Before we jump into the fears I hear most from single moms about travel, I want to begin with the WHY of traveling. Starting and staying positive helps get any mom, single or otherwise, through the tough parts — and there can be lots of tough parts when we travel; it’s part of what makes us grow. But the why should be your beacon and guiding light for rewarding travel experiences with you and your children.
- I’ll start with finances because if finances are your worry, here is a pro tip: It is almost always less expensive to travel full time with children than to live in the United States.
- To expose your children to different cultures, people and experiences.
- To build in your children’s resiliency, flexibility, and openness to others.
- To spend time with your child that might not be possible in the 9-to-5 schedule of your home life.
So now that the important part is in view, let’s begin with a reality check: Traveling as a single mom is more work for you, without a doubt. You do everything. There is no one else to share the costs, plan the trip, make the reservations, make sure everyone is safe, fed, sheltered in strange lands, cared for if sick, etc. It’s all you, babe. Depending on the age of your child or children, it can also be quite lonely. You might not be able to share the stories in the same way, or enjoy the same things. If your child is older he or she may just want (or complain endlessly whether or not it’s true) to be home with friends. The result may be lots of video time sometimes followed by single mom guilt that the screen is your new-found best friend! I’ve dealt with all of the above and more but consistently, here are three of the greatest difficulties traveling moms have spoken of:
- Feeling alone and lonely.
- Health scares in a foreign land, especially where you don’t speak the language.
- Financial “inability”. Tho I hope I already put this in perspective as travel truly can be much less expensive than staying at home. So I’ll add a fourth concern I’ve often heard:
- Logistical overwhelm, particularly when the child is very young. Even with the easiest of children this can be a challenge. So now imagine a child with great sensory difficulties trying to make it through the security line at an airport. One mom wrote me that the only way her son would go through the security sensors was on hands and knees barking like a dog. And they barely made their flight. How’s that for a fun ride?
Now for some hacks to make your life easier when traveling:
Fears of health scares on the road.
People get sick when traveling, as they do at home. Kids get colds, stomach upsets, accidents happen, etc. When these things happen on the road, it can be scarier than at home. So here are some general practices I follow:
- Know where the health facilities are in advance and who to contact in an emergency. You can do with a bit of research ahead of time and through asking people on various traveling FB pages or list-serves.
- Reach out to a friend at home or in your new town to help walk you through it. There is nothing more stressful than having a hurt or sick child while traveling. You’re far from your resources and comforts, and even transportation. One time I used Skype to show my doctor friend the great red rash spreading across my son’s belly — what turned out to be Scarlet Fever! I also use my gut. In fact, I once “stole” my son from a Cambodian hospital (they wanted to lower his high fever before we left the country) and flew him to Thailand for better medical care.
- Be grateful that medical issues small and large will generally not cost you even a fraction of what they would cost in the United States. In some instances and countries they may even be totally free.
Eventually, when my own travel fears became overwhelming, I made some additional decisions:
- I waited several years until my son’s immune system was stronger to go into countries with less established medical facilities.
- I gave him vaccinations, but when he was older and I spread them out.
- I also created a useful medical kit: Coloidal Silver, bandaids, tweezers, neosporin, antibiotics, benedryl, children’s Tylenol, Rescue Remedy drops or candies. For Planes: calm forte, a homeopathic calming medicine (funny story: my son once told his kindergarten teacher that I “usually” give him “sleeping pills” to calm him down!)
- There’s a fine line between teaching your kids to be safe and completely freaking them out. Regardless, kids need to know whom to call if there is an emergency, what to do if he or she gets lost, and where to meet if the two of you should get separated. Also how and when to call 911.
- For stranger danger, have a codeword only the two of you know, for example if someone comes to pick up your child. Make sure your child has information on him if he’s not in a hotel/room or state to tell people where he is staying. (Many put this in a child’s shoe or a zip pocket.)
- Bring an extra lock for the door.
- Many folks now travel with a Carbon Monoxide detector.
- If you go out on your own, walk with purpose and stand upright. Don’t wear valuables or expose yourself. Err on the side of being conservative, especially in conservative countries. This isn’t blaming the victim, but merely being respectful and aware.
What most parents learn while traveling is that people will help you. Perfect strangers will lend a hand. There are so many kind and generous people you will meet on the road. It can truly reaffirm your faith in humanity. Of course always have your eyes open and don’t accept invitations that seem sketchy. Trust your gut, but also stay open to those who are willing to help in any emergency. And there are so many.
- Connect with list-servs in various countries. We are connected. Call home. Skype. Let your child see and hear his or her friends. Sometimes group video game playing is a savior. Look for parenting groups or single mom groups in the place you are visiting. Even on a general list-serv or Facebook group, asking about family meet-ups will provide connections.
