Top Tips for Single Mum Travel.
Because my daughter’s father lives interstate, I have flown quite regularly as a single mum so my daughter can see him. Last month we took our first overseas holiday. Just the two of us. Along the way I have learnt a few things that I wanted to share with you. Traveling with children is hard enough as it is, let alone as a single parent, so read these top tips for single mum travel to help you prepare. I hope you find them useful.
- Do what you can online.
Do everything you can, prior to travel, online. There is nothing worse than standing in long queues with your child or children. Especially if they tend to dart off (like mine). It’s not recommended to leave your luggage unattended, and if you have a child run off, well, there may not be a choice. So if you can, check in online, and pre book any transfers so that you have a smoother journey and avoid as many queues as possible. The last thing you need is for someone to plant something in your bag because you’ve had to run off after a child.
- If travelling overseas, prepare legally.
The last thing you want is to be turned back at the airport, because you discover your ex has put your children on the airport watch list. Read this (expand “what is the family law watch-list?”) to make sure you carry out any steps to prevent this from happening. Another thing some people like to do, is carry a letter from their child or children’s father saying they’ve agreed to the travel. I also always carry a copy of my daughter’s birth certificate (because my daughter and I have different surnames) and our court orders (because there’s no way I’d ever get a letter), which state that we are free to travel.
- Make sure you are completely packed and ready to go if you have to leave the house and jump in a cab at 5:30 am.
Nothing at this god awful hour is easy, so make sure all you have to do is shower and get you and the little ones dressed before you’re ready to get out the door. Breakfast can be packed the night before, or bought at the airport.
- Hire or take a stroller if you have a little one.
Further to point one, if you can eliminate the risk of them running off, do it! Just remember to take the iPad out of the bottom of the stroller before you hand it over to the flight staff, as I recently saw a family forget to do on our flight back from Fiji. Not only because of the monetary value, but because of the pain involved on the flight. The mother sat down next to me with her baby, and her husband and other two kids were seated across the aisle. Both parents cried and then had a huge fight when they realised what they’d done. But apart from that, strollers are very helpful. I used to travel with my ergo as well. Being able to carry my baby, wear a backpack and a handbag, plus pull along a suitcase is a life saver.
- Technology is your friend.
I guess people did somehow survive back in the day without iPhones, iPads and tablets on planes, but I promise it will make your life easier to utilise technology. I admit that my daughter is a bit deprived when it comes to technology, and we don’t own any devices except for the iPhone, but if you’ve got-em, use em. Even having the iPhone and having apps on there that my daughter likes, and being able to sync it to the in flight entertainment is a relief for me.
- Check in early.
Checking in early means that you’re not stressed or rushing around, plus it gives you a better chance of getting a good seat. It is worth asking if there is somewhere with a spare seat. If you need a bassinet, you will need to pre-book this with the airline over the phone. Choose your seat wisely. I personally find the back of the plane is not a good place to sit with a toddler or baby. It is where all the action is – the flight attendants all loiter here, and the toilets are there too, so there are often long queues, and it’s not a conducive environment for settling a baby or toddler. Noise cancelling headphones are also a good idea for babies.
- Board Early
Listen out for the early boarding call for those that have children. You’ll want to utilise this so you can get into your seats and get organised before it gets packed out. I like to keep essentials by my feet, and extras in the overhead compartment.
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks.
I always take A LOT of food – fruit, crackers, sultanas, sandwiches, cheese, water etc. Food solves so many problems, and is a great distraction. I also pack a couple of little treats like lollipops. These are great when ascending and descending to prevent little ears playing up, and are also good for bribery.
- Ask for, or accept help.
Flight attendants are usually very happy to help, as are complete strangers. If another passenger offers to help with your bags, don’t be scared to say YES PLEASE!! And don’t be sacred to ask a flight attendant to watch your child or baby if you need to use the toilet, as they are happy to help. Alternatively you can do what I used to do, but it’s probably not the easiest option – put the fold out change table down (which is usually above the toilet), and gently place your baby there whilst you use the toilet, jamming your head against it to act as a barrier to prevent the baby rolling off.
- Go to the front of taxi queues.
This is particularly useful in Australia. If you go straight to the front of the taxi queue, they’ll put you to the side, and as soon as a taxi with a car seat comes along – it’s yours. DON’T WASTE TIME WAITING IN THE QUEUE. Having said that, different states have different laws. Do research on the relevant state laws of where you are going. In New South Wales, for example, you CANNOT travel with a baby under one in a taxi without the baby being in a car seat. In Western Australia, however, when in a taxi you CAN travel with a baby under one in your lap, provided it is in a baby carrier.
- Make it easy, do you really need to book a hotel on the other side of the country?
I made this mistake when we went to Fiji recently. I knew it was going to be a long trip, but I didn’t think how much it would actually suck getting off a plane, and then getting on a bus for two hours. In my case though, it was worth it when we finally got there. Work out if the pros are worth the cons.
- Research the hotels.
When looking for a hotel to stay in, do lots of research. Make sure you read reviews, and also ask for recommendations. You’ll want a hotel that is child friendly and provides a cot if you need one (the less you have to carry, the better). Some hotels have playgrounds and special swimming pools for kids, which is going to make your trip more enjoyable. Tell the hotel when you are booking that you have a child, as they are often very accommodating. They may also tell you about additional children’s activities that are not advertised or that they provide free breakfasts for kids.
