Are you a single parents traveling with kids? Check out these tips from a single parenting expert on how to make your next vacation, with your kids in tow, a pleasant experience for everyone.
Go ahead and call me crazy. When I headed off to Morocco for an overseas vacation, I was the single mom of an eight-month old baby.
Going to Morocco with an infant? Are you kidding?
No, I’m not.
Aside from the long bouts of crying on the red-eye flight — the baby, not me — it was an incredible three-week trip filled with couscous, mint tea, and adoring strangers. And I’m not alone.
David Mott is the divorced dad of two kids. His vacations typify the thousands of single parents who board planes and ships — and brave car rides solo — with their kids during school breaks. Mott has rented beach homes and cabins, has stayed at resorts and he and his kids have had a ball. C’mon now, what’s his secret?
“Great company,” says Mott.
It’s true. Based on my own travel experiences as a single parent — and after talking to single parents all over the country — having great company is key. It’s that simple. Really.
When I headed off to Morocco as a new single mom, I was not on a solo mission to buy carpets or ride camels. I was going to visit my Mom, who had received a Fulbright to teach English literature in Rabat. Although I did take my baby girl on solo train rides and shopping trips to the outdoor market — she rode in a Kelty backpack and waved at strangers — I was fortunate to have my mom as a personal tour guide. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t mother-daughter traveling bliss. Oh, but that’s another story altogether.
Mott, too, has gone on many trips with his brother, sister-in-law, and all the kids. “I can hang out with my brother and his wife drinking cocktails, having adult conversation, while my kids play with their cousins,” says Mott. “Plus, when there’s an activity for adults and kids to do together — hitting the beach, horseback riding, water skiing, whatever — as a single parent you don’t have to be totally ‘on.’ It’s a win for everyone.”
Party of three?
Not only was my mother a great guide — she took me to her favorite cafés that faced the ocean and showed me the king’s castle — she also babysat so I could get some “down time.”
When her daughter was 12, Christine Walsh of Louiseville, Colorado took a mother-daughter safari in Africa. Africa with a pre-teen? That’s brave. Walsh explains that her daughter is bi-racial, and she wanted her see Africa “to feel proud of her heritage.” Her daughter was also studying geography in middle school, and “kids learn so much on a trip. So, they were off to see the herds of animals that travel from Kenya to Tanzania. Although Walsh had signed up for the trip solo, another woman happened to join them on the trip.
Having an extra adult, it seemed, was to her benefit in the end. The three travelers spent every day driving around, looking for elephants, baboons, wildebeest, zebras, flamingos, and cheetahs. Although her daughter was fascinated, Walsh admits that her attention span wasn’t as long as the adults’.
“We’d pull up to a pride of lions and my daughter would watch for 10 minutes,” explains Walsh. “Then she’d go back to her Game Boy or cards.”
So, her newfound travel partner became a great companion, as well as another adult with whom to share observations.
Too much estrogen in one room?
When going on a trip with your child and another adult, however, it’s crucial to be clear about boundaries and rules. We all have different parenting styles, and when you’re on vacation, that’s clear. Also, many of us have different rules about, say, eating junk food or bedtime schedules.
For two years in row now, I’ve gone to Puerto Vallarta with my single mom friend, Amy, and our daughters. When my sister heard about our last trip, she wanted to come too. I’ll be honest: when you put five females in one big room, there is bound to be some drama. Add exhaustion and hunger (no more big margaritas before eating dinner), and Amy and I got into more than one tiff.
But this is what saved us: we agreed on ground rules and boundaries before we boarded the plane. By e-mail, we mapped our plans. We took turns cooking. We also took turns putting the girls to bed — which meant that my little sister even played “mama” for two nights, so Amy and I got grown-up time!
Also, we both have feisty daughters, so Amy, who’s a teacher, had suggested that we take turns handling their arguments (we hoped they would behave like angels, but we know our girls!).
That’s how we got the idea to take turns being “Mother of the Day.” When I was off the hook from disciplining for the afternoon, it gave me great pleasure to say, “Talk to the other mama today — it’s her turn.”
Although a solo vacation as a single parent is possible…
Single parents agree that having adult company is ideal. Lisa Hatfield of Newark, Delaware took her daughters, then ages 9 and 11, to the Turks and Caicos Islands in the West Indies last summer with Single Parent Travel. While she was looking forward to lots of mother-daughter time, she also craved adult conversation.
“I almost immediately made friends the first night,” says Hatfield. “Then, every time we went to the pool or to a meal, we ran into someone from the group.”
Not only did these moms become friends, they also became “vacation parents.”
I’d say: I’m going to run back to my room to get some cash, could you watch my girls for 10 minutes? Hatfield adds it was great to “have people to watch my back for me.” In fact, she and two other single moms formed such a bond during all those meals and poolside lounging that, “We’ve already booked our trips for this summer to the island!”
Teens who won’t travel?
John Frenaye, the “chief single dad” of Single Parent Travel, says that most of the kids on their trips are ages six to 14. “For over 14, we know that many kids would rather have a root canal than hang out with their parents,” he says. For the gutsy parent, however, taking a teen on a trip can be a great bonding experience, especially before your teen flies the coop for college.
Vinnie Sorce of Chino Valley, Arizona describes his road trip last summer as “Five days, three kids, one Dad, and Disneyland.”
This single dad of three “wanted to take one last family vacation” before his oldest son went off to college a few weeks later. Unfortunately, as they started off on the 450-plus mile drive to Anaheim, “The portable DVD player I had borrowed from a friend didn’t work. The car adapter would not fit in the lighter for some reason and since I was already driving I couldn’t have a look. My daughter was the most disappointed but she soldiered on, in a whiny sort of way that is.”
The plus side, of course, was that a movie-free car meant “more conversation, car games, and singing then I thought there would be initially.” Indeed, single parents say that DVDs, Nintendo DS, and the like, can put a damper on bonding.
On her most recent vacation this winter, Walsh took her 16-year-old daughter to Belize for two weeks. “We saw the ruins and the jungle near Guatemala,” says Walsh. “We also spent a week on the coast to do snorkeling and swimming.” However, whenever they headed back to the hotel, her daughter hit the Internet. “She has a new boyfriend,” adds Walsh, “so she did spend a lot of time on the Internet talking to him.”
Single parent romance?
I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask single parents if any sparks have flown during their trips.
“There’s always that guy from another country who’s wearing the Speedo who seems to find me,” says Renee Rayles, author of The Super, Sexy, Single Mom on a Budget, who has taken her son on two cruises, once when he was seven and again at age nine.
Although Rayles and Mr. Speedo weren’t a match, she says that she never felt lonely on a cruise. “You don’t feel alone because you’re always surrounded by people.”
Until recently, women have outnumbered the men on Single Parent Travel trips, says John Frenaye. “One year, we had just one single dad on our trip to Jamaica,” says Frenaye. “We joked about that trip: we said there were 23 single moms and one lucky guy from Arkansas!”