Single-parent families now account for nearly 30% of families worldwide and 27% of American families with children under 18. That means millions of parents and kids are looking to travel domestically and internationally, despite the unique challenges of traveling with only one parent—who only has two arms and one set of eyes—to keep everyone together.
Those who have braved solo parent travel say it’s worth the extra work. And thankfully, several pioneering companies within the travel and tourism industry are taking note of single-parent family travel needs and offer services to enhance the experience. Here’s where to look and what to ask for.
Assistance When flying
Traveling with babies and toddlers means also traveling with their car seat, stroller, travel crib, etc. Luckily, all of this gear can usually be checked at the gate and doesn’t count as part of your checked baggage limit. Confirm these details with your airline before you fly in case they offer any other perks for traveling with young kids. Also see what kind of free assistance the airport offers to get you and your young ones to the gate on time with your luggage. Those motorized carts can be a lifesaver when your gate is at the opposite end of the terminal!
Many parents take advantage of early boarding for families with young children. Others find that boarding last works best for their family as it means the kiddos spend less time strapped into their seats. Either way, know you can ask for help finding space for carry-on bags in overhead bins from flight attendants. Flight attendants can also watch your children while you use the restroom throughout the flight.
Single-Parent Family Travel Groups
Planning meals, building an itinerary to keep everyone happy, carrying all manner of what-if scenario supplies (i.e., first aid kit, toys, snacks, hand wipes, more snacks), learning to navigate a foreign city—for one person to do all of this…well, it doesn’t sound like much of a vacation. Ease the burden of travel planning and find time for adult experiences with a travel company that coordinates single-parent family travel groups.
Companies like Explore, Intrepid Travel, Reasonable Travel, and Signature Vacations build travel itineraries that bring together adults and kids from a similar family dynamic. Not only that, but they balance planned time spent together with time for just the adults to enjoy each other’s company or much-need alone time. They craft excursions with group leaders who manage all of the logistics so you can focus on making family memories.
Individual Itinerary Discount
When you book a room at a resort, you’re probably paying a price based on double occupancy for two adults, with one child under 12 free per adult—so you’re paying for two adults but only getting one child free! To avoid this overpricing and overpaying, call the resort and ask for single-parent pricing. It’s not a guarantee of a lower price, but you might be surprised how many resorts and hotels have this deal for single-parents but don’t advertise it online or as part of packages.
The same rule goes for cruises. Disney Cruise Line provides single-parent pricings, as well as adult-only restaurants, clubs, and entertainment lounges to visit while kids are busy having fun in their own age-appropriate clubs.
A vacation rental found on a travel-sharing website like AirBnB can mean saving hundreds of dollars or more on family vacations almost anywhere in the world. Rentals include full apartments, houses, or villas for families of all sizes. It’s a great way to truly immerse yourself in a city’s culture and live like a local. Each family member can have their own space, and a full kitchen means saving money on eating out.
RV-sharing and boat-sharing websites can also expand your vacation experiences without having to make the large monetary investment of buying a camper or boat of your own!
It’s important for single-parent families—or families with a combination of shared custody—to carry the right documentation for smooth travel across borders. Child protection laws require the parent or guardian—whether they’re married, divorced, or widowed—to have permission from the other parent to travel with the children. In the case of divorce, the traveling parent needs a notarized letter from the other parent giving permission to travel to named places/countries during a specific time period. For widowed parents, an official copy of the spouse's death certificate is sufficient.
A notarized letter for medical emergencies is also good to have, as well as a copy of the children’s birth certificates.
It may sound extreme to carry all of these documents, but laws and procedures have been put in place to protect children from abduction and to prevent human trafficking.