Single parents will find expert advice on going solo with the kids from a professional traveler and her family.
I could write a book on this topic after more than 30 years in the business of sending families on villa holidays around the world. As a late-in-life Mom with protective instincts bordering on paranoia, I thought of just about everything when I started taking my child on inspection trips abroad by the time she was a year old. She celebrated her first birthday on a Caribbean island the morning after hurricane Gilbert.
My list of "What If's" is endless!!
Travel abroad is one of the greatest educational experiences you can give your children. You will grow closer while learning how other people on our planet live, shop and have fun. But before you venture off to a far away land, there are some important things you need to know.
Become or Find an Expert in Family Travel
Start researching your destination at your local library or on the many Internet sites now available and talk to friends who have traveled as a family. Getting your children involved in this process will jumpstart their knowledge so they are ready to go when they get off the plane!
Remember that no one can replace a good travel agent who can share his or her experience. Take all those ideas and recommendations from friends and brochures and double-check them with an expert!
Going the Villa Route Gives Families Space
If you are considering Europe, see about joining another Mom with children close in age to your own. This allows you to consider lodging alternatives. For example, a private villa with a pool is my favorite suggestion, and can be quite economical! The children have more room, you won't worry about disturbing the people next door, and there's a kitchen for mid-day snacks.
Choose a villa close to a village where you can walk with the children in the evening for ice cream, or rent bicycles to explore the countryside. You will be able to immerse yourself in local culture by attending local festivals, fairs, or markets. Keep in mind that since this is your vacation too, you should plan to get maid service a few hours each day for light housekeeping and a cook to prepare some dinners with authentic local flavor. Even with such help, a jointly shared villa rental will still be cheaper than a hotel or resort.
Not the Last Resort – Research Your Options
There are some wonderful resorts for single women traveling with children, if the rental alternative is not your choice. I went to Jamaica with my 13-year-old daughter to her favorite holiday spot – the former Beaches Inn, now called Beaches Sandy Bay, at Negril.
I can never top this all-inclusive resort. It seems every child is the most important person there. What a boost for the shy or insecure child who is suddenly very special!! The variety of activities at your disposal is almost endless: a craft center, video arcade, special disco for the older kids, water sports, picnics, tennis, exercise classes, and much, much more. The children are supervised by trained staff nannies so Mom can truly relax and get her perfect vacation also! And you don't need to pull out your purse every 15 minutes – what a welcome change to your routine back home!
Proper Paperwork is Essential for Single Parents
Now, back to the nitty-gritty: Don't forget to leave enough time to obtain passports, visas, or any other travel documents that even kids need for international travel! Before you pay for your trip, make sure you have written, notarized permission from your "ex" to take your children out of the country. You do not want to be surprised at departure and barred from the plane because you do not have the necessary documentation to leave as a single parent. Sad, unfair, but that's the rule. Latin American countries as well as Canada have the stiffest rules when it comes to travel.
Also, if your name is different from your child's name, you need to take proof that the child is yours! It is always smart to carry copies of birth certificates, marriages licenses, health insurance coverage, and other identification. (See FTF's report on necessary documentation.)
Since childhood illnesses seem to pop up when you least expect them, secure travel protection insurance. At least a month before departure, check with your pediatrician to discuss any potential health issues or medication that needs to be taken in advance. Remember, even in the USA, drink bottled water and use it for brushing your teeth to avoid tummy upsets.
Lastly, if you are at all in doubt about the country to which you are traveling, it is always smart to visit the U.S. State Department site to check any warnings for Americans traveling to that country.
Save Yourself the Hassles, Be Prepared
Packing is the fun part! In your carry-on luggage, bring any prescription medications your child uses in the original bottles, and prepare for contingencies by including remedies for ear infections and motion sickness. Include insect repellant, anti-itch cream (I'm serious!), eye wash, aspirin or Tylenol, disposable seat covers and hand wipe cloths.
When traveling with babies and toddlers, bring extra diapers (in case they're expensive or your baby's size is not immediately available) and your choice of baby formula (the dry form is easier to transport). Bring favorite snack foods – including cereal – for your finicky eaters. Don't forget that "cannot live without" blanket.
On international flights there is usually a movie or music channels for entertainment, but bring books and games to keep the kids occupied. Check with your airline about ordering special kids meals and don't forget to enroll your child in the airline frequent flyer plan. They may qualify for mileage credit towards your next vacation!
Great Trips Breed Lifelong Memories
Last but not least, buy each child a personal travel diary (yep, even for toddlers!) – it will preserve life-long memories as well as helping with that back-to-school "What I did on my vacation" essay!
Depending on the age of your child, bring some of those disposable cameras for their exclusive use – and literally see the world through the eyes of a child.
Finally, pack your sense of adventure, sense of humor and the good sense you depend upon at home. This will be an experience you and your children will cherish forever!
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