- During long term travel, and especially if older children begin to whine and miss friends, there is an option of returning home for a visit. If this is happening to you, then two bits of advice: allow enough time to really get into your travel mode. Second: remember that teens may say they are miserable because, well, they are teens. Their bodies are changing, their hormones are raging. They are having perfectly normal ups and downs and it’s very easy to blame any emotional or social difficulty on travel. In this case it’s good to check in with friends back home because often you’ll hear the same difficulties going on at home as what’s happening on the road. But if your teen really continues to be miserable after 8 months or a year, consider whether it really might be best that you all — or simply the teen — return home. Just be ready to follow through if he or she wants to stay put once you’re ready to get back on the road. I found that once I reminded my son that school would start by the end of the month, and his friends were too busy getting back to school supplies to play, he was eager for us to leave again. Your child might love the familiarity and comfort of home, but parents have said repeatedly that children do know intuitively that their experiences are special (even if they don’t understand how), and that they are changing in ways different from their friends back home.
- Again, Connect with others! there are so many ways to connect: Facebook, Women who travel, single moms abroad, single moms in Mexico, Worldschoolers, etc.
- There are now several family travel conferences a year, such as Family Adventure Summit run by Brandon Pierce (next year’s event is in October in Bali! http://www.familyadventuresummit.com) or Teen adventures led by Lainie Libertie. This year there was a month-long gathering in Mexico called Stone Soup where world schooling families gathered and shared information, time and resources. And from these meet ups and social network sites, many families are choosing to travel together. This makes single parent travel suddenly a group travel experience.
Finding time alone is an entirely separate post, but if you just need a moment alone and don’t know the babysitters in your area, consider that many towns and cities have play centers, and some restaurants have play spaces for younger kids.
A note on Documents:
Make sure you have a copy of your child’s birth certificate and or a letter from the other parent, hopefully allowing longer or more frequent trips.
While it’s the last thing on many people’s minds – we are still feeling completely immortal, after all – accidents happen and when you’re a single parent, you must be responsible enough to ensure your papers are in order. In my case, there is no close family member to take over, so I designated guardianship with dear friends back home in the event anything were to happen to me. Because I also have a car and a home, I also have a Last Will and Testament.
Another essential document, particularly if you are a homeowner or have other assets, is Power of Attorney in the event you are incapacitated. This (hopefully very trusted) person can make legal decisions regarding your assets and care for your child or children.
This one is still a mystery to me… mostly because I am much more cautious now that I am a single mom, and also because there can be different social norms and attractions. For example, I get asked out on many dates – only to find out the person is married (and in Mexico might have a male lover on the side). I also know that as a white, American woman, I represent a certain amount of wealth to anyone in a foreign land. However financially challenged I may feel in my own land, the truth is that some people are looking for a ride, and you might be just the ticket. That said, I’ve met some great folks and had some lovely connections.
Tinder, Bumble (woman makes the first move), Hinge (much less popular), OK Cupid, Craigslist.
Find trustworthy babysitters recommended by other expats in the area. In lower cost areas, it’s easy to find a full time nanny for days or weeks if need be. Connect with families where you are.
My early decision has been to err on the side of staying single until he’s a bit older. My personal take was not to focus on dating if my choice is to travel with my child. Take your time.
I always want to end my days reminded of the Benefits of single mom travel:
- Once you’re on the road, you don’t have to ask permission. A side note because this was asked in a FB group: if you’re unsure whether to put the father’s name on a birth certificate even though you know he won’t be around for ANY of it, dear Lord Please Don’t! it can save you so much hassle in the long run.
- As anyone knows, the more people making decisions, the slower it goes. You get to make decisions, and travel more swiftly. Caveat: Include your child in travel decisions when he, she, or they are of the age to do so.
- It’s easier to find accommodations. Simply being a smaller unit or female will help if you’re looking to make personal connections or do family stays.
- People help more readily, and are open to you when you’re a solo parent.
- Plus, you’re experiencing the world with the love/s of your life. Make it Fun. Laugh as much as possible. Eat ice cream. Take down time. And remember this gift, because the time you actually have with your child or children will be gone in a flash…
Conference Bio: Zélie Pollon is as award-winning journalist and has been a world traveler for the better part of three decades. Her coverage spans the war in Iraq, the genocide in Cambodia, politics, wildfires, and Julia Robert’s wedding. A single parent from the start, her son learned to walk on a beach in Mexico. He learned the joys of zoology while analyzing bats in Cambodia, and he attended more graduate school courses (in England) than many of the students enrolled. After traveling through South America, Zélie and her son decided to settle in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, while plotting their next adventure. Please follow us at: www.adventuringatoz.com