Flying alone with two toddlers can be scary, and managing everything on travel day can seem impossible. I’ve learned from experience that with the right preparation — and realistic expectations — flying by myself with our one-year-old and three-year-old can be a fun day for all of us.
Besides coming to the airport with a little extra patience (one time it took us so long to walk to baggage claim that our suitcase was moved to unclaimed luggage!), here are my top 20 tips for surviving and thriving your solo flight with two toddlers:
Flying Alone with Two Toddlers: Planning and Packing
1. Pack lightly for your trip.
Packing lightly is not something that comes naturally to me. I’ve been known to fly with an entire suitcase of toys cross-country, load our truck bed with our large Fisher-Price Piano for road trips, and fill our massive L. L. Bean roller duffle to the brim for short weekend adventures.
Flying alone with two toddlers is a different story. Even if I check a bag, there are times when I need to manage both kids and all the luggage myself, so packing light is essential. When I can, I try to have disposable goods like diapers and wipes delivered to our destination to help save space.
2. Time your flight for sleep… Or not.
Whenever we travel with our kids, we find it ideal for them to sleep for as much of the trip as possible. If we’re driving, we always leave at bedtime or at 4:00 AM so the kids can go back to sleep in the car.
The last time I flew alone with our two toddlers, we planned the flight around their afternoon nap time so they would both doze off on the plane. Of course, my plan backfired. No one slept on the plane, and our daughter (who is still under 18 months old) lost it from overtiredness before the end of the flight. In the end, she was a happy camper once we deplaned, and she caught up on sleep later in the day.
3. Organize your bags for in-flight access.
I’ve learned from experience to plan which bags I’ll have at our feet, so that I’m not leaving our two toddlers in their seats while I rummage in the overhead compartment for the emergency snack stash. Even if you plan to carry everything on with you, there’s a chance that the overhead bins on your plane will fill up. In that case, you’ll need to gate-check any bags you planned to stow in the overhead, leaving you without access to them during the flight.
4. Get creative with compact airplane toys and activities.
When we travel with our kids and extended family, I’m all for carrying on as many toys as possible. I’ll even distribute a few books and activities to aunts, uncles, and grandparents to share the load and reduce the weight in our diaper bag.
If it’s just me traveling with the two littles, I significantly reduce the amount of toys I bring on the plane. I avoid heavy books, toys with small parts, and anything that might roll away, like crayons or stacking cups. Instead, I might bring an LCD writing tablet and a few fidget toys like bubble poppers or suction spinners for the window.
The last time I flew with our two toddlers by myself, the only toy I brought was a roll of blue painter’s tape to save space. The kids loved tearing the pieces off and using them to decorate the seat back in front of them, my water bottle, and each other.
5. Invest in a compact travel stroller.
Bringing a stroller helps reduce the number of bags I need to carry, and it keeps our younger daughter secure while we walk through the terminal. Although many airlines require parents to check full-size strollers at the ticketing desk, most airport staff allow travel strollers to be pushed right up to the gate.
Our UPPAbaby Minu stroller (pictured above with an extremely tired toddler after landing) is easy to fold into thirds and bring onto the plane or gate-check. If you’re set on bringing your travel stroller on board, see our list of lightweight strollers that fit in the airplane overhead bin.
6. Use a standing ride-along board.
Clipping our Lascal BuggyBoard Mini onto the travel stroller gives our older son a place to stand and rest when he’s tired of walking. This is especially helpful when my husband isn’t with us to carry him around.
When we aren’t using it, I can easily slide the ride-along board into the under-seat stroller basket. For boarding, I fold the BuggyBoard inside our Minu stroller and use a bungee cord to secure it in place.
7. Use a baby carrier (yes, even for toddlers).
For our firstborn, I only used our soft baby carrier until he was a little under one year old. Now that I’m managing two toddlers, I often find myself relying on the carrier to hold our younger daughter — who’s almost one-and-a-half — while keeping my hands free.
8. Bring the good snacks.
Snacks are one of the best tools for keeping toddlers happy. To make snacks more effective for managing the plane ride, I try not to let our kids fill up too much before the flight.
On our most recent flight, I brought Cheez-It crackers and alphabet cookies to keep the kids content. As a medical professional and a mom who generally feeds our children a nutritious and well-rounded diet, I realize these are not the healthiest choices, but flying alone with two toddlers is the time to pull out all the stops.
9. Pack a kid-friendly water bottle.
I’ve learned from experience that when the beverage cart comes by on the plane, the kids always want something to drink. You can expect that the plane won’t be equipped with kids’ cups, so be sure to bring a bottle or straw cup to pour your water into for the flight.
