Careful thought about your needs and those of your kids, as well as about destinations, accommodation and services, will pay off in spades once your holiday starts. Don’t stint on time spent planning before you start making bookings.
It’s a good idea to build up a relationship with your local travel agent so that they have a sound knowledge of your requirements. A good agent will soon start looking out for special deals for single parent families on your behalf. That said, don’t assume that travel agents know everything, especially about single parent travel; nothing beats independent research. Be informed and you’re already on your way to finding a good deal – and here at Holidays with Kids we’ll get you well on your way to doing just that.
Making the most of your time
Single parents need to remember that this is their holiday as much as their kids’ and should plan accordingly. A good rule of thumb might be to plan a holiday in which you spend a third of the time doing things everyone enjoys, a third of the time doing things your kids enjoy, and a third of the time doing things you enjoy. Some of that will include adult time to yourself, and you can only achieve this with advance planning.
First of all, think of destinations that will allow you to factor in this downtime on your own. For example, if you want to go skiing then perhaps Beaver Creek and Deer Valley in the USA are for you, since they have excellent kids’ ski schools and several hotels with good kids’ clubs. ( There are a wide range of ski resorts both in Australia and oiverseas that offer brilliant care and ski schools for kids of all ages). Secondly, chose accommodation that offers good childcare and a kids’ club, or at the very least facilities that will appeal to older children, who can amuse themselves. (See our Accommodation and Cruises section for more.) You might also want to consider the type of holidaymakers that head to certain destinations and resorts so as to avoid ending up surrounding by hordes off roistering young singles. Getting someone to come along on holiday with you is also a fine way to free up some time and alleviate the effects of being the only responsible adult 24/7. Team up with a friend who is also a single parent. That way, you have playmates for your children, adult company for yourself, and a ready-made baby-sitter for time out. You can also share the cost of a hotel baby-sitter from time to time. For those on a budget who are prepared to share a room, this is also a good way to beat the single supplement. And while it might sound extravagant, you should also consider inviting your favourite baby-sitter to come along on holiday; they’re often prepared to share the kids’ room in return for a trip locally or overseas. The additional cost could well be worth its weight in gold in terms of your enjoyment of the holiday.
It might sound obsessive, but prior planning of your day-to-day vacation activities prior to your departure can be a great help, especially if you involve your kids in the process. There’s nothing worse than getting to your destination only to find that one child wants to go to a museum while another prefers the beach. Two parent families can find some resolution to these arguments (they can go their separate ways) but single parents don’t have that luxury. The solution: write out an itinerary before you leave, and it will save you a lot of arguments when you get there. And include things in your day that allow you to sit and relax, such as time out in a park where kids can play by themselves (altogether less stressful than a museum) or lunch in a family-friendly restaurant.
Finally, get your kids involved after you arrive as well. Not only will they enjoy the challenge, it will take some of the burden off your own shoulders. Give the kids the map of the local subway and let them figure out how to get around. Let them buy train tickets at foreign machines, and guide you through museums or castles. The team process takes some of the burden off your own shoulders. And of course, it’s also an invaluable learning experience for your children.
Making the most of your money
Many single parents bemoan the dreaded ‘single supplement’ that often attaches itself to a holiday package or hotel room that’s only occupied by one adult. It’s true that singles, whether they’re parents or not, seem to get a raw deal in the travel industry. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, travel agents are wholesalers, so they like customers who fit into prearranged packages, which are less time consuming to book. Second, many hotels calculate their profit margin per room, not per person, so whatever they think their room is worth is what they’ll charge, whether it ends up occupied by one adult or two. Providers also cost children’s discounts into the profits they make from two accompanying adults. One might just not be enough to make a decent return.
That said, the world of ‘single supplements’ is a very fluid one, and pricing in the travel industry is so complex and varied that it shouldn’t necessarily trouble you. This is particularly true for single parents rather than simple singles. Suppose for example a holiday package is priced at $2000 per person, with children going at half price ‘based on two adult fares’ just as it tend to say in the fine print. A family with two parents and two children pays $6000. A single parent with two children pays $5000 by counting one of his children as an ‘adult’ for booking purposes.
With this in mind, you should also beware of some of the ‘single parent specials’ that are now beginning to emerge in the travel industry, some of which are little more than ways to fill up rooms in the low season. You might find they aren’t that special and that you might get a better deal booking another holiday or hotel at full price. For example, no one says you have to stay at a Disney hotel if you travel to Orlando, even if they offer single parent waivers. The town itself is coming down with budget motels and hotels where you can stay and eat more cheaply, even when paying the full rate, should you need to.
You should also beware of other false economies. Carnival Cruises, which operate out of the USA, offers occasional deals for single parent families by waiving the single supplement. That’s fine if you want to cruise the Caribbean, but if it’s just a cruise you want, you’d be better off booking full fare on P&O out of Australia and saving on flights. And remember that cruises, no matter what the fare structure, are often a better deal for single parents then they look initially, since virtually everything, including meals and kids’ clubs, are included in the package.
For those who’ve become single parents and suddenly find money a worry, it’s time to rethink what kind of holiday to take.
Holidays where the number of adults has little impact on price include trips by car or campervan, basic camping holidays and many locations in Asia and Europe where hotel rooms tend to be charged per room rather than per person. In addition, camping holidays are a great way to let your kids interact with other children, allowing you some time to yourself or in the company of other parents. You should also consider staying with friend and relatives; if they’re understanding enough, you might even be able to leave your kids with them for a couple of nights and take off on a side trip.
Plan your travel documentation well in advance and be aware of the legal situation when travelling overseas with children. If you aren’t the custodial parent you’ll need a notarised letter authorising you to take your children across an international border. This is required both at customs and by many airlines and cruise companies. (Carry the papers with you when disembarking from a cruise at a port stop.) Even if you do have custody, ensure all your paperwork is crystal clear. You might still need a consent form signed by both parents, as well as birth certificates for your children, copies of divorce or custody papers, or court orders that grant your guardianship. Requirements differ from country to country, so check out www.dfat.gov.au for further information.
You’ll also need travel insurance before you go overseas, and it pays to shop around. Some insurance companies do have deals for single parent families. For example, www.travelinsurance.com.au requires you only to take out the single policy insurance to cover you for all dependent children under the age of 18 (or in some cases 21), although the cover is a little less comprehensive than the family policy.
Always ask about transport deals for families wherever you go, since they often apply equally to traditional families and single parent families. For example, the Swiss Travel System Family Card allows children below the age of sixteen to travel entirely free on the country’s rail network, even if they’re accompanied by just one adult. Amtrak trains in the USA allows up to two children to ride for half the adult fare, even if accompanied by only one adult.
Finally, pack light. You’re going to be the one that ends up carrying everything, unless your children are old enough to share the load. Try and get everything into one big suitcase with wheels, because you’re going to need your six other hands for babies, strollers, car seats, bottles, rugs, passports and tickets.