A couple weeks ago I took an 18 hour (round trip) car ride to California and back to see my wonderful Grandma. Three kids and just me.
I have taken multiple car and plane trips by myself with my children, and somehow survived them all. I will be taking another one tomorrow! (50% chance my husband is coming with me). So how do I do it? Here are my quick tips:
WHEN YOU BOOK YOUR FLIGHT:
Book and aisle and a window, don't purchase the middle seat. If there are going to be empty seats on a flight, it will be a middle seat. And chances are if someone IS assigned to the middle seat between you, you can ask the stewardess if there are other seats available for them (sometimes upgrading them to an aisle/window). I've never had anyone mind moving from between two children!
FOR YOUR OWN SANITY:
1. Pack yourself a treat or two (gum, candy bar, etc). I like to reward myself once in awhile. Am I the only one motivated by food?
2. Remember that, even if it's hard, you WILL somehow get from point A to point B. It is possible.
3. Be friendly and apologetic to people nearby. They can watch your bag while you take a kid to the bathroom. As long as they can tell you are doing your best, they will be nice.
4. Get to the airport EARLY. Being in a rush will not help the stress. And if you get there early, and tell the nice check-in lady that you are traveling with young kids, sometimes they will arrange your seats so you can have an empty seat near you. The extra space can save you.
FOR THE SANITY OF THOSE AROUND YOU:
1. Board the airplane early. Get your kids settled without annoying everybody who has to wait for you to arrange your kids before they can pass your row of seats.
2. Tell a stewardess you are traveling with busy little kids. And ask if she'll come by and check on you once in awhile. Or ask if you can take a drink to your seat (to give them sips of something until the plane really gets going). Sometimes flight attendants have brought us snacks, pilot wings, or even extra things leftover from first class. Make sure your kids say thank you!
3. Apologize to the person in front of you, and promise you will try to keep the kids feet from kicking them too much. Tell them you hope your kids will be good, and you know that no one looks forward to sitting by a bunch of young kids. Have your kids draw them a happy picture early on in the flight, maybe nearby strangers will be more friendly to them after recieving a peace offering :)
4. Okay, this is going to sound really shallow, but something about it really works. I try to make my kids as CUTE as they can be. I fix their hair cute, put them in dressy/casual clothes. They get more smiles from strangers, and I swear people are more patient with them. I do NOT know why.
HOW TO PACK A TRAVEL BAG:
1. Don't start packing too early. If I start packing my travel bag more than a day in advance, I have WAY too much time to think about other things to put in it. Then I end of over-packing and carrying around a bunch of junk we never even look at.
2. Don't pack a wide variety of items. If your kids think there are a ton of treats and suprises, they'll go through them fast - anxious to see what's next. If they think there are only a FEW things, they will try to make them last.
3. Snacks that travel well:
*Smucker's frozen PB&J
*dry cereal (like the mini boxes you can get at the store)
*fruit snacks or gummy bears/worms
*Cheese and cracker combo packs
*CAR RIDE ONLY - Go-gurt (I like the Simple Yoplait Go-gurts for my kids)
*I like to get a mini-water color paint set (dollar store often carries these). All you need to bring is the paper and the mini set. They can ask for a cup of water for rinsing and wetting the brush on the plane
*Silly Putty or a small container of play dough. Silly putty is fun because you can pull print and pictures off the airplane magazines with it.
*Old Maid card game
*Tic-Tac-Toe games (mine is magnetic) I'm always suprised how entertaining this is for them
*Dollar Store Jump Rope - it doesn't take up much room, and the girls love getting their wiggles out at the airport between flights.
*Origami (simple designs like cups, frogs, etc). Bring the paper and few printed directions off the internet.
*Small mini-flashlight (I would say for ages 4+, otherwise this could be a really annoying toy!). If you'll be traveling when the airplane is dark, you can do shadow puppets on the seat in front of you.
*Glow Sticks - again, for a dark airplane, can be fun
*A couple deflated balloons. Not great for ON the airplane, but at the airprt you can play a bunch of games with a blown up balloon (basketball through your arms as the hoop, volleyball, don't touch the ground)
*packets of powdered crystal light or kool-aid, to spruce up the water you can get on the airplane.
GETTING THROUGH THE AIRPORT:
1. I have a little trick I like to use for anyone 2 years old and under. I throw on their carseat like a backpack (fully extend the seatbelt and use them as the straps), to get through the airport. If they are in their own car seat, they have a better chance of falling asleep and staying still. You can always check the carseat at the gate if you don't end up finding an empty seat near you. I have sometimes laid a blanket from the back of their carseat to the top of the seat in front of us. This gives your child some private space to calm down and (hopefully) sleep.
*PROS - The kid will be in one place, and won't try to break free. Your car seat won't get germy and disgusting under the airplane.
*CON - it raises your child up higher, and makes it more possible for them to annoy the person in front of them with kicking (the seat gets closer to them the high they are). If you bring on a carseat, you MUST put it by the window (for safe exiting in an emergency), which might be a downer for any older kids who were hoping for a window seat.