In 2015, after the sudden loss of my husband and Daddy to our 3 beautiful children, family holidays and days out seemed like a thing of the past.
I’d once been able to take all 3 of our children out on my own, with confidence, but the impact of losing Daddy resulted in this becoming an impossible task.
Our middle child, D, has autism with delayed speech and language development. The sudden loss of his Daddy affected him in a big way. All the patience, determination and hard work that we’d put in over the years, to help D to learn how to behave appropriately and safely whilst we were out and about, was completely wiped out. Even walking the 5 minutes to the boy’s school was out of the question because D’s meltdowns, running off episodes and lack of fear and sense of danger made it impossible for me to safely push a pram and prevent him from running onto the road. I couldn’t use a baby carrier, to keep my hands free, because his lashing out would put our baby at risk of being hurt. D couldn’t even play safely in the garden anymore as he discovered he could climb over the 6foot fence and would be gone within a blink of an eye!
Fast forward to October 2016; travelling as a lone parent, I took our 3 children (aged 22months, 6 years and 7 years old at the time) on a 13-14hour long coach trip to Disney Land, Paris. This was a huge turning point for us as a family and the start of many more exciting adventures.
The four of us have since enjoyed beach holidays in Spain, a city-break to London, a visit to Efteling Theme Park in The Netherlands, husky sledding in Lapland, Campervan adventures in the UK and more!
Every family is different and what works for one may not work for another but check out our hints and tips for preparing to travel with children as a lone parent, and take that step towards a sense of freedom and adventure!
“Trial runs” with friends or family.
Team up with friends or family members for day trips and holidays if you can. We started with simple trips to the farm with Nanny and Grandad. If/when one child started being difficult, I could put all my attention onto that situation whilst Nanny and Grandad kept the other two happy and entertained. Some days out resulted in D having to be taken home early, but after following through with the threat of that, just twice, a simple “do you want to hold my hand now or get in the car and go home?” would be enough to stop him running off.
Starting off your adventures with ‘back up’ helps you to set the boundaries needed for keeping the children safe.
After a few days out with family members and friends, we braved a holiday to Rhodes with my sister and her partner, followed by a holiday to Fuertaventura with Nanny and Grandad, then a holiday to Spain with a friends and family. With each trip I asked our family and friends to take more of a step back so that I could ‘test’ whether I’d manage without them but still had them as our safety net in an emergency.
Plan ‘easy’ days out.
Soft play centres are good for practicing trips out alone. All good soft play centres are designed to prevent children being able to exit alone, so you don’t need to panic if you lose sight of them for a minute or two (although D has also been able to escape secure play centres in the past so don’t take your eyes off them completely!).
Days at the beach in winter can also be quite an easy day out. They tend to be quite empty during the winter months, so children can run off some energy without the risk of getting lost in the crowds (not beaches with sand dunes though, children can quickly disappear when playing in the sand dunes and for some reason seem to be able to run way faster adults in the sand too!)
The more positive, easy days out that you have, the more confident you will feel when trying new things.
Take short breaks close to home.
Find a good, family holiday park that isn’t too far from home. This will give you and the children the experience of a holiday without the stress of travel (traffic jams, early morning flights, baggage allowance, airport security, long flights/car journeys, etc.)
A lot of holiday parks have family activities and entertainment in place, so you don’t have to think up things to do either, just relax and enjoy the moments.
Some days I’d just get in the car and drive, whilst driving about I’d suss out what kind of mood the children were in that day. If I thought they were calm and settled enough, we’d have a spontaneous day out. One day we ended up at Southport Pleasure Beach, another day was South Lakes Safari Zoo. I remember us having such a good day out at the zoo that I didn’t want the day to end so I took them all out for a meal at a local Italian that evening. A few people in the restaurant commented on how well behaved and polite they were. My eldest thrives off compliments like this, he beams with pride in those moments.
Every positive, spontaneous day out will make the whole family feel good and will make you feel more confident and relaxed for future trips.
Start with where you know
When you feel ready to book your holiday try and book a place that you’re familiar with at first. It doesn’t have to be the exact apartment or hotel that you’ve stayed in previously but being familiar with the area will help you to feel more relaxed and settle in faster. All Inclusive holidays are great for those first, lone parent holidays because you have everything onsite if you chose to stay in one place but can venture out and about when you’re feeling more confident. These types of holidays are more expensive but it’s worth paying a bit extra until you feel more relaxed and confident.
Book short breaks
When travelling to some place new, book a short break. If on day one you feel like it’s going to be a disaster, it’s so much easier to stay positive and ride out the next 3 or 4 days than it is to think about being stuck there for the next 2 weeks!
When you book a package holiday you’ll have a rep on hand to help with any emergencies. This will be a great reassurance for those first few holidays as a lone parent.
Don’t be afraid to accept help
This is one I still need to work on, I always have the thought process of “I’ve got myself into this, so I’ll deal with it” but so many people offer and are happy to help with carrying bags or lifting the pram down steps etc. However, ensure that you stay alert and aware. Unfortunately, not everyone has good intentions and some people could see you as an ‘easy target’ or vulnerable in these situations.
Don’t be too rigid with your plans
It’s good to have a bit of a plan and routine but don’t be too rigid. Go with the flow and you’ll feel more relaxed. If you’ve planned a busy day full of activities but the children are tired and will be happy just playing on the hotels playground then do that instead. It’s good to break the day up to prevent the children getting bored and creating mischief. Have a basic plan but let your day be child-led. A morning swim, lunch, a walk by the sea, an ice cream at a beach front café, a play on the park, a bit of quiet time in the room before your evening meal, a dance at the mini disco.
Prepare children for emergency situations.
On one of our holidays, I tripped at the top of the stairs then automatically panicked about what would happen if I’d have fallen and become unconscious or something. I then taught my eldest son how to use my phone and showed him what numbers to ring in an emergency.
If you have any more hints, tips and advice for preparing to travel with children, as a lone parent, please share them in the comments section.