Travel itself can always be a little daunting, but doing it solo with your child can almost seem impossible. However, the only thing that people truly worry about is the ‘unknown’ and that’s exactly what we face when we travel somewhere knew or travel as a single parent for the first time. As soon as you stop seeing the unknown as something that’s scary and instead somewhat of an adventure it already reduces that creeping anxiety.
According to sources from The Telegraph single parents are ‘The forgotten demographic in travel’, and that couldn’t be more true. The fact is that travel is not made easy for a solo parent and with approximately 2 million single parents now in the UK that’s quite the untapped market for the travel industry!
Here are a few tips of travelling solo with children….
22 General tips!
- Rely on the kindness of strangers – This I have put as number one because it really is a huge tip. Having travelled to all kinds of countries with my 1 year old son I can remember most of the times that local people have stopped to help me – or I might’ve asked for the help. Whether it’s another passenger helping you carry your ‘carry-on luggage’ to the plane, or a local helping you carry the buggy up some stairs, you really shouldn’t expect to have to do it all on your own. Of course be cautious and have your wits about you but let people be kind – they want to be!
- Organise your hand luggage – I cannot stress enough how much this will help you. Whether male or female, make sure you organise your carry on, when you are squashed in the back of a plane with a child on your lap it’s near impossible to get anything out the bag under your seat. I often de-camp my essentials in the seat pocket (wipes/1 x nappy/milk/snacks/phone/book/tablet) then I try and organise the bag so I can easily get hold of something when I need it.
- Use a sling – Now this isn’t always possible, because my son isn’t a huge fan of the sling, but if your child does like a sling then make the most of it! There is nothing better than having free hands! Try Ergobaby for ultimate comfort and best posture for your baby/infant.
- Use a lightweight buggy – If your child is anything like mine they will prefer a buggy where they can watch the world go by, so my only advice is to take one that is lightweight and folds into ‘1’ piece. Don’t forget to let the air hostess know if you would like the buggy available to you when you disembark as they won’t do this unless you request it!
- Reins – For those tottering about then consider using reins, they are great for keeping them close by when going through security but also allowing them the freedom to have a little wander about. It also frees up your hands to manage luggage and passports!
- Travel light – This is easier said than done and I am guilty of taking too much despite my travel experience. I would just take whatever will make you feel comfortable, as long as you are aware that you are often the one lugging it all around as well as having a child to look after. It’s worth researching what equipment is available at your destination or hotel. You can often hire buggies, prams, cots and car seats. I for example always request a cot bed for my son – worst case they don’t have one then he is in bed with me which as a single parent is always an option!
- Be cheeky – It may sound strange but as a single parent it’s time to get confident and push the boundaries – essentially get your money’s worth. Use your little munchkin’s ‘cuteness’ to check-in through the business desk rather than queuing for an hour. Ask as soon as boarding if there is a row of chairs free that you can have or try and push in at the front of the taxi line. Personally we have managed to jump a few queues, have been given priority boarding, spares seats on the plane and even a glass of champagne from the sympathising air hostess. My son has been given extra toys in restaurants, free deserts or even books to keep him happy and make our experience more enjoyable.
- Time your travel – This is important however it all depends on affordability. I’d love to fly at convenient times but it’s not always cost effective – so weigh up the pro’s and con’s and if you want to spend a little extra then aim for a flight where your child can sleep or a flight that will reduce jet lag at your destination.
- Take your time – This may seem obvious but unless you’ve turned up late to the airport there really is no rush. Don’t let others make you feel rushed, most of them have forgotten what it’s like now their children are grown, but they were all in your position at some point!
- Virtual company – No, not the dodgy kind, bring a tablet or laptop because when you’ve finished the endurance race that is ‘a day in the life’ of a single parent you might just want some kind of comfort that can be provided by a TV series from home or a favourite movie. That being said you may prefer, like me, to get stuck into a good book instead!
- Book Directly – This is for those looking to save money. As a single traveller it is actually cheaper for you to book directly with airlines and hotel/resorts. Also look for the deals at the very end of the holidays where you can snap up a bargain!
