The harbor in Port Vell, Spain, where I went with my toddler son. (Photo: Shnieka L. Johnson)
The first time I traveled alone with my son was to visit Barcelona, Spain. At the time, he was not even 2 years old. It was risky venturing so far, but I longed to travel, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could handle travel with a baby. I was very strategic about the choices I made while I was planning this trip, given that I would be doing the majority of the travel on my own. Granted, my husband, who was busy with work, was going to meet us in Barcelona for a long weekend and then accompany us home, but it’d be just me and the baby before that. Turns out, the trip was wildly successful. And so, based on my personal experience, here are nine ways you can travel solo with a small child, too.
1. Choose an itinerary that overlaps with nap or sleep schedule
When I was browsing flights, I specifically looked for one that would accommodate my son’s sleep schedule, which would make the trek a little easier on me, since I would not have my husband there to rotate shifts. In the end, we took a direct red-eye flight from New York to Barcelona, and my son slept a good portion of the 8.5-hour flight.
2. Pack familiar items
I’m generally a minimalist when it comes to baby packing, so I wanted to pack only the essentials for this trip. I brought several items to make him comfortable on the flight, including a familiar blanket, his favorite snacks, quiet toys, and bilingual English/Spanish children’s books to read to him. I needed little assistance with my son on the flight to Barcelona, but the flight attendants were very helpful just the same. They even agreed to stay with my son when I needed to leave my seat to use the restroom or stretch my legs. Point is, because my son felt more at home on the journey, I think he was better behaved. Either that, or I was just really lucky!
3. Use your network
With limited knowledge of the Spanish language, I knew that I would need some assistance navigating the city. So prior to booking a flight, I contacted a friend living in Barcelona, who agreed to be our local guide, emergency contact, and much more. Since she had moved to Europe, I had only interacted with her via texts, emails, and Skype, but she welcomed us with open arms and even offered to share her apartment with us for a couple of nights. You’d be surprised how open people are to showing you around their towns. Sometimes, all you need to do is ask.
My son just hanging out in Spain. (Photo: Shnieka L. Johnson)
4. Arrange childcare
Another key to enjoying my solo trip with a toddler was childcare. I made arrangements for childcare through one of our regular sitters, who happened to be spending a semester in Barcelona as part of a program called IES Abroad. She agreed to nanny for me during our time in Barcelona and also provided some company on my days alone with my son before my husband arrived. I highly recommend that service!
Plus, when my husband did arrive, we were able to enjoy some kid-free evenings in Barcelona. And even if you want to enjoy some alone time for different reasons — perhaps you want to catch a show or just stroll around the city truly solo — a nanny is still a really good idea.
5. Rent an apartment
Prior to the trip — and after considerable research — I found a great apartment via Airbnb to rent during most of our stay. My local friend came in handy when I was choosing it, because she advised me on the best neighborhoods. The place I went with was in the Barceloneta district, just a short block off of a busy street with public transit. The apartment was also walking distance from both the marina (Port Vell) and Barceloneta Beach.
The author’s son in their Airbnb . (Photo: Shneika L. Johnson)
Related: Airbnb Reviews We Wish Existed
The apartment was more than I ever expected it to be. It was a one-bedroom, one-bathroom, and it had a fully stocked kitchen. The kitchen was especially helpful, given that a market where I bought groceries and diapers was within a block of the apartment. Also nearby: a laundromat, local restaurants, and a café. The owner of the apartment was also kind enough to include a Pack ‘N Play to serve as my son’s crib. Overall, renting an apartment as opposed to staying in a hotel is a great option, because you are better able to spread out all of the toys, and your toddler will have more space to just roam free.
6. Explore your surroundings
In Barceloneta, with my friend in tow, we walked around the neighborhood and explored the restaurants and sites. The cable car immediately intrigued us, so we bought tickets and took the opportunity to see the city from above and walk the grounds of Montjuic Park. Once we reached the top, we could see the Ferris wheel at Tibidabo in the distance. Just up the hill was the Fundació Joan Miró, a museum of modern art honoring the artist. We walked through the space, looking at paintings and sculptures by the artist. I pointed out shapes and colors to my son, who really seemed to be enjoying the tour. Moral: Toddlers can appreciate museums, too!
View of Barcelona, Spain, from the top of Montjuic Park. (Photo: Shnieka L. Johnson)
7. Live like a local
Each day, we fully enjoyed Barcelona’s food specialties, starting with a Spanish tortilla, ending with paella, and including numerous tapas in between. Pro tip: As long as you’re using proper safety precautions, don’t hold back on feeding your toddler local grub. Introducing my son to the foods of Barcelona was surprisingly easy, and he would eat pan con tomate, jamón serrano, and patatas bravas every day.
We also spent plenty of time at the local playgrounds and parks, where my son met children from the area. Sometimes older children practiced their English with him. We visited the Barcelona Zoo, where my son napped right along with the animals.
8. Sneak in a date night
With the convenience of a regular sitter, my husband and I were able to have date nights — something I highly recommend. We sat at the counter of Cal Pep, a Mediterranean restaurant with wonderful tapas, and had dinner. We sipped Cava at Xampanyet, which is considered one of the best bars in the world. Our last night in Barcelona, we took the elevator up to Torre D’alta Mar, an elevated restaurant with views of the city.
9. Accept help
As independent as I am, I know when assistance is needed to ensure my sanity. I wanted to navigate Barcelona on my own — no chain hotel or organized tours required. During the flight home from Barcelona, I was thankful to have my husband with us. It was a daytime flight, and we knew that we would have a cranky toddler at some point. Yo Gabba Gabba! DVDs and ice cream from the flight crew were tremendous aids for us. Although I was reluctant to return home, I was very happy for the memories that I created with my little travel companion.