While we are really looking forward to a new family member arriving any day now, I decided to make the best of this extra time to remember one very special period of the last decade, namely the time when Lu and I were left alone and I suddenly had to find myself in the new role of a single mom. Although I am obviously in a completely different situation now, I am happy to look back and I feel like this topic should be discussed more in the media. Because not everything is necessarily as bad as it may sound at first, and because for all those who find themselves in such a situation unexpectedly, a little encouragement is always good. Since this is a travel blog, we will only focus on the travelling aspect when it comes to being a single parent. Si travelling with kids as a single parent even possible? It sure is! First a few words about how me and Lu did it and then we move on to the 10 tips and ideas for carefree travel as a single parent, which are in my opinion the most important. This post might be interesting for everyone who is in a similar situation, for those who may know someone who is, as well as all those who are simply curious about this topic.
Between Lu´s FIFTH AND EIGHTH BIRTHDAY, we experienced quite a bit together and have, in addition to the new everyday challenges, managed to travel by ourselves quite a lot. Due to the fact that we live abroad, I´ve made a few trips just with him since the very start so I did have some experiences already. Those were mostly family visits or weekend trips, including shorter flights inside Europe as well as over 1000km drives in one direction between GERMANY, where we live, and SLOVENIA, where I come from. We also traveled a lot as a family of three from the beginning, so Lu was generally used to being on the road discovering new places which definitely helped as well.
When he was 5 years old, we took off to HONG KONG and MACAU for five days and continued to the PHILIPPINES, where we visited 4 islands in two weeks, backpacking. It was our first longer mom & son trip and it turned out to be a great adventure. I can honestly say that, after the initial shock, I was feeling rather awesome after the separation and divorce. I felt reborn and could start over, I started to appreciate the little things and the time we had even more, I started to do more and more things for my soul and simply enjoy this new freedom. More trips, more family visits, more me & Lu time, but also more me time. Luckily I was in a good financial and medical state which allowed me to do all this. I know that, unfortunately, not everyone has the same starting point and yet I believe there is always a way.
Far from being fabulously rich, I simply had a good job and set priorities, I knew how to save on other things that are not important to me personally, and everything worked out in the end. I got 3 months of unpaid leave without any major problems at work. This is possible in Germany. In addition, I had an understanding boss who sympathized with my situation. And so we packed my old 42L backpack again and swung it to the other end of the world when Lu was 6 years old. As far as possible. First to SINGAPORE to visit my cousin. Then to RAROTONGA, the largest of the COOK ISLANDS to visit one of my best friends. Then on to FIJI, where we visited at least 4 islands, just before exploring the mysterious islands of the state of VANUATU, which really blew us away. For the very end, we spent a couple of days in NEW ZEALAND, which we had visited two years before. We returned home full of energy and with new plans and explored MALLORCA, FRANCE and CROATIA later on, besides the many shorter trips we did over here in GERMANY. Before, we never went camping and this was something I used to love doing as a child with my own parents, so as soon as it was just the two of us, I directly went and bought a tent. This gave us the freedom for more spontaneous trips which also didn´t cost a lot of money. Besides, Lu loved this new types of adventure. Somewhere along the way, during all this mom & son time, something wonderful happened. Again, completely unexpected. And so my years as a single mom ended. But we still like to go somewhere just the two of us. Lu and me. I guess this will never change.
1. ALONE, WITH FRIENDS & FAMILY OR WITH AN AGENCY
“I would go, but I´m not brave enough.” How many times do I hear that sentence! So, if you don’t dare on the road alone with a child, the solution is simple. Go in company. And here are some options as well.
You can be accompanied by a FAMILY MEMBER (grandparents, sibling´s families, aunts, uncles – just ask them, they might be thrilled).
You can go WITH FRIENDS, preferably with those who have children of similar ages. This option may or may not turn out to be a good idea though, but it will allow your child to have fun with other kids, while you get to socialize with adults over evening drinks when the kids are asleep. It might be tricky if you have completely different travel habits, so make sure to discuss certain things in advance. Also from the safety point of view, this is an ideal solution for many, as you can watch each other’s children while the others run some errands or simply take time for themselves and vice versa.
