INSIDE: Roam the Gnome’s Definitive Guide to the Best Single Mom Travel Tips.
Five weeks on the road, travelling solo with my two young boys (aged 6, and 23 months) on a round-the-world ticket, taught me many, many things.
Surprisingly, some of these lessons had NOTHING AT ALL to do with the culture, language, history or the awesomeness of the places we were in.
Nope, they were survival tips for single mom travel with kids!
Since then, we’ve saved up and visited over 35 cities across Europe, Scandinavia, the UK, Asia, and Australia, and I’ve learned more Very Important Tips for single mom travel with kids.
In no particular order, I present my research findings!
Leave home without reading these single mom travel tips AT YOUR OWN PERIL.
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- 1 SINGLE MOM TRAVEL TIPS
- 2 17 BEST SINGLE PARENT TRAVEL TIPS
- 3 No.1: Buy chocolate and wine in advance
- 4 No.2: Arrange Pre-booked Airport Pickups
- 5 No.3: Create a travel routine (alt: travel rhythm).
- 6 No.4: Carry spare change coins
- 7 No.5: Have stroller. Will travel.
- 8 No.6: Take the road less travelled.
- 9 No.7: No more Museum Snoozeum
- 10 No.8: Buy one souvenir, buy all.
- 11 No.9: Buy the ice-cream
- 12 10. Learn to LOVE package deals & all inclusive resorts.
- 13 No.11: Take Trains, Planes, and Automobiles
- 14 No.12: Diners are your new best friend
- 15 No.13: Big Lunch, and Pizza for dinner
- 16 No. 14: Halve your luggage
- 17 No.15: Repurpose a baby blanket
- 18 No.16: Ziplock bags for travel accessories
- 19 No.17: Don’t buy the baggy (daggy) beanie.
- 20 Looking for more Family Travel Tips?
SINGLE MOM TRAVEL TIPS
Please, don’t ever let the fact you are a single parent deter you from traveling with your kids.
The BEST times I’ve ever had with my boys have been on the road, far away from home, visiting:
- unique attractions like the Gladiator School tour in Rome
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites like Miyajima Island near Hiroshima, Japan
- creative playgrounds like the one in the Berlin Zoo
- enchanting theme parks, like Sanrio Puroland in Tokyo & giant indoor playgrounds like Sensapolis in Stuttgart, Germany
- awesome children’s museums (such as the Experimentarium in Copenhagen, or the Tokyo Toy Museum in Japan, to name just two!), and
- Disneyland & Disney World (and all the Disney Parks!)
- visiting the REAL Santa in Lapland (Rovaniemi, Finland – the official home of Santa Claus)
There’s something about being away from home, just the two (or three, or four) of you, and in a hotel or AirBNB accommodation, with no deadlines or busy to-do lists that creates the perfect conditions for good conversation, hugs, sharing, and love building.
Solo travel with kids
That’s not to say it’s all rainbows and magic.
My boys fight more than ever when we travel.
The benefits of having friends and playmates is never more obvious than when they are not there, and the boys are forced to spend hours and days with no break from one another.
But there’s ways around that, and we employ all the tactics.
On balance, traveling solo with kids still tips the scales towards the positive side.
Join in the fun, and make the most of these tips to help you through the challenges.
17 BEST SINGLE PARENT TRAVEL TIPS
No.1: Buy chocolate and wine in advance
Solo travel means you can’t just leave the kids in a hotel room to ‘nip out for 5 minutes’ at 8pm to pick up an emergency block of chocolate to satisfy a sudden chocolate craving before the shops shut.
Nor can you duck out to grab that necessary bottle of wine to overcome a moment where you are seriously questioning your sanity, after spending two hours sorting out sibling squabbles instead of kicking back in a marvellous apartment in Rome.
Preplanning for all potential crisis moments is crucial.
NEVER, I repeat, NEVER return to your apartment or hotel empty handed.
It is also vital that your precious little ones remain unaware of the contraband.
Shove your essential supplies up your bra if necessary.
