“What do you mean you can’t travel alone? You raise them alone. Just do the same stuff you do at home but like, in front of the ocean,” I said to a girlfriend at the beginning of the summer.
Okay. So maybe that was a little too oversimplified.
Really though. I am a single mom of three boys and have always wanted to see as much of the world as I can and to pass that wanderlust onto them. I don’t let the aspect of flying solo or parenting solo deter me from taking them places. A few people have asked me how I do it, so I’d love to share my tips with y’all here. (And this isn’t just for single moms, either. I know a lot of mamas take their kids places solo due to their partner’s work schedules.)
I budget for monthly travel as if I were budgeting for a bill or a “have to pay” expense like car payment, mortgage, etc. Some of the trips we take are just a quick overnight and some are for days or weeks at a time. Having a travel fund set aside assures me that no matter what comes up, we can at least get away for a night. Not everything you do has to be huge and extravagant. My kids LOVE going to hotels — literally any hotel — and I love teaching them to be a good steward of someone else’s property, how to be polite to staff and desk workers, and how check in/check out works.
This brings me to my next point: be a (financially) smart traveler. We are a one income family. I own my own business, so I trade off guaranteed income for flexibility of scheduling. With that, I ask my family for experience gifts every Christmas/birthday, like gift cards to hotels.com or season passes to local attractions. About a week and a half ago, we went to the beach for 11 nights. Three of those were paid for by using Christmas gift cards. Most travel apps also have rewards programs. I just cashed in a free night at a local resort that I earned from our aforementioned beach stay, so a $250 stay turned into a $20 stay. We’ve done the same thing in years past, paying $14 for a weekend in Asheville last spring. Some hotels and property chains also have free perks and rewards programs you can join and “double dip” points. Our resort at the beach not only earned me a free night in my hotels app, but it also earned me a pretty hefty amount of points through another hotel/ timeshare group because it was affiliated with them.
Speaking of timeshares…Every time we go to the beach, I’m asked to go to a timeshare presentation. I finally caved a few years ago and y’all, I will never not go to one. I attended a great breakfast and short presentation, then talked to a representative about possibly buying into a timeshare in South Carolina. I opted out, but I still got free tickets to a dinner show and a $150 visa gift card that I used on the rest of the trip. I grew up being told they were a scam and never to go, but had the absolute opposite experience.
This likely goes without saying, but we also try to travel at non-peak and off-season times. I’m looking into booking for fall break in mid October, where a week in Myrtle Beach would cost us $290. That’s the price of one night in the exact same resort I’ve had my eye on during peak spring and summer travel times. If you have flexibility, weekday travel is also drastically less expensive.
A few other “rules” I have for travel:
1. We only travel domestically for now, and only to places we can drive. I know my limits and my kids’ limits, and this works for us.
2. No theme parks. My kids are not really into rides and shows. We love water parks but Disney or Universal are out for us right now. I may break this rule for Legoland in the future, but it’s still a pretty hard maybe.
3. This goes without saying, but because we are in a global pandemic, I have been really intentional with our destinations this year and with how we spend our time at said places. Never be afraid in pandemic season or regular life season (will we ever have one of those again?!) to call and ask questions about safety or other protocols before booking.
4. If you have a travel rewards credit card, use that! I just closed and paid off my credit card for personal reasons, but so many of my friends pay for flights and hotels by cashing in their points this way too. Combining this with hotel app rewards or timeshare points has allowed a few of my friends to fly to pretty luxurious destinations for a few hundred dollars total.
5. Leverage your talents! I blog for a few places as well as Knoxville Moms, and am looking to pick up a few more because I like to write, but also because I enjoy the perks of writing for different organizations in exchange for free or discounted rates to their services and properties.
My next tip is a little out there, but worth mentioning: we have a camper and while I don’t use it as much as I’d like, we still make good use of it. I paid cash for mine — sight unseen — and spent an entire summer renovating it, so it wasn’t a lot of financial investment for me up front, but if a camper or RV is something you’re on the fence about, I encourage you to do it! You always have your very own hotel room right in your driveway and once again, in weird pandemic season, it’s a great way to guarantee a trip while staying safe. I could write a whole post about my camper because I LOVE HER, but if you’re like me and your idea of being outdoorsy means eating on a patio at a restaurant, start small. My camper has no water, bathroom, or kitchen, but it was great for me because I don’t have to worry about plumbing issues or something called “flushing potty lines” before you leave a campsite, which is pretty much what you think it is. No thanks.
Also, use the resources you already have at your fingertips. Have a friend who travels often? Pick her brain. In a mom group on the internet? Ask for travel recommendations. Trust me. People love to talk about being vegan, CrossFit, and where they travel.
Finally, my last tip, if you want to take your kids, somewhere just take them! Again, maybe it’s oversimplified, but I swear 90% of my hesitancy to travel alone with my boys was just getting over the mental hurdle. You don’t have to do an extravagant trip; kids are thrilled anywhere with an indoor pool and a mini fridge I’ve found out. Start small with a day trip and build off that. And if you still are panicked at the notion of going by yourself, see if there’s a friend, relative, or a sitter who can tag along. My mom has gone to the beach with the kids and I a few times and it’s been a great experience for all involved.