Mommy Points: The Balancing Act of Work Travel as a Parent
"Mom, why weren't you at my school party today? All the other moms were there."
I was hoping she wouldn't notice. I was hoping that there wouldn't be a critical mass of parents who came, so that my absence wouldn't be so obvious. Or maybe I was just hoping she would forget by the time she saw me, so I could dodge this guilt bullet. But my 3-year-old was right: I wasn't there. I was away for work.
When you are a parent whose work requirements include travel, you're going to miss things at home with your kids. Let me repeat that for the overachievers in the front: You cannot do it all. Eventually, you're going to miss something. Something big.
I haven't only missed a school party. I've missed theater performances, rodeo days, themed lunches, a school play and end-of-year celebrations. Sure, I'll never forget seeing my eldest daughter walk for the first time, but I didn't see it happen in our backyard or in the living room or on a beach. No, I saw her first steps on a grainy, jerky cellphone video that I got by text while I was eating alone at a restaurant bar on a work trip on a cold, dark night in 2010. FaceTime may have made the picture clearer in the intervening nine years, but it hasn't at all numbed the sting of missing important moments like that.
Before my tiny violin becomes too ear-piercing, let's clarify something: I know I'm lucky to have a job that includes travel. But you never stop questioning whether your career and the opportunities and experiences it brings will ever erase the memory of that look in your kids' eyes when you tell them you won't be there at the big or recital. Add in a line or two about how all the other parents were there, and you're on the express train to I'm-a-Crappy-Parentville.
So how do you manage traveling for work and being an involved parent? I'm almost 10 years into this balancing act, and there's still not going to be a pretty bow to tie up the story, as it's just not easy. But some things do help balance being a parent with being a work traveler.
If you can go, go
You're going to miss some things, so don't miss the things you don't have to. I go to some second- and third-tier kid events because I'm going to miss some of the big ones. (I hope I don't miss the huge things.) It really does help if I show up for things that feel optional. I've been the rock star of reading day at the elementary school for three years running, while most parents opt out. I may have been out of town for Donuts With Divas (aka female-caregiver appreciation day), but I read the heck out of "The Day the Crayons Quit ."
Make up new events
I recently caught wind of an early Mother's Day brunch at my 3-year-old's preschool that I am 98% sure is on a day I have to be out of town. My Plan B is to make up a new event. If I'm missing this special lunch at school, I'm going to instead work with the teacher for me to come and eat lunch there another day that week. It's not going to erase my not being there, but it will create its own special memories.
Find a surrogate
We moved to the town where I grew up just a few months after my first daughter was born because we quickly learned that, as two working parents, we needed reinforcements. We're still there nine years later. When Josh and I can't be at something, we call in the grandma and grandpa. It doesn't have to be grandparents, but try and find someone to fill in at big things when you just can't make it.
Talk every day — if they want to
I don't care where I am, with the ease of FaceTime, I'm going to talk to my kids each day I'm gone. Other families like to record videos and send them to each other during the day, which can be handy should your travels take you to significantly different time zones. Set an alarm or reminder if you must, but step out of whatever you are doing at some point in the day and see how the day went at home. The one caveat to this is that if the kids don't feel like talking that day, they don't have to. They can just say a brief hello and keep doing what they're doing.
Last in, first out
Long gone are the days when I'd tack on a weekend (or even an extra night) to weekday work trips. I'm going to arrive as late as I can and leave as early as I can. Ideally, I like to get the kids off to school and then head to the airport instead of leaving before they wake up. I also do everything I can to not miss a weekend day at home, even though that can get tricky with Monday-morning starts. Some of this can't be entirely controlled when you're not the boss, but 100 times out of 100, I book the absolute shortest time away possible.
I've messed this one up more than once, but try not to promise the moon. Don't mention you may get to come home early if you aren't sure, or unless you've found a way to control weather, maintenance delays and air-traffic control (in which case, call me). Approximately one out of five flights in the United States is delayed, so tell your kids your travel schedule, but say things like "I'm scheduled to fly home to you tonight" instead of "I'll be home for dinner" until you know for sure.
Put the school schedule on your calendar
You have a work calendar and you have a school calendar (and dance calendar, baseball schedule, performance schedule, etc.). Merge all the separate calendars into a single schedule early, and update this main calendar often enough that you know what is coming up and can at least be aware of potential conflicts, if not outright avoid them.
Points, points, points
Turn those work trips into family vacations by earning points. Register for every hotel promo you can find, enter that frequent flyer number on your flights, and make work pay for play. You get a gold star if you can teach your kids about the value of points and miles so that they get at least a little excited for that part of the equation.
Clear the schedule when you return
I work some nasty hours on the road because I want to have a minute or two to focus on the family when I get home. Skip that inflight movie binge on the return flight home and instead knock out a few hours of work so that you might have a little more time the next day to focus on the people who matter the most.
If all else fails ...
If all this fails, consider good, old-fashioned bribery. I do not bring home gifts for my girls from every trip, but if I've really missed something, or if they just really missed me, I try to bring a peace offering back with me. This is not sustainable with regular travel, but it is an ace in the hole every once in a while.
Work travel gets exponentially harder as a parent of a young kid -- doubly so if your partner also travels for work, and even harder still if you're a single parent . But work travel isn't something you have to avoid as a parent, it's just something that you manage as best you can and then pick up the pieces when best-laid plans fall apart.
And I'll be real: Right now, with multiple work trips and multiple end-of-the-school-year big events going on in my kids' lives, this is all a work in progress, so please share your tips for balancing work travel and parenting.
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Work/life balance tips: working parents who travel for business.
While most working parents have a commute to work that is within an hour of their home, others often travel long distances. Work travel is becoming more and more commonplace as employers become more global. Traveling for business can be positive, but it's not always easy to maintain work/life balance during work travel when you're a parent.
Whether you are traveling for a business trip or you're a parent in the military, work travel can present unique parenting challenges. But, just like any other unique situation, perspective and preparation can go a long way towards contributing to a good experience. It's important to find ways to help your children cope during business trips by preparing them and staying connected to your family.
A key component and the first step to making travel work well is your personal conviction that the travel is worth it. As the working parent, you have to be committed to the work and believe the benefits of traveling outweigh the costs. Of course, that doesn't mean children will see it that way. But being committed to work that requires travel can temper some of the guilt or stress caused by children pleading for you not to leave. If you haven't already, it is important to spend time thinking through why it's important for you to travel and what the potential benefits are to your children and family. It is equally important for your child's other caregiver (spouse, back-up child care , grandparent, nanny, etc.) to share these convictions as well. Then you will be more prepared to face and overcome the inevitable parenting challenges that will arise when trying to maintain work/life balance through business trips and work travel.
Preparing Your Family for a Working Parent’s Business Trip
Preparation before travel:
- Make sure everyone knows what & when work travel is happening. Create a calendar and review it with your family. Prepare everything you can ahead of time: have soccer cleats ready, the diaper bag packed, school papers signed and in backpacks, and so forth.
- Schedule focused time with your children before a business trip. Having your undivided attention for a period of time is more important than having your unfocused attention all the time. Make time to make memories and share special moments - a walk, a story, a trip to the library - before each time you have to travel for work.
- Talk about your work travel prior to leaving. Don't avoid the topic of a business trip or sneak out just because you know your leaving may cause tears. Allowing your child to share his or her feelings, even if they're hard to hear, is important. A working parent should validate those feelings by saying "I see that you are feeling sad about my work trip." This holds true even for non-verbal children; consistently talking about what's happening in a reassuring and comforting tone contributes to communication development, attachment, and trust.
- Support developing emotional intelligence by discussing feelings. Helping children prepare for, think through, and be ready for coping with difficult feelings is a wonderful investment. Teach them to take three deep breaths, draw or write in a journal, and feel comfortable with another parent or caregiver, etc.
- Have a parenting plan. It's important that the working parent that is traveling and the parent or caregiver at home are on the same page about parenting and support one another. A few chief considerations: the caregiver at home shouldn't use the traveling parent as a "bad guy" (i.e. "Wait until your mom gets home"; "I'm calling your father and he will not like to hear this"); the parent who travels should contribute to the more challenging parenting duties and not simply focus on fun; the parent that is traveling should fully support and not undo parenting decisions that have been made while he or she were away.
How to Stay Connected with Family during Work Travel
A few fun ways to stay connected during travel and to maintain work/life balance despite the distance:
- Story time: Reading to your child every night over the phone or video chat can help you stay connected; buy (or check out from the library) two copies of the same book, plan to read the same chapters, and then talk about them over the phone; or record yourself reading and then the caregiver at home can play the recording the nights you are away.
- Photo fun: Share photos of special moments throughout the day (swap sunsets, funny faces, etc.); take a stuffed animal and take photos around the travel destination.
- Facetime/ Skype: Use video phone calls to connect face-to-face during the trip - talk, sing, tell jokes, dance, whatever you like.