Maybe you know another SINGLE PARENT? Why not go together! If you don’t know anyone personally you can ask around or try your luck on social media. Iit is wise to agree on certain things in advance over a coffee as people ave different habits and this may be an issue while travelling together.
If you simply can’t find anyone and don’t dare to go on your own, you still have the option of TRAVELING WITH AN AGENCY in a group of people. I never use travel agents and companies but people are different and this might be the best solution for you. In my opinion this does rob you of a certain freedom while travelling but in the other hand, you have much less to worry about and basically just follow the others. It will also make you feel safer as you will always have someone around and you can be sure they will help you.
But even if you go alone with the kids, they will always FIND OTHER KIDS AND FAMILIES on the way. Actually, it is also quite likely you will meet other single parents travelling as well. Or an older retired couple or some younger couples who do not yet have children of their own but will gladly entertain yours for a while. There is always someone with whom you may then travel a part of the way, share the cost of transportation, accommodation or similar. Lu and me have really positive experiences with meeting people on the way. Just make sure to trust your instincts.
2. CHOOSING THE RIGHT DESTINATION
Probably the most difficult part of organizing a trip as a single parent with a child for many. WHERE TO TRAVEL AT ALL? Easiest to say, anywhere! Everything is possible and where there is a will there is a way. In principle, this is true, but we cannot all afford to cruise to Antarctica, so here are some important criteria.
PRICE – The cost of travel is probably the most limiting factor for most travelers. For single parents, everything usually becomes even more expensive, as all the costs of accommodation, airfare and transportation fall on only one adult, which is especially noticeable if you are traveling with more than one child. Favorable holidays from this point of view proved to be CAMPING HOLIDAYS for us. Not only are overnight stays in campsites significantly cheaper than in hotels, they also eliminate the cost of dining in restaurants, and in addition, campsites usually have a whole bunch of opportunities for fun and affordable activities – from playgrounds, maybe even a children’s club, mini golf, trampolines, swimming in lake or sea, walking, cycling. Most of these are of course free of charge. Children are in nature and can easily find company in the camp. ROAD TRIPS in combination with overnight stays in apartments are also a good choice. The biggest cost are usually PLANE TICKETS, so look out for promotions here, it is best if you are flexible with dates and can travel outside the main season. Children up to the age of two travel almost free, and those between the ages of 2-12 have a fair discount. Also pay attention to HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS, some charge children as an adult, in some places you can add them to a single room and save a little. Children are also welcome in some HOSTELS, but not everywhere.
SAFETY – a very important factor, especially because you are responsible not only for yourself but also for the children. Above all, you are the only adult on whom much depends, especially if the children are still very small. So, don’t rush somewhere where you won’t feel good and confident enough. For some, the comfort zone limit is an adventurous trip to Papua, for others it can be a short trip by plane to a Greek island. So better start small and take it from there. Especially if you are an inexperienced traveller, you should start with safer, verified destinations about which you can find a lot of information on the internet and where tourism is well developed. In addition to the overall development of the country, pay attention to the current political and health situation at the destination.
DIFFICULTY OF TRAVEL – you know your child best and it is easier to assess what they are capable of. The same goes for you. If you want to go on that volcanic trek, cross the desert with camels, swim with whales in Tonga, do a safari in the malarial area and similar, you may have to wait a few more years, or not. It really depends on each individual. Also take into account the time difference, climate, number of movements and changes of accommodation, frequency of 10-hour rides by local buses and things like these. True, kids can stand a lot, but everyone has their limits.
EASY DESTINATIONS FOR TRAVELING WITH CHILDREN AS SINGLE PARENTS: besides exploring your home countries, I personally suggest THAILAND, which has a well-developed tourist infrastructure, good medical system, delicious local cuisine, but also completely international dishes, sandy beaches and much more. BALI is also a good choice, especially if you know how to ride a motorcycle and travel with only one child. Also SRI LANKA. And JAPAN and SOUTH KOREA, because they are extremely modern and ideal for train travel. NEW ZEALAND and AUSTRALIA if you have no problem renting a car and buying more expensive airline tickets. Also safe and great road trips await you in CANADA and USA. Virtually any CARIBBEAN ISLAND, MALDIVES, SEYCHELLES, MAURITIUS are a great choice. EUROPEAN DESTINATIONS where you can get with cheap low-cost flights or explore with a (rented) car. If you like big cities, SINGAPORE is great for children, but there are many things for all ages in every major city. With a little more organization and courage, of course, anywhere is possible.
3. IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS
The conditions for entering countries are different, a lot also depends on who you come across at the border or immigration window. Lu and I not only have slightly different surnames (I traveled with a double surname, so one part was the same as his), we also have passports from different countries, and we look completely different. The longer we are on the way the darker my skin gets and the lighter his hair becomes. That is why, in addition to PASSPORTS, I also carried Lu’s BIRTH CERTIFICATE with me. We only had a problem twice, once at the airport in Cebu in the Philippines and once in Stuttgart, Germany, but we were off the hook after a short interrogation. The Filipinos couldn´t understand what I was doing alone with the child so far from home, and the German officer was persistently interested in where the father was. So, just in case, it is a good idea to have the CONSENT of the SECOND PARENT, with a manual signature, you can also get it certified. I especially recommend it when you may not be on the best of terms with your ex-partner.
4. LUGGAGE & PACKING TIPS
What and how much stuff you take with you is always a matter of the individual, but let me be a smart ass for a moment. I’ve never carried a lot of things with me, and with every experience of traveling as a single parent, I’ve further reduced it all. For years, I prefer to travel with HAND LUGGAGE only. Why? Because you have everything at hand, and the possibility of lost luggage is eliminated. Lu and I always went on airplane trips with BACKPACKS instead of bulky suitcases. Why? Because this enabled me to have my hands free and because it’s harder to roll a heavy suitcase on wheels over every ditch and gravel path. When children are big enough to carry their small backpack on their own, everything is even easier, otherwise strollers are also handy for storing things. Lu´s backpack always had cards, dices, a book or two, paper and crayons, a cuddle toy, travel size board games, a water bottle, a sweater and a thin jacket, flip-flops, a hat, sunglasses, snacks, a headlamp. Wet wipes and similar. We also always agreed that he takes only as many non-essential things (that is, toys) as he can carry himself. Personally, I am a big fan of PACKING CUBES in which I carry the most necessary clothes, which I roll. That way I find what I’m looking for a lot faster and the clothes are also less wrinkled. True, it’s easier to travel in warm places where we don’t need thick sweaters and heavy footwear, though. I also always look that we use the same cosmetics such as sunscreen, soaps etc. I just take the most natural ones, which are also great for more sensitive children skin. In addition to my 42L backpack and Lu‘s smaller one, I carry a SMALLER BAG with all the IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS and VALUABLE ITEMS such as a phone, laptop, camera, etc. A shoulder bag surely also comes in handy at the destination itself, for exploring cities, restaurant visits, etc. I also always carry a FOLDING BAG, which comes in handy on the beach, in shops and markets, simply every time we have to quickly put something somewhere.
On ROAD TRIPS, the story is of course different since you can put a lot in the car. If you go camping, in addition to all the equipment, you have space to take things like balls, rackets, maybe even bicycles and such larger items. There is space for extra pillows, towels, more toys, food and drinks, basically really everything you need.
ON HOLIDAYS IN A HOTEL, where you are in the same place all the time, you can of course easily travel with a huge suitcase where you can store a thousand and one things, maybe even take a fancy dress for dinners and more toys. After all, the suitcase then stands in the corner of the hotel room for the entire vacation and you don´t have to transport it any further.
5. LET OTHERS KNOW WHERE YOU ARE
Anyone else´s mom constantly sends text messages to check if you arrived safely? You know, when you turn on your phone after the plane lands and it already blinks with these kinds of messages? Well, even if I always laugh at it secretly, it’s actually quite practical for somebody in the family to know where you are. If you do not have such moms, you may have another relative with whom you are in regular contact, otherwise use your best friends for this purpose. You may feel more secure while travelling as a single parent if you let them know your approximate travel routes or send them your itinerary with accommodation in case you have everything planned out in advance. If by chance something happened, at least someone would know where you were which surely van´t hurt.
