Surviving Solo Travel With A 'Lap Child' (It Can Be Done)

by Erin Washington
Originally Published: 
A mother posing with her toddler girl in an airplane
Erin Washington

The next time the airport check-in kiosk asks, “Will you be traveling with an infant on your lap today?” I hope that for your physical and mental well-being, the answer is no.

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Disclaimer: This only applies to you if traveling alone with an infant. If there is any opportunity for you to bring a spouse, significant other, or someone you meet in the Uber, you should definitely do so.

If you’re on your own, though, it will be okay. I can help you.

If a direct flight exists, it is worth every penny to book it. Flying direct means no accounting for stroller slackers (also known as gate agents) or delays at your connecting city. Just book direct. You will never regret that decision.

If you’re not flying direct, you have a decision to make. Do you 1) wear your baby in a carrier, or 2) push them in a stroller? Honestly, there are drawbacks to both options.

Choosing option 1 means that, at some point, the small human attached to your body will be staring you directly in the eye as you pee. However, you will glide through the airport, not relying on concealed elevators to make it to your gate.

If you have a connection, option 2 is not your friend. I have missed connecting flights because I was waiting on the jet bridge for my daughter’s stroller to be brought to me. The gate agents take their sweet-ass time, and not only are you late arriving to your connecting city (because you will arrive late every time you travel alone with your kid), odds are that someone in your party of two needs to use the restroom (or couldn’t wait long enough) too.

Bringing the stroller will allow no time for a bathroom break, and trust me, you want to use an airport changing table instead of an airplane lavatory. My daughter is 17 months. She stopped fitting on the lavatory changing table at 3 months. There’s also the aforementioned elevator situation. If you’re wielding a stroller, you will walk half a mile down the hall to go up one floor to the restroom.

It’s basically a crapshoot either way, so just pick your poison.

Pro Tip: You can bring your stroller through security, to your gate, and then check it to your destination. Yep, you read that correctly. Even if you have a connection, you can check your stroller to the final destination! Do this. A friendly gate agent disclosed this option to me when I was four flights into the nightmare that is traveling alone with an infant.

Okay, time to board. Do not board when the gate agent calls for families traveling with children under the age of 5. The gate agent will try desperately to get your attention, but you are not to make eye contact with them. Why in god’s name would you want to sit on the plane with a toddler longer than necessary? We will be boarding dead last, thank you very much.

Disclaimer: If you have a carry-on bag to put in the overhead compartment, this could present a problem if you’re boarding last. Don’t bring one. Just check that shit to your final destination so you only have to carry the precious cargo that is drooling Goldfish crackers down your chest.

Pro Tip: Do not sit in the first row! The flight attendant will take your diaper bag, and you will be forced to exist on whatever you are holding at the time that your bag is confiscated. There is no way to know ahead of time exactly what items will be required during your journey. I thought I was prepared holding snacks, a tablet with headphones, and my daughter’s water cup, but then she sneezed — big. Just don’t sit in row 1.

Once you’ve boarded, find a buddy. Make eye contact. Smile at them. This person will be caring for your child at some point during the flight, so choose wisely. I tend to gravitate toward women over 40 or teenage girls (yet I am seated next to a middle-aged man in a suit every time. Every. Time). At some point on the flight, you will have to pee. Just smile at your buddy.

Now that you’re on the plane, sanitizing wipes are your best friend. I disinfect the seat, trays, window, and passengers in close proximity as soon as I board. Just know that your kid is going to touch everything, and pre-sanitization is your only defense against their curiosity.

Full disclosure: This backfired on me during my first solo flight with my daughter. After witnessing my precise disinfecting of our surrounding area, she picked up a cocktail napkin and started cleaning like Mommy. She’s so cute. You know what she did next? She balled up her infected little napkin and stuck it directly into her mouth. I passed away for a second and was brought back to life when the flight attendant asked if she could get me a drink. She sure could. She could get me a big glass of wine.

Erin Washington

Bring distractions. I’m always armed with a travel cup full of Goldfish. Even if my kid is mid-meltdown, she spots those fishies, and all is well in her world. If you have an iPad or tablet, make damn sure that it is fully charged and that you have downloaded the latest version of the app of your airline of choice. You can’t download it once you’re on the plane, so plan ahead. Best-case scenario, you can show your kid a movie on the airline’s app, but undoubtedly, the Wi-Fi will fail you and the app will not be functional.

When the Wi-Fi goes down, Snapchat is your new best friend. You won’t be able to actually send snaps, but your kid will be entertained just seeing themselves with all of the different filters. No Wi-Fi required. You’re welcome.

At some point, the flight attendant will announce what you’ve been wishing for her to announce since you boarded this plane: “We’ve begun our final descent.” Now your child will fall asleep.

Erin Washington

So you’re off the plane and navigating the airport with a sleeping baby. Sounds ideal, but it isn’t. After you’ve sat with a child on your bladder for hours, you’re gonna need to pee. You’ll stroll your innocent sleeping angel into the stall with you and quickly learn that the thundering force of the toilet flush measures somewhere on the Richter scale. Guess who’s awake now? Just keep that stroller moving — until you can’t, because elevators.

If you thought the plane was a hot box, I welcome you to the sweltering inferno that is an airport elevator. And there are nine of them. You probably think I’m taking some creative license here, but I’m not. Nine. If you’re pushing a stroller through a major airport, you’re taking nine elevators to baggage claim.

As you depart that final elevator and head toward the beacon of light that is baggage claim, remember that it won’t be like this forever. One day, these roles will reverse, and this tiny terror that you’re pushing through the airport will be pushing you.

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