- Outsource your kids – The big problem I have with travelling nowadays is not getting any time to myself. Even when the kids go to bed you are sometimes chained to the hotel room and unable to do anything for yourself. So my advice is to make the most of a kids club here and there, and see if they offer babysitting services – DON’T FEEL GUILTY! We are always better parents if we in turn get a little time to ourselves.
- Preparedness – This is an open-ended point and is key to successful travel with children, but more specifically make sure you print off all travel docs in good time, check flight statuses in the lead up to your flight, check-in online, avoid longer queues by using ‘family lanes’ through security, and make sure you have the right ID* for travelling with your child (*see below).
- Do your research – Always think ahead to how you will be getting around, I often find it cheaper to just hire a car abroad and take my own car seat but depending on your holiday you may find your hotel offers free shuttles to and from local attractions.
- Reviews – Always check online reviews, they are gold! If there is a mix of reviews go with the majority – usually your gut instinct is correct. I also like to leave a review to help other people in my position.
- Package Holiday Extras – If you prefer to book a package trip then there are often extras that might not be advertised. Ask if children get free travel insurance, some children might go free altogether with a full paying adult. Some travel companies offer Single Parent Deals – so keep an eye out.
- Phone service – Always check with your provider before you travel, you might be surprised and find that you can use your normal phone contract abroad at no extra cost. I always recommend Three as they have such great deals and coverage in the most countries.
- Visas – Always check to see if you require a visa for your destination, some are extremely easy to obtain and others can take months so make sure it’s one of the first things you check.
- Foreign Currency – Once again you should shop around and NOT leave it until the last minute at the airport. I almost always opt for getting my cash at The Post Office, firstly because it’s a free transaction and secondly because they often have the best deals.
- Revolut – For those that travel regularly then you must check out Revolut, this digital banking app that comes with a debit card, is now one of my favourite travel companions. I can top it up like any of my other bank cards; it’s all controlled on my phone with thumb-print recognition and I can add as many currencies to the card as I like which means FREE cash transactions whenever I am abroad!! Yippee!
- Phone Numbers – Always keep a list of phone contacts for when technology fails you, it’s useful in general but a necessity in an emergency. This list would include family ‘Next of Kin’, bank contacts, travel insurance, accommodation phone number, and mobile network contact number abroad.
- Benefits – If you are a single parent that receives any kind of government benefits then you must always check on the government website or family advice site Gingerbread, to see what the stipulations are about travelling abroad and in the UK. The general rule is that you cannot be out of the country for more than 4 weeks at a time but each style of benefit has different rules so you must check. Ultimately if you break the rules you could essentially lose your benefits temporarily or permanently.
6 Tips for the un-seasoned traveller:
- Limited time – If you’re not yet sure how you’ll cope or are nervous then don’t book a 4 week trip backpacking round Thailand. Just go with a solid week away somewhere then you’ll be able to relax as well as having fun with the children.
- Company – Just because you’re a single parent it doesn’t mean you have to travel alone! Go with family, friends, join clubs through Facebook or at resorts and find some good adult company!
- Check prices – Make sure when you are looking for accommodation that your search is offering room charges as ‘per room per night’ and NOT ‘per person per night’ as this will obviously be a lot more expensive.
- Clubs – If you would like to ease yourself into travelling as a single parent then try the family resorts or Single Parent Travel group for best deals and find like-minded people.
- Kid’s clubs – If you’re banking on the kid’s clubs then make sure they are age appropriate as most only start from age 3-4 and some older kids might find what’s on offer is too young for them
- Bank – ALWAYS check that your bank is aware of your travel dates as some will automatically cancel your cards when they see its been used abroad and you haven’t notified them of your location.
Accommodation must haves!
- Mini Fridge – This is a lifesaver when you are using milk for your little one, not to mention just good for fresh snacks and drinks.
- Cot – Not all places provide travel cot and some will charge, I always recommend phoning ahead and getting it organised early on as they can sometimes run out!
- Kids Pool – Not essential but it is nice when there is a separate kids pool and you can splash around without the worry that your child will make too much noise or stumble across loved up couples having inappropriate pool encounters (it happens)!
- Breakfast – Firstly make sure your accommodation offers breakfast and make sure it’s included, the last thing you need is hidden extra costs when you’re trying to relax.
- Free cancellation – our lives become somewhat unreliable when we have children and we have to be able to adapt. So it’s best to find somewhere with free cancellation just in case!