6. TEACHING YOUR KIDS BASIC ENGLISH & LOCAL LANGUAGE
As a single parent, you are therefore the only adult on the trip and all the responsibility falls on your shoulders. What if something happens to you? What if your child gets lost somewhere? If you need help? You know how they say during safety regulations at take off, to first adjust the oxygen mask over your own head and then do the same for your child in case the cabin pressure drops? Well, same goes for many situations while on the road where you should really take care of yourselves first because if you are unwell, nobody else can help your child either. This is why I think it´s necessary to prepare the child for the unlikely events of emergencies. If you are an English speaking family well yay for you – you have a big advantage as English is usually well spoken or at least understood in most parts of the world. But if you don´t, then it makes sense to teach your kids at least some basics. I am fortunate that Lu grew up trilingual and speaks fluent English, besides German and Slovenian. On account of this, he is able to find his way around at airports, shops and hotels, restaurants and similar. So I’m definitely more reassured because I know he is able to ask and communicate with others in case something would have happened to me. Besides, knowing basic English and a few words of the local language always comes in handy with interactions with the locals as well.
7. KNOWING BASIC CONTACT INFORMATION
In addition to BASIC ENGLISH KNOWLEDGE, it is practical if the child also knows your PHONE NUMBER, HOME ADDRESS and the NAME OF THE ACCOMMODATION where you currently reside. This information comes in handy when a child is either lost or something happens to you. You can also teach him how to react in such cases. For example, to find an adult (can be a security guard, a police officer, another mother with children or a hotel receptionist) and ask for help to call an emergency number. Depending on the age of the child you can also teach him the basics of first aid and similar. Make sure to explain everything in a calm way so that they are not unnecessarily scared. If the children are younger, you can give them a special BRACELET or CARD to carry around, on which you enter important contact information. Nowadays, there are also various digital options, trackers, chips and applications – I’ve never used these myself, but they may work for some of you.
8. TRUST YOUR INSTINCT AND DON´T BE TOO BRAVE
One of my most important rules is to trust my instincts in moments of decision. Therefore, sometimes it is better to travel spontaneously, as you can adjust the route to your wishes and needs. Especially if this is your first long journey as a single parent and you don’t have experience yet, don’t be too brave. After all, the point of the trip is also to take a break from the busy everyday life and not burden yourself with worrying too much. You really don’t have to tick off all those “must do sights”. Nor do you have to rush to the end of the world at all costs if you don’t (yet) dare to do so. Start step by step and don´t forget, usually the most beautiful memories are those special experiences and moments along the way so make sure to enjoy them.
9. ENJOY AND RELAX
Sometimes easier said than done, but I´m saying it anyway – simply, enjoy! Traveling as a single parent can be a wonderful experience and you definitely connect with your child even more in a very special way. Since single parents often have too little time for themselves at home, you should treat yourselves a little more on vacation. Get a massage, pedicure, hairdresser appointment, enjoy a cocktail by the pool, splurge on a fancy dinner or buy a new dress. For these purposes you can take the advantage of kids clubs in hotels or ask a fellow family in case your child found some friends to play with for a while. While surely spending most of the days with your kids, you can definitely also enjoy a few quiet moments all on your own. Of course, don’t forget the wishes of the children and treat them with something special here and there as well. A visit to a water park or a special museum, extra portions of ice cream, a late night movie, whatever makes them happy. Lu and I were always good in making compromises so each of us came at his own expense, while the other had to be a little patient here and there. Being able to do that can also be a good lesson for them later on in life.
10. TAKE FAMILY PICTURES
Finally, one last piece of advice, which may seem less important on the way, but believe me, in the long run it pays to follow it – try to snap a group photo of you and the kids here and there! Unfortunately I have rare photo memories with the two of us in the same shot and I do regret this now. So don’t be shy and just snap a few selfies and hand out your camera to fellow travellers here and there.
This post is definitely not written to brag about where Lu and I all were. More than that, I find it important to talk about it more openly, inspire and encourage others to trust themselves and head out exploring if this is something that they wish to do. Everything is possible really, you just have to set your mind in find your direction. Because family is not just the traditional set up of a mom, dad and two children which you can usually see on road side billboards and TV commercials. Family comes in all sorts of sizes and compositions and a single parent with one or more children definitely fits in this description as well. There is a bunch of single parents all over the globe who are travelling with their children and I hope more and more will have the confidence to do the same in the future.