How to Travel Alone with a Toddler Without Losing Your Mind

Well I did it again. Traveling solo with my baby for the third trip. She has now been on 13 airplanes already. 13!

The first time was when she was 4 months old. I wrote an article here on that with lots of tips on traveling with an infant around that age, and also how to do it alone and internationally as well.

The second trip was when she was 11 months old, once again I wrote an article on that time too – with completely different tips as in a matter of 7 months, things were so different. That article can be found here.

Now this time, Ava is 14 months old. Once again, COMPLETELY different from just a few months ago. Wow. So of course I wrote another article with tips for this age which can be found here.

For anyone interested, here is a little recap of our trip. We started our day at 5am (well Steve and I did anyway). I let Ava sleep until the last possible second so once we had everything loaded into the car, I went in and woke her up. I quickly got her dressed and we gave her some milk, then we rushed out to the car. Our flight didn’t actually leave until 9:47am but Steve had a feeling we would get stuck in traffic with all the road work they are doing near us. He was right. The normal one hour drive to the airport took us almost 2 hours. We got there at 8am. The amount of stuff I had was crazy and I packed light too. Yes I really did! The only shoes I brought were the ones I was wearing. I don’t think I’ve ever only brought one pair of shoes anywhere before. I had planned ahead though and purposely left a pair of running shoes at my parents the last time we were there. Anyway, I had my big suitcase, the stroller, Ava’s carseat in it’s box (this was a new one that I got with the intention of leaving at my parents so we can use it on our future visits), my backpack, my big purse, and the Ergo carrier which I had Ava in and she was strapped to my front. A lot of stuff. We said goodbye to Steve and headed in to check in. Of course there was an issue with my ticket. The agent spent about 30 minutes on the phone trying to sort it out, but basically when I called the airline a couple weeks ago to add Ava onto my ticket, something happened. She was showing up on the computer but they didn’t print her a ticket like they were supposed to. And it took 30 minutes to sort this out. As I’m standing there with a hungry baby who was getting more and more impatient.

Finally we had boarding passes and were on our way to security. There was a huge line for that but Ava managed to hold it together and she amused herself by smiling and waving at everyone around us. After like a mile of walking to our gate (don’t you just love O’Hare?) we finally arrived and I asked at the gate if they had any empty seats on the flight (I’ve been lucky before and gotten an entire row to myself and one time we had an empty seat beside us). No such luck this time. The flight is full. Darn. We went to one of the nearby food kiosks “Cafe Brioche” and I doubt I’ll ever go back. The service was awful. I asked for one of the chicken sandwiches that had slices of cheese and real grilled chicken. I specifically asked for it not to be grilled. I went up to pay and I looked back and saw the lady putting it in the grill thing. I told the cashier I asked her not to grill it so she shouts down to the lady. So then I see the other lady grumbling and grabbing another but it took her FOREVER to get it wrapped up, then she just tossed it in a bag and left it behind the counter. I was standing there waiting but other people were now being helped. Finally she brought it up to the counter. So we rush back to the gate as I needed to transfer some of the snacks and toys I brought for Ava from the backpack into my big purse. I planned to have the purse under the seat in front of us and the backpack up in the overhead bin. But as we neared the gate I could see everyone lined up to board the plane already. Crap!!! I get in line and quickly throw some stuff from the backpack into the purse but I didn’t get everything I wanted to put in there. Ava was still strapped to me in her Ergo carrier and I was hoping to let her run around to burn off some energy before the flight. Nope not going to happen. I could feel my anxiety level rising by the second.