- Special notes: Leave a note or picture to tuck under his or her pillow to read at night; write notes for lunchboxes; write or draw a morning greeting for each day.
- Open-ended questions: Talking to your kids and getting them to open up about their day can be challenging especially over the phone. Ask open-ended questions without yes or no answers on your phone conversation, such as: "What do you want to talk about? What was the best part of your day?"
- Postcards: Buy postcards from your different travel destinations and help your child collect them in a scrapbook (send them or bring them home).
- Gifts and souvenirs: Buying things and expectations around gift buying can get out of control; set clear expectations and keep it small (i.e. a $5 gift for each trip over three nights, or start a collection like mugs from each city).
- Show and tell: Decorate a special box together and have your child keep special items in it to share with you when you return (school papers, drawings, things they find on a nature walk, photos, etc.)
- Speak in their language: Be willing to learn new ways of communication (e.g. texting, using different apps, play online games) and know that it can be as meaningful as a two-way conversation in some cases.
With the right perspective, a lot of preparation, and some strategies for staying connected, traveling for work as a parent can be very manageable. It may even be a little bit fun.
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Seek Out Family-Friendly Companies
Be open with your manager, figure our your schedule, merge your work and home calendars, delegate, and accept help, set expectations, be a good worker, think through your boundaries.
Madeleine Burry writes about careers and job searching. She covers topics around career changes, job searching, and returning from maternity leave.
Millions of single parents navigate work-life balance every day—without a co-pilot. It can be a challenging way of life from both perspectives: as a parent and also as an employee.
How can you balance your need to be a good, involved parent with your work? Get tips for how to thrive in the workplace as a single parent.
When it comes to accommodating employees with kids, not all companies have the same policies and attitudes. Search online for lists of family-friendly companies. During your interview, look for signs that the company is accommodating to parents .
Either before or after the interview, check on LinkedIn for connections you might have at the company. If any are parents, ask for their take on the company's attitude and policies toward working parents. You might also be able to get insight through reviews on sites like Glassdoor.
If you find that your current field doesn't work for you as a single parent and you want to shift to a new role, explore our list of best jobs for working parents.
If you are currently employed and become a single parent, it's worth it to be open with your manager—even if you're a private person. Sharing your situation will increase your manager's sympathy and help him or her understand why you're turning down opportunities or unexpectedly need to work from home due to child-related circumstances.
It's possible that sharing your situation with others, from your manager to HR, will reveal options at work that you weren't aware of, such as a reduced-rate childcare perk offered by the company or the ability to work a flexible schedule (more on that below!).
When you're a single parent, juggling your schedule is a constant challenge. You have the hours when you need to be working and the hours when you need to be parenting—sometimes, these two categories might overlap.
Consider looking for jobs at companies where working a flexible schedule is an option.
You can also explore this option at your current workplace, talking to your human resources representative and your manager about the possibilities. A part-time job might be the answer or a day each week when you can work from home.
Find out more information on flexible schedules, along with tips on how to ask your employer for this schedule.
To avoid moments where the much-anticipated dance recital and that essential Q3 meeting fall on the same day and time, combine your personal and work calendars. That way, it'll be easier to see scheduling conflicts in advance and avoid them.
Even as a single parent, you probably can't handle everything solo. If you have friends and family who are available to help out, accept their offers.
And at work, try to abandon any go-it-alone attitude. If you have a team, be part of it, and not a solo operator. If you supervise staffers, give them responsibilities. An intern can tackle an expense report, with you reviewing at the end. A staffer can write the first draft of office-wide correspondence and then eventually take on the task completely.
Delegating responsibilities is ultimately helpful to the people you supervise—by letting people handle additional tasks, you're letting them know you trust them, and you're also helping them build skills and add bullet points to their resumes.
Either at your current job, or during your job interview and early days at a new company, strive to set expectations. If you can travel for work, but only if you have three weeks' advance notice, make that clear.
If you are eager to lead projects, but need to be able to work from home to get an hour back in transportation time, say so.
If you'll need to miss a few hours of work every few months for parent-teacher conferences or school performances, talk to your manager about the best way for you to make up those hours.
Setting expectations in advance will reduce surprises for both you and your managers and set you up on a path where you can succeed as an employee (and have your needs as a parent accommodated).
Even if you land at a company that's accommodating to your needs as a single parent, you still need to be a good employee. When you're at work, so long as there isn't a crisis with your kids, doing your job should be your primary focus. Even the most understanding employer and company still has a bottom line that's related to the company's success, and work getting done.
Some experts may recommend that you make the boundaries between home and work firm—when you're at work, focus only on working, and at home, focus solely on your kid. That's one option, and may work for you.
But you may also find that it's helpful to leave work early and answer emails at home while your child does homework.
When it comes to being a single, working parent, there's probably no one right strategy, so do your best to find the option that makes sense for you, your kids, and your workplace.
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- Raising Kids
7 Tips for Parents Who Travel for Work
Planning your first business trip away from your toddler? These tips will make the experience less stressful for your family.
For many people, traveling for work is a perk of the job, letting you explore the world while taking a break from the office. But for those with young children, it can feel like more of a downside. Business trips can mess up your family's daily routine , and they might also prompt separation anxiety in your little ones (or yourself).
Gearing up for your first business trip away from your toddler? These tips will help make the experience less stressful for your family, whether you're gone for a weekend or a month.
Decide When to Tell Your Kids
When should you share the news of your upcoming trip? The timing depends on your child's age and temperament. Toddlers and preschoolers don't understand the concept of time, and some elementary-age kids may still have trouble differentiating five days from one week, so it's best to give them only a couple of days' notice, says Stephanie Mihalas, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and founder of The Center for Well-Being in Los Angeles.
Young children tend to get overly anxious about parents leaving, so shorter time frames reduce the length of worrying, she explains. Older kids and tweens are more independent, so you can let them know at least three to four days ahead of time.
Share Details About the Business Trip
Tell your child when you're leaving, where you're going, what you'll be doing, how they can contact you , and when you'll return. Young kids may not understand what Monday or August 20th means, so mark your departure and return dates on a colorful calendar. Tell them to cross out one day each morning when they wake up, and you'll be home on the day with the star.
Help them understand where you're visiting by showing photos, pointing out the location on a map, or researching it on the Internet or in a book. Let them know who will be taking care of them while you're away, and whether they'll stay home or go elsewhere, like Grandma's house.
Stick to Daily Routines
On the homefront, keep things as close to normal as possible. Having a parent away on business is already difficult, so it's best not to make any additional changes that will disrupt kids' lives, says Rochelle Harris, Ph.D. , a pediatric clinical psychologist at Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City. If your child is staying with a babysitter or family member, leave detailed instructions on bedtimes, feeding, schedules, and any other necessary information to keep things consistent .
Leave Reminders for Your Child
Giving a child something that belongs to the absent parent, such as a T-shirt or a photo, will keep their presence in the home and might reduce separation anxiety , says Dr. Harris. Leaving surprise notes will also help: Put them in easy-to-find places, like a toy chest, lunch bag, backpack, or a favorite shoe. And because bedtime can be especially stressful, Dr. Harris suggests recording yourself reading a book so the child can play the video during storytime.
Avoid Tough Goodbyes
Sneaking away, prolonging the departure, acting anxious, or displaying guilt can make "goodbye" even more challenging, says Dr. Mihalas. To make parting easier, she recommends giving your child a hug and kiss and saying, "I love you. I can't wait to see you when I come back, but I know you're going to have a good time." Then leave.
Check In During the Business Trip
On your first business trip away from your toddler, touch base with them (and their caretaker) every day. Daily chats allow kids to hear your voice and gives everyone time for updates. Your family could also bond by playing games or watching TV shows online.
That said, you should avoid incessant calling, which could make the separation harder for kids and frustrate your partner. Also, if your kids can contact you anytime, you'll likely receive calls for every little thing.
Spend Time Together When You Return
After a long week of meetings, you probably can't wait to get home and relax. But "when kids haven't seen you for a while, they want to share everything that's happened, see what souvenirs you bought, and hear about your trip," says Dr. Mihalas.
Dr. Mihalas recommends spending at least 15 to 20 minutes with kids when you arrive home, giving hugs and kisses and catching up. Then you can have some downtime by saying you need to shower, unpack, or go for a walk after being on an airplane for so long.
By spending time with your child first and making the transition a natural one, your kid won't take your desire for space personally. Moreover, making your return as positive as your departure means they'll be less anxious next time you travel.
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Single Parent? Here’s How to Have a Happy Vacation
Single parent travel doesn’t have to be stressful. After 8 years of single parent travel, I’ve got 9 tips that go above and beyond the normal trite advice.
Vacationing as a Single Parent
For years, I didn’t take any vacations with my kids, or if I did, it was always with a grandparent in tow. I didn’t feel like I could travel by myself with two little ones.
But after a few years of vacationing with the grandparents , I felt strong enough to try a vacation as the only parent. I wanted to forge memories with my children solo.
