“Would Micah like to fly to Denver and spend two weeks with us in Yellowstone National Park?” The call came to my husband late one night — and they needed an answer quickly because his flight would leave two days later.
Were we ready to send our newly 10-year-old son, by himself, cross country to be with his grandparents as they traveled out west? On the one hand — yes! It would have been a trip that either of us would have been thrilled to take as children. But actually putting him on a plane — alone — well, that brings TONS of worries, such as:
- Micah is SUPER chatty – what if he annoys everyone around him on the airplane?
- What about safety? I know I am paying extra to have him escorted on and off the plane but what if there is an emergency? And they aren’t being paid to help him if he’s sick on the plane … or sad or hurt.
- Food. Micah loves to eat. I spend most of my time helping him talk through his “hunger” to see if he’s actually thirsty, bored, or really hungry. Who will do this? (And on another note – WHY am I still doing this when he’s 10??)
- The plane could crash. Or on a less dramatic note, be diverted to a city where Grandma and Grandpa aren’t waiting for him. I didn’t spend much time worrying about these problems because they were more than I could handle and honestly…I already knew the statistics, and why have a panic attack earlier than necessary?
- He’ll miss us. I knew he would…at least he’d better!
- What if he DOESN’T miss us?
- I’ll miss him. My husband will miss him. His sisters will desperately miss him.
Oh my laundry list of worries was long…longer than this! But there weren’t any reasons good enough to keep him from an experience that would quite possibly be a highlight of his entire life.
So we said yes. And then started scrambling.
How could I get Micah ready to travel, by himself? In typical fashion, I started making lists. If you are considering sending your kiddos to visit family over the holidays, or perhaps next summer, here are a few tips to making this trip SLIGHTLY less nerve-wracking!
Lists are your friend!
Plus instructions to actually change said clothes (and his underwear — he is, afterall, a ten year old boy!).
Healthy ones to help him make good choices – along with a few of his favorite treats. I guarantee he ate all of the “treats” within 30 minutes of being on the plane!
Stuff to do.
I packed two books (new ones) that he was looking forward to reading, a book of Mad Libs, and a charged (old) iPod full of games (and that I was prepared for him to lose and not hold it against him if he did). Micah’s flight was only 3 1/2 hours long without any layovers so he didn’t need that much and I figured he’d be playing Minecraft on his iPod the whole time. Little did I know, his plane had movies playing and he was THRILLED to watch his “own TV” the entire time.
A plan for Micah so that he could walk through all of the “what ifs” that he could think of. What if the plane lands and Grandma isn’t there? What if the people next to him aren’t nice? What if he loses his backpack? What if he loses Grandma and Grandpa? What if….
I contacted the airline to find out any special rules for unaccompanied minors — there are a lot! But instead of listing them all here, I’ll summarize it as this: contact the airline your child will be flying directly and they can walk you through all the steps, including the actual purchase of the ticket. Also worth noting: A child must be at least 5 to fly alone. There are varying rules regarding connecting flights, assistance in making gate changes, etc. so please contact the airline directly to ensure you have all the accurate information.
Evaluate your kiddo.
Ultimately, we let Micah go knowing he was as prepared as possible for this big world. He understands right from wrong, he recognizes “not safe strangers”, he’s friendly and helpful and polite, he’s obedient – as much as a 10 year old can be and ESPECIALLY when he’s out of his element! Only you know if your child is ready for this, and if you don’t feel they are, it’s okay to tell the well-meaning relative the trip will have to wait another year!
So how did his trip go? It was perfect. Not a week goes by that he doesn’t talk about his trip — he’ll even drop it into random conversation with strangers….”Oh! Seeing that big dog reminds me of how this summer I went to a wolf den when I traveled out West by myself to visit my grandparents!” Oh my little socialite.
Elisabeth is a wife and mother to three awesome kids — Micah, Ella, and Olivia. In her spare time (ha!) enjoys sewing, shopping, eating delicious food and spending time with her family.