A single parent’s guide to travelling with children: tips and tours that ease the burden
Travelling alone with children in tow can be a daunting prospect. We get advice from experienced single- and solo-parent travellers who delight in showing their children the world
As a single mother with an only child, Dyan McKie often dreaded going on holiday.
“It can be really daunting going on a trip and having to plan everything yourself,” she says. “Then when you’re on the ground, you’re thinking about things like what kind of activities you need to do, how you’re going to get to the place you’re staying at in three nights’ time. As a single parent, the responsibly falls on you and that can put some solo parents off travelling.”
McKie started researching travel options for solo parents about 12 months ago and found that there was very little out there. As the brand manager for family adventures at Melbourne-based travel agent Intrepid Travel, she decided to take action. She set about creating a series of adventures to suit mums or dads who wanted to wander the world with their children.
“I found a lot of tours are for the nuclear family – two parents and two children,” McKie says. “I wanted to challenge that a little bit to say there are all different kinds of families out there.”
In January, Intrepid Travel launched tours for single-parent families to six destinations. The first trip to Vietnam wrapped up in July and McKie says it was a resounding success. So far, 48 people have signed up for the tours this year.
A little over 73,000 single parents live in Hong Kong, according to the 2016 government census, representing a large market that remains relatively untapped.
Travel blogger and mother of two Keryn Means, who writes about her solo adventures at walkingontravels.com, has been taking her six- and nine-year-old sons globe-trotting alone since she was thrown into a solo trip by accident.
When her youngest son was five months old, she had planned to go with her husband and children on a five-week jaunt across Europe to visit friends. However, at the last minute her husband was unable to make it.
“I had to fly over alone with the boys to Switzerland, where we would stay with my best friend for a week,” the 38-year-old American recalls. “It took two flights and two train rides to get to her. I then took two trains down to Italy to get to a childhood friend.”
Despite having support and adult company, Means still faced hurdles. “Even though I was travelling to visit friends, they could not always help me with those nighttime wakings, or when my child just needed a mummy snuggle. Not being able to take a break with help from a co-parent was tough. But parenthood is tough. I decided to mix up the backdrop of our lives a bit more, and it was well worth it.”
With that first trip under her belt, Means, who works remotely, was hooked. She now regularly takes to the skies alone with her sons while her husband works.
Nicholas Demski, 31, and his four-year-old daughter, Auburn, had lived in Hong Kong and the US before they took their first solo trip together on Auburn’s second birthday, spending a week at Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan, where they went camping, swimming, fishing and hiking.
He says the most challenging part of travelling with his daughter is the bombardment of questions from other people about where his wife is. “My daughter is standing right there and listening,” says Demski, who blogs about his experiences at thesingledadnomad.com. “People need to stop asking that question.”
Taking his daughter to men’s bathrooms or changing rooms can also prove troublesome at times, resulting in games of what he calls “don’t see the bums” in swimming pool locker rooms.
Demski and McKie both stress the importance of getting your documents in order before you fly, especially visas and entry requirements. “Ninety-nine per cent of the time, nothing bad is going to happen, but that peace of mind covering the other 1 per cent makes travel much less stressful,” Demski says.
Safety is another concern for solo parents, McKie says. With this in mind, her tour company selected family-friendly destinations such as Thailand and northern India. Intrepid Travel also offers solo-parent group adventures to places like Morocco and Egypt that may be deemed too daunting for parents to travel to alone with children, but feel more accessible to explore with others.
Another bonus with group tours – especially those geared towards single parents – is that people often gel and the whole thing feels more inclusive.
“You don’t have to worry about going out for dinner by yourself if you don’t want to,” says McKie, who recently returned from a holiday in Morocco with her five-year-old daughter and other solo parents. “We found the kids were saying, ‘We don’t want to be with our parents,’ and sat at their own table. My kid was interacting with all these other children and I got to have an adult conversation with other parents. It was probably the first holiday I’ve had with her that I came away thinking, ‘Wow, I actually had a holiday.’ And she had a great time.”
Pennie Ng, who runs a tour operator in Hong Kong, prefers to organise her own trips so she can set the pace and agenda according to her and her four-and-a-half-year-old daughter. She organised their first holiday together in 2016, settling on Tokyo for her first overseas adventure as a single mother.
“Japan is very kid-friendly. Most of the food is suitable for children, unlike Thailand or South Korea, which serves many spicy foods,” says the 33-year-old mother. “And in Japan, you can easily find children’s toilets and childcare rooms, and most of the malls offer free strollers to rent.”
Organising an itinerary, finding transport and arranging activities alone can be tough work, Ng says. She recommends renting a car when possible, as this offers more freedom and opportunities to explore. “We can go anywhere as planned and this makes it much easier,” she says. She also suggests researching hotels and resorts that offer reputable babysitting and childcare facilities.
McKie suggests allowing older children to have a say in choosing where to go. “Engage them in the decision-making and look at destinations that entice them and interest them.” And for younger ones, choose somewhere that caters to their interests. “Pick a destination or itinerary that suits you and your child. Look at their interests, whether that is wildlife, cooking or arts.”
For parents still nervous about taking the plunge, Keryn has one last piece of advice.
“Take a deep breath and dive in. If you want to travel, you can do it. Start small. You don’t have to go halfway around the world. Start with a trip an hour away from home and build from there. If you want to go to an international destination, visit friends if you have them living abroad, or ask friends or family to join you. Having a little backup support is never a bad idea.”
Travel tips for single parents:
1. Always take the most direct flight, especially if you are travelling long-haul.
2. Make sure you include sufficient rest time in the schedule, rather than packing as much sightseeing in as possible.
3. Invest in travel insurance geared towards travelling with children that includes elements such as cancellations, medical evacuation, return of minors and emergency medical reunions.
4. Pack a well-equipped emergency first aid kit.
5. Put in place an emergency plan with children so they know what to do if they become lost.
6. Keep the in-room fridge well stocked with snacks and drinks.