No.2: Arrange Pre-booked Airport Pickups
Do not spend a moment calculating the few bucks you can save by using public transport to get from the airport to your new temporary abode in a place you’ve never been to before.
Pre-arrange an airport pickup and pay whatever the asking price is.
The price of this service, based upon the total relief you will feel after a long flight and a stressful late night arrival, is worth triple or quadruple the value.
I do believe that some of my happiest moments in life have been when I have spied a little chap holding a big happy sign with MY NAME written on it, as I’ve walked out of customs.
Having someone else to lug the luggage, while I manage stroller, hand luggage, a toddler in an ergo carrier, and a sleepy seven-year-old is priceless.
The other big benefit of a VIP transfer from the airport is having a local driver take control of directions, and get you to your destination quickly.
I also love not having to navigate a new public transport system and currency when my brain is fried, and the kids are teetering on the brink of a cooped-up meltdown.
Take the hint. Book the Airport Transfer.
No.3: Create a travel routine (alt: travel rhythm).
Imagine you are riding a wave in the ocean…
If you look closely at nature of the movement, you’ll see that there is a lift, followed by a lull, repeated over and over and over again.
THIS is how I approach travel (and life) with kids.
In practice, this means a bout of activity, followed by a period of restful relaxation and rejuvenation.
Active, heads-up, focused time is:
- visiting historical monuments
- adult-centric museums (children’s museums with lots of hands on activities fit in either category)
- eating in a restaurant
- memorials (eg 9 11 Memorial Museum, or the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum)
- anywhere they need to be quiet or contained (and spend energy concentrating on doing this)
- art galleries, or
- an hour of queuing
FOLLOWED BY a period of relaxation and movement (both big or small):
- time to run free in a park or playground
- water play
- jumping over cobbled stones
- flexible indoor play
- unstructured games
- freedom to explore activities in a child-centred gallery in a children’s museum of some sort
Actually any kind of movement where the kids aren’t in the way of others.
Helps if this spot has a nice little park bench in a ray of sunshine for me too.
Oh, and somewhere to grab a hot chocolate (Italian hot chocolate preferably) to while away an hour or so.
In this way, my kids and I managed to stretch most of our days from around 8am to about 9pm, finally stumbling home after long days of adventure to slumber like a hibernating bear until morn.
We were all rejuvenated by our restful pauses in the day.
Creating a travel rhythm is a game changer.
No.4: Carry spare change coins
Children can take a fancy to those penny-pressing souvenir machines found at many tourist attractions.
Depending on the machine, and the country you are in, you’ll need a stack of loose coins.
In America, these souvenir penny machines usually require two quarters to pay for the fun, plus an extra ‘penny’ to squeeze.
My only regret is not learning this tip of carrying spare change sooner!
This travel souvenir is by far the most fun, and the easiest to carry, and we missed out on adding to his souvenir penny collection a few times, when I didn’t have the right change on me.
Let me tell you – collecting pressed pennies is much more fun than collecting postcards!
No.5: Have stroller. Will travel.
I’m no hipster but strollers must be the most uncool thing on earth.
Strollers make you a pariah – there’s no cheeky winks from handsome Italian stallions, and New Yorkers give you THAT look.
But if you are travelling with kids, PACK THE DAMN STROLLER.
It is worth every stare, every roundabout way of getting up/down to the platform in stair-friendly cities, every fold-up and fold-down origami twistabout action you perform.
It’s a handbag/backpack/drink-bottle/extra jackets/blanket/beanie/mittens/umbrella/Roam-the-Gnome carrying packhorse.
And I bow to the person who first designed it.
A stroller makes a good high chair and let’s not forget the ability to strap a busy roving toddler in when you need a few moments to catch your breath!
The basket underneath comes in very handy when you are trying to sneak through a few extra kilos on top of your full-to-the-brim luggage.
Stow your heaviest stuff in there and take your stroller to the gate.
PS: It’s probably ok to ignore the stroller’s suggested maximum carry weight. My fabulous Britax stroller often carried both my boys… at once!
No.6: Take the road less travelled.
