Read This Before Your Kid Flies Solo
As a child, I looked forward to flying alone from Florida to New York for the summer. It meant a few blissful weeks spent with cousins I rarely saw, and precious time with my grandparents, who I knew would be waiting for me at the gate.
This year, I put my own children, ages 6 and 9, on a plane by themselves to see their grandparents. Getting them on the two-hour flight was relatively easy; waiting for them to land took a bigger toll on my nerves. But they arrived safely, and yours will too. Here’s what to expect when your child is flying alone domestically:
WHO’S A “MINOR”?
Airlines generally consider a minor to be between the ages of 5 and 14. Some airlines, like Southwest and Alaska, cap the age at 12, but you can request and pay for unaccompanied minor status for your older child regardless.
SOLO FLIGHTS FOR KIDS ARE PRICIER
That solo flight is not cheap. Every airline adds a surcharge. Some are relatively small: Southwest charges $50 per flight, per child, or $100 round trip. JetBlue’s program costs $100 per child, per flight, or $200 round trip.
EACH AIRLINE HAS A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT POLICY
You will book the flight differently on all airlines. Delta is unique in that you book the flight by phone using their Unaccompanied Minor phone line, which adds a level of comfort knowing there is a dedicated support staff for your questions. Most other airlines allow you to book the flight online; you just indicate the child is flying alone when prompted for the status of the passenger (adult or child) or when prompted for the passenger’s birthday.
AIRLINES DO THEIR BEST TO KEEP YOUR KID SAFE
You tell the airline in advance who will be dropping off and picking up your child, and ticketing agents ID the designated adult on both ends to let them through security and to the gate. (Unfortunately, they often only let one adult through.) The airlines will also give your child a bracelet or lanyard to indicate they’re unaccompanied, along with an envelope with their flight details.
The flight crew typically places unaccompanied minors in the front of the plane to keep an eye on them, but prepare your child to be on his or her own during the flight and to go to by alone to the bathroom or ask for help if needed.
A WELL-PACKED CARRY-ON WILL KEEP YOUR KID HAPPY
Pack books and games to keep your child occupied and happy, and if you’re sending them with a tablet, charge it and/or pack a charged external battery. Buy food at the airport in case there is no substantial meal on the flight. Be sure to point out where they should place their envelope with all of their flight details, and include a list of important phone numbers just in case. And show them what’s in their carry-on before you say goodbye.
BE PREPARED FOR A LONG TRAVEL DAY
It will take a lot of time. You and the adult on the other end will be meeting your child at the gate, which means you’ll have to go through security both times. On the departure end, you’ll arrive at least an hour before just as if you were flying and you’ll need to stay until the plane is in the air, so don’t expect a quick goodbye. On the arrival end, allow at least 30 minutes to park and get to the gate, more if you’re in a major airport.
CHECK THE FLIGHT ARRIVAL BOARD OFTEN
Arrival gates change, and you could be waiting at the wrong one when your child deplanes.
SOME INTERNATIONAL AND CONNECTING FLIGHTS DON’T ALLOW SOLO KIDS
Each airline treats these cases a bit differently, so read each airline’s FAQs carefully.
DON’T DOWNPLAY THE EMOTIONAL IMPACT OF SAYING GOODBYE
Letting your child fly alone might be harder than you imagined. My daughter clung to me before her flight, my son didn’t even wave goodbye. And until they landed safely, my stomach was in knots because my most precious cargo was out of my hands, high in the air. It can be terrifying if you think of it this way. So try not to. Send them to the family members they rarely see. You’ll be forging lasting memories—and an early sense of independence.
Visit each of the major U.S. airlines’ websites for more information on their unaccompanied minor programs.
