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Read This Before Your Kid Flies Solo

By Nicole Davis
August 10, 2018
Little girl holding a teddy bear in an airplane window seat
Famveldman/Dreamstime
This travel writer loved flying solo when she was a child. It’s a little different now that she’s the parent. Here’s what you need to know to make your kid’s solo odyssey as smooth as possible.

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.

LEARN MORE

Visit each of the major U.S. airlines’ websites for more information on their unaccompanied minor programs.

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What's Your "Day Bag Personality"?

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.

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The Ultimate Traveler's Guide To Skincare

Though we often talk about the importance of staying fit, eating well, and monitoring our sleep when we travel, we don't always give as much attention to our largest organ: our skin. "Skin is the house that you live in. You need to protect it and keep it healthy because healthy skin is gonna be beautiful skin," says Allison Tray, founder of Tres Belle Spa in Brooklyn. We checked in with a few experts to learn the do's and don'ts of skincare when you're on the go.   YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. AND DRINK. With fresh air often pumped in to maintain oxygen levels, not to mention recycled air and high altitudes, cabin air can be a recipe for dehydration. When moisture is depleted, your skin's barrier function is impaired, making it feel dry, look sallow, and become red and irritated. The simplest solution isn’t to slather on moisturizer, but to feed your skin from the inside—all the fancy beauty products in the world can’t come close to the importance of water. (Pro tip: Bringing an empty water bottle through security and filling it before you board your flight makes it easier to stay hydrated than looking for a flight attendant for each four-ounce pour. In a perfect world, you’d drink a liter of water for every four hours in the air.)  There are a few basic things you can do—or not do—to prevent your skin from losing too much moister at 35,000 feet. First: don’t drink alcohol on the plane. Do pack fruits or vegetables, Allison suggests, because they naturally contain water. Also, take a break from makeup. It'll help your skin breathe. 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Read This Before You Book a Vacation Rental

A summer vacation rental gives you the chance to live large. If you’re traveling in a group or with a family, it’ll save money over hotel rooms, deliver the amenities of home (kitchen, laundry room, backyard), and give your brood a little elbow room. If you're browsing last-minute summer vacation rental deals, it may be tempting to grab the first great-looking property you find. But there are some important steps you should take, questions you should ask, and details you should button up before hitting "book." Whether you're headed to the beach, a cool small town, or the big city, the essential steps every renter must take to ensure a safe and comfortable stay. 1. ASSESS THE STAIR SITUATION If you're traveling with in-laws or infants, be sure to ask how many stairs are inside (and outside) the house. Taking a tumble isn't a great way to start—or abruptly end—your dream trip, so be sure to get all the details: Are there steps to the bedroom? Bathroom? Back deck? 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ASK IF GEAR IS INCLUDED There's an excellent chance that a full supply of summer entertainment awaits in the basement or garage; many rentals come with the use of a beach umbrella, chairs, coolers, bicycles, and more. Also ask about books, blocks, and board games; discovering someone else's favorites can be a great part of the rental experience. In case you or your kids are hooked on Wi-Fi (who isn't these days?), be sure to ask if the house has it and what the code is. 7. LEARN THE GARBAGE PICKUP SCHEDULE This may not be at the top of your dreamy summer to-do list, but you've got to know: Who's responsible for your garbage? What gets tossed versus recycled? Where should you put it? When is the weekly collection? Do you take it to the curb, or do they take it to the dump? Or, heaven forbid, are you expected to take it with you?! Smelly trash will certainly put a dent in your summer fun, so sort this out in advance, and you won't spend your downtime sorting cans and bottles. 8. 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