Having a child fly alone as a solo child traveler is a big milestone and very exciting! We’ve had several of our kiddos fly solo at ages 7, 10, and 12. Here’s a post with everything to know about solo kid travel and the best tips for a child flying alone!
I always want to be prepared when traveling, but I especially want my solo kid travelers to be prepared for their flights. My kids have all flown with a carry on backpack for activities and food, and kept it under the seat in front of them. This allows them to have access to what they need during the flight without needing to get anything out of the overhead compartment.
My two older kids also had their clothing in a small carry on suitcase. For my daughter (age 10) who was flying as an unaccompanied minor, the flight attendants put her suitcase in the overhead compartment for her. My son (age 12) flew as a Young Traveler on Southwest, which meant that he was mostly on his own and we didn’t have to pay an extra fee. He put his suitcase in the overhead compartment on his own, but the flight attendants were very kind and I’m confident would’ve helped if he’d needed it (they did offer to walk him down the jetway).
Here are some of the most important things they took with them!
Cell Phone/Charger + Written Contact Info
A cell phone might be the single most important thing to take along when flying as an unaccompanied minor. This way, my child can get ahold of me or the person receiving them if something happens to go wrong, if they aren’t sure of where to go, or just if they need someone to talk to.
We really love the Gabb phone, which allow calls and texts but don’t have social media or the Internet. It’s a great way to stay in touch easily. I find that the battery of the Gabb phone also tends to last longer than smartphones (probably because you can’t use the Internet/social media apps), which is especially helpful for long travel days. Don’t forget to send the charger to ensure they have enough battery for the return trip.
Be sure to also write down a physical list of phone numbers and contact info just in case they can’t access the phone for some reason.
Physical Copy of the Itinerary & Confirmation Number
Especially if a child is not flying as an Unaccompanied Minor and thus need to manage any gate changes or arrivals on their own, it’s a very good idea to have a printed copy of their itineraries. This also makes it easy for them to show to a gate agent if they have any questions or issues. Even for Unaccompanied Minors, it’s nice to have the itinerary and confirmation printed out and handy.
Especially if your child has a layover, it’s important that they can purchase food and drink if needed. It’s also a good idea for them to have some at their destination, even if you think everything is covered. Cash is usually easiest for kiddos in the airport, but know that many airlines don’t accept cash for in-flight purchases. It’s a good idea to have a credit or debit card on hand, as well.
Snacks & Drink
You definitely don’t want your child to go hungry while traveling! Be sure to pack plenty of snacks and light meal items in case they can’t find food in the airport. It’s best to have some extra that they can eat on the return journey, as well. I like to pack some easy fruit, string cheese, and a sandwich for the beginning journey, and then some extra shelf stable snacks to last for a few days. Things like veggie straws, pretzels, and perhaps a small treat are good options.
Don’t forget to include a refillable water bottle – I always have my kids carry an empty one through airport security and then fill it once they get through. This would be a great thing to do with them before taking them to their gate. It’s also good for them to have some water available before the drink service arrives (or if there isn’t drink service).
Change of Clothes
It’s always a good idea to have a quick change of clothes in case of a spill or any other issues. At the very least, an extra t-shirt and pair of underwear are good to have on hand.
I highly recommend having something on hand that your child loves and can do independently for the duration of the flight (and possibly while waiting during a layover). For my kids, I made sure that they packed their Kids Kindles that were pre-loaded with several books. Some other items that were successful based on the child were colored pencils and a sketchbook, a small fidget toy, and small bag of LEGOs. A Yoto Player may be helpful if they like to listen to books, and headphones are a good idea if they’ll be listening to audiobooks or music!
With touching lots of doors and other areas, it’s nice to have a mini bottle of hand sanitizer on hand before eating. These little refillable sanitizer holders are so cute and I like to attach one to each of my kids’ backpacks.
If your child is an age size to need a child restraint, I HIGHLY recommend having them carry it on board with them so they don’t risk being separated from it. It’s very helpful to have one small enough to fit in a backpack to minimize the number of pieces they need to manage.
My kids ages 6+ use the Mifold, which is a super compact folding booster seat. I use this for my kids who can buckle it themselves, stay in position, and don’t regularly fall asleep in the car. It’s also available on Amazon & Target. The Bubblebum is a great option if you aren’t getting a good fit with the Mifold.
Note that boosters are generally not FAA-approved and cannot be used aboard the aircraft, but it’s good to keep in mind for any vehicular transit at the destination.
Jacket or Sweatshirt
Even if traveling to a warm destination, airplanes can get chilly. Having a jacket or sweatshirt on hand is definitely helpful, even if they just use it as a pillow. My kids like using the inside hook on their jackets to hook it onto their backpacks with a carabiner. We love these lightweight puffy coats that are also washable, or here’s a great and inexpensive option.
Especially when traveling away from you, it’s nice to send your kiddos with some sort of comfort object. My kids love having their favorite stuffie with them to snuggle and sleep with. If your child doesn’t use a stuffie, something like a small pillow or blanket, or even a family photo, might be a good option.
Bonus: Identifying Information
This is a bonus item because it’s not strictly necessary as an unaccompanied minor won’t have something like a driver’s license. Still, I like to send my kiddos with some sort of identifying info just in case. We send our kids with a photocopy of their birth certificates!
Have you ever had a child fly as an unaccompanied minor? Are there any essentials I missed?
IF YOU LIKED THIS POST ON SOLO CHILD TRAVEL, YOU MIGHT LIKE THESE POSTS, TOO:
- Ultimate Family Packing List (with free printable checklist!)
- Kids Travel Backpack Packing List
- Best Tips for Flying as an Unaccompanied Minor