When you’re on the go, the smallest details can make or break your day. Who would rather spend time adjusting their shoulder straps or rearranging their bags to make room for souvenirs when they could be taking in new sights and sounds undistracted? We found a batch of hands-free accessories that will allow minimalists and pack rats alike to sally forth without such nuisances—and each one rings in at less than $150. (Yes, a backpack might be the ultimate example of the genre, but for these particular purposes, we’re sticking with bags of the frontal persuasion.) Read on to find the one that's right for you. Lighten Your Load (Courtesy Parker Clay) If you prefer to travel light, this is your pick. Made with sustainably sourced, premium Ethiopian leather by Parker Clay, a company that supports vulnerable communities in Addis Ababa, where its production facility is located, the Everly crossbody is perfect for the minimalist day-tripper. At just eight inches long, five inches high, and one inch wide, it has room for a small wallet or card holder, a set of earbuds, and maybe a lipstick or two, and that’s about it. Stash your phone in the slim external back pocket, and proceed to explore with your hands swinging. Everly crossbody in blush, $88; parkerclay.com. Mind Your Waistline (Courtesy Hustle & Hide Co) This sleek hip bag might look like a spin on an ‘80s classic, but it’s not your mother’s fanny pack. With two straps and four ways to wear it, Hustle & Hide Co’s understated, handcrafted convertible pouch is made for the modern traveler. Budget Travel senior editor Liza Weisstuch carried it on a recent trip to Alaska and came back singing its praises. “Wearing it feels like having an extra pocket,” she says. “It's the perfect size for travel, just big enough to keep the royal trifecta—phone, wallet, and passport—within easy reach. That's a huge game-changer for someone who's constantly rummaging for one or the other. Like me.” Liza prefers to use the waist strap (it’s easier for the on/off when you sit down, she says), but you can also clip it directly to your belt loops, use the standard strap and throw it over your arm, or go for the longer strap and wear it crossbody style. “What’s more,” she adds, “its soft, bourbon-brown leather and brass clasps make it a stylish accessory, regardless of whether you're wearing it around your waist or on your shoulder.” Classic button stud hip bag in brown, $100; hustleandhideco.com. Carry It Crossbody (Courtesy Peg and Awl) For years, I’ve been searching for a day bag to fit a book, a water bottle, over-ear headphones, and sunglasses, plus the wallet, organizational pouch, and lip balm that I always carry. It needs to be something big enough to hold it all without having to Tetris it in, but not so big that it weighs me down, and this no-frills satchel from Peg and Awl ticks all the boxes. Designed to carry the essentials and inspired by purpose-driven vintage bags like colonial-era satchels and the military map cases of World War II, the Hunter is made from sturdy, waterproof waxed canvas, with a brass rivets and studs for a modest flash of bling and a wide leather shoulder strap that stays put and doesn’t dig in. The interior pocket is just the right size for a wallet, keys, and a battery pack, and the main compartment is roomy enough for everything else. It's a utilitarian number with a few subtly clever details, from the smart placement that keeps the strap from twisting to a flap you can close with one hand (and a bit of dexterity). Hunter satchel in slate, $144; pegandawl.com. Feed a Crowd (Courtesy FEED) If you require more space, the Go-To bag from FEED provides extra wiggle room and more organizational options with the same crossbody convenience. With a zippered pocket inside that’s ideal for anything that needs to be safely stowed, like a wallet or passport, and an outer pocket that offers easy access to a phone or charger, this cotton-canvas carry-all not only holds everything you need for a day on the town or in the country, its purchase also provides 40 school meals to those in need. Go-To canvas bag in burnished olive, $68; feedprojects.com. Tote It All (Courtesy Everlane) Not a fan of the crossbody thing? Consider an upgrade on the standard tote instead. With leather straps that can handle whatever fits inside and a zip top to keep it all from falling out—and grabby hands from getting in—Everlane’s twill version is a stylish, nearly indestructible upgrade on the original. I put it to the test in New York, stuffing it with gym gear, a laptop, and a bottle or two of wine, and it didn’t give even the slightest bit. If your travel style includes lots of shopping, this bag's generous size and comfortable handles make it a great option, perfect for that farmers' market haul or bookstore score. Twill zip tote in golden brown, $48; everlane.com.
