The Ultimate Guide to Flying Solo with Kids — 3 toddlers, 72h travel, 2 flights, 1 parent and 1 airport shut down
My dear friend Karen is a mum of three active toddlers. Jack is four, Nora is three and Otis nearly two. Her family currently lives in Vietnam and they (sans Dad) went back to Europe for a much deserved break over the summer. On her journey back home, she got stuck in Hong Kong when strikes shut down the airport! I asked if she’d relive her ordeal and give us some points on how to survive flying alone with three little kids.
Off we go on my first solo flight with the kids. Wish me luck!
My husband needed to head back to Vietnam for work after the summer break and instead of going with him, I decided (after a lot of thinking!) to stay for two more weeks with the kids and then fly from Paris via Hong Kong to Vietnam.
Of course, Murphy loves me, and we got stuck in transit at Hong Kong Airport during the protest strikes - for more than 24 hours! Happy that I was well prepared. I now want to share my travel tips as a mum traveling alone with three young children. Hopefully, this will help everyone be brave and confident about flying solo with kids in tow... and survive to tell the tale.
Tip #1: Book flights that will make the journey easy
I looked specifically for a long flight during the night on both legs of the journey so they could get some sleep, even if the quality of sleep is not the same as in their own bed. I also ensured we did a transit somewhere outside of Vietnam so that I didn’t need to go from the International to Domestic terminal dragging three kids and all our luggage along.
Some in-flight entertainment after their meal so that I can eat in peace.
Tip #2: Be prepared to do everything on your own
When I was preparing for our journey home, it was most important for me to know that in the worst-case scenario, I would be able to carry all our belongings and mind everyone by myself. My father kindly drove us to the airport 3.5 hours away and watched the kids while I sorted out the boarding passes and bag tags. We had the meet & assist-service booked in advance, but it wasn’t much of a help this time. While airport staff did help get us from check-in through to immigration, they weren’t allowed to handle our belongings and didn’t use buggies, making it even more pertinent that I was confident about handling the journey and of the mindset that I can do this alone.
I mentally walked through possible scenarios in my mind and here’s gear I had on hand:
- A foldable stroller for the most tired kid. I had email confirmation from the airline that I would receive it back at the gates once we landed and made sure of it again with ground staff. [Note from Elise: many airlines will take your gate-checked stroller through to oversize luggage at your destination airport, without giving it back to you at the aerobridge. If you want a great cabin-sized travel stroller, check out the Mountain Buggy Nano.
- A baby carrier to keep my hands free for other items which I can put it in the basket under the stroller when not in use.
- The biggest possible backpack as carry-on for everything you will need on the flight from pyjamas, second set of clothes for everyone flying, to nappies which I needed for all three children, milk and milk bottles, plus a laptop and iPad for entertainment.
- We also got the kids JetKids BedBoxes as gifts and these saved my life! There are plenty of other products available to help you sleep more comfortably when you travel [check out the range from Plane Pal] but you could put items in these and the kids love riding on them. We put personal items such as activity books, book, headsets, stuffed animals and pillows, items that make the kids feel safe and happy. I packed the items with each kid so they knew what was in there. This made everyone feel like they were in charge and responsible.
Finally caught up with them at the lift!
Tip #3: Wear comfortable clothing — with plenty of pockets
This seems like a silly tip, I know, but with so many other things to carry and think about, keeping passports and boarding passes on me when we were walking through immigration ensures that I won’t be fumbling desperately through my bag for them when needed. I could also keep Otis’ pacifier on me or any other random stuff kids wanted to get rid of.
Tip #4: Ask and you shall receive help
I’m mostly a do-it-yourself kind of girl. I don’t like to rely on anyone for help because you can never count on receiving assistance when you need it the most. However, I decided before this trip that I will be open to any help I can get. Flight attendants can be incredibly helpful to parents travelling solo, so do inform the airline ahead of time what your needs are. In my case, it was arranging for the kids to be served their food and have it cleared away before having mine. Otis loves exploring trays of airline food and can make quite a mess.
Arrange for your meals to be served separately.
Tip #5: Preempt your kids so they know what to expect
Kids are very smart and intuitive, even though they are young. I like to help them prepare for trips in advance by chatting with them about what may happen and what is expected from them. In this case, I’ll be travelling alone without their Dad so I hoped they could try to be nice to each other and help me in as many ways as they could. They came up with this list - no arguing with each other, listening to me, trying to help their brother or sister, and waiting their turn when I am busy. Clever monkeys!
Zooming off into the airport with their stuff.
Tip #6: Knowing that this too shall pass
Traveling solo with children is not easy regardless of whether you have one child or five, because you are the only parent they rely on. Just know that regardless of how arduous the journey may be, the ‘ordeal’ will end and you can look back on the trip have a laugh about it. In our case, it was getting stuck in the airport as we did transiting in Hong Kong and being glad we were prepared for the journey.
Camping out in the lounge during the airport shutdown.
Honestly, as a first-timer flying solo with kids, getting stuck in Hong Kong airport during the shutdown was quite the experience. I wasn’t paying attention to any signs or announcements, just herding everyone and our things towards the meeting point where ground staff were going to bring me to the gate. When all the shops started closing, I began to wonder what was going on and found out from the information screen that all flights were cancelled.
With two toddlers on BedBoxes racing ahead of me and one 21month old with a dirty nappy, I made my way over to the service desk. Long story (and an even longer queue with tears and melt down) short, they kindly granted me lounge access where I could wait out the protests there.
At that point, I didn’t have enough nappies, milk or food with me and didn’t know how long this was going to take. Luckily, eight hours after getting to the lounge, our flight got rebooked for the next day and we could leave the airport to try and find our own accommodation.
Deciding that I couldn’t face immigration, baggage claim, protesters and taxis in a foreign city on my own, I made the most out of this with BedBoxes and had them set up in the lounge for the kids to settle in for the night. We made the best of the situation by turning it into an exciting sleepover and picnics at the airport, which they were all excited about.
I want to wholeheartedly thank everyone we met during this ordeal. Those who offered support with a smile, a kind look, carrying my bag on board, offering to watch the kids so I could shower, even an online parenting group who were simply amazing and opened their homes in Hong Kong for a playdate or swim. Someone’s daughter was also stuck at the airport and wanted to help me with watching the kids. I couldn’t have made it without them and I’ll be sure to pay it forward.
But man, after what ended up being 72h without sleep for me, I had the best glass of red wine and slept incredibly well when we finally got home!
Whoa, talk about SuperMum! If you’ve braved the skies with kids on your own, how did you survive? Please share your tips!