Single Parent Travel Tips

The most common mistake made by travel agencies, tour operators, and resort hotels is to assume that the travel needs and desires of single parents are the same, or similar to, the needs of double parent families traveling together with their kids.

Single parents often seek different agendas and must be twice as organized, as patient, and twice as creative to have a successful and fun trip with their kids. I’ll begin our series by addressing the first of those issues – ORGANIZATION.

There are three critical elements in preparing for your trip: (If your vacation plans consist of a fully escorted tour or spending a week on the beach and merely moving between the sand and the surf, you can skip points 1 and 2).

Do Your Research

Whether you are planning a hiking trip to the American West, a driving tour of the historical sites and theme parks in the East, or a trip to Walt Disney World, you and your kids need to do some research to determine where and how you want to spend your time.

Single Parent Travel Tips

Make it a family project. It helps if your kids choose their research assignments from a list you provide. Buy a tour book on the Web or at your local bookstore and have your kids research some information on the Web. Unless you work for a dot-com, your kids can probably do the research faster than you.

Discuss with family

Once you have gathered up enough information, have a family meeting to make your vacation decisions. How long will you stay in one area? What trails will you hike? What theme park rides are a must? Explore rainy day activities in case of inclement weather.

My kids’ pediatrician, who is a global adventure traveler like us, once told me when you travel with kids, spend 1/3 of your time doing activities that they like, 1/3 doing what you like, and 1/3 of your time doing things you all like. I held to that formula whenever possible and found it worked quite well.

Type up an Itinerary

I’ll bet your first thought is, “This is crazy. I don’t have time to type up an itinerary. Why do we need one to go to Walt Disney World or some other theme park?” Trust me. The hour or two you spend typing an itinerary with rainy day alternatives will save you hours of time and frustration during your vacation.

In all the years I traveled as a single parent with my kids, from kindergarten through college, we never once argued about what we were going to do that day. We argued about a lot of other things on our trips, but never that.

Go by rules!

They simply got up in the morning and asked: “What’s on the itinerary for today?” Even though our itineraries were always flexible, and often could be changed on a moment’s notice, they took for granted that what was on paper, was what we did that day—end of discussion.

Itineraries can be as simple as one short page or as long as two or three. By pre-planning and writing down our ride sequence at theme parks, we never waited in long lines, even at Walt Disney World in high season.

Add essentials to the page

It is also essential to add a page of the hotel and rental car information to the itinerary, including confirmation numbers, the local phone number, and address of the hotel with local directions to get there. More than once, I have had to find a hotel in the dark by myself with sleepy kids in the car. Traveling in a car? Read our article on budget-friendly cars.

The idea is to eliminate difficulties and stress in advance. Through the years, our itineraries became more detailed, often including research facts, and have made a helpful handout for family members staying at home, as well as a beautiful addition to our photo albums.

Type up a packing list

I have a family packing list stored on my computer that I have revised and used for nearly twenty years. My college-age son still asks for it when he packs for a family trip. Print it out and hand it out to each child who can read.

Tell them to check off or cross off each item as they pack it. It makes younger kids feel independent, even though they will need some packing help from you. It also smoothes the way with teenagers who prefer minimal verbal communication with parents, especially regarding instructions.

Several weeks before the trip, you should start jotting things down on a list and invite your kids to do the same. Put down everything you will need and be very specific – 7 changes of underwear, rather than just saying underwear. For teenagers, markdown batteries for the omnipresent portable CD player and the wee ones, markdown a favorite toy or teddy and three favorite books.

Single Parent Travel Tips

Emergency items

You are going to need a simple first aid kit, the contents of which will be determined by your destination and the ages of your kids. Carry lots of zip-lock plastic bags, always useful. You will also need to be prepared for delayed flights, unexpected waits in line at restaurants, museums, whatever, so pack travel games, cards, (Uno is excellent!), toys and books, some favorites and some new ones.

Get rid of the purse!

Carry a small book bag or backpack on your back, so you are prepared with these items. If your kids are old enough, have them each carry their own, or each of you takes turns with the book bag. Include some juice or water and some nutritious snacks. For single-parent moms, if you haven’t already done so, get rid of that purse! You need both hands free.

Years ago, when my kids were little, our “itinerary” included a visit to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which was a treat to myself.

I stuck the kids in a comfortable corner of the museum with some snacks and games, (this is a safe thing to do in Holland), checked on them periodically, and, after a happy hour by myself, I scooped them up and led them to the three most famous paintings in the museum.

After their brief “educational tour” we all went off for some ice cream and an exciting ride along the Amsterdam canals. Everybody was happy. Here’s an article on saving money while still traveling Europe. Wanna see a new awesome place? Go see Nosara.