Single-parent travel with small kids





I’m a single parent and I love to see the world. That feels like the start of a confession. And maybe it is.

There have been times when I’ve thought, hours into a flight with a small who won’t settle

or sleep, this was a really bad idea and that I’m being selfish for dragging them onto the

flight. Then I remember that I made a promise to myself, and to my daughter that I would

always show her the world and I wouldn’t give up my love to travel. I believe it’s important

for children to know how big and beautiful this world is, and how that although everything

can appear very different, underneath it all can also be so very similar. So, when I’ve been so

tired I can’t keep my eyes open and my child has no concept of the time of day and there is

no one there to help or take turns, that’s what I always come back to.


I’ve always travelled; for pleasure, with work and with family - I’m a dual citizen so the

understanding of dealing with long haul flights started young, and my love of exploring and

seeing the world hasn’t changed. The way in which I do it, however has, and of course yes,

doing it all alone with a baby or toddler can be very hard at times. Despite this, I’ve found it

to be such a rich experience. Far more so in fact than when I was young, free and single

which is why I wanted to write a few words about my experience to allow other single

parents to see that anything is possible.


My daughter is now four and although for health reasons she couldn’t travel under the age of

1, since then we have been around the UK together; we’ve danced in stone circles, camped

in woods and on beaches, stayed off grid & fallen asleep listening to nature. Camping with

an under 3-year-old however deserves its own article! We’ve been close to home by skiing in

the alps, visited the Vatican in Rome, had an impromptu stay in Holland (due to a grounded

plane,) experienced Iceland in the winter and played in the still waters of the Croatian

coastline. She’s also managed a fair few long hauls in her time including two trips to the USA

across 3 states, 2 Hawaiian Islands, a huge 1000km road trip across Canada and a multi-stop

trip in Thailand. Not bad going hey.


So, what’s it like travelling as a single woman with a young child. By no means am I the first or the last, I can only speak from my experience, and, full disclosure, I only have one child, it’s also only ever been me and her so I have no other comparison. There’s the disclaimer out of the way and here’s the lowdown of the good, the bad and the need to be super organised!

Preparation! I’m not talking about lovely things to do once you arrive – places to go and things to see, I’m talking base line prep to even get there in one piece. My day job is being organised – which is helpful as being organised is pretty essential in a one to one ratio, or I would suspect if you’re outnumbered by small ones! Probably the most important element is also the most formal and that is consent to travel out of the country. This may not apply to everyone but it applies to me so I thought it worth sharing. My 'daughters’ father's name is on the birth certificate, although my she has my surname, I was advised to always travel with a letter of consent to show permission by both parents for the child leaving the country. I’ve only actually been asked for it twice – once in Holland and once in the States, however I’ve been informed that certain countries have even more specific requirements and I would always advise to check this with the Embassy before travel. There would be nothing worse that navigating the whole experience of getting to an airport, managing the whole flight to then be turned away at customs and sent back for fear of child abduction.


Also, in the needing to be organised category is strategic packing – especially when flying.

There is no rest bite from being a single parent, as all single parents know - so travelling

means being one step ahead for every eventuality. Like packing spare clothes - the time you

forget is the time you miss your connection and you end up in a hotel 30 miles outside of

Amsterdam with no nappies, dirty clothes, or means to get anywhere at midnight and an

exhausted child who can’t leave the hotel. Now my daughter is out of nappies, I still carry a

set of pjs and a scarf or pashmina which can be used as a blanket/ floor covering/ pillow/

toy! I also take travel wash everywhere with me!


In terms of entertaining a child when they’re travelling – I think this would be the same for if

there were more than one adult present. It’s just a bit more relentless one on one!

My daughter had just turned 3 when we did the 13 hour flight to Thailand and I packed my

rucksack with a variety of different goodies in an effort to keep my little ones patience in one

piece,: reusable food tins filled with different snacks in each so everything always seems

exciting, different kinds of toys in small bags (especially imaginative play toys which can be

used in many different ways and kids of all ages can enjoy), a pack of cards for all sorts of

games, a board game (I love Orchard games) and of course stickers and colouring books.

Driving is trickier though with no one else there because as the driver, you’re occupied on

the road. When we drove across the Rockies, I was really aware that I couldn’t play with her

and keep her entertained in the way I would do on a plane or train, so I bought her a travel

tray and had little compartments for all of the same things as I had in my rucksack so she

could be a lot more self-sufficient and leave me to concentrate on the roads.


