Because of my husband’s work schedule, I’ve only ever done solo international flights with little Kaiju. I consider myself somewhat of an expert in this area, and I’ve gathered enough practical tips for flying solo overseas with a toddler.
Just as you might have expected, flying with an infant is, unfortunately, much much easier that when flying with a toddler. Taking a long haul flight with a toddler seems daunting, But, it IS manageable if you plan ahead.
So far, we’ve done the US at 6 months, Brisbane and Gold Coast at 9 months, and the US at 14 and 20 months.
Throw in our trip to Hokkaido at 19 months and all together I’ve flown solo with miss Kaiju 5 times. We just completed trip 6 approaching, and here’s how I did it.
Before You Go — The Basics
Confirm entry & visa requirements and make sure your passports are up to date.
Confirm accommodation as well as transportation to/from the airport to your final destination. Do you need a stroller? A car seat?
Buy tickets as early as possible and call the airlines to confirm your seat, your child’s ticket, and to request a bassinet, if necessary. This time around, my daughter is 2 and requires her own ticket, so I made sure we got pair seats.
Lastly, exchange currency BEFORE you get at the airport, if possible.
What To Pack — Mama’s Carry-On
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I pack EVERYTHING I could possibly ever need in 1 carry on.
Coin purse with charged IC card/coins/emergency cash
Pen for filling out documents
SNACKS & kid drinks
2 sets of spare clothes for her
Underwear & shirts for me
2 packages of wipes
Antibacterial wipes & gel
Oral care set
Makeup set (nothing too fancy: mascara, eyebrow pencil, BB cream, lip tint, blush)
Slippers & socks
Charger & battery pack
Plastic bags for trash
Diaper changing pad
Honestly, I pack nearly a whole pack of diapers. Yes, I can buy diapers at home, but I’m was so paranoid about flight delays and layovers! Seriously, where would I go to buy diapers in Washington DC? I also once spent half a day looking for diapers in Gold Coast which further fueled my paranoia.
FWIW, I use a Garden Party as my travel bag because it’s sturdy AF. The only downside is that it’s also heavy AF!
What to Pack — Kid’s Carry-On
You might have seen that little Kaiju carries a backpack on our days out and recently got a new Shinkansen one from Magaseek Kids.
These are its contents for our most recent Japan-US trip:
Books (about vehicles of course)
Flashcard sets (ABCs, colors, shapes, numbers)
Crayons and coloring pencils
Pen (so she doesn’t need to use mine)
What To Pack — Suitcase
My main concern is keeping little Kaiju satisfied with food that she likes. For international travels, especially extended stays in the US, I bring her favorite foods.
I actually don’t pack much when it comes to clothing, especially when I’m headed to see family in the US. (We’ve got a room & closet full off stuff at my mom’s house, after all.)
When heading home, I pack (edible) souvenirs, a few pairs of underwear & wireless bras/tanks, jeans for myself along with onesies for my girl. That’s it.
When traveling for fun, I live in Uniqlo pleated skirts and boatneck tees. They’re compact and dry easily in case I need to wash them at the hotel. I also have a huge stock of Heattech items that I bring when traveling during the colder months of the year. I pack jeggins for Little Kaiju and plenty of shirts so she’ll have spare clothing on hand.
At The Airport
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Get to the airport at least 3-4 hours early to settle down, change diapers, eat, wind down & check in.
When checking in, confirm seats/bassinets & connecting flights. I like to check one more time before boarding.
Take advantage of the observation decks for fresh air and to give little legs plenty of running space.
Use the nursing rooms and play areas but keep in mind that they might not be near your gate when it’s time to board. So, having an entertainment/toy bag & tablet helps with impromptu playtime.
Use a credit card lounge or get a lounge day pass at your connecting airport if you have a long(ish) layover. There’s complimentary food and drinks, so the 40-50 dollars is worth it (to me) compared to airport dining options. Plus, the toilets are nicer!
On The Airplane
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NOTE: Traveling in the winter or to/from colder climates is a whole ‘nother challenge, mainly because you have to bring bulky garments on top of everything else.
It’s super important to dress in layers. If you have access to Uniqlo Heattech clothing, wear it for your thermal layer as it’s lightweight and helps retain body heat!
Bring a large tote bag to store sweaters, coats, and boots together in the overhead compartments.
Having a bulkhead seat means you don’t have access to storage space underneath a seat. You will have to store everything in an overhead compartment. Think about what needs to be in your immediate reach RIGHT NOW up until the seatbelt sign is turned off. I do this by judging my daughter’s temperament then put things in the wall pocket or on my lap (drinks, snacks, a toy or tablet).
Spare clothes, diapers etc can stay in the overhead compartment until needed.
Fill out arrival documents while you wait for the plane to take off. Give an extra set to your child so you can write in peace.
Don’t be afraid to ask cabin attendants for help if need extra hands/a break. My daughter HATES the sound of the toilet flushing so she stands outside with an attendant until I finish.
Don’t wait until the day of your trip to break in a new bag. Get comfortable with storing your things in it. I’m pretty sure that’s how I lost our passports in January.
Screen time only helps if there’s stuff to watch. Download apps and programs to keep your toddler entertained.
If bringing toys, stick with inexpensive “Happy Meal” toys that can be replaced easily.
Try to keep to your regular eating and nap schedule while being prepared to improvise.
Give choices (eg “Tablet or coloring?” “Shoes on or shoes off?” “Walk or carry?”) and lots of praise.
Lastly, you are traveling with a toddler. It’s going to be hard, but it’s not impossible. Meltdowns and tantrums can happen. It will be awful and embarrassing but it’s OKAY.
How do you manage solo travel with tots?