Traveling On Your Own...With Kids
Traveling with kids is great. Traveling alone with kids is also great, just different.
While we were in the process of applying for our Estonian visa we found ourselves needing to buy some extra time in the Schengen Area while things were being processed. Turns out that Johnny needed to be in the US for a few weeks anyway to speak at a business conference but the prospect of flying ten hours each direction with two toddlers (and at 32 weeks pregnant) then dealing with massive jet lag twice in those toddlers just did seem like the ideal situation. So we decided that I would take the girls to on a (much shorter) flight to Kiev, Ukraine while Johnny headed to Austin, Texas.
In theory I liked the idea of taking the girls on a little trip while he was out of town but I was thinking more along the lines of a day trip to Helsinki, not two weeks in Kiev. It probably didn't help that I was sick and felt awful when we decided to go for it and we'd need to leave in just three days so that may have contributed to my doubts about it being a good idea. Luckily, by the time we left I was feeling much better and was excited for our time away.
This was my first foray into traveling with the kids by myself and I thought I'd go ahead and share a few things I learned along the way.
By the way, props to you single mamas, military moms and anyone else who regularly travels alone with your kids. It's a lot of work and takes a bit more planning but in the end I think its totally worth it.
At The Airport
1. Check as much stuff as possible
Usually we travel carry on only and gate check our giant double stroller. But knowing that I'd be going through security and trying to herd everyone onto the plane by myself I opted to take advantage of the free checked bags that came with our tickets and checked both our suitcase and our stroller right off the bat. I think that even if our tickets didn't include a bag I probably would've paid a touch more for the convenience it offered to have both hands free.
2. Allow plenty of time
The airport in Tallinn is pretty small and usually doesn't take much time to get through but I made sure to still arrive a couple hours early just in case and because I knew we'd need to go through passport control on top of security. Speaking of time, I also specifically booked our flight early in the day so the kids would still be fresh and happy (the next best option for us would've been a few hours after nap time). I tried to keep their normal sleep schedules in mind so they would be in the best moods possible for our little adventure together.
3. Bring a note of consent
Unfortunately there is something called "parental abduction" that happens fairly regularly so there are a few countries and airlines that will question you if both parents aren't traveling together with the kids. We have personally never experienced this but know a few people who have so we just had Johnny write a simple letter using everyone's full names and stating that he knew and consented to our travel plans, where we were going and which dates we would be there just to be safe. He even filmed a video on my phone signing it since we didn't have a chance to get it notarized.
4. Snacks, So many snacks
Generally when we fly I bring lots of snacks that we don't usually get at home, it works wonders for keeping two very active little girls still and quiet on long flights. Even though it was a short flight, I found that it was still (perhaps even more) handy to have snacks on hand especially when I was alone, needing to stand in line at customs with a little one who hadn't napped on the plane.
1. Eating out might be a bit more difficult
The combination of full days, a couple missed nap times and the fact that I can't read Cyrillic made eating out a bit tricky. I found myself sticking mainly to casual restaurants, places where we could sit outside or eating out at lunch time so everything was just a bit more laid back and the girls could be a bit louder without anyone caring too much.
We purposely booked a place to stay that had a kitchen so that we could get the majority of our food at the grocery store and farmers markets and cook it ourselves. It worked out nicely for us to eat breakfast at the guesthouse, pack lunch and snacks for while we were out and about and then play dinner by ear.
2. You might travel at a slower pace
Traveling with kids tends to be a bit slower anyway but potentially more so if you're by yourself. Everything just tends to take longer if you're doing things by yourself. Its ok. Just prioritize what is important to you and don't stress about seeing everything the city has to offer. For me that means wandering around to see a lot of beautiful buildings and try lots of coffees and ice cream along the way. It also means skipping some larger monuments and museums.
The important thing for me was to choose places that I would enjoy and the girls would have a good time at as well. So if we were going to go see a cathedral I'd prioritize the one with big gardens the girls could run around in over the one with amazing mosaics inside. This way everyone gets to enjoy our time together. Another favorite was a bakery with a big window into the kitchen, the girls got to watch the bakers and I got pastries and a cappuccino - winning all around.
3. Accept offers to help
Traveling alone with two little girls has reminded me how great people can be. People have helped us catch a balloon that was blowing away, held Aurora's hand going down the steps off the airplane, carried our stroller up stair cases for us and held open countless doors so I could drive the stroller through. They were all super kind and eager to help someone who clearly had her hands full. It was so nice to have a break (no matter how tiny) from doing everything myself.
OVERALL...Its Actually Not That Different
I realized that taking the kids around a new place is really not so different from taking care of them at home. Sure, at home it is easier to stay inside and play with their toys but if there's nice weather we are outside playing, exploring or running errands quite a bit anyway. The only real difference other than getting to and from wherever you're visiting is the novelty of being somewhere new and that makes things fun. We still did all of the normal things like getting groceries, taking baths and playing at playgrounds but we had the opportunity to do those things somewhere new so all of those simple things became adventures. On top of that we also got to experience a new culture, try new foods and see a new place. As always the craziest part is trying to find out where everything is and trying to communicate with people who don't speak the same language as you (but to be fair as a new expat those things are pretty normal for us at home too, lol).
It turns out that this whole idea was a lot more difficult in my mind than it was in real life. That's promising news for future solo travel with kids!
An interesting consequence of spending about a year living as digital nomads and staying in a place for a few weeks to a month then moving to the next place is that the kids are still relatively unused to the idea of going home. They just assume that wherever we are is our new home for a while and that we'll be going somewhere new next. But for the first time ever they have asked when we are going back to Estonia because they know that daddy will be there. While I love that they are so comfortable traveling all the time it was really cool to see them developing and idea of "home" too!