If you've ever been on holiday with your little rascals, you know it's less of a relaxing getaway and more of a high-stakes adventure. As a battle-hardened solo parent with my fair share of vacation victories and "this can't possibly be happening" moments, I'm here to spill the beans on how to plan a stress-free single parent holiday.
From unraveling the mysteries of airport security (and teaching your kids the art of shoe removal) to magically fitting an entire house into a single suitcase, I've got the secrets you need. Let's face it, we've mastered the art of juggling tasks, striking deals, and bending time – planning a holiday has gotta be easy, right?
Here are my crucial tips for pulling off a stress-free single parent holiday that the whole family enjoys, including you!
Book early for good deals and plenty of time
Time is gold with holiday bookings. Especially when it comes to airfare, booking in advance is the key for a stress-free single parent holiday.
Aside from being on the lookout for promos, I typically book flights and tour packages months in advance: two to three months ahead for domestic travel and at least six months for international trips. Some destinations offer early bird discounts as well.
Through years of being my family's de facto vacation planner, I save hundreds of dollars simply by booking early - dollars we can use for other luxuries like better accommodation, cool your and meals out.
Make sure your destination is kid-friendly
A non-negotiable when it comes to travelling with kids is - surprise, surprise! - to ensure that your destination suits kids. Thankfully, a quick Google search will tell you the best vacation spots for families, so you have zero excuse for picking a destination your children will find boring.
But what makes for a kid-friendly destination?
Here are my four must-haves when choosing a vacation spot:
- Easy to access attractions: No long drives in between sights
- Lots of food options: It can be challenging to make kids try new food, so it's nice to have a backup plan for safe spots to eat that offer their favourites
- Heaps of fun activities: The outdoors - think theme parks, wildlife, and beaches - are a must
- Family-friendly accommodations: Kids need comfortable beds and spaces, so reserve hostels and capsule hotels for when you are on a solo trip, or they are older
Further reading: 10 Reasons why Bali is great for kids
Get covered with holiday insurance
A stress-free single parent holiday is not complete without travel insurance.
Although nobody wants to think that something wrong will happen during your family vacation, it doesn't hurt to have a cushion for emergencies when you're far from home.
In many countries, including Australia, travel insurance is a highly-recommended requirement and is totally worth it, too. It covered for medical emergencies, flight cancellations or delays, and lost baggage. When worse comes to worst, and you end up in a natural disaster, travel insurance has your back. Although it's an additional expense, you get peace of mind in return.
My absolutely top recommendation for travel insure is Covermore. I have claimed twice with them, once for over $7,000 (I told you things can go wrong when you travel!) and both times the claim was easy and fast to make.
Get local insight of where you are going
As a seasoned traveller, I've learned that there's nothing more valuable than learning about a destination through the eyes of its residents. To do this, I fully use personal blogs, social media, and forums when planning our family vacations.
There are critical things about a place you do not learn from fellow tourists and travellers. For example, I planned a trip to a popular Southeast Asian city. But scouring Reddit, I found that many locals actually have negative views of tourists! For one, they hate visitors' excessive use of cars, making traffic unbearable and disrupting their everyday life. These insights were crucial for me to book my vacation.
Negativity aside, you get a whiff of how best to enjoy a destination from a local perspective. You discover the best cafés, restaurants, and attractions that may be less popular for tourists.
Start buying holiday essential as soon as possible
I enjoy packing long before an actual trip. Knowing I have everything I need to turn a vacation into a stress-free single parent holiday is therapeutic.
Think nappies, sunblock, appropriate clothes and footwear, sunglasses, personal care items, and your first aid kit. Also, consider buying toys and busy books to entertain little kids during a long trip.
In addition, you don't want a "hangry" (hungry + angry) child on the road. So, I also pack quite a lot of healthier snacks like protein bars, popcorn chips, and electrolyte drinks.
It's also much cheaper to bring your own food than buy from convenience stores and snack bars. (Needless to say, check the expiration dates if you plan to purchase early on.)
Write a list of what to pack
Planning a family vacation is both exciting and challenging, particularly with kids. An organised checklist is vital for a stress-free single parent holiday. Note essentials like clothes, toiletries, and meds, tailored to each member. Pack enough snacks, entertainment, and comfort items for the journey.
Include age-appropriate activities at your destination for a balanced itinerary. Remember documents, insurance, and contacts. Prioritise safety with emergency numbers, first aid, and health needs.
Create a routine accommodating nap times and meals. Consider weather and involve kids in checklist-making. Crafting a thorough checklist ensures a smooth, enjoyable trip for the family, with room for flexibility if needed.
Choose luggage which is easy move with kids
The right kind of luggage is another non-negotiable for a stress-free single parent holidays.
When it comes to travelling with kids, opt for a durable and light suitcase, like a hard polycarbonate shell. Meanwhile, a suitcase with 360-degree spinner wheels can be easily manoeuvred with one hand while holding your little rascal with the other.
If they're big enough, you can also get your tiny travellers their own luggage. Choose a lightweight suitcase with heavy-duty wheels and straps to keep things together. Recently, ride-on suitcases are currently very popular for families as they can double as footrests and chairs during transit.
Need a stroller? Get a light-weight travel one
Unless you are willing to carry your little bundle of joy in your arms the whole time during your trip, you'll need a light-weight portable and collapsible stroller.
