I frequently travel abroad on my own with two children.  I’ve been doing so since my oldest was 8 months old, and it’s something that people seem to really comment on. I’ve heard things like ‘You’re so brave’ and ‘I could never do it’ from so many different sources that I though I’d share my top tips for traveling on your own with children.

Be organised

Traveling on your own with children

I know that sounds really obvious, but honestly, when travelling on your own with kids, being organised is essential. It’s easy enough to keep all your reservations on your phone, and you should for emergencies, but have a plastic envelope (so it’s more or less water resistant when a juice bottle spills in your bag!) too. In this you keep all your reservations, passports, permission letters (if you need confirmation from another parent that they are allowed to leave the country, which you should always have if travelling without the other parent anyway. I’ve been asked more than once!).

If you keep them in the order you’ll need them you can just pull them out when you get to the front of the queue and that’s that, sorted. Honestly, standing at immigration looking for a letter of permission or a child’s birth certificate is incredibly stressful and you can do without it!

And while you’re at it, take photos or scan all your important documents, like passports, the customer service number on the back of your bank card and so on, and email them to yourself at a public email address (like gmail) that you can access from anywhere. It sucks to lose things while you’re on holiday, but at least with electronic copies you still have the information on hand.

I also think – especially if you’re driving in Europe – having European travel cover with RAC or AA or similar is worth every penny and the peace of mind is, from experience, priceless.

Combat boredom

Airports, long road trips, traffic delays, tired and hungry kids – none of these things make for a good start to a holiday. And when you’re traveling on your own with children you can’t always dedicate the same energy to entertainment. For example, you can’t navigate complex motorway exits and flyovers while singing round robin Old MacDonald Had A Farm for 20 minutes. Well, maybe you can, but I can’t!

Or if you’re flying, once you’ve got everything packed, the house cleaned up, made sure the gas is off, the taps aren’t running and the washing is out the machine, got everyone dressed, made sure you have everything, taken the car or public transport, made it to the airport, checked in… don’t underestimate how exhausting doing it all alone can be.

For me, this is a time to bend screen time rules, buy one of those children’s magazines, break out a new toy or game… whatever it takes to give you a few minutes to regroup for the next stage of the journey.

You can be smart about en route entertainment though. We found a notebook and a pen gave us plenty of entertainment on a particularly long drive due to two closed motorways on our way to the Netherlands. We assigned points to iconic things – like graffiti in France, historical interest signs in Belgium, windmills and wind turbines in the Netherlands. If you see one of those items from the car shout it out, and collect your points. We played hang man, and I spy and all those car journey games that were around before. We made lists of things we each wanted to do on holiday, at least one ‘expectation’ each, one hope each and so on. Plenty of time killed with the simplest of tools.

Which brings me to the next point:

Pack, then unpack, and repack only half

Tips for traveling on your own with children

When you’re travelling on your own with children, and especially if you’re travelling on a budget, there’s a tendency to simply over pack as you plan for all contingencies. Recently I went of a week long cycle tour with only my handbag and a small hand-luggage tog bag. People kept asking where all my luggage was, and yet I had clean clothes for every day of the tour, my essential make-up and toiletries and even had room for my laptop and Kindle. Not once on the trip did I wish I had more stuff with me! I got to have longer lie-ins, sip an extra cup of coffee, and still be first out ready to go every morning as I didn’t have to spend an hour repacking my bags every day.

The same goes for the kids. One of our early trips I packed so many clothes that for the entire first month we were there, I didn’t have to wash clothes for them once. Over the top, much? It was really tough getting 3 thirty kilogram bags, 3 hand luggage bags, a laptop bag, a hand bag and a baby and a toddler from Hampshire, England, to Perth, Australia!

Our recent trip in 2017 was a different story. The children had a hand luggage suitcase each, and I had a check-in bag with my stuff and a few extras of theirs. We had to wash laundry 3 times in the four weeks, but that was hardly a drama! Our  travel to the airport, and our layover in Singapore and getting to my brother’s house, however, were all painless.

So when you’re traveling on your own with children, my best advice is to lay everything you want to take out on your bed, then pack only half of it into suitcases. When the kids are older and can carry their own bags they can have more autonomy and you have more freedom, but until then, packing lighter will release so much of your travel stress. (A caveat to this is if you’re travelling with really small children. Then a Trunki full of things  to keep them busy is almost essential!)

Pick your destination wisely

Before kids I’d happily pull in at any random camp site and spend a night or two. I didn’t need a fixed destination along the way, and would stop wherever looked good and had vacancies. We did discover some beautiful and unusual places this way, but traveling alone with children, I do much prefer well-staffed resorts.

Since the majority of our holidays are in term time, we have the added bonus of them not being too busy, normally, but I’ve really taken a shine to Eurocamp. You can read all about my reasons for choosing Eurocamp here, and they stand even now. In short, though, I like not feeling like you’re alone in a foreign country.

Back in 2011, I did a 5-Southern African countries road trip with my parents and 2 year old daughter. While it was a fantastic trip, there was a lot of driving on long roads with little but shrubs and sand to be seen – not really entertaining for the age group, but with three adults we did manage to survive it. The hotels were pretty fancy, the space in the car pretty tight, and the hours in it endless at times – with one child it was manageable, with two it would have been a nightmare.

The ability to explore museums and nearby towns while at the same time having the option of a kid’s club while I read a book (or do the laundry if it’s a longer trip!) is priceless again.

Some tips from other seasons single adult travelers:

  • I’m a single mum to 3. I’ve so far traveled to Spain, Egypt and the Dominican Republic with 2 children alone and next year am going to Crete with all 3. I’d say try not to worry too much, pack lots of things to do to keep kids occupied and not too much sugary stuff. My kids have always been well behaved be it train or plane. Oh and certainly pre-book plane seats so you’re all sat together. – Bizzimummy
  • Pack lots of items for your children, toys that they can open each hour. Poundland is great for picking up bits without spending a fortune! – Katy Kicker
  • We often fly with me and my two children (2 and 4). I normally just wing it. Honestly, the more you stress about it often the worse it gets. I’ve learnt that people are really nice and helpful when traveling alone with the children. Especially fellow passengers. I normally try to carry as little in the hand luggage as possible, take iPads plus let them choose a toy/magazine at the airport before boarding. I always treat them some snack or drink on the plane – they love ordering a little juice. But mainly really, just don’t stress. If you’re calm, all will be OK. – Captainbobcat

So these are my top tips for traveling on your own with children: Make sure your paperwork and documentation are all in order and easily accessible. Don’t allow boredom to set in, because nothing can ruin a day like a whiny child and a fed-up parent. Pack only half of what you at first think you need and pick your destination wisely, especially when children are small.

I realise, writing this, how many amazing memories I have, and the truth is that down the line you tend to forget the more miserable parts, usually, but how much better if you can just avoid them to start with!

Need a second opinion? Havekidswilltraveluk.com has 9 tips for keeping kids entertained on a long drive.

Do you travel on your own with children? I’d love to hear your top tips!