It’s easy as a single parent to feel trapped – just getting out of the house can be tough, much less travelling the world.
But when I divorced there was no way I was giving up a lifelong passion for seeing new places.
My first adult trip overseas was touring round Europe with my boyfriend when I was 19. We got on the wrong train from Brussels and wound up spending two nights in a random Belgian town before finding our way to Amsterdam, where we were robbed at knifepoint.
The next year I went to Toronto and worked for Greenpeace Canada. In my first week, I got attacked by a swam of hornets (trust me, nothing is worse than being tended to afterwards by a bunch of hippies with herbal remedies while you scream for antihistamines).
The next week, I got run over by someone from Newfoundland, who backed out of his driveway rather too fast when I tried to talk to him about cancer rates and water pollution in Metro Toronto.
These early experiences taught me two things:
- If there’s a disaster to be found, I’m going to find it.
- Regardless, I’ll probably live.
Travelling for single parents can be hard work, I won’t lie, but it’s a lot of fun. This summer, we’ve got trips planned for Scotland, Canada, the US, France and Portugal, and Flea will visit her 20th country, which is fairly ridiculous when I think about it.
Travelling with kids means there’s always someone who’s excited for the adventure ahead, doesn’t need an itinerary, and doesn’t worry about looking stupid. Sure, Flea can’t down a Margarita with me at a downtown bar, but she can join in with road trip sing-alongs, and knows all the 80s classics.
Today, I thought I’d share my top ten tips for single parents, learned through eight years of travelling as a single Mum:
Top 10 Travel Tips for Single Parents
1. Stop worrying and JUST DO IT!
Lots of places you go will be filled with Smug Marrieds (or at least, they look smug from the outside) and you’ll feel self-conscious. You’re in a new place and you’re in sole charge, and that’s pretty scary. But you can either let fear and worry keep you home for the next 10 years, or you can get on with living the life you want, and make some kick-ass memories along the way.
2. Safety First
The reality for single parents is that the buck stops with you. Like I said, it’s scary. To stop myself spiralling into a neurotic mess, I try to be extra careful with the stuff I can control – we have really good, annual insurance, I take photos of all important documents on my phone (and back up to iCloud) and take printed documents too, in case I can’t get phone service.
This includes, by the way, a copy of Flea’s birth certificate (she has a different surname to my own, which has led to questions at customs in various countries).
We have a travel first aid kit with essentials, and that’s come with us on every trip since the unfortunate summer I had to try and mime ‘cystitis‘ to a French pharmacist.
Now Flea’s older, this care-taking stuff works both ways. She looked after me when I was on the bathroom floor with food poisoning in Orlando, and looked up our car insurance details when I crashed the hire car in california. I could feel bad that she had to do that, but I prefer to think I’ve given her the confidence to cope with the unexpected!
3. Plan Ahead
Spontaneity is all good and well, but we definitely plan ahead when we travel so that we have three or four things planned in for each week we travel. Because finding that stuff AFTER you arrive, when you’re busy being the sole parent, is time-consuming and stressful.
Viator is amazing for finding things like surf lessons, museum tours, cookery classes and city experiences and you can book online. It means when we land in a new place, we have things to do, and we’re not walking the streets looking for this great museum that we saw in some leaflet or poster around town.
If we’re going somewhere more rural, we’ll visit the local tourism organisation website and print off details of trails and key attractions for kids, and pop them into our travel folder. It just makes life easier when we’re on the ground to know we have some activities that we know will be fun, and suitable for Flea, without needing to start searching from scratch.
4. Make Your Journey Easy
Airports are hard work for parents, and ESPECIALLY single parents, so look for any way you can to make life easier.
For us, that means checking in and choosing seats online, and making use of valet parking at the airport so we can literally get out of the car, walk for 60 seconds, and dump our bags at check-in. At some airports we can pay a small fee for fast-track security to avoid standing in long lines.
Expect your kids to pitch in – Flea’s always carried her own backpack with toys and snacks, and I dress her in airport friendly clothes – zip up hoodies, velcro trainers and thin layers are plane-friendly and won’t cause a long delay at the airport security scanner. We have light suitcases with wheels and Flea is 100 percent expected to take one case, while I wheel the other.