And as much as I appreciated the help from my parents, I wasn’t always enjoying myself on those multi-generational vacations as much as I should. When I brought my parents along, I suddenly became a child again along with my kids.
Going it Alone – Single Parent Travel
And although I now love traveling with my kids, I can say single parent travel is not for the faint of heart .
Vacations as a single parent are often more stressful for the solo parent and if we aren’t careful we transfer that stress to our children. Then we get to our destination, and no one is happy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Once I swallowed my fear and booked my first vacation with my children I haven’t looked back.
We’ve since taken multiple road trips, flown to the beach and rented a car, flown with our dog, stayed in a big city while the kids hailed down cabs and learned to navigate the Metro, and every year we plan a new trip.
Fear is no longer the limit. Money or budget is the limiting factor, like most families, and that is okay. I know I can handle my kids and I can handle whatever comes along.
Below I share the tips I’ve learned traveling alone with kids.
9 tips for happy single parent travel
1. be a “yes” mom – for a short time.
If you’re still trying to enforce the regular TV, electronics, and nutrition rules like you do at home, you’re going to get frustrated very quickly.
Tell yourself beforehand you’re going to be laidback and practice being a “yes” mom as much as possible.
Don’t think of it as being a “Yes Mom” for the kids, be a “Yes Mom” for your sanity .
When you’re in a hotel room and the only parent, you have nowhere to go for a break. Let as many things go that aren’t life-threatening as possible.
Related: How to Have a Tech-Free Vacation with Kids
2. Roadside Assistance
Roadside assistance may seem obvious, but as someone who is always trying to save money where I can, I didn’t have AAA.
My car insurance has roadside assistance so I thought I could let my AAA go. I rarely use AAA, and if I need it, I have the roadside assistance with my insurance.
I was wrong.
While in a different state on vacation one year I popped two tires with my children in the car. I called roadside assistance through my insurance.
I didn’t read the fine print and was out of luck.
Stuck in a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with my young kids, and I had no idea what to do.
Ready to pay for a new membership, I called AAA. Luckily I had three days left of my membership. I haven’t let my membership lapse since.
3. Consider SAFETY OF VRBOS VS HOTEL
After staying a week in Colorado in a home that we didn’t use half of and paid less than a hotel’s cost, I do all I can to avoid hotels now.
Using vbro.com, I find better deals that give my children and me more room and all the amenities of a home than a hotel. Plus often we can bring our dogs.
However, if safety is a concern, then stay at a hotel. At a VRBO, unless it says you are in a duplex (most likely hooked unto the owner’s home), you’re in a neighborhood you won’t be familiar with and have no one to go to for help.
I enjoy the freedom and privacy of a home; however, at night, you don’t have the same safe feeling as a hotel.
4. Packing Cubes
Packing cubes enabled me to pack for two weeks to Europe using carry-ons alone.
Everything one adult and two children would need for two weeks overseas fit into three carry-ons thanks to these packing cubes .
Packing light means no special shoes or outfits you think you “might need.”
Packing light requires leaving food at home and buying when you arrive at your destination.
Light packing is even easier if you stay at an AirBnB with a washer and dryer. Halfway through your stay, wash everyone’s clothing, and you’ll only need to pack half the clothes.
Related: How to Embrace Travel with Grandparents
5. Consider Transportation and Luggage
Even you pack in carry-on luggage, it’s still a lot for one parent to keep track of.
When we went to Europe, we shuffled our suitcases between different trains as we traveled from one country to another.
The kids were tired. Often three bags were on my back, and I pulled 2 carry-on suitcases on and off trains.
During a trip to D.C., all of our belongings fit in 2 carry-on suitcases thanks to the packing cubes. Although lugging the bags around wasn’t as difficult as Europe, in D.C. we had the Metro to deal with. I was fighting the automatic doors, watching my kids and pulling luggage into the subway.
Questions to Ask Yourself
- Consider where you’re traveling to and what transportation you’ll have to deal with along the way.
- Can you alone take care of all the luggage?
- If your child is suspectable to motion sickness or gets tired quickly (a.k.a. all children) most likely you’ll be carrying all the bags at some point.
6. What you CARRY on the plane
Put as little as possible in the bag you take onto the plane.
Without fail, as the parent, you’ll be the one who has to carry everyone’s carry-ons.
You may think you only have one flight and you don’t want to pay the fee to check in your luggage. But even so, carrying your purse, your carry on and your child (or children’s) carry-ons on and off the plane, from check-in, through security, and to ground transportation is a lot.
You’ll be cranky , and that crankiness will carry over to your child.
You don’t have the luxury of another parent to give you a break when that child throws a fit later.
I budget in the $20 for the airline to take care of my luggage and keep my family sane.
7. ROOM SERVICE
Traveling as a single parent means you don’t have another adult to leave with the kids while the other one runs to get food because the kids are hungry and tired .
Budget for room service or something like Uber Eats.
When we stay in a hotel, our days are structured to head out early, eat breakfast and hit the tourist spots before a long line forms.
But we are always back around 3 pm. Sound early ? It is.
I like to be back waaaaaay before the grouchies set in.
So I budget for room service dinner, and I plan for each kid to rent one of those super expensive movies. The kids feel like royalty !
And I have a relaxing bath and read each night. I’m telling ya, in no other single parent vacation is this possible.
Whether you’re going on a road trip or traveling by air, always pack snacks.
For a road trip, you can easily pack the cooler and all kinds of snacks for the journey.
But when traveling by air, you can still pack a lot of snacks your kids are familiar with, and you know what they like.
I pack granola bars, trail mix, nuts, etc. in my carry-ons and then whole boxes of the same type of snacks in my luggage.
Packing snacks ensure your children always have a late night snack, in case of a missed flight, or stuck on the runway, you can quickly grab those to go when we are out sight-seeing.
AnyList Packing List
You can’t over-plan when you are traveling solo with children.
I use the app AnyList to keep track of my packing list.
I have a running packing list that I use each time we go on vacation. If I’m on vacation and I realize I didn’t pack something I need, I add to the list, so I have it for next time. AnyList allows you to cross off items and delete them and reuse the same list over and over.
If you’re more of a paper person, download your own mom & kids packing list from the Single Mom Toolbox !
Everything you need to be a successful Single Mom.
Hey there, I'm Jen! I've been a single mom for over ten years. I know firsthand how hard the single-parent journey can be. It’s my mission at Grace for Single Parents to uplift, renew, and propel single moms to live a full life with God's grace and love.
OMG thank you so much for sharing this post. I’m a single parent and I’m planning my first trip with my kid and at some point I just freaked out. Thank you for the inspiring post.
I’m so glad you found some helpful tips! I hope you have a great time on your trip!
I like your yes mom tip, makes so much sense!
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How Parents Who Travel for Work Can Ease the Burden on Their Families
Seven ways to deal with the challenges of jumping back on the family merry-go-round.
By Claire Zulkey
When a parent travels for work, often the most challenging part of the trip is coming back. If you take business trips, here are seven suggestions on how to rejoin your family with a little less friction.
Arrive and Depart Conscientiously
Olivier Basdevant, 51, travels frequently as senior economist at the International Monetary Fund, but tries to do it in a way that’s considerate of his husband, Alex Kaplan, 39, legal counsel at the World Bank, who takes care of their 4-year-old daughter in Washington. “When it comes to scheduling travel, it’s about making sure that the comings and goings preserve weekend time,” Mr. Kaplan said. “Don’t leave on a Friday night if you don’t have to. Don’t return on a Sunday evening if you don’t have to.”
Also consider whether your arrival will be welcome or disruptive. Emily Bryson York, 41, of Evanston, Ill., takes several international weeklong trips per year for her corporate communications job, so her husband, Aris Georgiadis, 49, often takes care of their children, 6 and 4. They learned that the chaos and excitement that ensued when Ms. York arrived home during the schoolnight bedtime routine was best avoided. Sometimes Mr. Georgiadis texts her to stay downstairs when she gets home.
Kit Jenkins, 31, has three girls, ages 6 months to 8 years old. Her Army spouse is stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He has been deployed three times since their first daughter was born — the first occurring 10 days after her birth. For Ms. Jenkins , the trope of the big military homecoming is unrealistic and impractical, especially when it meant standing outside in the February cold with her small children waiting for her husband’s delayed bus to show up. Now, she has decided not to take their daughters when she drops her husband off or tell them when he’s expected to return.
After six years staying with their daughter at home in Carmel, Calif., while her husband traveled to a job three hours away, Nicole Madfis, 45, switched roles with him and took a job at a biotechnology firm in Wisconsin, coming home to their daughter, now 7, a few days a month. It was hard for Ms. Madfis to watch her husband develop his own method of parenting while she was gone, engaging their daughter in different social activities than she would. “I’d return, and I’d say, ‘Why don’t you do it this way?’” Over time, he simply told her, “I do it this way, Nicole.”
Ms. York said she used to schedule play dates for while she was gone or make extra food before a trip. But she learned that “the nonverbal cue was that I don’t trust you and that I think everything is going to fall apart when you’re gone.”