10. Choose a travel-friendly diaper bag.
All diaper bags are not created equal. Look for a large model with lots of pockets, so there’s a designated spot for every item. The last thing you need is to spend time digging through your bag for that emergency pacifier with no way to find it.
Our Dagne Dover Diaper Tote has a luggage sleeve that makes strolling through the airport much easier. For more great diaper bags, check out our guides on The Best Diaper Bags for Two Kids and the The Best Diaper Bags for Travel.
11. Talk to your toddlers about what to expect.
Don’t underestimate your son or daughter’s ability to mentally prepare for travel day. Although explaining to an 18-month old that you need them to walk through security and sit quietly on the plane may not be effective, older toddlers might appreciate a heads up about what to expect. You might even find that they’re better equipped to listen and stay close to you if you explain the importance of sticking together.
Flying Alone with Two Toddlers: Managing Travel Day
12. Wear comfortable clothing with pockets.
You never know who’s going to be napping (or climbing!) on you for the flight, so it’s best to avoid harsh zippers or buckles that might be uncomfortable for little faces to rest on.
I also learned the last time I flew with our toddlers how important it is to have pockets. Because I wore a sweatshirt and leggings with no pockets, I didn’t have a good spot to stash the luggage stub for our bag that was checked at the gate. I lost the stub almost immediately, making it much more difficult to locate our suitcase when I couldn’t find it at baggage claim later on. Learn from my mistake and always wear clothing with pockets!
13. Have someone drive you to the airport if possible (and pick you up, too!).
Flying alone with two toddlers will be significantly easier if you can have someone drive you to the airport, especially if they can park and help you get your luggage (and children) to check-in. Although it’s not always possible, I’ve also found it helpful to have a family member pick us up at our destination and assist at baggage claim.
14. Be realistic about what you can carry, and check what you need to.
If I’m traveling on my own with our children, it’s often worth it to check a bag so that I’m not hauling too much luggage through the airport while trying to keep the kids contained. Although many parents prefer to carry car seats onto the plane and use them in flight, we’ve found that it works well for our family to check them or rent car seats at our destination. This allows me to avoid buying a separate airplane seat for our daughter (until she turns two) and reduces what I need to lug through the airport.
15. Give yourself extra time at the airport.
Unexpected obstacles (diaper blowout, anyone?) are even more difficult to manage on your own with two little ones, so give yourself extra time to deal with them. On our most recent flight together, the airline originally had my son and I sitting a few rows apart from each other. I was thankful to have spare time at the gate to change our seats before boarding.
16. Let older toddlers help if they want to.
Whenever we’re at the airport, our three-year-old always wants to help check in at the kiosk, carry a bag, or push the stroller. Although it requires some serious patience (and extra time), I try to let him help as much as possible so that he can enjoy the day and feel independent rather than becoming frustrated.
17. Plan to have your kids burn some energy at the gate.
When we arrive at the gate, I like to get our daughter out of the stroller or carrier and let her walk around with her brother for a while. That way they aren’t both itching to run around the airplane aisles as soon as we board. Some airports even have an airplane-themed indoor playground in the terminal.
18. Change diapers just before boarding.
When it’s just me and the two kids flying together, I try to take advantage of the spacious airport restrooms, so I can roll the stroller right into the bathroom stall. Although it isn’t always possible, the goal is to avoid dealing with an in-flight diaper change in those tight airplane lavatories with two children.
19. Board early enough that there’s still overhead space.
I made this mistake the last time I flew alone with our two toddlers. I was trying to avoid having them on the plane any longer than they needed to be, so I decided to wait at the gate and let others board first, even though the airline staff offered us early boarding. By the time we got on the plane, the overhead bins were full. We had to check both our small roller bag and our stroller instead of carrying them on, making things more difficult at our destination.
20. Save the screen time for when you need it.
Although there are plenty of activities that are healthier for kids to engage in than screen time, an iPad with a few movies downloaded onto it is a magical tool for long flights. Instead of letting our kids use the screen while we’re in the airport or at the beginning of the flight, I try to wait until we’re farther into our journey. If they’ve already been using it all day, the iPad won’t be as effective for keeping them engaged.
The Upshot on Flying Alone with Two Toddlers
I hope this guide gives you reassurance that flying alone with two toddlers is possible, and it can be an exciting experience for your little ones. Above all, give yourself grace, and realize that your travel day probably won’t go perfectly, no matter how much planning and preparation are involved. Although flying alone with little kids can cause some stress and take a lot of work, it’s often worth it to adventure with your family, and it makes for great stories and memories for years to come.
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