We get down to the door of the plane and I folded the stroller and handed it off to one of the crew waiting there and as I’m about to board the plane they make an announcement that everyone now has to gate check all their carry ons as the overhead bins are all full. I pretended I didn’t hear that as I had my laptop in my backpack and there was no way I was gate checking that. We proceeded to our seat, which was the very last seat on the plane, last row, aisle seat. As horrible as I thought it would be (these seats don’t recline, so if the person in front of you reclines, you are literally pinned into your seat. It’s happened to me before) it actually turned out for the best I think. I took Ava out of the ergo and sat her in my seat and I struggled to get my laptop out of the backpack, then I gave my backpack to the flight attendant (to have it gate checked) who was at the back of the plane. He managed to fit it under my seat which was great! I also stuck the ergo under there but it kept falling out throughout the flight so the man in the seat across the aisle from me put it under his seat. I had to put my laptop in my purse with the snacks and a couple of the toys I brought for Ava and that all got stuffed under the seat in front of us.

I was quite happy to see that we each had our own little TV, however it was $7.99 for the Direct TV but you got lots of movies and all kinds of channels. Ava doesn’t watch tv but I thought maybe she would since it was right there if I put some cartoons on for her. I swiped my card and found a Care Bears episode. She watched it for about a minute. Great. Onto something else now. I brought out the sandwich for her and she loved the cheese, and ate a bit of the chicken. She nibbled on the bun for a couple minutes then started throwing pieces of bread so that was done. Next I brought out some flashcards which she really loved. That took a few minutes then she wanted more food. I gave her one of those yogurt smoothie pouches and a cereal bar. I felt like we had gone through so many things already and it seemed like forever had passed, and….. we hadn’t even gotten to the runway yet. ugh

Hanging out in the back galley

Hanging out in the back galley

So the rest of our 4+ hour flight from Chicago to Vancouver consisted of us getting up many times to walk to the back galley of the plane, which thankfully was right there by our seat. We spent a lot of time standing back there or in the hall between the bathrooms, also right there. And sometimes Ava would just stand in the aisle beside my seat. The people all around us were really nice and they would wave back at her and talk to her, and the couple sitting in my row tried to play with her throughout the flight. At the end of the flight while we were all getting ready to leave the plane they all told me how good she was, what a great baby I had, all that nice stuff. She was really good, she never screamed or anything. But I was exhausted. She was constantly on the go the entire time, and she did not want to sit still much, if at all. There were many times she was having little tantrums, with the back arches, legs and arms flailing and planking. I felt like I was apologizing the entire flight. She kept kicking the seat in front of us, even though I tried to hold her feet back. She would throw things into the aisle constantly and even though I tried to pick it up super fast, the man sitting across the aisle beat me to it almost every time! Then when I gave her stickers to play with (this was a big hit – kept her busy for like 20 minutes which was awesome!) I stuck them to her legs and arms and she had a blast unsticking them. This was great until she starting sticking them all over the lady sitting next to us. Luckily she didn’t mind at all, however I put the stickers away after that. The baby goldfish crackers were also a hit with Ava, until she started throwing them and hitting other passengers. *sigh* But we made it safely to Vancouver, yay! One flight down, one to go, and just a short one left.

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Sticker fun!

We then had to pick up our luggage and haul it through customs and to the connecting flight area. That was fun. I had my huge suitcase, the stroller and our carseat which was in its original box. I managed to balance the box on the stroller and push it that way while pulling the suitcase. Then through another security and a long walk to our gate. This time I stopped at Starbucks as I was so tired and needed a perk. I put it in the cup holder on the stroller but we hit a bump coming out of the elevator and I spilled it all over. Good thing I had all those baby wipes with me. Got it all cleaned up, and away we went, but when I looked down again, it had spilled all over again. AAAAUUUHHHH

