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.
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.
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.
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 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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