Lost Luggage: What You Need to Know
Is the threat of lost luggage putting a damper on your vacation plans? Given the extra fees and the uncertainty surrounding checking a bag, it's no surprise that many travelers prefer to go carry-on only whenever possible. But according to a new report on lost and missing baggage from LuggageHero, a network of luggage-storage sites around the world, there might not be as much cause for concern as we think. The company took a deep dive into seven years’ worth of mishandled baggage reports from the U.S. Department of Transportation and determined that on average, airlines are receiving 30 percent fewer lost-luggage complaints than they were in 2012, and 12 percent fewer than they were just last year. The Odds of Losing Your Bags Of course, the problem hasn't been completely eradicated. Though the report estimates that, statistically, just two or three out of every 1,000 travelers' bags will be lost or damaged throughout the year, LuggageHero predicts that some 676,000 suitcases will go missing or suffer damage during the busy summer travel season. Some Airlines Love Your Luggage More Than Others Historically speaking, regional carriers SkyWest, ExpressJet, and Envoy Air are the worst offenders. Among the bigger players, Delta has mishandled the least amount of luggage since 2012, followed closely by Frontier, Spirit, Hawaiian, and JetBlue. United, Alaska, and Southwest are running in the middle of the pack, but if you’re flying American, resist that gate-check tag—of the major airlines analyzed, this one gets the lowest marks. The Social Media Effect New for 2019, LuggageHero is now looking at social media—and Twitter, in particular—to examine how the general public interacts with these airlines online. Tweets are categorized by tone (positive, negative, and neutral) and ranked accordingly; to date, Delta has the most positive audience engagement, with American and United not far behind. Meanwhile, JetBlue receives the most disgruntled feedback, with a ratio of negative to positive tweets that's more than double what Delta records. The Best Time to Fly If you know you have to check a bag, try to avoid traveling during the peak summer months and around the holidays, when luggage is most often misplaced. But we know that's easier said than done, so if that doesn’t work with your plans, you'll need to brace for the worst-case scenario. Preparing for the Worst Before you go, check your travel insurance policy to see if lost or damaged luggage is covered. If your stuff is MIA when you land, be sure to file a report with the airline immediately, while you’re still at the airport. Don’t leave the premises until you have a copy for your personal records, and document, document, document—you’ll have to show proof of loss to get reimbursement from the DOT, so take pictures and save your correspondence with the airline. It's also never a bad idea to document everything you pack before you head to the airport. Be Your Own Advocate Obviously, you should get your money back for any fees paid to check a bag that goes missing, but you’ll probably have to advocate for a refund, as well as reimbursement for the costs of any essentials that were lost in the process. Luck, it's been said, favors the prepared.
Planning a road trip this summer? Expect some company on the expressway. Even amid rising gas prices, Americans are packing up their cars for a vacation. According to a recent AAA survey, 64 percent of Americans traveling this summer are planning a road trip, and it's the most popular option for family vacations. But to stretch your travel dollars while you’re on the road, you’ll want to avoid these five common mistakes. 1. Paying Top Dollar for Gas Start by downloading GasBuddy on your smartphone. Using real-time fuel price information reported other users, the mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) can direct you to the cheapest gas stations along your route. Another way to conserve fuel is by packing your car lighter, so unload excess weight before you hit the road. Also, studies show using cruise control on highways can maximize fuel efficiency. Driving a car that gets poor gas mileage? It might make financial sense to rent a fuel-efficient vehicle for your trip. Also, paying with a gas-rewards credit card will put money back in your pocket each time you fill up. The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express is a favorite from credit card comparison website NerdWallet; the card lets you earn 3 percent cash back on U.S. gas station purchases year round. 2. Overspending on Lodging Many hotels and Airbnb rentals raise their rates during the summer, but you can save big on lodging by doing a little careful planning. Want to stay at a hotel? Call the concierge to find out what the rate is—sometimes the over-the-phone price is cheaper than the online price. Another option: use a bidding site like Priceline where hotels compete for your business. And make sure you avoid paying hidden hotel fees. (These days some places are even charging a fee to use the in-room coffee maker!) If you’re comfortable waiting until the day of to book a room, use HotelTonight, a mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that offers same-day bookings of up to 70 percent off at luxury hotels. Shopping for an Airbnb? Try haggling with the owner for a lower rate. You’ll have more leverage if you’re requesting a multi-night stay. Looking to pitch a tent? Find a free campsite near your destination using the iOverlander mobile app (available on Android and iPhone). One caveat: some outdoor parks require a camping permit, but these generally cost only $5 to $20 per night. 