Single Parent Family Travel Guide

Traveling with your kids can be fulfilling but also overwhelming at times, especially if you’re the only adult in the group. Here are some tips on how to keep your cool as a single parent on your next family vacation.
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Mother bicycling with children in Provence, France
ONE FOR ALL: Each family member must contribute to make a single parent family vacation fun and relaxing (Sami Sarkis/Photographer’s Choice/Getty)
Theme Parks: Single Parent Friendly?
Theme parks are NOT the best destination for single parent families unless kids are older and tall enough to meet height requirements so they can ride on their own. Otherwise, you'll be waiting with a younger child while the older one rides, or leaving the oldest to ride with the youngest. Many rides have seats for two—with two kids, one of you will be riding alone. It's not the ideal place for quality time with your children, either. If a theme park vacation is a must, increase your family time by spending some days outside of the park (also easier on the budget). Try hanging out at the hotel pool for a day, where you all can relax and play. Check out's theme park survival guide.

You're not alone. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 13 million single parents in the United States. Though the idealized image of a family getaway may have gone the way of wood-sided station wagons, the good news is that you're free to create your own version of the all-American vacation.

The first rule of planning: DON'T schedule every moment of your time away. Sleeping in, hanging out by a pool, and taking a spontaneous stroll with your kids are excellent vacation activities, especially if you don't see your children every day. Often, it's the unplanned moments that become the family memories.

Second, it's okay to spend time away from your kids during a family vacation—even if you aren't the custodial parent. A relaxed and happy parent is usually a better parent. Take advantage of children's programs at hotels or on ships, or allow relatives to spend time with your children while you play a round of golf or get a massage. And if your kids want to make plans of their own and hang out with new friends during the trip—likely at a resort or on a ship or guided adventure—let them do so. You'll all benefit in the end.

By choosing vacation deals aimed at single parents, you'll meet other families like yours, reminding yourself and your children that your family is not so different. Single-parent deals offer an economic break as well, typically dispensing with the single supplement charged if the trip isn't booked under double occupancy.

Single-Parent Lodging
While researching lodging options, call and ask if kids stay free with just one adult. If not, a child may be charged adult rates, which can get pricey. Beaches all-inclusive resorts puts out the welcome mat for single parents. Check the website under special packages during their Single Parent Fun months, when the normal single supplement charge is waived.

During school vacation times, cruises typically have lots of family and kids' programs that offer your children the chance to meet new friends and you an occasional break. Ships provide countless activities and an enclosed environment so kids can go off on their own without causing you too much anxiety. Save money by finding activities on your own in port. You'll often find great beaches located near the docks and local tour guides will take you snorkeling or sightseeing for less than what the ships charge. Ask crewmembers for recommendations.

Guest Ranches
For many of the same benefits as a cruise, plus a sense of adventure and a chance to learn cool new skills like riding and roping, try vacationing at a ranch. Guests usually eat together at large tables, so you aren't at a table alone. While ranches can be pricey, they're all-inclusive—you know your costs up front. Some ranches offer discounts on single family travel. The family rate at Drowsy Water Ranch in Grand County, Colorado, about 60 miles from Denver, has packages for just three or more people.

Tour Operators
Tour operators offer educational (but fun) or adventure-oriented family trips, with activities like hiking, biking, and rafting. You'll meet other families and you may avoid the position of primary disciplinarian because guides enforce many of the rules, leaving you to enjoy your children. Again, you know your costs up front. Austin-Lehman Adventures runs fabulous, top-quality family trips. Current destinations include Alaska, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, and South Africa. Kids ages seven to 12 with just one adult get a ten-percent discount, and as the third person in a shared room they get 20-percent off.

Cottages, Cabins, and Camping
Outdoorsy trips are easy on the budget yet offer lots of family activities and programs for all ages. YMCA of the Rockies has family weekends in several locations that work even if you're just one parent and one child. These weekends are affordable and include lodging, meals, and activities from hiking and climbing to crafts and the ever-popular pumpkin throwing. The Appalachian Mountain Club offers a variety of weekend packages for its New Hampshire lodges. Themes include Applefest, adventure, wildlife observation and education, and a harvest weekend. Rates start at $142 per adult, $92 per child 12 and younger, and include two nights of lodging, meals, and activities.

Visit Friends or Relatives
Save your budget by staying with friends or relatives living far away, giving you a chance to catch up and your children a sense of family at a time when it may seem that theirs has fallen apart. Some caveats: Issues that often cause conflicts include food, discipline, and routines such as naps or bedtimes. With teens, it's all about freedom and limits, including curfew. Talk to hosts in advance about your family routines and preferences.

Remember: You can always ask to have single supplements waived at hotels or even cruise ships. If it's not prime season, chances are good—and you have nothing to lose by asking. This is your vacation, too. Don't be reluctant to take advantage of hotel babysitters and kids' programs—it's okay to spend some time enjoying adult activities.

Published: 15 Sep 2008 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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