Respect Each Partner’s Contributions
Laurel Steinberg, a New York-based relationship therapist, says that after a trip, both parents should acknowledge that the other is exhausted. “They both did different types of work, both valuable and crucial for the family’s success.” She says that some venting to a traveling partner is normal, but to avoid undue guilt tripping, particularly before a spouse’s big presentation.
Mr. Kaplan used to email his returning husband a report of exactly what had happened and new routines that had been established with their daughter.
“It made me feel overwhelmed,” Mr. Basdevant said. “I’m coming back from a very stressful and tiring three weeks. It’s not a good period to tell me ‘Do this, do that,’ and bring me bad news.” They have found a balance. “I tend to want to have a lot of say upon return, but something I’ve learned is to stand there with a big smile, a warm hug and kiss ready to set the tone,” Mr. Kaplan said. “It makes a world of difference.”
Be Flexible About Calls
When Ms. York used to video chat with her family from work trips, the kids would end up either hyped up or melting down. Now they limit chats to morning or dinnertime, avoiding bedtime, and ask the kids about their days.
Ms. Jenkins said talking to a parent in a combat zone could be too upsetting. “There was one time, there was a flash of light and a loud noise and the internet cut out. My daughter was 2 and a half at the time and she knew something was wrong, but she didn’t know what it was.” Then the base went into a communications blackout. “With that one, we learned that it was easier to not have them talk to him as much as I did,” she said.
Dive In When You Get Home
After you’ve greeted your family, take care of your own laundry and luggage but don’t start a big cleanup until the next day, Dr. Steinberg said.
Be prepared to be the primary caregiver immediately (so answer any final emails or texts before you walk in the door). Alexandra Berger, 50, is a Brooklyn filmmaker whose husband, also a filmmaker, travels a lot while she is home with their 9-year-old triplets. When he returns from a shoot, “I am off duty,” she said. While he used to complain about coming home to a messy house, now he’s part of the solution, taking care of laundry, the children’s transportation, classes, homework, feeding and bathing while she catches up on sleep. “That’s how he helps make it up to me when he gets home.”
Acknowledge Tension Together
Ms. Berger, who does not drive, does not enjoy the hero’s welcome her husband receives when he returns and starts giving their children rides to school (when he’s gone, she takes them on the subway). “He gets this godlike status and I get blamed for everything that’s wrong,” she said. “I just accept that somebody has to be the one who’s there all the time, but it sucks.”
Mr. Kaplan said it helps to acknowledge the adjustment. “The realization that the trip isn’t over when he walks in the door, that you do have to get used to that body in your space again — just having that awareness makes you better at coping.”
Lower Your Expectations
Ms. Jenkins cautions military spouses in particular not to buy into the idea of the idyllic military homecoming. “Social media has a big impact on that. You post the pictures and it’s like, ‘Oh look, they’ve got their dad. Things must be so amazing.’ No, I’m hiding in a closet with a bottle of wine, thanks.”
She advises parents to give their kids “way more grace than you think they deserve” when a spouse returns from travel.
“Not only do they have to adjust to having that parent back in the house, they have to adjust to the new dynamic of how they relate to that parent and how they relate to that spouse. It’s rebuilding.”
An earlier version of this article misstated the occupation of Olivier Basdevant. He is senior economist at the International Monetary Fund, not legal counsel at the World Bank, which is the position of his husband, Alex Kaplan.
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Traveling Abroad as a Single Parent
ESME’s Gia Miller
Image credit: Shutterstock
What you need to know about international travel before you go
You’re ready for an adventure! It’s just you and the kids, and you want to show them a different culture while creating memories that will last a lifetime. Plus, navigating a foreign country together is a great bonding and learning experience.
But before you go, there’s lots to do. And, as a single parent, there are some additional steps you need to take before you can leave or enter a country. This checklist will make sure you get everything done before your trip. From your first step on the ground in a new country to your jet-lagged return, you’ll be glad you planned ahead.
Get everyone’s passports in advance
A passport is essential for travel abroad—even to Canada or Mexico—and some countries require that your passport be valid for six months or longer after your trip concludes. Check the country’s rules and your passport well in advance. A new passport takes only four to six weeks to arrive, but give yourself extra time in case there’s a problem.
You may be able to renew your passport by mail , but you must apply for one in person by visiting a passport office. Some locations may require an appointment , so check before you go. At the passport office, you are required to bring the following:
- A completed passport application with everything but the signature filled out (This must be signed in front of a passport official.)
- Evidence of U.S. citizenship
- Your government-issued identification and a photocopy
- One photo/passport that meets passport requirements
- Your children—you must have them with you in order to apply for their passports
- Your children’s birth certificates
Important: As a single parent, you cannot get your children’s passports alone unless you are the only parent listed on the birth certificate, your partner is deceased, or you are the sole custodial parent. If your partner is deceased, you must bring the death certificate with you to the passport office. Similarly, if you are the sole custodial parent, you must bring a certified court order stating your custodial status. If you are coparenting, depending on your relationship with your ex and the circumstances, there are three things you can do to obtain your children’s passports:
- Meet your ex at the appointment so you can both sign the form.
- Bring a notarized Statement of Consent from your ex stating you can apply for the children’s passports.
- Bring a Statement of Special Circumstances if your ex is unavailable to appear or write a statement.
Now that your passports are out of the way, you need to do several things for your health and that of your children before traveling out of the country.
Do you need shots? Depending on your destination, you may need special immunizations in order to enter the country you’ll be visiting. Check with your doctor to see what you may need, or go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for a list.
Will your health insurance cover your trip? Call your health insurance company to see if it will provide coverage while you are traveling abroad. If not, ask your travel agent (if you are using one) or visit AAA’s website to find companies that will provide temporary coverage.
Research local doctors. Reach out to the local embassy of the country you plan to visit to get recommendations for local English-speaking doctors in case of an emergency. You can find a list of the U.S. embassies online.
Entering another country
This is also important: Entering another country and returning to the United States may also require a letter from your children’s other parent. Some countries may require that you present a notarized letter of consent from your ex in order to pass through Customs. Check with the local embassy of the country you plan to visit to find out if you’ll need a letter to enter. Coming home, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection strongly recommends you have a letter. If you are asked at U.S. Customs and cannot provide a letter, you may be detained until the agents assess the situation to their satisfaction. As with the passports, the exceptions to a letter from your ex include a certified court decision stating you are the sole custodial parent, a birth certificate with only your name on it, or the death certificate of your spouse.
General travel tips
Before you book a hotel, check online for coupons or deals , especially if you travel during off-peak times. Also, don’t forget to pack some comforts from home to have on hand when everyone needs some downtime. There’s nothing wrong with your children relaxing with their tablet or portable gaming device while you read a book on your Kindle. Just remember that different countries have different electrical outlets, so you’ll need a conversion kit to charge your electronics. Look online to find out which outlets are used in your destination country before you purchase a kit.
If possible, fly in the evening. Flying at night means a mostly quiet flight for you, since everyone will hopefully sleep on the plane. Additionally, you will arrive with some energy to explore the new country on your first day.
When packing for any inflight activities or snacks, don’t forget to pack extra clothing for everyone , including yourself. Remember, if a kid spills something or gets sick, you may be in the line of fire; and, if your flight is very long, you may want to freshen up and change clothes once you arrive at your destination.
While planning, keep it simple and flexible the first two days, to account for any jet lag. Although jet lag is usually worse on the way home, you will have some when you arrive in a new time zone. As soon as you arrive, transfer to the local schedule and do your best to go to bed as close to the normal bedtime as possible. But if everyone is tired and cranky, head to bed early. There’s no reason to torture yourself. Plus you’ll be well rested for the next day’s adventures.
Don’t overdo it. Remember, when traveling as a Solo Mom with children, stress and exhaustion may get you down. When planning your vacation days, keep it simple, but have a list of extra ideas for days when everyone wants to do more. Discuss the trip in advance and get everyone’s input, allowing each person to pick something he or she would like to do. And if your kids constantly ask “What’s next?” providing them with a general schedule may help. Share enough information to keep them from asking while still maintaining some surprises.
Most important, have fun and take lots of pictures!
For inspiration, read about one Solo Mom’s spontaneous and wonderful trip to Costa Rica with her son: “ Me, My Son, and Costa Rica .”
ESME’s Gia Miller is a Solo Mom to a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. She writes about health and wellness, parenting, divorce, food, and general lifestyle. Her work has been featured in online publications including the Washington Post, Healthline , Paste , Headspace, and more.
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How to Be a Traveling, Working Mom (According to Traveling, Working Moms)
By Meredith Carey
Traveling for work is a serious perk: you get to visit cities you may not have otherwise, rack up airline miles to use on your next personal trip, and get out of the office, even just for a bit. But when you’re a working mom, managing your company’s expectations and your nine-to-five (who are we kidding, your nine-to-seven) alongside your parental responsibilities, a business trip can throw a wrench into your carefully crafted balancing act. Throw the kids’, spouses’, and backup help like friends’ or nannies’ schedules into the mix—plus pumping equipment and schedules and milk shipments, if you’re breastfeeding—and everything becomes infinitely more complicated.
