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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Father and sons at beach
PLAN FOR FUN: Take time to schedule in time for relaxation during your vacation (Digital Vision)
Preparing for your trip:
Make sure your cell phone will work along your route or at your destination in case of emergency. If not, consider a pre-paid cell phone.

Bring along the name and number of the pediatrician and pharmacy where your child's prescriptions are filled. Get a copy of prescriptions, including for glasses or contacts. If you're unsure, ask which cold remedies work best for your child.

Talk with the other parent about how often the kids will call while on vacation with you. Remember, you want the same treatment when they take the kids.

If you're not with your children on a daily basis, find out what snacks they like, as their tastes might have changed recently.

If you have a significant other coming along, talk to your children. They may want time with just you; if so, plan that into the schedule and let your significant other know before you leave home.

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WHEN TO GO
If you want to connect with other families, travel during school breaks. Many resorts offer single-parent packages during summer, especially those in warm-weather destinations. If you aren't longing to meet other families, consider traveling during the shoulder season, the periods between peak seasons, if it's possible around your child's school schedule. For example, Arizona's high season ends in late-April. Is there a huge difference in weather between April 30th and May 1? Unlikely. But there may be a huge difference in rates. Prices often drop the week after Labor Day at many summer destinations; however, children's programs may not be in session.

If you vacation during the low season, consider bringing a young relative—someone old enough to babysit and give you time for the spa or a round of golf. Or, invite a child's friend along, especially if there are no siblings in the picture. If you can't pick up the tab, talk to your guest's parents about trip finances. Some parents happily pay their child's expenses to vacation with friends.

GETTING THERE
Travel by air or ground? Time constraints, money constraints, and personal preference dictate these decisions. Air travel often gives you maximum time at your destination. Car travel allows you to set your own schedule and see unexpected places along the way.

Driving
As a single parent, you don't have someone else to share driving or run interference if kids fight or have meltdowns because they're tired or hungry. Think of likely pitfalls and how to avoid them in advance.

Some tips for a single parent road trip:

Get the car serviced a week before a road trip—oil change, fluids, tire pressure, and wipers checked. Add washer fluid.

Write out directions for older kids to read to you as needed.

Put kids in charge of potential distractions, including the music and your cell phone. Provide a stack of CDs (or a variety of tunes on the MP3) everyone likes ahead of time.

Discuss conflict resolution in advance. Explain how important it is that you focus on driving. Ask kids for ideas on handling problems. Let them know you won't forget about conflicts and you'll listen to them—but not while driving.

Avoid territorial conflicts by packing creatively. Put a soft cooler with snacks and drinks between kids so they have their boundaries and they can obtain food easily. Don't over pack the backseat—a sure way to make kids uncomfortable (read: cranky). If it's a choice between crowding kids and leaving something at home, leave it. Dress kids in layers so they can adjust to changes in temperature without your help.

Make the drive interesting. Print out information about sights you'll pass or bring a guidebook. Read about your route ahead of time and find things for kids to look for as you drive. Let everyone in the family choose at least one place to stop en route (no bribing allowed).

Give kids a chance to chill by allowing them to tune out from the family and tune into an iPod or other music player.

If you're a single mom, take extra precautions at roadside lodging. Look for motels with interior corridors rather than doors accessed from a dark parking lot. Ask for a room on a high floor without connecting doors if possible.

Never changed a tire? Join an organization like AAA that has roadside assistance.

Keep the route short each day, leaving time for fun with your kids each afternoon.

Flying
Air travel is challenging for everyone, and perhaps more so for single parents who don't have an extra pair of arms to carry all the extra stuff. Don't count on snacks, pillows, or blankets onboard. You may have to pay extra to check luggage, but you can't fit what you need in carry-on bags. Arrive at airports early so you aren't frazzled and plan in advance for the challenges. Whether a flight will leave as scheduled is anyone's guess. Have a plan in case yours is cancelled.

If budgeting is a priority for you, there are a few tips that can help. First, out of 13 domestic airlines, only Southwest offers child and youth fares. That said, some of the others, including JetBlue and AirTran, have discounted flights for all ages. JetBlue is also the airline that charges extra for a blanket and pillow (yours to keep).

If you want to check luggage—which makes negotiating airports and security lines with kids easier—consider flying on AirTran, Alaska, Continental, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Midwest, Southwest, or Virgin America. As of this writing, all of these airlines allow passengers to check one bag free. Others charge $15 to $25 for the first bag each way. Pack so that each child handles one bag, plus a backpack of personal items, which should include a small blanket and travel pillow. Keep in mind that infants without their own seat and ticket do not get a baggage allowance, but many airlines allow parents to check strollers and car seats at no additional fee. Diaper bags often count as one of the two permitted carry-on bags. If you're going to a single destination on an airline that charges for even the first checked bag, make maneuvering through airports easier by shipping a box of clothes and liquids in advance. It will cost less than fees for checked luggage.

Some airlines have decent on-board entertainment for kids, which can help keep everyone happy during a flight. Frontier, for example, has kid-friendly shows on its seatback Direct TV system. Alaska offers DigEPlayers, hand-held devices that play movies, music, TV, and more, for $5 to $10. You can reserve them in advance for some flights.


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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