I’m always on the lookout for the quirky and the unusual, but I also try to go where the locals go… which usually means in the opposite direction to the crowds.
The first thing I do is find the local kids publication, usually stacked up in the local libraries, at kid-friendly cafes, or kids museums.
(Strangely, it’s rare to find these mags at local tourist offices).
A local family magazine becomes my bible, and leads me and the kids OUT of the tourist zone and into real life.
Heading where the local families go, I’ve had fabulous conversations with local parents, learning their hot tips for other must-visit family-friendly destinations in the area, and have been given guidance about the best places to eat, and play, as well as places to avoid.
In actual fact, the best thing about that as a solo mom traveler is simply having normal conversations about everyday life with other parents.
There’s not a lot of that on offer if you only visit tourist destinations.
The other bonus of heading out of the tourist zone are the other things we find along the way:
- the Singing Shoe Shiner in London on the tube station, as we made our way to Windsor
- the gigantic climbing trees with foot-sized crevasses that led Ned towards the clouds in Central Park on our way to the Manhattan Children’s Museum
- the mesmerising sight of quiet folk who sit in sun-beamed deck chairs around a frozen pond in Paris
- that street performer who levitated, keeping the boys spellbound in the Piazza del Popolo in Rome on our way to the Rome Explora museum (how DOES he do that? )
Local kid-based magazines like LA Parent are my go-to resource, and I couldn’t (wouldn’t) do without them.
Some of them can be found pre-trip as a free download or to read online, but there’s many, many more local publications on the ground once you arrive.
Keep your eyes peeled.
No.7: No more Museum Snoozeum
Visiting cities, museums, art galleries and historical artefact zones are often the number one destinations for travellers.
But to be honest, I’m not sure that I can cope with yet another whispered conversation, reverent gaze, or gentle meander.
Sometimes, the world’s best museums BORE ME TO TEARS.
So taking kids to these places and spending a fortune to simply chase Jack down corridors he’s not supposed to go, or spending hours shhuuushhing them… no way Jose.
But I LOVE kids museums (and the kid’s sections in some of the bigger science and natural history museums) because they are hands on, and filled with:
- hoses to squirt
- balls to roll and throw
- games to giggle at
- puzzles to solve
- things to climb in.. and under… and through.
Not just for the kids, they bring out the kid in all of us.
I’m in there with the best of them, ducking and diving, lugging foam blocks and piling them into pulleys, sliding through mazes on my tummy.
When the day comes when we are invited to stand in front of the Mona Lisa and make a rendition with fingerpaint, I’ll be there.
Till then, our family policy is to only go where it’s look, and DO touch.
No.8: Buy one souvenir, buy all.
When it comes to shopping on vacations, I have a hard rule.
If I can buy it at home, I don’t bother buying it when I’m away.
There’s little more stressful than trailing two bored boys through department stores, high street chains, and top-end brands.
Even souvenir shops can be a hazard, with their flashy over-priced gimmicks and full to the brim aisles.
But buying souvenirs for family and friends back home is one of my joys of travel.
(To be honest, I rarely buy anything for myself, preferring to spend my cash on good food.)
My new trick is to keep an eye out for one or two quality well-made mid-priced gift that would suit a bunch of my nearest and dearest, and then buy a bulk load in a range of colours and styles.
Best Rome Handbags
On our last trip to Rome, we took a wrong turn and ended up lost, walking onto a street with a bunch of leather goods shops. What a delightful discovery!
I spotted a sweet but simple tan-coloured handbag in super soft butter leather for 20 Euro.
This was the perfect bag for a quick nip to the shops, or as a mini tote for the essentials (purse, keys, phone) when you don’t want to lug all your worldly possessions about.
I bought SEVEN in all kinds of colours, on the spot.
I went back the following morning to grab another five for the other family & friends on my gift list before we headed to the airport.
To this day, those bags still top the list of the best souvenirs I’ve ever purchased for others.
New York Shopping for Souvenirs
In New York, we headed into Macy’s to take a look at the old-fashioned wooden escalators and rode them up to the 7th floor.