It doesn’t have to be stressful from start to finish, though. We talked to moms who travel often for their work to see what tools and tricks they use to keep themselves functioning, maneuver work trips around their family’s needs, and bring their kids into the business travel fold. Here’s what they had to say.
It all comes down to the prep
The key is to set expectations—at work and at home—early. “Moms are some of the most efficient employees on the planet," says jewelry designer Jenny Bird, mom to a 5 year old and a 5 month old. "So, if you've got a good relationship with your employer, set expectations up front, before you go even go on maternity leave, for what you'll be able to do when you come back so you can control a little bit more.”
Most of the working moms we talked to have cut down what would have been a week-long trip before kids to a day or two of back-to-back meetings. Katherine Ryder, founder and CEO at Maven Clinic and mother to a 1 year old and a 3 year old, has consolidated her trips to two to three days, max. “My time is so much more precious than it ever was before kids and that same kind of philosophy carries over to being at the office as well,” she says.
“I've gotten very good at picking the things that really, really matter to the company, to my role, and to me. And I only do those things,” says Liz Meyerdirk, Uber Eats’s global head of business development and mother of three. “As soon as I know what my work travel is I put out on the family Google calendar. My husband has a pretty demanding job and travels a lot, too. So we have this rule: If it's on the calendar, the other person has to work around it.”
If you have the flexibility, adjusting when you fly can also make a big impact,” Bird says. “If possible, I take a flight that's after my son has gone to school so I can have breakfast with him—or take a flight home that lands whenever possible before he goes to bed so we can spend time together."
When you’re breastfeeding, that means overpacking
“The struggle is real when you’re nursing and traveling, ” says Ryder. Lauren Fong, founder and CEO at Cinc branded content studio and mom to a 4 year old and a 14 month old, agrees. On her packing list when she’s nursing and traveling without her infant? A wireless pump, ice packs, freezer bags, a travel-sized baby bottle rack, and dish soap to wash bottles in the hotel room, just to name a few. Also a must in Fong’s book: a hotel room with a freezer.
And if you're flying, be sure to read up on specific airlines' and countries' rules. “The last thing you want is to be going through airport security, bringing back your frozen breast milk stash and then having them say you can't bring what you’ve worked so hard to create with you,” Fong says. Ryder recommends Maven's overnight breastmilk shipping service as another option—even better, of course, if you can expense it, like the employees at Goldman Sachs and Bloomberg.
Nearly every business traveler we talked to had a Facetime plan. For jewelry designer Jenny Bird, it’s motivating her oldest to call her when he misses her most on his iPad. For Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, co-founder and CEO of Lingua Franca and mother to two sons, 5 and 7 years old, it means making work plans around the time they’re video chatting. “When we were in India and we were so far away from them, I really planned our days around a 5 p.m. Facetime because it was the only time I knew they were going to be together at home,” she says. “It allowed me to really be present during the day because I knew we had this plan to talk.”
Involve your children in the travel, even if they can’t come along
Rachel Holt, Uber’s vice president for new mobility, finds books to read about her destinations in order to connect with her daughter. “Now, every time I go to San Francisco , she’s like, ‘did you ride the cable car,’ because it’s something we read about every time I travel there,” Holt says. (She, like most business travelers to San Francisco, has yet to actually ride the cable car.)
One of Bird’s other tricks is to talk about one thing in the city she’s visiting—say, a taxi in New York or the Eiffel Tower in Paris—before she leaves, and then film a little video on her trip when she’s near it.
A little present goes a long way.
We do mean little: “When my son was a little younger, he thought I was flying around the country to get him a lollipop,” says Ryder. It doesn’t even have to be bought on the trip: “Usually when I leave, I cut out hearts from paper and I'll write little notes on them. I leave them everywhere so [my daughter] can find them, be excited, and call me when she does,” says Fong.
The first trip is going to be hard—but work trips can be a blessing
“My first work trip away from my kids, I cried the entire plane ride," says Hruska MacPherson. "You're worried about what you're missing out on.”
But nearly every single mom said that the time they have away from their families—and even from their fellow coworkers, in hotel rooms at night—is more of a vacation than their real ones. “Of course I’m missing my kids," says Meyerdirk. "But you’ve got to focus on the positive. I don't have little kids touching me at all times. I can use the bathroom without a child busting in."
“The plane has become such a sanctuary for me, even though I have flight anxiety," says Hruska MacPherson. "Planes with kids are not relaxing. They’re just not. I never read a book on a plane when I was single—and on a trip last week I thought to myself, 'wow, I just read a whole book on one flight'.”
“Every time I come back, it’s like a reset,” she says. “They've missed me, but they've grown, they’ve become more independent. It’s totally healthy to take that time apart.”
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Traveling solo with your kids can be challenging, particularly when they’re young. It’s also incredibly rewarding — from creating lifelong memories to encouraging one-on-one bonding time with your children.
You don’t necessarily have to be a single parent to travel as a solo parent. Even though travel industry trends are slowly catching up to the needs of solo parent travelers, there’s still much to be desired – not every family has two parents and 2.5 kids, after all.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to make solo parent travel more accessible and affordable. Miles, points, and cash back earned from the best travel credit cards can take the sting out of travel expenses, which is a lifesaver for single-parent families. And there are opportunities to travel more comfortably with your kiddos – without breaking the bank.
Traveling as a solo parent doesn’t have to be difficult, even if you’re single. We’ve created this guide as a resource to help you through the process of planning a trip and traveling by yourself with your kids.
8 tips for traveling as a single parent
According to the U.S. Census, ~31% of kids don’t live in a household with two parents. That means there are a lot of instances where parents or guardians are traveling with their kids solo!
While traveling solo with your kids can be more expensive (especially if you’re staying at a hotel or resort which penalizes folks for traveling without another adult) there are lots of workarounds that can make your travel more affordable. You’ll certainly have more logistics to consider when you’re traveling alone with your kids, as well.
MMS editor Meghan has taken countless trips alone with her daughter — even she was a baby. It’s not always easy, but try it out and we can almost guarantee you wouldn’t trade your experiences and the memories you’ll make for anything. Travel will help you grow as a parent and will expose your kids to new cultures, learning experiences, and important life skills.
Studies have shown that taking family vacations with your kids has a positive effect on their long-term happiness and brain development . However, it can be tricky managing one or more kids when you don’t have help or backup from another adult. Planning ahead and choosing the right flights, hotels, and activities can go a long way to making sure everyone has a fun time without losing their sanity.
Tip #1. Use travel rewards for flights
One of the biggest travel expenses — especially if you have more than one child — is airfare. Luckily, there are ways to reduce or nearly eliminate this cost by redeeming rewards from the best travel credit cards .
Using miles and points for award flights can save you hundreds, if not thousands, in travel costs. Jasmin’s family received over $18,000 worth of Business Class flights from Asia back to the U.S. by redeeming American Airlines miles for Japan Airlines and Cathay Pacific award flights, and it’s an experience the kids won’t soon forget. It was definitely a treat, but you certainly don’t have to travel Business Class to enjoy a memorable trip, and your miles and points will go a lot further if you stretch them for coach flights instead.
Booking award flights can be challenging if your travel dates aren’t flexible because of school schedules or visitation with the other parent. You should search for flights as far in advance as possible, and having a backup plan if the itinerary you want isn’t available.
If you’re operating on a tight schedule, you might consider redeeming miles or points from a revenue-based frequent flyer program, like Southwest or JetBlue. If there’s a seat for sale, you can book it with points, although pricey flights will cost more. It’s worth it if it means you’ll get flights at times that coincide with your family’s needs.
Alternately (particularly for cheaper coach flights), some bank points programs offer travel portals where you can redeem your points for paid tickets — just like paying cash through a third-party site like Expedia or Orbitz . It’s super easy. For example, the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal allows you to redeem points earned from cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, Ink Business Preferred® Credit Card, or Chase Sapphire Reserve® for flights, hotels, and more. You’ll get a better rate of return this way than if you redeemed points for straight cash back.
Using miles and points for free travel can also open up the opportunity to bring another adult with you to help manage the kids, like a caregiver or nanny, when the cost would otherwise be prohibitive. Meghan and her family have done this very thing and it’s made their vacation a lot more fun.
Tip #2. Utilize travel apps
Traveling alone with kids can be overwhelming. There are a lot of moving parts! Use these trip-planning apps to make the process more manageable and less stressful.
TripIt is an incredibly useful app, albeit the “pro” version will cost you money. Use it once, though, and you’ll be hooked.
Why? Because it’ll automatically generate an itinerary for you by pulling trip information from your booking and confirmation emails. The flight and seat alerts are invaluable. And the refund tracker can help you save money on flights you’ve already paid for.