- Wifi – Always useful if you’re using a tablet or phone and when you’re travelling solo it’s comforting being able to contact people easily to let them know you’re okay.
Travelling during School Term
This is a topic that makes the headlines every year and causes a lot of headache between teachers and parents alike. My best advice is to just be honest. As it stands a child of school age should not be taken out of school during term time and if they are without approval the parent will be faced with a fine of £60 which if ignored will double to £120 – Government details here!
It’s often nice travelling during term time either if you’re looking for a quieter trip or if you simply cannot afford holiday prices and that is perfectly understandable. The aim is to prove to the headmaster or mistress that your trip is beneficial to the child – which of course it is.
Tips for booking trips with school children –
- Avoid certain times of the school year, critical exams or important parts of their education.
- Contact and discuss with the school at the earliest opportunity, not last minute – don’t make them feel like they are backed into a corner.
- Talk about the type of holiday you are taking and in what way it will benefit your child. Talk about the location, the activities, and the education that they will get from the experience.
- If it’s the only way your child can have a holiday that year because its affordable only during school term, then tell them! They are not unreasonable people (mostly) and will not want to deprive a child of important family time and travel experiences if it’s only financially possible during term time. Be honest!
- Always get something in writing whether a letter or email – if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen…
Health & Insurance
- Travel Insurance – Travelling alone is different to travelling with children, you’re not quite as carefree and the truth is you now have big responsibilities. Always make sure you or your child at the very least has travel insurance! If you have an emergency abroad it is worth calling the insurance company at the earliest opportunity to confirm your cover and get their instructions on how to proceed.
- Vaccinations – Check when booking your trip whether you need vaccinations, some vaccinations will differ from adult to child. Beware that some vaccinations will cost you and can cost as much as £60 a pop so make sure you factor that in to your budget.
- Medical History – Always carry a basic note of yours and your child’s medical history, if you have time it’s also worth translating it and having a copy of the basic records in the language of your destination. From someone that works for the Ambulance Service it can be very tricky arranging appropriate help for people that don’t speak any English and finding language interpreters takes up valuable time in an emergency!
- 999 – Make sure you know the emergency number at your destination, below are a few popular ones….
Safety in Travel
As a solo-parent travelling safety is key, and it’s important you take the necessary measures when you go away.
- Photo – Always carry a photo of your child with you should you ever get separated, we all know that children can wander off in the blink of an eye (literally).
- Events – Always check out any recent events or incidents at your destination. Make sure it is safe to travel there and follow government advice.
- Contact Info – You can get your child to wear a wristband or have a card on them that has all your contact details should they get lost.
- Educate – Depending on your child’s age you must EDUCATE them, children can be very practical in an emergency and are often better at dealing with it than an adult. So don’t assume they are too young, explain to them what they should do if they can’t find you.
- Travel Insurance – Always have a copy of your travel insurance policy so you can get hold of it straight away should anything happen.
Travel Documents for Solo Parent Travel
Travelling as a solo parent can be quite straightforward but it’s important you prepare for it not to be. Even if you have the same surname as your child it’s paramount that you take the following:
- Passport – Most countries need a passport to have more than 6 months left before expiring.
- Birth certificate – Proves you are the parent, especially if like me your child has a different surname.
- Court Order – If you have a court order in place showing that you are able to take your child away, or showing that you have full parental responsibility then there’s no harm in taking a copy with you.
- Letter of consent – This might not always be possible but if you are able to catch your ex-partner on a good day then provide them with a consent letter to sign. The letter should have your destination, dates of travel and both your and the other parent’s details on it.
Each countries immigration is completely different and it is at their discretion whether they decide to look into these documents. As a UK resident I find that I have no trouble on departure and no one questions anything entering a new country, however, on my return to the UK immigration have stopped me every time to check my son’s birth certificate and confirm that I am his mother. It’s not something to get annoyed about, they are doing their job and if anything we should be glad that they are making it harder for children to be trafficked!
I hope this guide is somewhat helpful, a lot of the tips relate to any parent whether they are single or not. If you follow and consider all of the above when you travel with your children then you are likely to have a stress free, safe and (more importantly) FUN adventure with your children! Happy travels…