By Deenaz Raisinghani
If someone were to ask me what single parent travelling meant when I had just got married, I would have probably looked very confused and wide-eyed at the mere thought of it. Single or solo parent holidays are when the kids are completely at the mercy of one parent alone. We mothers are used to taking care of our kids at home single-handedly but planning a solo parent trip with them seems unachievable. Well, does it? The truth is, travelling and planning a holiday alone with your children is very achievable and in this post, I am going to explain what to keep in mind when planning a single parent holiday with your kids:
Choose a travel destination depending on the access to services
If you wish to holiday alone with your children like I do, think of a destination that is accessible and has good facilities for 24/7 transport, emergency services and most importantly access to food. Planning a destination within India is easy and you can choose between the metro cities that has each of the above, or slightly more adventurous states like Goa, Kerala, Rajasthan, etc. These destinations are the best bet to travel to with your child. Cities besides the metros such as Jaipur, Jodhpur, Kochi, Panjim, etc, are connected by a network of flights and trains and it would be easier to get to them by yourself. Outside India, you can look at countries like Singapore or Malaysia, Bali, Sri Lanka and most countries in Europe and North America. It is wise to book point to point transport, so you don’t have to transit between airport terminals or railway stations. The more adventurous mothers or fathers can, of course, manage connecting flights or trains and road journeys with their children, but for most parents that are just starting single parent travel, go for a destination that has point to point transport availability. If it is an international destination, choose the nearest Indian airport with possibly a single layover that you can manage. There is a separate post I have written in this column on surviving long haul flights, so go ahead and read that for more tips about flying with kids.
Holidaying with older kids
How old your kids are will decide the level of comfort you can expect while planning a trip with them. With slightly older kids, the single parent can share responsibilities including carrying their own cabin baggage, being responsible for their belongings, sleeping on time and giving you some time on your own while they are being looked after by a babysitter or are simply engaged in self-play. This helps a great deal as the mother or father does not constantly have to worry about their routine, and when there is more than one kid, they remain entertained without nagging or clinging onto you all the time. Older kids also have their own set of travel issues such as very strong opinions, choices for sightseeing, food and, of course, shopping. You can lay down some ground rules before the trip begins, but make sure you hand them some responsibility so they can become a helping hand to you instead of a liability. With the other parent missing, kids can quickly flip behaviour patterns and start taking you for granted as they depend on you for everything. Try to develop a relationship with your child and talk to them during the trip. It is okay to let them eat some pizza and fries or watch some extra TV while on holiday if that is what they want. Your main focus should be on bonding with your kid and finding a way for both of you to enjoy the trip together.
Holidaying with your infant
This may sound a little overwhelming but trust me it is easier to travel with an infant in many ways. For starters, they are really little and mostly dependent on you for their nourishment. They also do not talk back or throw insane tantrums in public places. They love napping and can nap through the longest of days in any surroundings as long as they are comfortable. Carrying them all the time is tough so invest in a sturdy, portable and lightweight stroller along with a sun shade, mosquito mesh and raincover. This will help you immensely as you get off from your flight or train and hail a taxi or want to stroll around the city with them.
I travelled to three cities in Europe as a single parent when my daughter was an infant, and I would say I had the time of my life (pun intended)! I was backpacking and, therefore, stayed at hostels and hailed public transport with her besides walking, but Europe made it so much easier for me. I do not think I would have managed the same so well in a busy Indian city with crazy traffic, and no decent hostel options for kids. I chose a single country; prebooked my accommodation and transport and carried two pieces of luggage besides a stroller and a baby carrier.
That being said, backpacking is not for everyone and it is completely okay as long as you are planning a single parent trip for both of you to enjoy. The freedom this style of travel gives you is unparalleled as you are the only person deciding where to go, what to see and eat and what to shop. If you wish to spend an entire day at the beach with your little one, do that. If you want to stay in at the hotel, call for room service or an in room masseuse while your baby sleeps, there’s no one stopping you so go all out! The primary needs of the child such as food, sleep and hygiene need to be taken care of, so stock up on what you need so the child doesn’t cry for milk or food in the middle of the night. Let them nap while you are sightseeing either in their stroller or snuggled with you in the carrier and change them as soon as they are wet, even if it is a public place. Carry disposable waste bags along and find an empty corner to manage the covert operation.
Keep emergency information and bookings handy
Prior to reaching the place, find out the location of the nearest hospital and supermarket on Google maps. Upon reaching the hotel or BnB, ask for contacts for taxi bookings and nearest restaurants. Work out exactly how much cash or forex you will need for the first couple of days and carry the rest in a forex card or travellers cheques. Do not keep a lot of money on you while travelling and swipe as much as you can. Keep all your bookings and identification in one place (preferably a wallet body bag) so you don’t panic while looking for them in your luggage.
Discard the used tickets and brochures (save a couple for memorabilia), and keep disposing stuff when you don’t need it anymore. Find out the timings of any children’s museums, or theme parks and pre-book online if you can so you can skip the long queue. Also remember to read reviews of the places you have booked for stay, and do not blindly trust aggregator sites like booking.com or makemytrip.com only because they gave you a good deal. Read multiple guest reviews and check for room facilities such as heater, baby crib and room service. Keeping all of these points in mind will go a long way for planning all your single parent holidays.
Ask for help and look like a seasoned traveller
When people see you travelling alone with your kids, there is a general human tendency to offer help, so please take it. You may be superwoman at home, but letting a co-passenger help you with your luggage while you carry a sleeping child out of the flight is completely normal. Also, ask for assistance everywhere including hotels, airports and airport washrooms. There are dedicated concierge services for senior citizens, disabled citizens and parents with young children so make use of these while travelling.
Most airlines offer priority check in and boarding to young parents and there is a different check in and boarding queue for them. Also, try to put up a confident face while travelling solo with your children. Try not to look scared or helpless as it may just attract unwanted attention from people around. Read up as much as you can about the destination and ask your children to refrain from talking to strangers unless you are with them. Booking a guided city tour or taking a hop on hop off bus tour with your kids is a great way to know the city without walking too much or being completely on your own.
A good tip to follow while travelling to states in India that have a local dialect or to foreign (non-English speaking) countries is to learn a few basic words in that language before you leave. It helps a big deal when you are lost and asking for directions or asking anyone for help. Google translate is available on phones but carrying a pocket dictionary may be useful. I learnt some basic German before my trip, and this literally saved me a lot of time trying to find my hostel from the train station and while travelling with locals. This way you will also improve your global vocabulary and maybe make a friend or two on your trip.
You are on holiday too so have fun
This was the whole point, wasn’t it? Just because you want your children to have a good time but are managing the entire trip by yourself, you do not have to go into monster parent mode and try to control every detail. If you miss a train or a museum trip, it is fine to skip it as there will always be another one. If your kid is unwell and wants you to sleep in longer, switch on some music, wear your headphones and think of nothing but good times and yourself. Remember that you took the leap and that single parent holiday you always wanted, so congratulate yourself for being brave and try to relax even if it means no alone time. Once you keep taking trips like these with your kids, they too will become more used to the idea of it and will try to help you when you need it.
Parents, I really hope you take a single parent trip once in a while as it will help you bond with your child in a different way. Until next time, it’s the Backpacking Mama signing off. Happy travelling!
(The writer blogs at Backpacking Mama.)
Let’s have fun! (??)