3. Missing Out on Free Entertainment Summer is peak season for free outdoor concerts, festivals, art shows, sporting events, and other community gatherings. You can find things to do along your route by visiting Festivals.com, MacaroniKid.com, and your destination city’s tourism website. Nearify, a free mobile app (available on Android and iPhone) that compiles happenings in hundreds of cities, is another tool for discovering cool events near your location. Also, local newspapers, magazines, and alternative weeklies typically have events calendars. A number of cities offer free walking tours. You find these on Google and FreeToursByFoot.com. 4. Eating Out Every Meal Reality check: Dining out costs money. A lot of money. But you don’t have to eat out every meal when you’re on the road. Plan ahead by stashing some food in a cooler, like deli sandwiches for lunches. Non-perishable snacks are also good to have on hand. Pro tip: Pack nuts, potato chips, crackers, and other foods that won’t melt in a hot car. Of course, some meals are worth the splurge, like that four-star restaurant overlooking the ocean. But when you do eat out, always check for deals and coupons on Groupon, LivingSocial, and Yelp Deals. Traveling with kids? Find a restaurant where children eat for free. 5. Road Tripping to Big Cities Put simply, some road-trip destinations are less expensive than others. Big cities tend to have pricier lodging and restaurants; plus, they’re crowded. To trim expenses, travel to towns where your dollar will go further. A road trip can also be an opportunity for you to check out locations in your corner of the country. Staying within your state, as opposed to taking a long road trip, can also help reduce gas costs—and keep the kids from going stir-crazy in the car.
There’s an art to packing for a short trip—there are the essentials, and then there are the non-essentials that bring an element of comfort and joy to the journey. For those travelers who rarely let a weekend pass without hitting the open road or taking to the skies, we found five things to help make the most of those quick two-day jaunts, from packing to transit to maximizing your time on the ground. The Bag (Courtesy Lo & Sons) First things first: Start with the proper equipment. This classic-looking cotton-canvas weekender is roomy enough to hold the necessities for a short trip and has multiple pockets to keep things organized, but its best features may very well be its modern touches: a sleeve that lets it slip over a suitcase handle for easy transport and a zippered compartment that keeps at least two pairs of shoes separate from the rest of your clothes. And the whole thing weighs less than 2 pounds, so it’s easy to sling it over your shoulder and go—even if it's packed to the brim. Catalina Deluxe Small in Teal Blue, $128, loandsons.com. The Multitasker (Courtesy The Bali Market) With luggage space at a premium, weekend warriors need accessories that do double-, triple-, or even quadruple-duty, and this lightweight, high-absorbency Turkish towel fits the bill. At 40”x70”, it’s large enough to be used as a beach towel (or as a bath towel, for that matter), but it takes up way less room than terry cloth. Woven from quick-drying cotton, this thin textile can also serve as a wrap, a scarf, or a throw for a chilly plane, train, or bus ride, and it rolls up to practically nothing. That's a win-win-win-win. Perfect Classic Turkish Towel in Grey, $36, thebalimarket.us. The Wet One (Amy Lundeen) Wring every last drop out of a warm-weather weekend: Pack a stash bag for a wet bathing suit (and Turkish towel!), and never forgo that final swim again. This one has a beachy, tropical print and a vinyl-coated, waterproof interior, and it’s big enough to hold the sunscreen, too. Tropical Palm Extra Large Cosmetic Bag, $28, needleandoak.com. The Sleep Aid (Courtesy Bucky) If you need pitch-black darkness to get a solid eight hours of Zs, an eye mask is a must-pack accessory. Sure, you could go with that flimsy freebie you've been using since your last long-haul flight, but this silky polka-dot number is a playful alternative. With contoured foam eye cups that let you blink without messing up your makeup or putting undue pressure on your lids, it'll keep you snoozing, even if you're stuck in coach. Bucky 40 Blinks Sleep Mask, $13, amazon.com. The Soundtrack (Courtesy Bose) What’s a vacation without the tunes? This waterproof, drop-proof Bluetooth speaker clocks in at just under 4"x4" and weighs less than a pound, offering huge, bass-heavy sound in a tiny, silicone-rubber-wrapped package. With six hours of battery life, a tear-resistant strap for hands-free portability, and an app that can control the volume, pair another speaker, and switch between music libraries in various devices, it'll help get the party started wherever you are. SoundLink Micro Bluetooth speaker, $100, bose.com.