Top 7 Tips for Traveling as a Single Parent

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Traveling with kids can be stressful, and as a single parent, it can be even more of a challenge. But as daunting as it might be, there are plenty of things that can make the experience easier, ensuring that the trip not only goes smoothly, but is fun, too — for both the parent and child. Read on for our seven tips for traveling abroad as a single parent.

1. Make sure you have the correct documentation.

Carefully research which documents you’ll need as a solo parent traveling with a minor. This is particularly relevant if your child has a different last name as you, but even if you share a name, it’s worth doing your homework on the country’s requirements. At the very least, make sure to take a copy of the child’s birth certificate or another official document proving you are the parent or legal guardian. Occasionally, immigration officials outside of the U.S. will ask to see written consent from the other parent, which allows you to travel abroad with the child. South Africa is a prime example — a recent sworn affidavit showing parental consent is required if a child is traveling with only one parent, though this is only relevant if two parents are listed on the birth certificate.

2. Choose your flight time and airplane seat carefully.

As most parents know, meltdowns are likely when children are tired, so even though it may be tempting to choose that super-cheap, super-early flight, it’s best to try and stick to usual sleep patterns, if possible. Another thing to remember: When a young child announces they need to use the bathroom, there is rarely much time to spare. Given this, it makes sense to sit close to the bathroom, so you and your child don’t have to climb over other people to reach the aisle. Thankfully, these days, it’s easy to check-in online and choose your seats in advance.

3. Pick the right accommodations.

Choosing a family-friendly property with lots of kid-approved amenities is your best chance of having a happy child on vacation, plus it allows for some alone time. A separate, shallow, kids’ pool is a lot less anxiety-inducing than using the main pool, though obviously this depends on the age of your child. Meanwhile, a hotel with a kids’ club will allow you to take a break while providing plenty of fun for little ones. Family-friendly hotels also tend to have decent-sized rooms with complimentary cots or extra beds — useful when you have kids in tow.

4. Bring lots of distractions.

Long journeys with kids — whether on a plane, train, or car — call for plenty of distractions. When traveling solo with small children, the trick is to keep them well-fed and entertained to avoid any tantrums. Packing a separate bag (preferably one they can carry themselves) with snacks, books, toys, and others forms of entertainment will make your life much easier. If your kids use a tablet, make sure it’s fully charged and has plenty of games or TV shows downloaded. Oh, and don’t forget the headphones! If you are traveling with more than one child and only one device, be sure to buy a multi-jack connector for their headphones. Another tip: Try not to bring everything out at once, so that you can produce something new each time they get tired of what they’re playing with.

5. Be sure to plan ahead.

When traveling as a single parent, advance planning is even more important. Easy access to anything you might need en route – be it diapers, wipes, passports, or boarding passes — will make the journey less stressful. If you’re planning on visiting major attractions or theme parks, book ahead whenever possible to avoid standing in long queues with bored kids. This also prevents any potential disappointment if something is sold out. It’s also important to plan your time. Remember that it typically takes longer to get anywhere with kids, so allow enough time for those inevitable delays from misplaced toys, lost shoes, tantrums, soiled clothes, and more.

6. Take a lightweight stroller.

One of the most challenging things about traveling a single parent, especially with young kids, is having to constantly run around after them. This is made even more exasperating in the airport when they are dashing under barriers and through passport control. That’s when a stroller comes in handy, keeping your little one safely contained and strapped in. Plus, it allows them to nod off whenever they feel like it, and can double as a trolley for small bags. There’s the added bonus that strollers (as well as car seats) can be checked in for free at the gate. Alternatively, some models are allowed to be stored onboard in the overhead compartments.

7. Don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help.

Many of us find it hard to ask for help, but it’s important to remember that the staff is there to assist — be it on the plane or in the airport. There are many helpful things that others can do, from carrying luggage to jumping long queues. Many people are more accommodating to requests coming from a parent traveling solo, so don’t be shy. Fellow passengers can also be a great source of help for single parents, especially those who have already been through it.

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