SOLO PARENT TRAVEL: CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS
As a travel writer, I take upwards of two dozen trips each year, often bringing one of my two boys along. My older one has gone hiking in Costa Rica and Panama, skiing in Finland, and swimming in cenotes in Mexico. My younger one has gone caving in Belize, swimming with stingrays in the Bahamas, and fishing in Antigua.
While I also take trips with my husband along with the boys, more often than not it’s just me as the solo parent. While I love traveling with my kids, being the only adult can be challenging at times. Like the time I took both boys to Orlando and they wanted to go on separate rides at the theme park—and they both wanted me to join them. Or when I took them to Myrtle Beach and had to maneuver all of our luggage at the airport, handle the rental car, the driving, the hotel check-in—and then once there I had to keep my eye on them at the beach, pool, and water rides.
Turns out there are a lot of solo parent travelers out there—either because the parent is a single parent or because it just works out where only one parent is able to travel at that time (which is often my situation).
Here, some of the challenges—and solutions—of solo parenting travel.
So, here’s the thing, I love my boys, but if I’m with them 24/7 when we travel, we all start to lose it. So when the kids were younger, I always made sure the resorts or cruises we’d go on had a kid’s club—and a spa (something for them, and something for me!). Additionally, I find cruises to be super easy as a solo parent traveler. On one of my favorite cruise lines, they have communal seating for meals, and I love it because my son and I can eat with different people all the time—not just with each other. We spent 10 days in Costa Rica and Panama and sat with almost every other passenger on the ship. Plus, we are able to interact with other people on the excursions, and they got to really know my son and me.
“I travel 35 weeks or so of the year, every year,” says Kellie Sirna, who designed the world’s first W Hotel and is the co-founder of the Dallas-based hospitality design firm, Studio 11 Design and a single mom to two young boys. Sirna travels the world for projects, often bringing her kids. She says: “I think it’s important to show your children that there’s a bigger world out there. Show your children that you’re comfortable exploring it. You don’t need another person in your life to pursue your passions.” She chooses destinations with active experiences that both she and her kids find value in. “Active experiences will immerse the kids in the destination with the added bonus of tiring them out.” Plus, she notes, the parent gets their daily workout through that activity!
Tomika Anderson is the founder of Single Parents Who Travel and says cost is often a challenge for many single parents. The challenge is two-fold: One parent is shouldering the cost of the entire trip (instead of spreading it over a two-parent household) and single travelers are often penalized because of the double occupancy cost. “A lot of the trips and resorts assume there's going to be at least two adults per travel package and often we have to pay the cost of the other adult in order to take advantage of the travel package. It's like paying double.” Her way around it? She teams up with other single parents to go on vacations together. She recently traveled with another single mom and her son to Dubai. “We split the cost of the vacation down the middle. We bunked in the same hotel room, split the cost of a rental car, the time driving, the food bill—we split everything.” She said not only did the trip save a lot financially, but emotionally it was more enjoyable. “We were able to lean on each other.” The adults took turns watching the kids, so each parent could get a massage or have some downtime. “It was amazing,” she says.
Sometimes when I travel with the kids, they will mention that they miss dad or want to call dad. And while it’s easy to get your feelings hurt (isn’t my child happy to be traveling with me?!?), it’s normal for them to feel this way. “It is natural for kids to miss the other parent when they aren’t with them on a trip,” says Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge a psychologist and pediatric mental health expert. She says the best way to deal with this is to plan for it. “Have conversations with your child beforehand and validate their feelings.” She suggests that kids could FaceTime the parent or can buy a little gift for that parent. “These kinds of acknowledgments are important but also let a kid know they are loved and your time with them is important too.”
Especially when kids are young, the amount of gear they require can be insane. Instead of packing it all, Dr. Capana-Hodge suggests making it easier on yourself by having it shipped to the hotel or staying at a property that has a washer/dryer and kid gear already there (like high chairs and cribs).
For me, when my kids were young, staying at an all-inclusive was always the easiest way to travel. These resorts always had kid amenities on the property (baby tubs, high chairs) and I never had to plan meals or activities (since everything was included). As my boys got older, I started incorporating their likes (and dislikes) into the planning process (no museums, but plenty of pool time). I also had them pack their own suitcase (that way they couldn’t tell me they didn’t like a certain shirt or pants once at a resort). I made each child responsible for their own gear so it felt less like a burden on me as a solo traveling parent and more like we were a team.
In the end, I’ve probably taken well over two dozen trips with my kids as a solo traveling parent and the memories we created have been worth every single moment.
Judy Koutsky writes about luxury, adventure, and family travel. Her work has appeared in over 30 publications, including Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, Oprah.com, Forbes, Parents, and USA Today. She has traveled to all seven continents. Whether it's shark-cage diving in South Africa or swimming with whale sharks in Belize, she and her family of four are always up for an adventure.