5. Prepare for Lonely Nights
I don’t really get lonely when I travel with Flea – but when she was little, evenings could sometimes be hard. To alleviate this, I would take a DVD box set or load up the iPad with a TV show I was really looking forward to seeing, but never quite found the time – and I’d watch a couple of episodes after Flea fell asleep.
Having Internet access is also a bonus, depending on the time zone – a top tip I’ve picked up is to invest in a local pre-paid SIM card (you can usually get them at the airport) and use my phone to access mobile data on the move.
As a side-note, a mobile home type property or a hotel room with a balcony or separate lounge is a LIFE SAVER when you’re travelling with a toddler and get to the point where you think you might explode if you don’t get 60 seconds of peace to drink a cup of coffee.
6. Don’t Fill Every Moment
It’s tempting to try and fill every moment on a trip with Fun Activities so you can be sure you’re having the Best Time Ever. But relax – single parenting is hard at the best of times, but when you don’t have the option of popping the kids in front of CBeebies for an hour or turfing them into the garden, you need downtime, for everyone’s sanity.
If we’re staying in a hotel, one evening spent in our room with room service and a pay-per-view movie is a BIG treat in Flea’s world. In cities, we’ll often hunt out a local children’s playground so Flea can go feral while I read a book, and surfing lessons are the perfect opportunity to get some sunbathing in – just remember to stand up every once in a while and shout something encouraging like, “Wowzers! Go you!”
7. Eating Out
Going on holiday should be a chance to spend time with our children, and dining out is a big part of our travel experience. Try and avoid the temptation to give the kids an iPad and headphones and instead talk to them. But let’s face it, most kids aren’t known for their dinner party small talk.
Flea and I have a series of traditional games we only play on holiday, based around people spotting, making up poetry, quizzes on any topic imaginable, and listing our top 10s in increasingly obscure categories. I always, always carry a deck of cards and a notebook with pencils when we travel, for quick games of Hangman, Noughts and Crosses and Squares at the dinner table.
8. Consider Kids’ Clubs
We love road trips and city breaks, but in the summer, there’s a lot to be said for resort-style vacations and campsites with kids clubs for single parents – not least because Flea loves to find other kids to talk to, especially after an entire week stuck with lame-o Mum.
Beaches offers all-inclusive family breaks with no single supplement for single parents – Flea had a blast in Jamaica with Beaches – and we’ve loved the kids’ clubs at both Keycamp and Al Fresco in previous years.
9. Don’t Forget it’s YOUR Holiday, Too!
I’m a good Mum. Mostly. But I am not a martyr.
If we’re going on holiday then WE are going on holiday. That means that while yes, I’m happy to do theme parks and spend a morning doing handstands in the pool, or riding rollercoasters, some days we’ll do what I want to do.
Sometimes Flea will entertain herself while I do my thing (she once took a book and sat mute in the corner of the room while I had a massage), but often we’ll do stuff together – so we’ll spend the morning at the toy store, but then we’re going to the theatre; or on a museum tour.
10. Be Flexible on Your Dream Holiday
This one’s possibly my toughest tip, and one I need to remind myself of on a regular basis.
Maybe it’s just me, but there’s always a moment on a trip where you’re having dinner and you look around at all those married couples looking so completely happy and the kids having such a lot of fun and your heart sighs a little and you think, “My child will never have that sort of holiday,” and you feel like literally The Worst Mother of All Time.
When you’re a single parent you just have to tweak your idea of what a holiday is. It isn’t picture-postcard family togetherness. It’s the two of you (or three, or four) having an adventure.
As a team of two, Flea and I have a freedom and spontaneity that I don’t think many families have. We travel where we like, do what we like. If we want to take a 50 mile detour to see the whales, then watch the sun set over the beach while eating hot dogs, well… why not? There’s nobody else to answer to, nobody else’s schedule to accommodate, nobody else to please.
In its own way, it’s the perfect adventure.
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