I also always make sure that there is a fridge in the room. This way you can purchase snacks and milk etc. and keep it handy in your room. It’s also a good idea to request a room with a bath (if that is what your child is used to) as they don’t all have them. I would also check that the wall between the room, and the bathroom is not made of glass. You don’t want to wake the kids up if you need to go in to use the toilet. I also ALWAYS make sure there is a separate space – whether it’s a balcony or a separate sitting area. It’s your holiday too, and you want to be able to put your feet up and relax whilst the kids sleep.
- Hide the contents of the mini bar.
If there is a mini bar, these are generally quite accessible to little ones. Take everything out, and put it somewhere out of view and reach. You definitely don’t want a $100 bill for the Pringles and nuts that your child has devoured whilst you were in the shower.
- Research other accommodation options.
If you don’t want a holiday in a hotel, there are plenty of other options to research that may actually be logistically easier. Staying in a cabin, air bnb, or doing a home swap will often mean you get quite a budget conscious holiday, and extra things to make life easier (such as a kitchen).
- Take food from the buffet breakfast to save money on lunch.
You can easily make a couple of sandwiches and take some fruit at breakfast time to have at lunch time, if you are trying to watch the $$. Some hotels have no issue with this. This is especially useful if your child is a fussy eater, and never eats the $15 kid’s meal you bought for them. Save your money for something fun! You will also avoid more potential dramas that arise from eating out (see next tip).
- Don’t eat out every night.
Trust me on this, it’s very stressful. You can read all about my experiences here. Kids don’t cope well with sitting still for long periods of time and waiting. So for sure eat out SOMETIMES, but see if you can stock up on some child friendly meals, or get room service, and eat in your room on occasion too.
- Make friends with other families.
This is a really good idea if you’re staying in a resort style complex. If there’s lots of time being spent on the beach or by the pool, it’s nice for your kids to play with other kids, and nice for you to talk to other adults. It also means you don’t have to drag your child with you, every time you need to go to the toilet, as you have other adults around to watch your child.
- Travel light.
IF YOU NEVER WEAR THAT DRESS AT HOME, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO WEAR IT ON YOUR HOLIDAY. While I’m at it, you’re not gonna get a chance to read those 5 magazines and 6 books you brought with you. Limit it to two books and two magazines per week. You’ll only look at them longingly. This is dependent on your children’s age of course. Same goes for your sneakers and workout clothes. You’re not going to go to the gym #keepdreaming. On our recent trip to Fiji, I think I could have gotten away with just half the things I packed for us.
- Bring medication.
You want to make sure that you are ready for any illness that may arise. And this means for you too. As a minimum, I always bring Panadol, Nurofen, cough medicine, Vicks, a thermometer, band aids, hydralyte, burn and sting gel, saline solution and nasal spray for my daughter. I also bring Panadol, some stronger flu medication (like Codral), hydralyte, and anti diarrhea medication for me. It sounds excessive, but think about it. If you or your child were to get sick, you then have to drag them out and find a chemist. You may be in an isolated area. There’s no one else to go and get supplies for you. It’s best to be safe, just in case.
- Take time for you.
In order to be the best parent you can be, you need to look after yourself too. It doesn’t make you a bad parent if you get a babysitter, or put them in kids club for a couple of mornings or afternoons.
- Stick to the routine.
We all know that kids thrive on routine. Stick to it whilst on holidays to achieve best results. If your child still sleeps during the day at home, make sure they do on holidays. Otherwise it’s going to end in disaster.
- Bring toys.
I know I have harped on about not taking too much, but you really do still need to pack a few toys and books. You may have rainy days, or decide to have a quiet afternoon in the hotel, and having some toys and books with you for these occasions is a good idea. Kids also get really exhausted from constant activity, so having a bit of quiet time in the hotel playing with toys, is not such a bad idea.
- Buy water in bulk to save $$ (if you can’t drink the tap water).
On our recent trip to Fiji we were guzzling down the water. I bought a case of 1 L Fiji water bottles at the airport duty free that were great to have on hand and saved me so much money. I bought a case of 12 x 1L bottles for $20 and they were selling them at the hotel for $9 each. You do the maths! I know, gone are the days of buying alcohol and cigarettes duty free… I’m buying water now. Who am I? But if you’re traveling somewhere where you can’t drink the tap water, buy water in bulk, if you can, to save $$.
- The show must go on; try to make the best of shitty situations.
Sometimes shit happens. Don’t let it ruin your holiday. Tomorrow is a new day, so try to stay positive. You’ve most likely spent a lot of money to make this holiday happen, so try to make the best of it. There are certain things out of your control. In Fiji, it rained the majority of the time. Sure I was disappointed, but my daughter didn’t care, and we had a great time in the end.
- Let your children be the guides.
Don’t drag your children from place to place, or activity to activity. That’s not going to be fun for anyone. Cater it suit their age, and ask for their input.
- Research other options.
There are plenty of websites and tour companies that cater especially for single parent travel. Have a look at websites such as Holidays with Kids, which offers a lot of travel advice and options for single parent travel, and BookSinglesHolidays, which provides tours to places such as Morocco and Italy, for single parent groups.