This app is for those who prefer a little more direction when it comes to planning a trip. You can use TripHobo’s pre-planned itineraries as a foundation, then tweak the destinations and activities as you see fit. The app even offers a budget calculator that can estimate costs in multiple currencies.
TripCase is much like TripIt in that it’ll generate an itinerary for you based on the confirmation emails you receive. TripCase helps you keep track of travel details by putting them in one place and displaying them simply. The app can even help you with flight delays, book ground transportation, and suggest nearby activities.
Tip #3. Try to sit together (but don’t stress if you can’t!)
Some parents have anxiety about not being seated together with their kids (rightly so!). In many cases, you can pre-select your seats at the time of booking at no additional cost. Some airlines will waive fees for seat selection if you’re traveling with kids under a certain age (I’ve had this experience with WestJet).
Basic Economy fares often don’t allow seat selection (or will allow for a fee within a couple of days of departure), so it’s wise to avoid these if you’re traveling with small kids.
It’s always worth a call to the airline to see if they can give you better seats — or if the flight isn’t full, put you in a section where you’ll have more space or an extra seat (particularly if you’re traveling with a lap infant). Team member Joel recently had a good experience with American Airlines blocking an extra seat for his daughter, who is just under two and was traveling on an infant ticket.
And in the case of Southwest, where seats aren’t pre-assigned, you’ll get to board after the A group if you’re with a child six years old or younger (otherwise, be sure to check in as early as possible, or consider paying a bit extra for Early Bird Check-In, which can get you a better boarding position).
Tip #4. Bring the necessary documentation
Some countries have very strict rules about documentation required if your children are traveling with only one parent, or someone who is not their parent (like a grandparent). The U.S. Customs and Border Protection website has some guidance in this regard.
For example, Canada requires an authorization letter from the other parent , or, if you have sole custody, a copy of the divorce/custody decree. If the other parent is deceased, you’ll need a copy of the death certificate.
Always check for the most current rules before you travel, because airlines could deny you boarding at the airport (or you can be turned around and sent home at your destination) if you don’t have proper documentation.
Jasmin always carries a notarized letter from her ex-husband that says she’s allowed to travel with her kids, even if the country she’s visiting doesn’t require it, along with an electronic copy of her divorce and custody paperwork. She’s usually not asked about it, but it’s good to have it on hand if you need it.
Tip #5. Find ways to make airports less stressful
Navigating a busy terminal can be a trying experience on its own, never mind with kids thrown into the mix. But there are a few things you can do to make your airport experience more manageable and even enjoyable:
Airport lounge access
This is a huge benefit if you’re traveling with kids, and some credit cards will get you airport lounge access for free, along with a certain number of guests. You’ll save money with free food, drink, and Wi-Fi, and airport lounges are a much quieter and more comfy place to relax or let the kids have a snooze. Some even have playrooms, nursing rooms, or other child-friendly amenities.
We can almost bet your children will love airport lounges so much they’ll be sad to leave to board the plane! It’s an extra touch that makes them feel like VIPs (plus, you can’t go wrong with unlimited snacks, desserts, and drinks when you’re a kid).
Apply for TSA PreCheck
This trusted traveler program allows you to access shorter airport security lines where you won’t have to remove your shoes, belt, laptop, light jackets, or liquids. Children aged 12 and under traveling with you can also use the TSA PreCheck lane. There’s an $85 application fee, but you can have it reimbursed by using a credit card that offers a TSA PreCheck statement credit (up to $100), like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, or The Platinum Card® from American Express.
This is a different trusted traveler program, but will also usually get you access to TSA PreCheck lanes, so it’s actually a better deal (and you can get the application fee reimbursed with certain cards , as well). Having Global Entry means you’ll be able to enter shorter customs and immigration lines when you enter the U.S., but keep in mind children are not included – they must each have their own Global Entry membership.
Tip #6. Pick the right airport
The airports you’re traveling through can have a big impact on the ease of your travel experience, too. Of course, we don’t always have a choice in the airports we fly from or to, but some are definitely more child-friendly than others.
Here are the top 15 airports in the U.S. by total passenger traffic and the amenities they provide for parents and children (though note that coronavirus may prevent you from enjoying some of them at the moment):
Tip #7. Choose your accommodations wisely
Redeeming miles and points can get you completely free stays at top hotels, even the most expensive luxury resorts.
Within North America, it’s usually easy to find standard rooms you can redeem points for that include two queen or two double beds and plenty of space for the whole family. Some of the best hotel credit cards also come with automatic elite status, which can get you perks like late check-out, room upgrades when available, and even free breakfast .
Overseas, it can be more challenging because a lot of hotels have standard rooms with two single (or one double) bed. Look for hotels that allow kids to stay for free when they use the existing bedding, or call and ask about booking adjoining rooms to accommodate your whole family.
One of our favorite hotel credit cards for family travel is the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card because it comes with Hilton Diamond elite status (free breakfast and upgrades) and Priority Pass Select membership , which offers lounge access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide. Enrollment required for select benefits.
Even without elite status, consider hotels that offer free breakfast for everyone . It’ll save you money (and sanity) if you can enjoy a complimentary breakfast with the kids right in the hotel.
The information for the Hilton Aspire card has been collected independently by Million Mile Secrets. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.
Larger hotels or resorts may also have babysitting services or kid’s and teen’s clubs if you need to take a well-deserved break.
A better solution for some families is booking a whole apartment or house through sites like Airbnb . You can save money by cooking for yourself (wait, who wants to cook on vacation?), the kids will have more space to burn off energy, and you can more easily accommodate a nanny or caregiver if you bring someone along. Even better, you can still redeem miles from cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card to offset the cost of your stay.
Tip #8. Be aware of “single supplement” fees
Here’s a part of solo parent travel that bugs me. At a lot of all-inclusive resorts (where you pay per person, not per room) and on cruises, you’ll often get stung with a “single supplement” if you’re the only adult traveling.
Oftentimes, the single supplement won’t be added separately to the price of the room. Instead, you’ll be charged the same rate for one adult as you would if there were two adults traveling because they’ll base their price on double occupancy. At some all-inclusive resorts, the price for 1 adult isn’t half of what it would be for two adults, but somewhere in between.
Here’s an example for two adults at the all-inclusive Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach. The rate is $386 per night — or $193 per adult.
You’d expect if one adult were traveling, the rate would be about 50% less. But it’s not — a single traveler would pay $289 for the night, which isn’t nearly half price.
Luckily, there are a few brands that offer family-friendly programs and waive the single supplement if you’re traveling solo with your kids. For example, Vacation Express offers all-inclusive “Smile” resorts with amenities like kid’s clubs, entertainment, and no single supplement. Jasmin stayed at a Smile resort (booked through Vacation Express’ parent company, Sunwing) a few years ago in Cuba, and her kids had a blast.
Plus, if you book a resort stay with cards like the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, you can redeem your miles for recent travel to potentially offset the entire cost of your trip! The same concept applies to cruises.
You might also consider booking major chain hotels with all-inclusive properties, like Hyatt or Hilton . If you’re traveling with lots of kids, you may still have to pay extra (in points or cash), but redeeming points can take a big chunk out of your vacation expense.
You don’t have to miss out on travel with your kids as a solo parent just because it’s expensive. Redeeming miles and points from the best travel credit cards can help you wipe out the cost of airfare, hotel stays, and more.
The travel experience doesn’t have to be stressful, either. Some credit cards come with family-friendly perks like airport lounge access , TSA PreCheck or Global Entry credits , and elite status that gets you goodies like late checkout, room upgrades, and free breakfast.
Single parents on the MMS team have enjoyed lots of successful vacations with their kids thanks to miles and points, including trips to Europe, Mexico, Central America, Asia, Canada, and the Middle East. Sure, it’s more work compared to having another adult along to help out — but it’s absolutely worth it for the memories you’ll make.
Do you travel solo with your kids? We’d love to hear your tips, tricks, and experiences in the comments.
Jasmin Baron was an editor at Million Mile Secrets. She covers topics on points and miles, credit cards, airlines, hotels, and general travel. Her work has appeared in The Points Guy and Business Insider.
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Why choose Intrepid
Just for families
The clue’s in the title. These trips are for single parent families only (including any aunts, uncles or cousins who’d like to come along, of course). As long as you’re travelling with a child under the age of 18, you’re a family in our eyes. Plus, unlike other travel companies, children aged 17 years and younger receive a 10% discount off the price of their trip.
Travel with other families
Travelling the Intrepid way is a bit like travelling with a group of friends. Made up of 3-5 like-minded families, the kids tend to hit it off on these trips straight away, allowing you to enjoy some well-earned R&R. We often find the whole family ends up making friendships with people from all over the world, staying in touch long after the adventure ends.
Small group sizes
Intrepid’s family group sizes are small enough to avoid the crowds and reach some out-of-the-way places, but big enough for a good social mix. Our average group size of 10 allows us to hop aboard local boats, buses or trains, eat at friendly, family-run restaurants and kick back in traditional accommodation and homestays.
