Sooo, I went for a solo adventure to Italy with Oliver and Emily, and… well, if you’re thinking I’ll brag about my super-mama-ness, you’re wrong! We got to spend a week with family—a luxury these days—and I got to have an adult conversation with one of my dearest friends ever—quite romantic, actually, in my old kitchen at night, just like when we were teenagers—but in retrospect I have to admit it: it was not a clever idea to travel solo with two kids under three, and I’m not going to do it again any time soon.
That said, if you’re planning to travel solo with small kids, take my advice: don’t! Haha, I’m just (half) kidding, and I do have some thoughtful, insightful and smart advice for you, because truth is toddlers are a category of kids of its own.
Here it comes:
- Think about your children. If you know your toddler is a good walker, trust me, get rid of the pram, you’ll be happy you did! In my experience, airport security check is the most challenging part: you’ll be happy you checked in the pram and won’t have to take it apart, fold it, and lift it up while holding your baby and begging your toddler to stay close. You might want to also check in your any hand luggage, and EasyJet now lets you do it for 5€ at the check-in desk.
- Make sure family is available and hands-on. If you’re going to see family, make sure somebody will be able to help you with the kids. Grandparents are great when it comes to feeding your kids and playing some relaxing games in the living room, but I don’t know what I’d have done without auntie Cri‘s help and endless energy.
- Pick a kid-friendly destination. If you’re not visiting family, make sure the city offers LOTS of kids activities, especially in winter. Once again, I was appalled by how little kid-friendly Alba is, and this time it was even more difficult because not only was it cold, it even snowed (which was a nice surprise!): there are no family cafes, no indoors playgrounds, most restaurants don’t even have changing tables. We did find some warm relief in the kid area at the library, where Oliver and Emily went through one book after another for two whole hours!
- Pack very light. I only had one hand luggage between the three of us, and it was plenty. I took two pairs of jeans, one skirt + one pair of tights, three shirts and a sweater for myself, and a bit more for the kids because their clothes are tiny. Lots of leggings and tops—and two prettier outfits—for Emily because she’s the messiest one. Four pairs of pants, four t-shirts and two sweaters for Oliver. Only one pair of shoes for each person, socks and underwear for each day of the week. Voilat!
- No toys, yes food. If the kids are not in a good mood, if they’re too tired or too energetic, if the stars don’t align… no toy on earth will save you. But food, that will buy you some time. So I decided to leave toys behind, and pack my backpack (I love my Golla, it’s so spacious and stylish) with one book for Emily, one sticker book (+ marker that you can erase) for Oliver, iPad with some Curious George episodes, lots of snacks and nappies, aka everything you need on the plane. Snacks: frittata, cashew nuts, rice cakes, mandarins. Lots of water, each one of us had their own bottle (both Oliver’s and Emily’s bottles fit in Oliver’s AffenZahn backpack). With this setup I didn’t need the iPad at all neither on the way there—the kids weren’t tired so I was able to entertain them with books and food for the whole 2.5 hour trip—nor on the way back thanks to a savior guy who played with Oliver.
- Get creative and don’t care about what people think. At Malaga airport, I put Emily and Oliver in two baskets at the airport security check and told Oliver they were boats, so he sang “Row, row you boat” shaking Emily’s boat and keeping her entertained while I was putting things back together. Two old ladies told me they were going to hurt themselves… I smiled at them and kept on packing.
- Don’t be ashamed of asking for or accepting help. This is a golden rule when traveling solo with small kids. On the way back, the guard at the airport security check held Emily while I put things back together; Cesare “the good samaritan” played with Oliver on the plane the whole way back, and he even carried him on his shoulders from the plane to the luggage area! When people offer help—and when you have two small kids, you have no idea how many Cesares you’ll meet—take it!
- Never rush. It’s easy to let yourself feel like you’re in a hurry at the airport, where you have a plane to catch and everyone seems to go faster than you and your gang of tiny people. Don’t. Trying to rush kids always, always, always get the opposite result.
- Never, ever look at other families. I felt like we did extremely well and I was able to keep my cool almost all the time during the actual traveling. There was even a moment on our way back when I felt extremely relaxed, Oliver and Emily were walking around happily and smiling, and I could simply walk after them enjoying our time together. People smiled and probably thought I was a master of solo traveling with kids, but the truth is, that was a tiny moment. Although I was quite good at keeping up a good front and playing perfect mama, there were plenty of other moments when I felt nervous and overwhelmed. Other parents might seem more together and their kids better behaved, but most likely they’re simply having a good moment—or they’re better at pretending than you.
- Breathe. Even if you’re a chill mum and you’ve had plenty of sleep (do those mums actually exist?) traveling solo with small kids is stressful. Every once in a while, remind yourself that it’s normal that your baby doesn’t cooperate (she’s only a baby), that your toddler doesn’t listen to you (he’s only a toddler), and that you feel overwhelmed (you’re only human). Take deep breaths—it will make all the difference.
Last but not least, shower thoroughly before leaving—with the whole steaming-hot water, coconut oil massage, hair repairing cream, or whatever-you-like routine. A word to the wise, it might be the only proper shower you get during the whole trip.
What are your secrets for traveling solo with small kids?