Single travelers, and especially single parent travelers, have been on the short end of the travel package deals for as long as there have been travel package deals and it all comes down to money. Travel companies are in the business of making money and they know that two adults will consume more and buy more than a single person or a single parent will.
Due to the lack of options, many single parents have banned together to exchange travel advice and offer their own resources. One of those resources was started by Brenda Elwell in 2006: Single Parent Travel. Some single parents who connect and become friends find that traveling as a team means that they also get some alone time they wouldn’t otherwise get without someone to share the responsibilities.
Warning: Be careful when searching online for single parent travel information because many of those sites turn out to be singles dating sites instead!
1. Get the right lodging
Your choice of lodging can make or break a trip with the kids. If you’ll be staying at a hotel, make sure that they have the option for a crib if you need it. Many hotel sites allow parents to filter hotels on ‘kid-friendly’ features. Some resorts and cruise lines offer parent specials that waive the single supplement fee and offer kids activities. Either way, take advantage of the in-room refrigerator and keep plenty of snacks, juice and milk on hand for affordable anytime snacks.
If you’ll be staying somewhere for more than a night or two, you’ll save money by renting a home or apartment instead. Vacation rentals don’t have single supplement fees and you’ll have more room to spread out as well as a kitchen to minimize your dining out costs and help with a picky eater.
2. Consider taking your car seat
If you’re renting a car or will be riding in taxis when you arrive, you may not be able to count on a car seat being available. In some countries, the laws around car seats are lax and you’ll likely feel more comfortable if you have the one you know how to use along with you. Yes, this means a lot of luggage for a single parent, but many car seats have backpack straps. Plus, see the next tip for a hint on how this can be accomplished – you may need practice!
3. A stroller just might be your best friend
Those who are not parents may not like them, but a stroller can be a single parent’s best friend. Lots of kids are fearless, quick, and a little unpredictable – all excellent features to have in a growing child, but a big headache when you have only one set of eyes on the kid.
A stroller can keep your kid safely corralled in busy places. It allows your child to sleep comfortably when and wherever they crash, and it doubles as a pack-mule allowing you to drag your suitcase behind (no smart carte for you). Strollers (car seats too) don’t count as bags, so they can be checked at the gate.
The monster stroller may not be your best bet, however. Sidewalks are narrow in many streets of Paris for example, and a sturdy umbrella stroller is lighter and easier to maneuver. Get one with bigger wheels so it can more easily manage uneven sidewalks and cobblestone streets.
4. Take a photo of each kid every morning
Most travelers have plenty of ability to take photos on their smartphones, so snap a shot of your kid or kids every morning. If they are lost or abducted, you won’t have to remember what they were wearing and you’ll have an absolutely current photo to give the authorities. Plus, the photo each day will make a great memory later.
See our clever uses for extra passport photos for some additional fun photographic advice.
5. Revise and rehearse your emergency plan
While your child may know what to do if they become separated from you at home, it’s a good time to revise and rehearse your emergency plan. If your child is too small to have a cell phone, do they know your complete number (including the area code and country code) by heart and is your cell phone activated for overseas use? We’ll assume your phone is going to work where you are traveling and ask that you put your contact information on a card in your child’s pocket (this is a great way to use your business card).
Many parents teach their child to recognize an adult they trust – a police officer, another mom, a grandparently figure – and ask for help when they need it. Practice having your kid show the information card to their trusted adult in case they are separated from you.
6. Update your travel medical kit
We always recommend that travelers – especially those headed overseas – have a travel medical kit with the most common medications they may need. When you’re traveling as a single parent with children, you don’t have the luxury of sending the other parent out into the night to hunt down medicine to reduce a fever so having what you need on hand is even more important.
See What’s in your Travel Medical Kit for the initial products and add what you need for the kids..
7. Have permission from the other parent (if applicable)
Due to the increased number of child abductions in disputed custody cases and the potential for kidnapping, a single parent may be asked if they have permission from the non custodial parent to travel with the child – and you may be asked to show written permission in addition to your kid’s passport and a copy of his or her birth certificate (no kidding – have all three). This is also true in the case of a child traveling with grandparents, aunts/uncles, siblings and other family members, so don’t take it personally.
The letter is simple, and stated along these lines: “I acknowledge that my wife/husband/co-parent is traveling out of the country with my son/daughter and has my permission to do so.” Both parents should sign and date it. You can find templates online.
8. Get travel insurance
Many travel insurance plans offer free coverage for kids, so this is one area where you’ll save a little money. It’s important to recognize that even if you have no concerns about cancelling your trip, kids are a big reason for trip cancellations in general. See the 6 ways Your Kids can Ruin Your Next Trip for hints.
Travel insurance plans also include coverage specifically designed to help parents traveling with kids too: return of minors, emergency medical reunion, medical evacuations, and more. See How Travel Insurance Covers Kids for more specific details.
Of course, last but not least make sure that you have fun on your trip – this is your time together and it should be a great memory.