Traveling Solo and Outnumbered

Welcome to the July 2014 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Family Vacation

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared their family-travel tips, challenges, and delights. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


As I wrote a few weeks ago, I recently took my kids (ages almost-four and almost-two) on a trip from Virginia to New Hampshire BY MYSELF.

I don’t particularly recommend it, but sometimes, circumstances call for going solo with little ones.

Here are a few things I learned on the way:

  1. Break it up. I was able to plan my travel so that we flew in and out of Boston, and drove from there to New Hampshire and back. By spending the night at my uncle’s house, just outside of Boston, I was able to divide our travel in half each way. This helped us be sane.
  2. There is no winning with the car seats. After hearing so many horror stories of people who reserved a car seat from their car rental company and then arrived to find that the company didn’t have the reserved seats (and after learning that it would have cost me nearly $200 to rent two car seats for a week and a day), I decided to bring mine. Car seats are so heavy. On the way there, having heard of people’s seats getting mangled in with the checked bags, I gate checked them. This meant hauling them through the entire airport. I had a collapsible rolling cart that I bungeed them to, but still…after I checked our bags, I had a stroller + backpack + Ergo + toddler + rolling carseats. Oh, and the TSA, of course, required that I un-bungee them to go through security. On the way back, I curb-checked them, figuring I might as well take my chances with the luggage handlers. It was fine. Whether you decide to gate-check or regular-check them, most airlines will check your car seat and stroller for free, which is very nice.
  3. Stick to your principles. Years ago, before I had my first child, one of my best friends and I made a pact that our children would not have the DVD player in the car–so that, no matter what else happened in the world, our children would always have at least one friend whose parents were as mean as their own. So far, we’re still there. I think that learning to manage boredom is a great skill. I read and wrote and drew and played in the car as a kid, and we all survived. As I was preparing for this trip, I considered revealing to Silas the deep secret that we can watch Netflix and play games on my iPad. I’m glad I didn’t. To each their own, but I think that kids need to have a good understanding of the real, physical world before they start dealing with abstractions on it (which is what a computer basically is). Instead, I packed a LOT of very small toys, some new, some old, that they used to entertain themselves quite nicely. Luckily, they are both very into tiny animal figures right now, and those pack easily. Besides the animals, the two biggest hits were a Melissa & Doug Water Wow Activity Book and 100 Things for Little Children to Do on a Trip Wipe Off Cards. I also packed some play silks, which roll up very small.
  4. But be prepared to compromise. Ask yourself, “Is this my hill to die on?” If not…don’t. Example: We used disposable diapers for Petra on this trip. She’d probably worn about a dozen ‘sposies in her life, previously, but no way was I hauling cloth. The world did not end, although I found them unnerving–I couldn’t tell they were wet until they were seriously wet. P was pleased that they had Elmo on them. When I was packing the car to go home, Silas probably had a whole week’s worth of “watching time.” I usually regulate it pretty tightly, but I needed him to be in one place and not “helping.” It didn’t kill him. We were both happier.
  5. Don’t be afraid to accept help. Dear nice stranger lady who helped me roll my stupid carseat-bungie-contraption to baggage claim: THANK YOU. Dear car rental place employee who drove me from the rental drop off to the curb-side check-in so I wouldn’t have to unpack the car and take the shuttle and get everything off the shuttle and probably have my kids get run over: THANK YOU. Dear Grandma who read to the kids for half an hour so I could take a shower: THANK YOU. When I decided that I wasn’t afraid of looking hopeless and pathetic, life got easier. People were genuinely kind and helpful, and I appreciated it deeply.
  6. Pay the baby. When I was weaning Silas, one piece of advice I read was to make sure that the baby got your deep attention at other (not nursing) times so that their emotional needs were definitely met. This was important on the trip, too. I was careful to not ask too much of them on any one day, to say no to something, even if it would be fun, if I could tell they were near their breaking point, and to do things I might not have been super interested in, just because I knew they would like them.
  7. Let it go. Should I mention that I still haven’t seen Frozen? But this seems to be the advice of the year, so I’ll go with it. Sometimes, you hope you’ll do something on your trip, and you have to realize it is just too much. I wanted to fit in two children’s museums and a hike and possibly a visit to Emily Dickinson’s house. After several days on the road, though, that stuff started falling off of my priorities list. As it was, the kids had plenty to take in by just being in a different place and dealing with an up-ended schedule. We didn’t do lots of things I might have liked, and that’s okay. We had a good time, and we probably wouldn’t have if I had insisted that they sit in the car through another couple of hours of Boston traffic (how do people live there?) to get to the children’s museum.
  8. Laugh at the disasters. You know how people say, “We’ll laugh about this later”? I say, why wait? Having a sense of humor about life seems to be the only decent way to get through it. Case in point: We went to the Public Garden in Boston. It was our first stop after we got off the airplane. The kids love Make Way for Ducklings, and so they were thrilled to ride on the swan boat and see the island where the ducks end up. The last thing we did before heading out to my uncle’s house was find the statue of Mrs. Duck and all of her little ‘Acks. Another family was getting some totes adorbs pictures of their children with the statues. I asked mine to let me take a picture of them. This is the picture I got. You win some, you lose some. The other mom must have thought I was crazy, because I just looked at them and laughed until I cried. And then we got in the air conditioned car and they fell asleep. PS It got better.



Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Favorite Family Vacation Recipe: Staying at Home — The best family vacation Laurie Hollman at Parental Intelligence could ever recommend requires minimal packing, no hotels, unrushed travel, easy meals to everyone’s taste without a bill, no schedules, everyone’s favorite interests, and three generations playing together.
  • Scared of toilets and other travel stories — Tat at Mum in search is an expert at flying with kids. She shares some of her tips and travel stories.
  • Staycation Retreat for Busy MamasLydia’s Handmade Life gives Budget-friendly, eco-friendly staycation ideas for busy work-at-home moms.
  • How We Leave It All Behind — At Life Breath Present, they don’t take traditional vacations — they go on forest adventures. Here are some tips in planning for an adventure, if you don’t just go spontaneously, as they have before. Plus, many pictures of their latest adventure!
  • Traveling while pregnant: When to go & how to manage — Lauren at Hobo Mama discusses the pros and cons of traveling during the different trimesters of pregnancy, and how to make it as comfortable as possible.
  • Our Week in Rome: Inspiration and Craft Ideas for Parents, Teachers, and Caregivers — If anyone in your family is interested in learning about Ancient Rome, if you enjoy crafts, of if you’re a parent looking for a fun staycation idea, check out Erin Yuki’s post for a Roman-themed week of crafts, food, and fun at And Now, for Something Completely Different.
  • The Real Deal: A behind the scenes look at our “Western Adventure” — Often Facebook and blog posts make vacations look “picture perfect” to outsiders. If you only looked at the pictures, Susan’s recent family vacation was no exception. In this post at Together Walking, she takes readers “behind the scenes” so they can see the normal challenges they faced and how they managed to enjoy their vacation in spite of them.
  • Welcome to the Beach House! — Kellie at Our Mindful Life is in love with her family’s new “beach house”!
  • Road Trip to Niagara Falls — Erica at ChildOrganics writes about her first trip out of the country with just her and the kids.
  • 5 Essential Things to Take on Vacation — Five things Nurtured Mamas should be packing in their suitcase for their next trip, in a guest post at Natural Parents Network.
  • The Many Benefits of Camping with Friends — Do you want to go camping, but the very thought of it seems daunting? Make your life easier – and your kids happier – and go camping with friends! Dionna at Code Name: Mama discusses how much better camping can be when you join forces with others.
  • My Natural First Aid Kit for Camping, Travel, and Everyday Use — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama gives us an insiders looks at her natural first aid kit for camping, travel, and everyday use. These natural remedies have saved her hide and those of others many times! You might be surprised what made her list of must-haves!
  • Traveling Solo and Outnumbered — Alisha at Cinnamon and Sassafras shares lessons learned from a recent trip with two toddlers and no co-parent.
  • Compromise and conviction on the road — Jessica of Crunchy-Chewy Mama shares the reality vs. the dream of travel and dishes on the compromises she makes or won’t make while traveling.
  • Camping Trauma — Jorje of Momma Jorje offers why she loves camping and why she and her family are a little gun shy about it, too.
  • First in our Books — Writing fresh from her first family vacation, Laura from Pug in the Kitchen has realized that helping pack her parents’ station wagon made for a smooth and pleasant trip that was more than she hoped for!


Aili Written by:


  1. July 8, 2014

    I LOVE this piece. It’s so honest and funny and wonderful. Thank you for sharing! We are with you on no DVD in the car (I don’t even own an iPad) with kids aged 4 and 8. They did see Frozen in April after we got an invitation to a good friend’s Frozen-themed bday party. Since then, they have watched the “video” at home a handful of times, and ever since we saw the CD in a Starbucks over spring break and I didn’t buy it, my son has wanted to own it. My husband found – and bought it – last Friday at the Ann Arbor Whole Foods of all places. So we listened to it on the way home from Michigan to Virginia, and I have to say, I actually really enjoyed belting out those tunes with my kiddos!

    Thanks again for a wonderful piece!

  2. This is all such spot-on advice. I’ve traveled with the kids solo many times (or with my mom, which is often very similar to going solo through no fault of hers), and we’ve gotten things down pretty much to a science. Keeping them entertained and fed seems to be the highest priorities for me, and being flexible, always!

  3. July 8, 2014

    That is the awesomest picture! I love your perspective on it all. I know in situations like that one, for instance, I often do laugh later but forget to in the moment — but why not let the little stuff go, as you say?

    I’m super impressed you managed this trip by yourself with two kids. I haven’t managed that far a trip solo with kids yet.

    And car seats: Ugh. They are SUCH a hassle. We gate check ours and do the bungee thing, too, and they are so heavy and likely to topple. And of course TSA had to individually swab each and take off the covers. Because…car seats are so suspicious, I guess. Anyway…

    We do ‘sposies for long trips as well, and I also find them unnervingly dry.

  4. July 8, 2014

    That photo at the end had me laughing out loud. I’m in a coffee shop and people are now staring at me. 🙂

    I firmly believe “let it go” is awesome parenting advice for just about any situation, but absolutely when you are traveling. Thank you, I loved this post!

  5. July 9, 2014

    I love this! Shoot, until the last 6 months or so, I refused to leave the house with both kids unless I had another big person to assist! And that’s just in town! Story time was my only exception and probably where I “got the hang of it.”

    I totally agree with laughing because sometimes you have to laugh or cry – better to laugh! (This happens to me most often when my son gets poop everywhere! I laugh hysterically and find it hilarious.)

    You “sound” like quite the wise traveler and this sounds like how I’d like to do things, too! I want to start with taking some day trips around our state to roadside attractions.

  6. July 11, 2014

    […] Traveling Solo and Outnumbered — Alisha at Cinnamon and Sassafras shares lessons learned from a recent trip with two toddlers and no co-parent. […]

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