If you follow me on Instagram, you might have caught the Instagram story I posted a few weekends ago: my first solo dad flight with my two kids. For background, these lovely children are 4 years old (just turned) and 19 months respectively. Jess attended a conference in Charleston, SC and left the day before. My parents and sister’s family met us in Charleston as well.
Despite my family being there as backup, at many times throughout that weekend I felt like a solo dad with his kids on vacation. Besides the flight, I took the kids to the aquarium by myself, handled bedtime alone in a new environment once or twice, and took my kids to a couple meals. It was tough. I think when the kids are older I’d like to take them on a trip on my own, but at a minimum I think H would need to be 4. The ability to dress yourself cannot be undervalued.
Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to write up a bit of our time together – equal parts fun and stress! 🙂
Choosing a flight – buy an infant seat or no?
I spent quite a bit of time debating whether to buy my son a seat. The benefits were obvious to me – I could bring his car seat on and prevent him from squirming around for at least some of the two hour flight.
Unfortunately, only one Jetblue flight flies directly between Boston and Charleston. Every other carrier and routing requires at least one stop. Doubly unfortunate was the fact that that ticket priced out at about $300 – one way! Flights with a connection ran around $220.
Ultimately, I decided I definitely couldn’t shell out an extra $300 for the seat. I debated between flying a connection with a paid infant seat or direct with an infant in arms, I opted for the latter.
One fun note, I booked the flight using my Jetblue points (came out to around 25,000 points, ugh). After I booked the flight, I ended up applying for the Jetblue Plus card from Barclaycard which offers a 10% rebate on points bookings. After my flight, I got the 10% even though I had booked the flight before I had the card. Good to know.
Surviving the flight
Honestly, I barely remember the flight at this point. We survived. For some reason for the Saturday flight Jetblue flies an Embraer 190. I’m no AvGeek but even I know that’s a small plane. The set up was 2-2 which was perfect: I didn’t have to worry about sharing the row.
Even better, the passenger in front of my daughter was another little kid so I worried less about whether she kicked him by mistake. But my big takeway was that 1 on 2 I didn’t have enough energy to feel bad about disturbing others. My choices were I to spend time and energy apologizing (if necessary) or focusing on fixing problems. I opted for the latter.
I placated the kids with a combination of snacks, tablets, games, and snacks. At some point my son shotgunned a can of Diet Coke. But other than that, the flight felt busy but not as stressful as I had thought. I just had no free time but for a two hour flight that’s totally doable.
The one semi-disaster was my inability to get my son to nap. By the time we were on final approach it was around 1:45 PM. My daughter hadn’t allowed me to go to the galley to rock my son to sleep (which my wife had successfully done twice the week before); she didn’t want me to leave her alone – understandable.
So of course he freaked out as soon as the seatbelt sign turned on and I had no real options. He didn’t want to drink milk or eat crackers or even potato chips. I just did my best to soothe him and of course as soon as the seatbelt sign turned off he flipped back to happy mode. Kids, man!
Picking up the rental car
Some point late in the week before my trip I became much more worried about getting to the rental car than the flight itself. Car seats, amirite? I had to buy another Jeep Car Seat bag (affiliate link) since mine had basically disintegrated over four years of flights.
Luckily, Charleston is a small airport. My son has gotten into this “I don’t want to actually ride in my stroller I just want to play with the buckles” phase which actually made things easier. I threw my backpack in the stroller, slung the car seat around my back and just walked with the kids to Hertz. Thanks to AAA, we got a free second car seat from Hertz (membership basically paid for itself right there).
Of course, the most annoying thing about car seats is installing the monstrosities. It took me about 5-10 minutes to do this. That whole time my kids climbed in and out of the car, in and out of the car. They had a great time but I basically soaked through my shirt. Still, we happily went on our way, they fell asleep for a nap, and I bought myself some Arby’s to celebrate.
As I mentioned, my son decided that he no longer needed the stroller. We only brought one, so we let his sister use it. But since he loves the buckles so much he kept trying to push her out of the way so he could play with the buckles. Like, COME ON, DUDE.
Practically, this meant doubling the amount of time allocated to get anywhere on foot. We stayed right by King Street which has a lot of great things to eat so we walked often, it just took a lot longer than expected, especially when when 1 on 2.
Visiting the aquarium
Due to various parenting situations, I found myself alone at the Charleston Aquarium with the kids for a morning. This proved to be the simplest part of single parenting since I’ve taken my kids to the museum on my own before.
Since M is 4, I can let her wander within like a 100 foot radius and I can keep H on a 15 foot radius. I really enjoyed this aquarium. First, they have all these fish and water creatures (like an alligator) made from Legos – so cool! Secondly, I thought the aquarium had a nice vibe, just a lot of nice things for the kids to duck in and out of, some play areas, the touch tank wasn’t as cramped as Boston, etc. Highly recommend.
Dealing with crankiness
Probably the toughest thing about solo dad travel is the same as being a solo dad at home: disciplining the kids. First there’s the practical issue. Who watches kid 2 while you deal with a disciplinary issue with kid 1? Then there is an energy issue. How many problems or issues can you deal with at once? Add to that the new environment and things can get pretty tough.
So one morning M just up and decided she didn’t want to go to wherever everyone was going. At this point I basically told her if she wasn’t ready to leave in five minutes we wouldn’t be hanging out with her cousin (who she loves dearly) in the morning. Well, she didn’t get ready and I don’t make empty threats so that’s how we ended up at the aquarium alone that morning.
I can’t do a solo dad trip until at least both my kids are as reasonable as M is now (even though she wasn’t being reasonable in that instance). Because as everyone knows, there’s no reasoning with a toddler! Still, after that first morning I realized it would be better to just go with it and to not put too much pressure on myself due to our sunk costs. M and I had one more major issue on the trip, but I’ll save that for another post.
While I mostly highlighted the difficulties in traveling with those crazy kids alone, we actually had a really good time. Like every family trip we take, I feel more bonded to my kids than before. We have fun memories to talk about (especially now that M can legitimately remember them).
Still, what struck me was just how tiring it was to be the #1 parent on the road. Thankfully Jess finished up her conference Monday morning and once The Glue returned we settled into a much better routine. But yeah, I’m gonna hold off on another solo dad vacation for a little while, at least with both the kids. And for now, achievement unlocked!