Traveling as a Single Parent: Not Always a Smooth Ride

Traveling as a Single Parent: Not Always a Smooth Ride

Posted on January 29, 2016   •   Written by

I did not travel much when I was a kid. My family didn’t have the money for it and, as I grew up in South Florida, we would just spend a day on the beach or visit Disney World for a weekend.

It wasn’t until I was 25 that I left the country for the first time on an all-inclusive honeymoon in the Caribbean. I didn’t travel again until I was 29, visiting London because I wanted to take in Europe before I turned 30. That is where the travel bug hit me. Hard.

Inspired by that trip, I began a pursuit of travel and have visited more than 30 countries, as well as refocused my journalism career to help inspire others to explore. Even when I had my children, my love for travel was too deep to let motherhood stop me. I took my daughter on her first plane ride when she was six months old. She developed a fever so high during that trip that we nearly spent a night in the ER. But it didn’t derail me from traveling with my kids.

Traveling as a Single Parent: Lissa Poirot and her children in British Columbia

Horror Stories and Missing Sympathy
When my children were toddlers, I went through a divorce. At the same time, I became the editor-in-chief of Family Vacation Critic, a website promoting family travel. I find most people don’t realize I am a single mom, as when I write about taking my family on a trip and use the word “we,” they assume family means a husband is included.

So is traveling as a single parent difficult? Not for the reasons most people think.

I have been a single mom for eight years. I learned quickly how to manage alone with two toddlers. Yes, I have horror stories, like the road trip to Baltimore during which the air conditioning died and an accident forced us to sit in the heat of standstill traffic for two hours with no restroom in sight. By the time we got to the hotel and cleaned up, I was beat, but we headed to the children’s museum anyway. Within five minutes, my daughter, so excited for action, didn’t make it to the bathroom. As I was buying her a new pair of shorts in the gift shop, my son had the same problem. By afternoon, I was ordering a large glass of wine at the Cheesecake Factory. But these aren’t stories of a single mom; these are stories of parenthood.

Instead, the worst part of traveling as a single parent is when strangers interject. Like the time I was boarding a plane and struggling with kids too small to carry their own bags, and the woman behind me (offering no help) said, “I bet you wished you were still married now, don’t you?” Ouch. Or when we are on a cruise or at an all-inclusive beach resort and my kids are playing with their new friends in the kids club. I find myself asking for a table for one. The looks I get make me want to order room service.

Overcoming Obstacles
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 3.2 percent of the U.S. population went through a divorce in 2014. Does that sound like a low number in terms of the entire U.S. population? Yes. However, according to Kids Count Data Center, 35 percent of children in 2014 were living in single-parent households. That’s nearly 25 million kids that the travel industry could be targeting.

Traveling as a Single Parent: Lissa Poirot and her kids at the Grand Canyon

With those numbers in mind, how can the travel industry help single parents? Here’s what I’d like to see:

Airlines making it easier to book family seats together. To book a flight with my kids, I need to act well in advance to find a plane with seats available together. These days, the “free” seats are often the middle seats; the aisle and the window surrounding that free space are available for additional fees. Fine, I’ll pay extra. But what about flights when there are no remaining clusters of unoccupied seats? Well, how about shuffling some solo business travelers around and helping families confirm their seats together? I am not going to sit away from my kids, and I’m alone so I can’t be next to one and not the other. Airlines, please stop making us beg for people to swap seats as we are boarding.

Resorts and cruises offering single-parent pricing. Most of the pricing and deals I see are for two adults and two kids. Instead of charging full price for adults and allowing kids to stay free, I’d be happy to pay a discounted price for my kids and skip paying for an invisible partner. We need more pricing for one adult and two kids, minimum. I’ve stumbled across a few resorts and cruises that offer this, such as Grand Velas Resort in Mexico and Disney Cruise Line.

Uniform international travel procedures. The rules about traveling outside of the country as a single parent with kids are not entirely clear. Crossing the border into Canada to see the other side of Niagara Falls, for example, is not a simple passport moment. Canada requires kids traveling with one parent to present a notarized letter from the other parent granting permission for the traveling parent to leave the country with the children. But if you are a single parent who adopted or a widow(er), it gets complicated; the directives for border control agents may not be clear. What a godsend it would be to create set and clear guidelines for the U.S. and other countries so that it is easier and less confusing for single parents.

As the travel industry begins to embrace more family travel, let’s be sure we don’t exclude non-traditional families. I want to show my kids the world; help make it easier for me to do so!


Lissa PoirotLissa Poirot, editor-in-chief of Family Vacation Critic, has covered the travel industry extensively for over a decade, becoming focused on family travel through her own first-hand experiences traveling with her two children. Lissa’s family travel advice has been featured in dozens of news outlets including CNN, ABC News and The New York Times, and her travels are chronicled on Family Vacation Critic – a comprehensive online travel resource for families, offering hotel and attraction reviews, destination guides and travel tips and deals.

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5 responses to “Traveling as a Single Parent: Not Always a Smooth Ride”

  1. susana moreno says:

    Wow. I love your article see I love traveling but I being scare to do so since I became a single mother of 2. I’m afraid of traveling on my own with 2 small children but reading your article have give me the courage to do what I love. and for that I thank you…..

  2. Jennifer Runfolo says:

    Thank you so much for your article. I have a 13 year old son and travel often with him and I have hit these and many more obstacles in travel. I once had to pay for the 2 adults price for my then 3 year old to stay with me on an inside cabin on a cruise many say is the most family friendly. I have received shameful emails of responses from family ranches when I have asked if they offered any type of exception for a single parent. All of that will never stop me from taking my son to see the world because I genuinely believe that travel and the time spent together is priceless.

  3. Maria Comsa says:

    I enjoyed the article and I agree that there should be some guide lines for people who travel with children.

  4. Lila says:

    Can I ask my question here?

    Nice to have found this page! Maybe here I can post my question.

    Me and my kids love traveling!!! So this is the story. I got divorced 5 years ago. My ex lives in USA (he hasn’t seen the kids in 4 years, rarely calls but he does pay child support because I made him) Me and my two daughters live in Mexico. I am planning a very long trip around the world and I will worldschool them. I was wondering about this “magical letter” and crossing borders to about 40 countries. How difficult will it be? Do I really need my ex signing this letter ( know I should )? What should this letter say? We are planning to leave in a year and a half. I haven’t told him about our plans yet because he has a very traditional way of thinking and is quite closed minded. He will freak out telling me I am crazy and I don’t know if he can stop me from leaving? I am kind of confused on how I should handle this with him and for the sake of this letter. I have traveled with my girls from Mexico to USA to Canada with his “blessed” permission and it was in Canada and Mexico where they did ask me for the letter, not USA. I did have it with me because I had read about these issues before traveling but now I am wondering about the 40 countries we will be traveling to as well. I am quite sure I will be needing this letter just in case but I wonder what it needs to say and how to get him to sign it. I would be much more happier if I didn’t have to go through this with my ex. Did you ever have a problem traveling as a single mother to all the countries you went to? Any advice will be very much appreciated. Thanks, blessings

    • Julie says:

      Sounds like my 10 yr old and I are traveling world when you are. We leave this june2017—-would love to connect via email!

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