There, I spotted a small souvenir spot filled with:
- Curious George plush toys (a New York icon)
- Zip-up make up bags featuring pictures inspired by 5th Avenue fashion gals, and
- the coolest range of Marc Tetro designed prints, bags, and SUPER cute designer keyrings with NY Yellow Cab or Statue of Liberty charms (Not your average dime-a-dozen souvenir keyrings)
We bought FOUR Curious George Monkeys toys, (for nephews and nieces) and a whole bundle of the best key rings I’ve ever seen for my colleagues & friends.
Ned wasn’t bored, Jack coped with the retail purchasing without any toddler tantrums, I got a shopping fix, and our family and friends loved them!
Buying gorgeous souvenirs in bulk is our go-to method to this day.
No.9: Buy the ice-cream
… just not out front of the tourist attraction.
Traveling on a budget, when it comes to ice-cream (and restaurants, cafes etc) I’ve learned from experience to only buy food and treats from places that have a VISIBLE price list or menu.
To avoid ALL food stalls and trucks parked outside a tourist hub.
To walk just a few more metres down the road, away from the crowds on my hunt.
Or to step off the main street, two or three doors down the alleyway.
We ate gelato, two scoops per serve for 2 Euro each, on a side street, metres from the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Compared to the 5 Euro rip off they were charging for one-tiny-scoop cones outside the Colosseum, it was sweet success.
We went back the next day for seconds… and thirds.
10. Learn to LOVE package deals & all inclusive resorts.
Should you visit Disneyworld with a Dining Plan? Or take a Disney cruise line all inclusive vacation from the United States ?
(If you want to know more about this, check back soon!)
As we know, it’s the little things that add up when travelling with kids:
- the drink stop here, and
- the snack stop there
So an all-inclusive hotel stay with dining inclusion is worth every extra cent you pay out per night in the beginning.
Inclusive Resorts are paid for in the budget BEFORE you go. (Paid off in instalments, not on the credit card)
And there’s nothing better for single moms than setting the kids free to eat/snack/drink/play, without the fear of the bill at the register.
As a ‘budget’ traveller who always has a general idea of what we have allocated to spend on activities, food, and getting around each day, package deals give me a little room to move, and I shuffle the money savings I don’t spend out of my daily budget, to other days in the itinerary when we’ll need a top up.
I was NEVER a package-deal chick before but when travelling as a family, I’m a convert.
I also love a good 5 star hotel stay, and it’s much much much cheaper to stay in a five star hotel on a package deal!
A single mom vacation is even better when there’s a ‘free’ massage or two, and ‘free’ kids club inclusion to boot.
Hot tip: Avoid room service as that quickly adds up!
No.11: Take Trains, Planes, and Automobiles
Kids LOVE all kinds of transport, and movement, and so we make it our mission to try out as many different “vehicles” as we can.
On some of our best vacations for single parents and kids, we’ve traveled on:
- vintage trams and Star Ferries in Hong Kong
- super speedy elevators to the top of the Empire State Building, and a tiny squashy 5-person round elevator up to the top of St Stephens Cathedral in Vienna
- old-school wooden escalators in Macy’s New York,
- people movers and the Progress Carousel at Magic Kingdom
- red buses & black taxi cabs & the tube in London
- the London Eye wheel, and a ferris wheel over the Berlin Christmas Markets
- yellow cabs, and New York subways
- the super fun glass-fronted Copenhagen underground trains!
- “crystal”-bottomed gondolas in Hong Kong at Ngong Ping 360 up to the Buddha.
- roly-poly roller slides, sliding down over thousands of rolling pipes in playgrounds in Tokyo
Don’t forget there’s also these types of transport to try:
- horse-drawn carriages
- travelators at airports
- monorails, and
- dodgem cars.
AND the old-school 20 cent rides when you find them!
So much fun can be had for a bargain price of a transport ticket.
No.12: Diners are your new best friend
Healthy, home-style cooking for about $10 a plate.
You can’t beat that for a meal that’s big enough to share between three, a mom and two sons.
We love diners.