We know the biggest challenge on a family trip is keeping the kids entertained. So we’ve planned in advance. Nearly all of our hotels feature pools, and each day has a great mix of action-packed adventure and flexible free time. Your local leader can also suggest activities based on your kid’s hobbies or school curriculum.
Our leaders are specially trained to run family adventures, so you’re well taken care of. You can also rest easy knowing we conduct safety assessments on all our activities to meet local standards as well as our own comprehensive safety policy.
The world’s an amazing place and we want to do our bit to keep it that way. That’s why we choose to travel responsibly, giving back to the communities we visit and helping to create a sustainable world for our children. For us, it’s also about educating the next generation of responsible travellers.
Atlas Mountains, Morocco
Discover the joys of the High Atlas on a trek through scenic Berber villages, spending a night in a traditional Berber homestay. It’s a chance to discover the culture and tradition of an indigenous population who have stood the test of time. And to go downhill mountain biking, naturally.
Nubian village, Aswan, Egypt
Jump on a felucca and sail across the Nile to a Nubian village, where you'll share dinner with a local family. This is a great way to immerse your family in a different culture and learn about another way of life
Ranthambhore National Park, India
It’s one of the premier national parks of India, a place where nature reigns supreme. A game drive in Ranthambhore just might reveal a Bengal tiger stalking among the ruined forts and temples; in this jungle they can be spotted even during the day.
Where we stay
We put a lot of care in choosing the accommodation we stay in, avoiding the big chain hotels in favor of locally-run establishments offering a unique experience. Whether it's a rustic homestay in Thailand or an extravagant riad in Morocco , we choose good quality operators where most rooms will feature ensuites and air conditioning is standard. Wherever possible we pick hotels that provide triple or quad rooms and always try and offer conjoining rooms when they are available.
Learn more about our accommodation
17th Century Palace - India
Spend a night at one of Rajasthan's breathtaking 17th Century palaces. With its grand courtyards, colourful dining arcades and heritage rooms, the accommodation alone stands out as one of the highlights of the trip. Get to know the other parents over a game of billiards or kick back in the opulent surrounds while the kids take to the pool.
Mountain gite - Morocco
Spend the night in a family-run mountain home in Aroumd, perched on a rocky outcrop with stunning views across the High Atlas Mountains. Surrounded by the smell of woodstoves and bread, this is a unique opportunity to experience traditional Berber culture.
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All children, including infants, must have their own travel documents such as a passport or document from a Trusted Traveler Program to enter the U.S. If you travel or are going to travel with a child, consider taking the following documents:
- If the child is traveling with only one of their custodial parents, they must have a letter of consent, preferably in English and notarized, from the other parent or signed by both parents. The letter should say "I acknowledge that my son/daughter is traveling outside the country with [the name of the adult] with my permission."
- If one parent has sole custody of the child, a copy of the custody document can take the place of the other parent's letter.
- Parents who frequently cross the border by land with a minor must always carry a letter of permission from the other parent.
U.S. citizen children traveling abroad
Ports of entry in many countries have security measures to prevent international child abduction . If you are traveling alone with your child, you may be required to present documentation proving you are the parent or legal guardian. You may also need a letter of permission from the other parent for your child to travel.
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10 Day Europe Tour of Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary and Austria
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10 Day Greek Island Hopping tour of Mykonos and Santorini
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Family fun & stress free adventures
We know that families come in all different shapes, sizes and traveling styles. We’ll take you on a family vacation you and the kids will never forget, with enriching experiences, local connections, and family-friendly stays.
Everything taken care of
Traveling as a family can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have together - but it can also be stressful, especially if you’re planning it solo. Instead of worrying about the logistics, we’ll take care of it all, including memorable stays like a 13th-century castle in Wales or a real 1800s Montana homestead to relieve the days of the Wild West.
Experiences they’ll never forgetss cruising
Watch your kids light up with the joy of travel with our unforgettable experiences. Swim in the hot springs of a volcanic island in Santorini, cruise through the lagoons of Costa Rica in search of sloths, turtles and toucans, or become a medieval archer at the ‘Winterfell Castle Archery Range' movie set for a behind-the-scenes look into Game of Thrones.
Fun for everyone
Our single parent travel packages are designed to keep everyone happy, with experiences that will entertain both kids and adults, like riding an Old West train to the spectacular Grand Canyon, visiting Platform 9¾ and Harry Potter's house in England, snorkeling the coral reefs of the Greek Islands, or tucking into real Italian gelato in Florence.
All you need to know about Single Parent Vacations
Where do single parents go on a vacation.
The best destinations to travel for a single parent vacation are places that are fun for all ages. We love Britain and Ireland where you can dose up on history plus get involved with fun interactive experiences. We also go to Costa Rica for its incredible natural adventures, Greece for its amazing island hopping and the USA for its exciting national parks.
Are there tours for single parent vacations with teenagers?
There are plenty of trips single parents can take with their teenagers. Older kids will love ziplining down the volcanoes of Costa Rica, exploring exciting cities like Paris and Rome, wakeboarding and kayaking on Lake Powell in the USA, and discovering world wonders like the Grand Canyon in the USA.
What are some tips for single parents during vacations?
Our top tip for your single parent vacation is to choose a trip that has a range of activities to suit everyone. While mum or dad can treat themselves to a cabaret show with dinner and wine in Paris, the kids will love learning to make real Italian pizza in Rome or painting their own Venetian masks in Venice!
How to plan single parent adventure vacations?
Start planning your single parent family vacation by getting together with your kids and choosing your dream destination to suit everyone. Check out our single parent vacations and family trips for inspiration, then all you have to do is pick your favorite Trafalgar trip, book your flights, pack your bags, and you’re on your way!
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Pope reaffirms right of parents to educate their children in freedom
By Lisa Zengarini
Pope Francis has reiterated the need to protect the right of parents to raise and educate their children consistent with their convictions. They should not be constrained “in any sphere, particularly in that of schooling, to accept educational programmes contrary to their beliefs and values,” he said.
On Saturday, the Pope addressed participants in the General Assembly and Conference of the European Parents’ Association taking place in Rome on 10-11 November. He stressed that “the fundamental role of parents in the social order” must “be acknowledged at every level.”
A demanding task, especially in present cultural context
Pope Francis noted that the educational mission of parents is a demanding task, especially in today’s “cultural context, at least in Europe, marked as it is by ethical subjectivism and practical materialism.”
“Parents thus find themselves constantly having to show their children the goodness and reasonableness of choices and values that can no longer be taken for granted, such as the importance of marriage and the family, or the decision to accept children as a gift from God.”
Faced with these difficulties, Pope Francis highlighted the importance of “mutual support and encouragement, so that parents can be helped to develop a ‘passion’ for their educational mission”, which essentially amounts to teaching their children “what it means to be fully human.”
A vital contribution to building a "healthy society"
This mission “can be said to be successful when children come to realize the beauty of life” and “grow confident and enthused about the prospect of embarking on the adventure of life,” which, said the Pope, “presupposes the deeper realization of God’s immense love for us.”
Indeed, “when we realize that at the root of our being is the unconditional love of God our Father, then we see clearly that life is good, that being born is good, and that loving is good.”
“This is the lofty educational mission of parents: to form free and generous persons who have come to know God’s love, and to bestow freely on others what they themselves have received as a gift.”
These are also the foundations of a “healthy society”. Hence the crucial role of parents in transmitting values, thus forming “solid citizens capable of contributing to the workplace, civic affairs, and social solidarity.”
“Raising a child represents a genuine contribution to society," he said, "because it means training a young person in sound and respectful relationships with others, a readiness to cooperate in view of a shared goal, responsibility, a sense of duty and the value of sacrifice for sake of the common good.”
“Lacking this”, Pope Francis remarked, “children grow up as ‘islands,’ disconnected from others, incapable of a common vision, and accustomed to considering their own desires as absolute values. As a result, society ‘deconstructs’, grows impoverished, and is progressively weakened and dehumanized.”
Church’s commitment to support parents in their work
While insisting on the need to protect the right of parents to raise and educate their children according to their beliefs and values, Pope Francis reiterated the Church’s commitment to accompany and support families in their work and the importance of a closer collaboration with all institutions involved in education.
In this regard, he recalled the “Global Compact on Education” which he launched in 2019 in order to consolidate a shared commitment on the part of all institutions that deal with young people and “Compact on the Family” with cultural, academic, institutional and pastoral actors, in order to focus on the family and its various relationships.
Global Compacts on Education and on the Family
The intent of these initiatives, the Pope explained, “is to overcome a number of ‘breakdowns’ that are presently weakening the world of education: the breakdown between education and transcendence, the breakdown in interpersonal relationships, and the breakdown that distances society from the family, creating inequalities and new forms of poverty.”
Bringing his address to a close, Pope Francis encouraged the European Parents Association “to move forward with hope” in its commitment, “drawing constant inspiration and support from the Gospel’s witness to the holy parents Mary and Joseph.”
