Whether it’s just the thought of a long-haul flight with a toddler or a special father-daughter theme park holiday, vacationing with children on your own can seem daunting. Actually, it’s very manageable. You just need to be super organised. Here are some of the tricks to an enjoyable trip as a single parent flying with kids.
· If you are a bona fide single parent (not just one for the holiday), the first thing you should do is get a letter of consent from your child’s other parent to travel, especially if you are leaving the country. Carry this with you at all times, especially at immigration crossings, just in case. Similarly, if you have a different surname from your child, carry a copy of their birth certificate because you don’t have another adult to vouch for your parenthood.
· Think carefully when you pack about what you can physically carry. When the children are melting down, exactly how many bags (and kilograms) can you manage on your own? One huge suitcase, for instance, is easier to handle than multiple small bags. A stroller, even if you only use it at the airport, may be an indispensible luggage trolley.
· Be super organised. Know where everything is and bring extra of everything just in case. Food and spare clothes are particularly important in case of unforeseen delays. It can help to compartmentalise your bag so that you can easily locate snacks, nappies, electronic games or passports easily in an emergency. [For more tips on what to pack in your carry on luggage, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
· Look completely disorganised. This is no time to be a glamour puss. The more dishevelled, distressed and lost you look, the more people will help you carry strollers up stairs, put bags in overhead compartments and entertain your child.
· Put yourself and the children in clear vision. When at the gate to board the plane, sit right in front of the counter. When waiting at a bus stop, put yourself where the driver can see you. Take advantage of political correctness so that you will get some preferential treatment and some help.
· If you can afford it, pay for the extra seat for under twos on the plane. You will appreciate the extra space, especially if your toddler doesn’t like to sit still. Carrying a small person on your lap for multiple hours can be extremely trying.
· Befriend all air stewards. They will be your best friends and the difference between a five-minute break where you can go the toilet or not being able to eat your meal because no one will hold the baby.
· Don’t bring anything you can’t carry yourself. Kiddy wheelie bags won’t look so cute when you have to carry them, plus the nappy bag, plus the 20 kilogram suitcase, plus the screaming child right across town.
· Be strategic about the entertainment you pack. Download every app you think might be appreciated on your iPad. Carry loads of books, activities and toys and be strategic about how and when you dole them out. [For more tips on how to keep kids entertained on the plane, see the essential suitcases&strollers list here.]
· Ask for help. You’ll be surprised how many free services there are for single travelling parents. Some airlines will organise someone to collect your luggage and take it to the taxi, some car companies can coordinate the driver to carry your luggage to the airport queue until it is checked-in and you are hands-free.
· Prebook everything to minimise what you have to carry. Cots, car seats, portacots and bulky items like nappies or large toys are less troublesome if they are hired at your destination so they are already there when you arrive.
· Give the bigger kids jobs supervising the little ones. Even a three-year-old can warn you when the baby is sitting up in the bassinet and a 10-year-old might resonate more with a screaming toddler than a harassed and tired parent.