There’s a cosy hum of patrons in and out that helps us to be a little bit inconspicuous while we eat.
No-one bothers too much about the odd spaghetti strand or vegetable mush on the floor, or on the chair, or the spills that cascade from accidental knocks.
And nothing beats getting out of the rain for a while, to eat warming meatloaf and creamy potatoes, made from a recipe passed down the generations.
No.13: Big Lunch, and Pizza for dinner
While at home, dinner is the main meal of the day.
When we travel, lunch is way more important.
Ravenous from a morning’s exploring, lunch is a time to sit and recoup, warm up and repair, take a breather before part two of the day begins.
We’d often sit for an hour or more, finishing with a sweet treat and a hot cup of something delicious.
By 6pm, our usual dinner time, the kids were in no shape to sit quietly and still amongst restaurant patrons, so more often than not, slices of pizza was our go-to feast.
The variety of pizza in Rome and New York boggles the mind.
Potato and sausage was up there, but lasagne pizza?
Probably the BEST thing I’ve ever eaten.
Oh my, you can’t even imagine how good.
Hot tip: Dunkin’ Donuts hot chocolate is surprisingly good stuff for a post-dinner guzzle.
No. 14: Halve your luggage
You know that thing about packing your luggage, then halving it. It’s true.
Do not even dare think you can get away with breaking this rule.
I will never again take:
- 3 extra pairs of tracksuit pants per child
- extra sweaters
- clothes for ‘going out’
- clothes for ‘staying in’
- towels, nor
- pillows for the plane.
We make do, layer up, double up, and use that damp cloth trick our mums told us about to wipe off stains.
Another thing, it’s definitely worth that few extra bucks to book accommodation where there is a washing machine AND a dryer on site.
And do fill a small pop-top size bottle with laundry detergent from home.
Want to know a traveller’s biggest rip off?
Single packs of laundry detergent in those laundry room dispensers.
No.15: Repurpose a baby blanket
Sometimes, the best tips are the ones you almost overlook because they are boring.
Like this one.
Take a small fluffy fleece baby blanket.
It was an afterthought, a cheap 1m x 1m square thing I was prepared to throw away. But it became my lifeline.
- our floor rug when picnicking
- our lap rug on the plane
- my breastfeeding cover, and
- could be rolled up into a pillow for Ned when he was desperate for a nap when we had a late late airport departure.
It was an emergency towel, was used to make a hotel room cubby, and a make-shift Superman cape for Jack.
(Thanks to Madame Tussauds in New York City, my boys are now superhero fans.)
I’d loved it most for laying over Jack when he was in the ergo and the bitter winds were blowing through our bones as we walked the streets of NYC. It was the perfect shield.
No.16: Ziplock bags for travel accessories
Zip lock bags are the world’s best invention for travellers.
- stop shampoo spills in your suitcase
- store all your gadgets separately
- contain the dirty smelly clothes in a vacuum till you can do something about them
- hold and separate snacks for the kids, and
- in dire emergencies, can be used as a cup.
- can be filled with ice cubes for an instant ice-pack
- keep your smaller souvenirs – key rings, jewellery, purses-safely separated so they can be squeezed into empty spaces without running amok or getting lost.
I used them to separate all my camera gear (Go Pro attachments and cords in one, iPhone chargers and covers in another…), and one for my electricity adapters.
I put all our mementos, and tourist attraction brochures that I wanted to keep in big ones- one large ziplock storage bag per city.
My suitcase, make-up bag, carry-on bag and camera bag were FILLED with ziplocks.
No.17: Don’t buy the baggy (daggy) beanie.
No matter how cold your head is, you’ll regret that ‘Empire State Building’ tourist photo for the rest of your life.
But do buy your first Disney Pin.
Pin trading is fun.
AND it’s a good excuse to go back to that Magical Kingdom again, and again and again….
Looking for more Family Travel Tips?
Correct at time of publication on Roam the Gnome. Please check with venue for updates. We apologise in advance if there have been any changes we are unaware of. All prices in US dollars, unless otherwise stated
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