Any parent knows that traveling with young children is...challenging. At times, it can be downright frustrating, especially if you’re a single parent. But if there's one thing parents are known for, it's how to be resourceful. Here are some tips to make globe-trotting with children easier and a heck of a lot more fun!
1. Take Your Medicine
This is very important and something that a lot of parents overlook during the chaos of packing for a trip. Be sure to include medicine on your "to pack" list. Bring medicine for pain, upset tummies, fevers, allergies, and anything else (prescription or not) that your child might require, but make sure that it’s medicine you can travel with. A feverish child is something nobody wants! And while you're at it... throw in some bandages, Neosporin, and alcohol wipes. Safety first.
2. Book Transportation in Advance
When leaving on vacation with your child, it is important to think ahead. Plan everything, from your first step out of the front door, until you put your bags down in your hotel room. Plan your transportation in advance. Do not simply rely being able to hail a taxi when you get off the airplane (especially if traveling during busy seasons). Being stranded with a tired child outside of the airport is not a situation you want to find yourself in. Call ahead, reserve a car, get an Uber/Lyft (download the apps to your phone in advance), or see if your hotel offers a shuttle...ask around! Whatever you do, make sure there’s a car waiting for you when you land.
3. Board Early
We know it can be hard to arrive anywhere early when traveling with a small child, but there are benefits to not arriving fashionably late. Some airlines allow parents with children to board immediately after first class passengers. Not having to deal with the stress of running late is a huge bonus, but boarding your flight early can also relieve tension and stress, allowing both you and your child to start your trip off on the right foot.
4. Save Room for Toys
No matter where you go and for how long, you need to bring at least a few favorite toys from home. While it is advisable to travel as light as possible, you will want to make sure you save room for a Power Ranger or Doll (or two). Tip: As soon as you book your trip, keep an eye out for great travel toys that your little one can enjoy and are also suitcase friendly.
5. Avoid the Sugar Rush
Try to avoid giving your child sugar before going on a trip. The last thing you want is for your over-hyped child to have all the energy in the world when you’re plane is taking off and they are confined to a seat for the next four hours. Eat a regular meal before hitting the road and pack small, simple snacks to keep tummies full (airport food is often over-processed and so overpriced).
6. Love Your Stroller
Some parents can be so apologetic of their bulky strollers, while some avoid it altogether because they are heavy and hard to carry. But a stroller can be a huge help, especially on vacation and in airports when you have a lot of walking to do. And don't forget to bring your child's car seat if you plan to do any vehicle travel. Thanks to trendy roll-n-go accessories, traveling with a car seat has never been easier.
7. Pre-Trip Training
If your child is old enough to remember small, simple tasks, then it is wise to do a little training with them before you leave on your vacation. Explain to them what to expect and what is expected from them (i.e. airports lines, travel etiquette, potty breaks, etc.). And keep it brief so that your little one doesn't feel completely overwhelmed.
8. Invest in a Child Tracker
Vacations are a great time to kick back and let loose, but keep safety in mind first. Children are especially prone to wander and lose track of their surroundings while in a new setting. A child tracker is a great way to keep your kiddo (and their location) in check. Here is a list of 10 wearable safety/GPS devices for kids.
9. Check-In Online
Online check-in has improved airport travel immensely. Avoid massive lines by simply checking in online 24 hours before your flight, from the comfort of your own home. If you don't need to check a bag, print your boarding passes in advance (or download your airline's app to your phone) and avoid the check-in counter all together. Keep in mind that security has strict limits for carry-on bags in regards to what types of liquids (and sizes) are allowed, so be sure to do your homework.
10. Friendly Flight Attendants
Flight attendants are there to help... after all, it's their job. As a single parent traveling with a small child, take advantage of the extra set of hands. This isn't to say you should pester them with non-stop requests, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for making a polite request or two during your flight either. For example: if you need to use the bathroom and you can’t take your child with you, rather than asking the person sitting next to you to keep an eye on them, ask one of the flight attendants. They’d be more than happy to help!
11. Avoid the Back of the Plane
If you have the flexibility to choose your seats on an airplane, it is recommended that you stay away from the back of the plane. It is, undoubtedly, the loudest part of the plane, which is no good for conversations, naps, or even watching a movie. Furthermore, it’s where there is always a line for the lavatory, where the flight attendants are chatting, and pretty much where all the action happens. It's tough for parents, let alone a small child, to not get completely distracted by all the commotion.