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What if I can't "savor every single moment" of their childhood?
I fear my children will not remember me as a parent who prioritized play over work, by kristine langley mahler.
There is an embroidered saying that has hung on the wall in my parents’ house for as long as I can remember, declaring “There will be years for cleaning and cooking / But children grow up when we’re not looking.”
The sentiment made me uneasy as a child and also uneasy as a parent, particularly during the year I turned 38, and the phrase haunted me so thoroughly that the sing-song fear crept into my writing. In a scene where the narrator considers how often she finds herself seeking reprieve from the constant look-heres of parenting, she is racked with guilt over how she can be both aware of the future — when her children will leave — and yet unable to “savor every single moment.”
I am deflecting by referring to her as “the narrator.”
I am also deflecting by not including the entire phrase:
“I hope my children look back on today and see a parent who had time to play. There will be years for cleaning and cooking, but children grow up when we’re not looking.”
The truth is that even in my self-condemnations, I couldn’t admit the crumple in my soul that the “hope” suggested because I was afraid there was no way my children would ever remember me as a parent who had prioritized play.
This is the terrible dichotomy of parenting: it exhausts while you are in it; you have the energy for it when it is over.
The parent is confessing that they are not always looking. Yet the mother in the embroidery is not deflecting — she is fully present with her children. The mother is not looking at her children but at the embroiderer, at the camera lens. Her scarf is high in the wind, she wears mittens on her hands, the leaves are red and gold and green. Her home is far away; she has left her responsibilities and come out here into the front yard, past the faraway fence, to be with her children. Her lips crook up ever so slightly, unlike the obvious smile on the blue-coated girl — the girl I always knew was me, the oldest child. The mother is allowing her son — my brother, facing away from the embroidered — to throw leaves at her, like the photo my parents took when I was 16, my brother 14, my sister 12. We had driven out West and found snow at high altitude in July; there is a photo of the three of us throwing snowballs at my mom, the photographer.
My parents have hung the embroidered saying in the bedroom they reserve for my daughters — a bedroom that serves no function other than for my children to sleep in when we visit my parents, who live six hours away from us. My parents have outfitted the room with a bunk bed and an additional twin bed, loaded the bookshelves, stuffed the closet with toys my daughters have played with over the years. I am always touched by how much my parents care for my children. There is something my parents know that I do not, which is how it feels when this time has passed. I am trying to inoculate myself against it, steeling my heart because I am terrified of the destruction if I do not. My children will leave me — I have known this since before they were born. I never intended to train them to stay. But the hush I seek now will become the hush I cannot fill when they are no longer coming and going, no longer asking me to play. I will not sweep the broom every day, will not stack their breakfast dishes with a sigh, will not wipe their Nutella smears off the countertop.
I have loved my daughters at every stage of their growth. I was not one of those baby-moms who missed the baby stage when it left; I looked forward to the next, to the toddle, to the reading, to the school days. I am a rabid fan of my children’s activities, hollering at every single soccer game, in the basketball stands clapping so hard I get bruises on my palms. Framed on the wall beside my desk, the card one of my daughters drew for me, commemorating their performance of “Sisters” from "White Christmas" for my 40th birthday gift.
Yet: I missed my middle daughter’s starring role in her middle school play because I was at a conference.
The fear of what happens when we’re not looking . How even as a child that phrase filled me with a melancholy, knowing I would grow away from being a child, would assume the position of my mother, would no longer be my parents’ child. The tremendous ache of aging, the inevitability toward the change my parents always applauded — I grew another two inches since last year! — but also toward the truth that growing meant I would have to leave them one day. I would leave my parents, as we both always expected, and they might miss the moment when I did. They might miss me. The horror that my parents might NOT miss me.
A hard part of that embroidered saying is the use of “we’re,” because it means the embroiderer is aware that loss is a generational knowledge; the saying commemorates a generational desire to be different than we actually are, acknowledges the necessity of making the art to remind ourselves of who we cannot be. Who we know we are supposed to be.
I think about my parents often when I examine my conscience and ask myself if I am being the mother I can be.
There WILL be years for cleaning and cooking, but when you are raising children, you do not always have time to play. Cleaning and cooking is part of being a parent, part of caretaking, part of how I — as someone with Acts of Service as one of my top Love Languages — show love. My second Love Language is Quality Time. I am trying to do both.
But the hardest part of the saying is the hope because it means the embroiderer is aware that it is a pipe dream and wants to shape her children’s memories otherwise. I think about my parents often when I examine my conscience and ask myself if I am being the mother I can be. In my memories, I frequently consign my father to the garage because I remember him there so often, but I pair every trip to the garage with my father on the carpet beside me and my siblings, explaining the rules of wrestling and then gleefully declaring THERE ARE NO RULES! before we squeal and scramble to topple him together. I remember my father standing in the cul-de-sac hitting Domes with his tennis racket for me to catch in my softball mitt.
I remember my mother at all my events — the recorder concerts, the middle school basketball games I largely spent on the bench, the Spell Bowl Championships — and I remember my mother driving me to the mall, the movies, the friends’ houses. I remember my mother taking me to the library and the store for the posterboards I forgot I needed the night before the projects were due.
I remember my mother cleaning and cooking, but I struggle to remember her playing with me. I was so young before my playmates (my siblings) were born and my mother did not need to play with me so much anymore. It is something I struggle with now as my own children age and I list for them the litany of activities to which I once took them — the endless library storytimes that only lasted 20 minutes, the interminable afternoons at the children’s museum, the Mudpies at Fontenelle Forest as my children toddled from finger-painting to craft to snack to book and I dutifully followed them around the room, bored out of my mind — and they recall none of it. All those years I invested in making my children feel loved and none of the memories have stayed with them.
I suppose that is why the embroidery exists. I suppose that is where the hope comes from. I love my mother tremendously and when I think of all the meals she made for us—and cleaned up after! and did our laundry and vacuumed the carpets and made sure our lunches were made!—I know my mother’s Love Language must be Acts of Service as well. Perhaps it becomes a mother’s love language.
I think of Jill Talbot in her memoir "The Way We Weren’t," asked what she would like to do differently when she leaves rehab and telling her counselor, “I want to play in the leaves with Indie.”
I think of Ramona’s mother in her titular book (Beverly Cleary’s "Ramona and Her Mother") confessing to her daughters that she was tired of “being sensible all the time,” telling Ramona and Beezus she wanted to “sit on a cushion in the sunshine…and blow the fluff off dandelions.” Beezus replies, “But you always said we shouldn’t blow on dandelions because we would scatter seeds” and her mother sighs, says, “I know, very sensible of me,” gets up and goes to her chores.
All those years I invested in making my children feel loved and none of the memories have stayed with them.
When I Google the embroidered phrase on my parents’ wall, I can only find misquotes, all changing the “parent” to “mother,” which I suppose I should have expected. One website considers my embroidery to be a bastardization of the poem “Song for a Fifth Child” by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton, published in 1958, the year my mother was born. Ruth’s poem directly addresses mothers, not parents, and refers to the messiness of the house because the mother is upstairs with her youngest (and last) child, rocking her baby because she knows this phase will pass quickly.
When I was a young mother — and I was a young mother, my first daughter born when I was 25 years old — I knew I intended to have more. I was happy with each stage of my daughters’ growth because it made things easier; watching my daughters develop their independent skills was a stage I actively and loudly celebrated. Even my youngest, because by the time she was born, I was exhausted. The morning she emerged I was euphoric: the whole family I had desired to create was now present, there was no one left to hope for.
My daughters are curious about my writing; of course they are. Like the embroidery on the wall in my parents’ house, the sight of me at my desk, typing and staring at a screen, has been a fixture in my daughters’ childhood home. I haven’t wanted them to read about these years of my life until they have lived them for themselves. I don’t want my experience to color theirs; don’t want them referencing my missteps or judging me until they emerge on the other side and become parents themselves, a future which no one may desire and which also may not be assured.
I finally called my mother to ask her about the embroidery and she told me she had sewed it herself. My mother embroidered the cross-stitch sometime when she was pregnant with my younger sister. I asked my mother what it meant to her, the phrase, and she told me she embraced the philosophy and spent time with her children rather than keeping a clean house. Yet I remember a clean house AND a present mother, though not one who played with her children. This is the wisdom I can only hope is a generational inheritance I will someday accept: a mother does not need her children to remember their shared history the same way she does. She trusts her memories. Embroidering the truth is framing her love around her intention, which was always looking.
personal stories about parenting
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Kristine Langley Mahler’s sophomore essay collection, "A Calendar Is a Snakeskin," is out now from Autofocus Lit. She is the author of "Curing Season: Artifacts" (West Virginia University Press, 2022). Her work has been supported by the Nebraska Arts Council, named Notable in Best American Essays 2019 and 2021, and published in DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Brevity and Fourth Genre, among other journals. A memoirist experimenting with the truth on the suburban prairie outside Omaha, Nebraska, Kristine is also the director of Split/Lip Press.
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