox car), so he’s looking forward to it. For a four hour flight I packed two new items, totaling around five dollars.
•    Stickers! Just be ready to remove them on landing.
•    Temporary tattoos or face paints. I forgot the face paints, but figure that might’ve taken up a good amount of time. The tattoo kept him happy, then removing it kept him busy (he wanted to scrub it off, and it was a cheapie one so it worked)
•     Have gum if your child is old enough, or suckers, or a sippy cup for altitude changes.

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One response to “Adventures Getting There: Travelling Solo with a Preschooler

  1. This is a great post! I have only done short trips to california with my daughter and I’m quite frightened about a longer jaunt. A friend of mine wants us to visit her in Singapore but I honestly don’t think I can DO THAT! The thought of it terrifies me.
    I totally like how you mention that gravol is not an option. In a way, that kind of expresses a lot about single parenthood. A lot of your own self care measures can’t be implemented due to having to be responsible for another.
    I firmly agree on at least one glass of wine to ease the tension!
    Sounds like you are having a good time. Enjoy.

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