Single parent travel doesn’t have to be stressful. After 8 years of single parent travel, I’ve got 9 tips that go above and beyond the normal trite advice. Plus a free printable to get your packing in order!
Vacationing as a Single Parent
For years, I didn’t take any vacations with my kids, or if I did, it was always with a grandparent in tow. I didn’t feel like I could travel by myself with two little ones.
But after a few years of vacationing with the grandparents, I felt strong enough to try a vacation as the only parent. I wanted to forge memories with my children solo.
And as much as I appreciated the help from my parents, I wasn’t always enjoying myself on those multi-generational vacations as much as I should. When I brought my parents along, I suddenly became a child again along with my kids.
Going it Alone – Single Parent Travel
And although I now love traveling with my kids, I can say single parent travel is not for the faint of heart.
Vacations as a single parent are often more stressful for the solo parent and if we aren’t careful we transfer that stress to our children. Then we get to our destination, and no one is happy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Once I swallowed my fear and booked my first vacation with my children I haven’t looked back.
We’ve since taken multiple road trips, flown to the beach and rented a car, flown with our dog, stayed in a big city while the kids hailed down cabs and learned to navigate the Metro, and every year we plan a new trip.
Fear is no longer the limit. Money or budget is the limiting factor, like most families, and that is okay. I know I can handle my kids and I can handle whatever comes along.
Below I share the tips I’ve learned traveling alone with kids.
9 tips for happy single parent travel
1. Be a “YES” Mom – for a short time
If you’re still trying to enforce the regular TV, electronics, and nutrition rules like you do at home, you’re going to get frustrated very quickly.
Tell yourself beforehand you’re going to be laidback and practice being a “yes” mom as much as possible.
Don’t think of it as being a “Yes Mom” for the kids, be a “Yes Mom” for your sanity.
When you’re in a hotel room and the only parent, you have nowhere to go for a break. Let as many things go that aren’t life-threatening as possible.
2. Roadside Assistance
Roadside assistance may seem obvious, but as someone who is always trying to save money where I can, I didn’t have AAA.
My car insurance has roadside assistance so I thought I could let my AAA go. I rarely use AAA, and if I need it, I have the roadside assistance with my insurance.
I was wrong.
While in a different state on vacation one year I popped two tires with my children in the car. I called roadside assistance through my insurance.
I didn’t read the fine print and was out of luck.
Stuck in a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with my young kids, and I had no idea what to do.
Ready to pay for a new membership, I called AAA. Luckily I had three days left of my membership. I haven’t let my membership lapse since.
Related: Must-Have Traveler Items
3. Consider SAFETY OF VRBOS VS HOTEL
After staying a week in Colorado in a home that we didn’t use half of and I paid less than the cost of a hotel, I do all I can to avoid hotels now.
Using vbro.com, I find better deals that give my children and me more room and all the amenities of a home than a hotel. Plus often we can bring our dogs.
However, if safety is a concern then stay at a hotel. At a VRBO, unless it says you are in a duplex (most likely hooked unto the owner’s home) then you’re in a neighborhood you won’t be familiar with and with no one to go to for help.
I enjoy the freedom and privacy of a home; however, at night you don’t have the same safety feeling like a hotel.
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4. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes enabled me to pack for two weeks to Europe using carry-ons alone.
Everything one adult and two children would need for two weeks overseas fit into three carry-ons thanks to these packing cubes.
Packing light means no special shoes or outfits you think you “might need.”
Packing light requires leaving food at home and buying when you arrive at your destination.
Light packing is even easier if you stay at an AirBnB with a washer and dryer. Halfway through your stay, wash everyone’s clothing, and you’ll only need to pack half the clothes.
5. Consider Transportation and Luggage
Even you pack in carry-on luggage, it’s still a lot for one parent to keep track of.
When we went to Europe, we shuffled our suitcases between different trains as we traveled from one country to another.
The kids were tired. Often three bags were on my back, and I pulled 2 carry-on suitcases on and off trains.
During a trip to D.C., all of our belongings fit in 2 carry-on suitcases thanks to the packing cubes. Although lugging the bags around wasn’t as difficult as Europe, in D.C. we had the Metro to deal with. I was fighting the automatic doors, watching my kids and pulling luggage into the subway.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Consider where you’re traveling to and what transportation you’ll have to deal with along the way.
- Can you alone take care of all the luggage?
- If your child is suspectable to motion sickness or gets tired quickly (a.k.a. all children) most likely you’ll be carrying all the bags at some point.
6. What you CARRY on the plane
Put as little as possible in the bag you take onto the plane.
Without fail, as the parent, you’ll be the one who has to carry everyone’s carry-ons.
You may think you only have one flight and you don’t want to pay the fee to check in your luggage. But even so, carrying your purse, your carry on and your child (or children’s) carry-ons on and off the plane, from check-in, through security, and to ground transportation is a lot.
You’ll be cranky, and that crankiness will carry over to your child.
You don’t have the luxury of another parent to give you a break when that child throws a fit later.
I budget in the $20 for the airline to take care of my luggage and keep my family sane.
7. ROOM SERVICE
Traveling as a single parent means you don’t have another adult to leave with the kids while the other one runs to get food because the kids are hungry and tired.
Budget for room service.
When we stay in a hotel, our days are structured to head out early, eat breakfast and hit the tourist spots before a long line forms.
But we are always back around 3 pm. Sound early? It is.
I like to be back waaaaaay before the grouchies set in.
So I budget for room service dinner, and I plan for each kid to rent one of those super expensive movies. The kids feel like royalty!
And I have a relaxing bath and read each night. I’m telling ya, in no other single parent vacation is this possible.
Whether you’re going on a road trip or traveling by air, always pack snacks.
For a road trip, you can easily pack the cooler and all kinds of snacks for the journey.
But when traveling by air, you can still pack a lot of snacks your kids are familiar with, and you know what they like.
I pack granola bars, trail mix, nuts, etc. in my carry-ons and then whole boxes of the same type of snacks in my luggage.
Packing snacks ensure your children always have a late night snack, in case of a missed flight, or stuck on the runway, you can quickly grab those to go when we are out sight-seeing.
AnyList Packing List
I use the app AnyList to keep track of my packing list.
I have a running packing list that I use each time we go on vacation. If I’m on vacation and I realize I didn’t pack something I need, I add to the list, so I have it for next time. AnyList allows you to cross off items and delete them and reuse the same list over and over.
If you’re more of a paper person, download your own mom & kids packing list from the resource library!