The bad! So that’s how to get there with some remanence of sanity left! But what is it like? Friends always ask me if its lonely travelling alone with a child. For me, no, I’m very happy with my own company and the company of my child. It is, however, tiring and patience testing. And that can be really tough. In Bangkok, I could rationalise my jetlag and my tiredness from the long flight; my 3-year-old couldn’t, and for the first few days she was in absolute pieces. Completely upside-down body clock, totally irrational and incredibly emotional which of course resulted in challenging behaviour. We only had a few days before moving on to the next location and I was so desperate to see the sights and experience the city. I battled it one day, the next day I succumbed, the third day was a balance. And that was my lesson. Balance. 8 months later when we went to Canada, I planned the trip very differently. I gave us so much time and space – I really only had a handful of things I wanted to see as opposed to trying to see everything which was my mistake in Thailand. I also was able to have longer away overall ​which gave us both time to acclimatise to the time difference and get over the very long and intense flight It is definitely getting easier on one side as she’s getting older as I don’t need to cart around quite as much stuff, however I have to be more inclusive to her patience, interest and

tolerance levels.


When she was very young, I did experience a lot of ‘oh, it’s just the two of you’ at hotels and

‘are you not waiting for anyone else’ at restaurants. I’ve found that has reduced significantly

as she’s got older and now I use the fact that it’s ‘just the two of us’ to our benefit. I always

let places know in advance and as a result, we have had so much help and support. In

Croatia, the reception staff had pens and paper ready for her to draw with whilst I checked

in and had fresh juice and cookies for her. Restaurants all over have been really good about

helping me look after my bags by placing them behind the bar if I have had to take her to the

changing room or bathroom. Coming back from France, we were really delayed at the

airport so we were flying after 10 pm which I knew would be a nightmare. I spoke to the

airline and explained that I had a toddler as well as all a buggy and two carry ons and they

were great – the flight attendants took the buggy from me and then helped me onto the

plane with all my bags. People can be really kind if you ask for help.


The good!

So that’s the reality out of the way, and let me stress again, it can be super tough and

tiring.... however, travelling as a single parent can be such a magical experience. Aside from

continuing, and in fact resurrecting my love of travel and sharing that with my child, we have

such amazing experiences together, fantastic stories and memories which really makes our

time together so special. And it doesn’t have to be far away – my daughter still talks about

the yurt we stayed in on a farm in Cornwall and how the chickens came to have dinner with

her every night. Experiencing anything special one on one with your child is such a

rewarding experience, one that, for me, really makes me feel like I’m making the most out of

life.


On top of this, I’ve had some really authentic moments – which I don’t know if I would have

had being alone; watching her make friends with kids from different countries –

transcending language or different kinds of lives and with that, discovering the commonality

of parenting being the bond between adults.



Top tips:

1. Start small: Take mini trips first – we worked up to big trips and we worked up to it just being the two of us. We started with weekends away with family and friends and then started to do short trips together.

2. Ask for help: Let everyone know it's just the 2 of you and ask for help!

3. For tired legs: If you have a baby take a carrier – always! I took our Sleepynico absolutely everywhere until my daughter was over 3. If you want a pram, rent or buy a pram locally – loads of hotels do this and it saves carrying one through an airport and or you can get one through local freecycle ads or charity shop. For bigger kids, get a Flyte case. Fantastic for tired legs or for boring delays and making city exploring ​more fun. Another way to see cities with a little one is on a bike which is really fun for you both.


4.

Give yourself longer than you think:

For everything – each element just takes longer

and it helps your patience levels if you’re not rushing. This definitely includes

transport as well as when you arrive.


5.

Safety

– so this is a big one for me. We had an incident once where a stranger was

calling my daughter by her name and asking her to go over and play with them. This

person had overheard me speaking to her. So, we now have a nick name that only I

use so no one would overhear her actual name. In addition to this, we have safety

rules; stranger danger or what to do if we get separated.


6.

Sustainability:

Teaching kids about sustainable travel is really important and there

are loads of ways to do this. A really simple one is to take empties wherever you go!

Water bottles, food tins, plastic bags – they can be filled with food which can help

normalise any food that is unusual to kids, filled with emergency toys and they can

even become toys!


WRITTEN BY RACHEL SUGDEN




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