How to travel alone with your kids without going nuts

Jul 24, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. ET
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Vacationing solo with your kids? It can be a serious handful. We talked to seasoned pros to find out how to make traveling alone with your kids tolerable, if not breezy.

When you're flying solo, set your expectations low. At the very least, you want to arrive at your destination without wanting to immediately sell your kids on eBay. It's never easy to hit the road or take to the skies without another set of adult hands, but it doesn't have to be a nightmare. I asked experienced travelers to share how they survived traveling solo with babies and young kids. Now I'm ready to book my first single-mom trip. Maybe.

Put your kids to work

Giving your kids jobs serves several purposes. First of all, it makes them feel important and keeps them busy, which keeps them from fighting with you over whether or not they can buy $10 worth of candy at the convenience store. Perhaps more importantly, they can actually help you instead of functioning as large, stubborn carry-on items. "Figure out how far to the next stop, if you're traveling by car," says parenting adviser Magda Pecsenye. "Manage the luggage or figure out where you're going to eat in the airport, if you're going by plane."

Pack distractions wisely

Knowing that toys make kids happy, it can be tempting to pack entire bags full of stuff. Do not make this critical error. "I always found the more I had to keep them entertained, the more the kids couldn't figure out what to play with and led to breakdowns," says writer Dani Walker. ?"Stick with a few choices rather than lots to pick from." This will also save you room, whether you're making the most of your trunk space or you're struggling with your luggage. Whatever you do, remember the handheld devices full of kids' apps and Disney movies and the trusty headphones to go with them.

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Practice mobilizing

The last thing you want to do is realize that you simply cannot function at some point during your travels. Try a little practice run before you hit the road. Practice wearing your baby and rolling a car seat. Make sure you can drive with your cargo area filled to the brim. Ensure the snacks and other small goodies are within reach if you plan on trying to entertain your kids while driving without compromising your safety. Do time trials with your folding stroller. If you think I'm kidding with that last one, you've never missed a tram thanks to a stroller that wouldn't behave itself.

Accept pity

That lady on the plane who wants to hold your baby? She doesn't want to steal your kid. (Probably.) She just sees the way your eyes have started to glaze over with desperation. When you're traveling alone, it's okay to rely at least a little on the kindness of strangers. Let someone help you get to the restroom on the plane. Ask someone to hold the door open for you as you're pushing a stroller and rolling carry-on luggage at the same time. "I flew from Florida to Alaska (and back) with my then 6-month-old daughter and there's no way I would've made it to my connecting flights without help from compassionate fellow travelers!" says writer April Woods Cary.

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Know your kids

This might be a no-brainer, but don't take advice that doesn't apply to your kids. What worked for your best friend's kids isn't a magic bullet. Some kids hate board books. Some kids hate snacks. (OK, no kids hate snacks.) But seriously, adapt to your own kids' needs. Trust your Mom instincts. And remember, your Mom instincts will resemble those of a rabid animal once you're actually en route, so try to develop a solid game plan way before you're struggling to make it through the security line 20 minutes before take-off.

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