When you first start travelling as a single parent, the planning can seem overwhelming. As with most single parent tasks, organisation is key to a successful holiday. So here are some tips for travelling as a single parent and getting organised before you go so you can make the most of your holiday.
1. Adjust your expectations!
Right up front, the absolutely most important tip for travelling as a single parent – it’s important to understand that whether you’re single or in a couple, travelling with children will not be the same as it was in your pre-kid days. Unless you have much older kids, the days of being able to spend endless hours sitting by a pool reading and drinking cocktails are probably behind you for a while. Your kids will not be perfectly behaved every minute of the day just because you’ve saved to go on a trip. In fact, in my experience, the more you want to have a perfect time, the less likely kids are to comply! But does that mean it isn’t worth it? Absolutely not!
At the end of the day, you still have to parent and all your parental responsibilities will not vanish. However, there is a lot to be said for not having to deal with endless laundry, the school run, a messy house and non-stop chef duties. I’d much rather be parenting somewhere new and exciting and creating memories than stuck at home!
2. Prioritise convenience when you can
Budget is always a consideration for family holidays, especially when you only have one income. With that in mind, it’s important to prioritise where you spend your money and allocate it to the things that will have the biggest impact on improving your trip. Number one of my tips for travelling as a single parent would be to spend a little bit extra for more convenient travel. Those 3am flights might be cheaper but you’ll wish you’d spent the extra $50 for a 10am flight when your exhausted toddler is having a meltdown at the airport in the early hours.
Similarly, always take the most direct flight to reduce travel time and try to fly earlier in the day to avoid delays. Likewise, it might be worth spending the money on a taxi to take you to your accommodation when you arrive at your destination if you’ve been travelling for hours. You can save the money by taking public transport when you’ve all had a good sleep.
3. Pack light
This goes without saying but when you’re the only person who will be carrying your bags, don’t overload them! Also, think carefully about what bags you take. If your children are still using a stroller, consider using a backpack so your hands are free to push the buggy. If you’ve got a small baby, you might want to pop them in a carrier so you can push a suitcase on wheels. Either way, make sure you only have one case between you so you’ve got hands free for all the other wrangling you’ll need to do.
As soon as your kids are old enough, make them responsible for packing and carrying their own carry-on bags. Some people swear by the sit-on ‘trunki’ wheelie cases but my kids prefer small backpacks they can squeeze toys and snacks into. Something small and soft that you can easily manage if (when!) they get bored carrying it is much more practical than a hard case.
4. Choose the destination wisely
Your dream holiday might be trekking to Machu Picchu but if you’ve got toddlers in tow, that dream might have to wait a couple of years. I’m a firm believer that kids should never stand in the way of travel but you also need to know your (and your kids’) limits. If you’re a seasoned traveller and feel confident tackling extended long-haul trips, that’s great, you’ll probably have a blast. But if you’re new to travelling as a single parent and are feeling apprehensive, then don’t bite off more than you can chew. Start off with a short trip close to home and build up from there. As your confidence grows you can venture further afield.
Also give some consideration to the type of holiday you will ALL enjoy. You might be dreaming of shopping and eating for a week in Singapore, but your kids will likely have other ideas – they’ll probably want to spend the entire week on Sentosa. Find a destination that appeals to all of you, or no-one will have any fun. Ensure you spend some time doing things everyone enjoys, some time doing things for the kids and some time doing stuff for you so everyone feels they had a break.
Check out our ideas on top destinations for single parent holidays, here.
5. Don’t cram too much in
When you’ve saved and planned for this family holiday, it’s tempting to try to squeeze something into every second, but you’ll enjoy the trip more if you allow for sufficient rest time in your itinerary. One of the worst holidays I’ve ever had was when I kept the kids up too late every evening to do what I wanted to do and they spent the whole trip over-tired, cranky and moany!
Now I always ensure there is plenty of time for rest and sleep. If we want to stay up late one night to do a special activity, we absolutely do. But that is always balanced by an early night the next day. If your kids still nap, you might find they’re fine to skip a nap one day, but you’ll need to make sure they can have a long one the next day to compensate.
My kids get particularly tired if it’s humid so on trips to hot destinations, a morning spent doing activities is normally followed by an afternoon at the pool.
6. Choose family-friendly accommodation
We have a whole post on choosing the best accommodation for single parent holidays which you can read here but here are some things to consider.
Can you save money by sharing a room with your kids? This will significantly reduce costs. Alternatively, can you team up with another single parent family and share an apartment?
If you want some me-time, make sure you choose somewhere with a kids’ club or kids’ activities rather than expecting the kids to sit quietly by the pool and read so you can too.
Think about what you want to spend the trip doing, and what activities are important and choose accommodation that is conveniently located.
7. Accept help
This is probably one of the most important tips for travelling as a single parent but one of the hardest to do!
If there’s one word that sums up single parents, it’s ‘independent’. But there is nothing wrong with accepting help when it’s offered. One of the hardest parts of being a single parent is the inability to be in two places at once. So, if someone offers to hold your baby while you take your toddler to the toilet on the plane, let them! Or if a person can help carry a bag up the stairs while you carry the stroller, let them! Could you do it yourself? Almost certainly. But most people are more than happy to help and it sure beats struggling!
8. Don’t forget the legal requirements
Whether you are the primary guardian of your children or not, most countries will ask for proof you’re allowed to travel alone with the kids, especially if you have different surnames. Mostly a signed letter from your co-parent will be sufficient or a copy of the child’s birth certificate. But some nations even require a legal, signed affidavit so be sure to check the requirements before you leave.
Travel insurance has never been more important than in the post-pandemic era so make sure you have adequate insurance that covers the kids and any activities you’ll be doing. And be sure to shop around for deals for single parent families.
A single parent holiday might seem overwhelming but it is the greatest gift you can give your family. So with the help of these tips for travelling as a single parent, a bit of planning and smart choices, you can ensure a wonderful trip for everyone.
If you’re unsure where to start or would like to join a trip with other single parent families, check out our Outnumbered Holidays upcoming trips, here.
Ellie is the founder of outnumbered holidays. She is a single mum to two incredible boys and a host of fur kids. Ellie believes in the magic of making memories through shared experiences and is on a mission to make travel accessible to all single parents through tailored trips, advice and content.