12. Research, Research, Research
Researching a hotel is critical before booking a vacation. And this is especially valid for any traveler, especially for single parents traveling with their children. You need to know if a hotel offers any form of babysitting services, if they have a play area, if kids are allowed in restaurants, if they have laundry service, etc. Pretty much everything you might need to have a great (and stress-free) vacation! Websites such as Hotels or TripAdvisor are awesome for finding out this type of "behind-the-scenes" information.
13. Noise-Canceling Headphones
A pair of good noise-canceling headphones can make a huge difference when traveling with a young child. Loud noises in airports, on the road, or in city centers, can be distracting and potentially harmful to your child. Protect their sensitive ears with a good pair of noise-canceling headphones. Bonus: Use them when your child is napping so that they don’t become easily startled and can sleep longer. Fit and comfort are very important, so be sure to try headphones on ahead of time.
14. Announce in Advance You Have Kids
When booking your hotel, announce in advance that you have kids. This way, you get information about what each hotel can offer, and you’ll be able to schedule and plan accordingly. Many hotels offer great kids programs that can give parents a much needed break, so make sure you know about these perks ahead of time.
15. Routine, Routine, Routine
Parents know very well that children thrive on routine, thus it is highly recommended that you create one for your child while on vacation. It may seem counterproductive to fun, but it’s really a complement. If your child learns on the first few days how things are going to be, they’ll start relaxing and be more manageable, which will only make your life easier and the trip more fun for everyone.
16. Early to Bed, Early to Rise
When on vacation with a small child, it is very important to go to bed early, for their sake and also for yours. Keep in mind their normal routine and try to stick to it when possible (of course, missing out on the fireworks at Disneyland because it's past bedtime may be a little harsh, but planning activities that end close to their normal bedtime may be wise). Besides, if they go to bed a little early, you get some time to yourself to unwind, relax, and plan out the next day's schedule.
17. City Centers
When booking a hotel, do your best to choose a hotel that is as close as possible to the city attractions that you are most interested in. Even though these hotels tend to be a bit pricier, you will save money on transportation and you won't lose time shuttling back and forth, which can be stressful for both you and your little one. Pricey hotels in city centers and downtown areas aren't always the best option, but they are definitely worth checking into and weighing the pros and cons before booking. And be sure to check out apps like airbnb, which offer alternatives to regular hotels, often at reduced prices and with a variety of options.
18. Expect the Best, Plan for the Worst, and Prepare to be Surprised
Alright, so your vacation probably won’t go entirely as planned, but it likely won't be worst-case-scenario either... but you do need to plan accordingly. Make sure to have back-up plans in place, additional emergency funds handy, and emergency contact info easily accessible. Trips with small children tend to be filled with surprises, so make sure you do your best to plan ahead as much as possible.
Now that you’ve planned for the worst and are ready for the best, it's time to relax. Anxiety is your own worst nightmare and produces nothing but stress and thoughts of what could go wrong. Worrying is never helpful, especially if you have already prepared for alternative situations and have things under control. Instead, focus on what can (and probably will) go right on your vacation. Get excited! If you are having trouble relaxing before your big trip, try meditation, spend time reading a book, hit up your local Yoga studio, or just enjoy a quiet cup of coffee. Whatever brings you peace of mind, find your zen.
20. Single Parent/Kids Retreat
Going on retreats that cater towards single parents with kids is a great way to unwind and also to bond with your child. The best thing about single parent/kids vacations is the support system you will discover there. Meeting other single parents will undoubtedly open up your eyes to a whole new world and make you feel like you’re not alone on this journey (which you aren't). You get to experience new and exciting travel destinations, all while meeting like-minded people who understand your circumstance, bond with your child, relax, and have fun. If you've never looked into them, now may be the time!
This piece was written in conjunction with Cristina Costea of BookSinglesHolidays.com.
Cristina is the Community Manager of BookSinglesHolidays.com, a themed travel website offering a vast collection of singles vacations & solo holidays. She is also a passionate traveler, cat aficionado and novice writer.