We got to our gate, so I let Ava walk around while we waited to board (which was less than 10 min) and then she screamed bloody murder when I put her back in the Ergo. As we’re standing in line and I’m trying to quiet her down, I tried my best trick – an animal cracker. She took it and stopped crying but ate it quickly and started gagging and coughing. So I now have mushed animal cracker all over my shirt and she’s screaming again. As I’m trying to hand the agent our passports. Ugh. Everyone standing around me is looking REALLY worried right now that we are getting on the same flight as them.
That one was a really small plane too as the flight itself is only 13 minutes. Thank God for that. We had a window seat this time so I had to cram my backpack under the seat as it was too big for the tiny overhead bin. Another passenger helped me put my purse in the bin. We were sitting next to this really nice older english lady who reminded me of my late grandma. We talked the whole time and Ava was very happy (despite being tired since she had now been awake for almost 10 hours). She looked out the window and stood up on my lap and waved at everyone on the plane. A lot of them waved back at her, probably they were just relieved she was happy now and not screaming like she was at the gate!
So we made it to beautiful Victoria BC safe and sound! My parents were waiting to pick us up and we were very very happy to be there. Ava was up straight for about 17 hours that day, the poor kid was so overtired that night. She slept great though and woke up at her regular time (7am Chicago time, so 5am in Victoria) and was bright and cheery.
I will do a recap of our trip in Victoria in a separate post. I’ll keep this one strictly about the air travel drama.
Now onto the trip back:
Our first flight left at 5:25am so I was up at 3 and had to get Ava up at 3:45. She remained asleep until I had changed her out of her pjs, into a clean diaper and into her clothes for the day. That’s never happened, but then I don’t normally wake her at 3:45am….. Our first flight was short and went great, she sat on my lap the whole time willingly (it was only 20 minutes). Then we had a 2 hour layover until our next flight and of course she fell asleep the moment I put her in the stroller. She slept through customs and then onto security. They gave me a choice and said I could either take her out and carry her through or I could push the stroller through and they would pat her down. I think they were all surprised because I chose the pat down. But I know my kid and she was much more likely to sleep through that. The lady was very gentle with her and she slept right through! Then when I clipped her soother back onto her collar, I must have accidentally pulled her hair and she woke up! Ugh
A museum? Nope we are indeed at the airport. They had many of these cases around filled with all the main Disney characters.

A museum? Nope we are indeed at the airport. They had many of these cases around filled with all the main Disney characters.

Burning off some energy

Burning off some energy

I let her run around before our flight as much as possible and they had a play area for kids so she went down the slide a lot. (Her new favorite thing). My plan was to wear her out as much as possible so that maybe, hopefully, she might fall asleep on the flight. Ah, I could just imagine that delightful scenario. This plane was not as new or nice as the one we had coming here. It was fine, but there was quite a bit more room on the other one. This one was also packed and we had an aisle seat in row 10 so near the front this time. I actually preferred having the seat right in the back of the plane as we were so close to the bathrooms and the back galley. We were able to get up and move around much easier in that plane and that seating arrangement. Being near the front, it seemed the drink cart was always nearby, blocking us from getting to the back of the plane.
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 Ava actually slept for about 30 minutes and was quiet and sat on my lap for another 30 minutes. (Totally amazing!). The rest if the time (3 hours) she was up and down constantly but she never tried to run off. She was happy to stand in the aisle and even sat right at my feet playing with her flash cards. She almost got run over by the drink cart as they came so quick I didn’t notice and they didn’t see her. I grabbed her just in time but the flight attendant literally backed right into her. She felt so bad!!! And so did I.
Surprisingly I managed to watch about 45 minutes of the feature movie. Now, not all those minutes were consecutive so I really couldn’t tell you what the movie was about. All I know is that Steve Carrell was in it, oh and that lady from the new show “Mom”, and there was a waterpark in it. That’s it. I don’t even remember the name of the movie.
 Ava had several small tantrums which is a daily occurrence now when I don’t let her do something or have something that she wants. But what really sucked was when I had a major coughing spell and couldn’t stop. I hurried back to the bathrooms but there were like 7 people in line. Ava was crying and I was coughing up a lung standing in line. It was awful. I had been really sick the last few days and even coughed until I threw up. By the time we got to the bathroom, I had stopped coughing, of course. I think everyone in the entire plane hated me by then :( But overall the flight was ok. We were exhausted though for the rest of the day. Ava was so happy to see Steve when he picked us up. I think she had had enough of me as from that moment on she only wanted him the rest of the day/ night.