For your trips, make sure you can easily stash your baby's stroller in the overhead compartment or the trunk of your rental car. There are also travel strollers that automatically fold themselves with a click.
When choosing a stroller for your trip, consider where you are going. Some strollers are made for flat, smooth surfaces, while some can stand on terrains. Think about whether your carrier allows bringing a stroller as your carry-on.
Plan rest time on your holiday itinerary
Resist from planning your holiday itinerary with back-to-back activities. Rest is an absolute necessity for a stress-free single parent holiday - for you and for the kids.
Regardless of the age of my kids, I always place rest as a top priority during vacations. I typically plan our first day as a rest day, especially if it is a long trip. Getting well-rested and refreshed to enjoy the rest of the vacation is important. Usually, we sleep in the hotel as soon as we arrive.
If you have little kids, the more critical rest becomes. When restless, children are super challenging to handle. They won't sit around, they won't sleep, and they will get cranky - all the ingredients that will ruin your trip.
So, plan just enough activities for the day to allow plenty of rest for everyone's tired legs. Anyway, you can always return if your kids want to explore more.
Ensure your kids are airport prepared
As a single mum with two young daughters, I used to get pretty paranoid when taking them to the airport. But now I have it down pat.
I have their travel documents in an inner pocket in their jackets, along with a card containing my contact details. Weeks before our flight, we also practice what to do in case one of them got lost. I make sure they know to talk only to security and what information to share with authorities.
In addition, teach your kids how to behave during different times on your flight. Tell them what happens during security checks, like why and how to take off their shoes when passing through a scanner, if needed.
Through books and videos, you can also prepare them on what to expect once they board the airplane, airplane ears, and seatbelts.
Pack first aid and medications
Next in our guide for a stress-free single parent holiday is ensuring your have first aid and medications on hand. With little kids, you're better off expecting a wound or a scratch here and there.
Here are what you need for your first aid kit, at the very minimum (don't worry it doesn't take up much space):
- Cute bandages (for babies and toddlers) and liquid bandage (for older kids)
- Alcohol-based sanitizer or antibacterial wipes
- Antibiotic ointment
- Sterile gauze pad
- Antiseptic cleanser
- Pain reliever and fever medication (I love paracetamol lollies!)
- Anti-gas drops
- Instant ice packs
- Tweezers and scissors
- Wee bag (for babies)
If your kids are old enough, you can teach them basic first aid as well. Children as young as six years old can start learning about emergencies.
Make sure you have valid passports and visas
Fortunately, I've never experienced cancelling travel plans due to an expired passport or visa, but it definitely happens to some. Imagine wasting all that time meticulously planning your activities and packing essentials - all for nothing! Plus, your kids will be disappointment because you overlooked something this basic.
Here are the measures you must take well in advance to prevent this from happening:
- Confirm the expiration dates of passports for both you and your children
- Research visa requirements for your chosen destination, as regulations vary
- Initiate the visa application process early to avoid last-minute rush
- Keep photocopies and digital scans of all important documents as a precaution
This proactive approach guarantees smooth entry and exit from your vacation spot, allowing you to concentrate on enjoying quality time with your children without unwelcome travel hiccups.
Prepare for long journeys (flights, car, train)
I'm pretty sure all kids hate long journeys. But by proactively addressing the unique demands of different modes of travel, you can pave the way for a more enjoyable and stress-free single parent holiday journey with your kids.
For flights, book seats in advance to secure comfortable seating arrangements for you and your kids. Load tablets or devices with kid-friendly apps, movies, and games, or encourage them to bring books and toys. Prioritise comfort by packing cute neck pillows and snugly fleece blankets.
In cars, strategise rest stops for stretching and bathroom breaks. Install sunshades to shield from glare, and organise a variety of car-friendly games or audiobooks. I also recommend preparing a playlist of their favourite nursery and Disney songs to sing along throughout the drive.
On trains, select family-friendly seating and explore the train's amenities together. Kids will love going through different cars with you. You can also create a designated "activity time" during the journey for shared games or drawing.
Further reading: How to prepare for a long car ride with kids.
Learn language basics for your destination
Although English is universally understood and spoken, it doesn't hurt to have basic knowledge of expressions in your destination. These are incredibly helpful in building rapport with the locals and asking for directions. Locals do not really expect you to converse with them fully in their own language, but simple greetings can go a long way.
Back in the day, it was harder to learn other languages properly because we had to study using books. Thankfully, that's not the case today. There are now many free apps that teach you how to properly pronounce words in other languages.
Keep your money safe
Finally, ensure a stress-free single parent holiday with your children by prioritising the security of your finances. Opt for a travel money card, which is a secure alternative to cash. Load it with the desired amount before your trip, reducing the risk of carrying large sums.
These cards often offer favourable exchange rates and can be easily replaced if lost or stolen. Remember to keep a backup card and store them separately. This approach not only safeguards your funds but also grants you peace of mind, allowing you to focus on creating lasting memories with your children.
Final words: Planning a stress-free single parent holiday
As a seasoned solo parent with a trove of both triumphant vacation stories and incredulous "how is this even happening" moments, I hope this guide will help you orchestrate a stress-free single parent holiday.
From booking flights in advance to planning for rest to keeping your money secure, these simple steps ensure a seamless vacation that promises delight for the entire family, including yourself.