Yes, I’ve been travelling solo for decades, however, I also know what travel with kids in tow is about. So let me share my experience and my best tips on how to travel smoothly as a single parent.
Yes, when travelling with kids, you do take the drama with you: The baby’s crying, the toddler’s tantrums, and the teen’s moods. On the other hand, you also have a suitcase full of bonding and fun – and tons of wonderful shared memories. Hence, let nothing hold you back, just organize and prepare in a thoughtful and prudent fashion.
- Welcome to The My World
- Solo Travel With Kids: The Baby Years
- Solo Travel With Kids: The Toddler Years
- Solo Travel With Kids: The School Kid Years
- Solo Travel With Kids: The Teenage Years
- Last But Not Least
- Pinnable Pictures
The My World
The moment I learned that I was with child, I acknowledged I would be a single mother. Yet, I was determined to get through with this wonderful exciting project. I would show my child love and affection – and the world.
While theoretically, I’m convinced that apart from climbing the Kilimanjaro and diving the Barrier Reef, there is hardly an activity that cannot be enjoyed with a kid in tow, it took me a while to put my conviction into practice.
Having a baby was not the easy sledding I’d expected it to be. While pregnant, I didn’t understand the fuss people make with babies. After all, you just have to put it in a maxi-cozy, smile, and wink at her from time to time and that little bundle of joy would squeak in glee.
Man, did I stand corrected!
My daughter was not only the most beautiful baby but also the loudest. Fortunately, she slept a lot. But as she woke up, her big, beautiful sky-blue eyes looked right, then left – and then she opened her tiny rosebud mouth as wide as even possible and she screamed at the top of her lungs as loud as she could. For hours. Until she fell asleep again.
It was definitely not possible to just place this little bundle of
joy noise in a maxi-cozy next to you while working or holding a conversation.
Going on a trip was henceforth impossible.
I’m not driving, and spending hours in a public place with this unpredictably screaming travel companion….nope, no way.
Sadly, my life as a globetrotter seemed to be over.
Solo Travel With Kids: The Baby Years
After ten months of listening to her screaming, I decided to face the world again and take my faith into my own hands. I had to get out.
Over the past months, I had buried those plans of travelling to Thailand for months and months, holding a quietly smiling baby in my arms. Those globetrotter plans were on hold.
I decided on spending three weeks on the island of Mallorca. This Balearic island is one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations. This and the fact that it belongs to Spain were a guarantor for smooth logistics and supply. I rented a studio with a kitchenette and a separate bedroom. However, it was part of a regular hotel where I ate breakfast and dinner. Yet, the kitchen gave me more freedom and I was able to prepare the bottles and fruit and veggie purees I used to feed my daughter at that age.
What the Baby Years Taught Me to Do And to Pack
Since I was not brave – or should I say ruthless? – enough to go on an adventure trip while my daughter was still a baby, I can only write about our adventure light at an apartment in a European tourist region. Also, she was already ten months old and able to sit. Another aspect I should mention is that I’m not driving. I took cabs and buses where I was holding her in my arms.
How to Travel
Especially if you’re not by yourself with your child, the baby years – as well as the toddler years, but those are covered in the next chapter – are actually the easiest and most flexible time to travel. But even as a single parent, this stage is quite smooth.
Yes, you have to take far more precautions than with a school kid let alone a teenager. Some facilities are simply indispensable. The good news is, that you find them basically everywhere in the world. Maybe not in the fashion you are used to, but you do find everything you need for a baby – simply because people have babies practically everywhere.
I’m not saying it’s easy to schlepp a foldable stroller and a huge pack of disposable diapers around the globe. But it’s doable.
The upside is that all your baby needs is you. As long as you’re around keeping your child happy and healthy, it doesn’t matter where you go and how you get there. Since at that age, your child doesn’t have friends to miss or favorite places. You can spend months and months on a beach – as I did. Also, you can push the stroller through New York, Rio, Tokyo – your passenger won’t really care.
Obviously, you don’t want to pick some malaria-infested jungle as your temporary home base or camp on Antarctica’s eternal ice. But other than that: Pack your baby and go.
However, note that doctors recommend waiting until your child’s immune system is fully developed and therefore less sensitive to infections. This is mostly the case when the baby is approximately one month old. Still, it is recommended that you don’t fly before the baby is three to six months old.
As your baby is not entitled to a seat, I would always book a bassinet for long-haul flights and an aisle seat on short-haul flights as you have to hold your baby in your lap.
What to Take
Stroller – Carrier – Car Seat
Obviously, I wasn’t too keen on carrying a ten-month-old around. Therefore I took a light, foldable stroller with me. It’s helpful if it has a small hood or parasol against the sun and some kind of rain skin. I would say that even if you are carrying your baby a lot or if you have a rental car, a stroller is indispensable. You can place it anywhere at any time so that the child has a cozy bed wherever you go.
Even if you have a high-quality stroller with larger wheels, you might take walks on natural trails where pushing’n’pulling a stroller is uncomfortable and exhausting for you as well as for the child. In this case, it’s easier to carry the child in one of those baby slings or carriers. You should opt for one with padded shoulder straps and a waistband to ensure a safe and comfortable walk for you and your baby.
I’m not driving, hence, I never had to worry about car seats. However, at least in Europe and the Americas, you can borrow a seat with your rental car. The prices for these seats may vary depending on the country and the company. Also, in some cases, the prices at airport stations are higher than in the city.
Formula and Puree Powder
Obviously, the least complicated way of nurturing your baby while on the road is when you are breastfeeding. You have your baby’s vending machine practically on you.
If that’s not an option, you have to plan a bit ahead. Normally, you should be able to either purchase fresh fruits and veggies at the local farmers’ markets and blend or mash them into some yummy and healthy pap. Plan B would be to get pockets and jars at the supermarket.
However, there probably will be moments when your little one is hungry and you cannot go to the market. For these moments, you should pack some formula and puree powder in individual sachets that you just stir into warm water.
The baby stage is the only age where you can easily travel without toys. This way, you save space and weight. Babies usually find hours of joy in everyday things, such as an empty water bottle or a rustling paper bag. The bottle makes a noise when pressed. This is exciting and entertaining enough. Free yourself from the idea that your child will need tons of toys to keep them busy. Children can be very happy with simple things.
Of course, you shouldn’t leave a favorite toy or stuffed animal behind if that’s what your baby absolutely needs to fall asleep.
Which clothes you pack for your baby strongly depends on where you’re travelling, obviously. Clearly, your baby’s clothes are pretty tiny and can be easily washed by hand in a sink. Don’t make the mistake to buy this liquid travel detergent. Either take a bit of washing powder with you – or simply wash the baby’s clothes with mild soap.
Don’t forget to pack not only some disposable diapers but also at least one – better two – changes of clothes in your hand luggage for the baby. Also, pack one or two tops for yourself, too, in case the baby spills something on you.
By the way, if you are travelling to a sunny region, the most important accessory you should pack is a sunhat with a wide brim or a cap with a large shield. Better take at least two with you.
Don’t make the mistake of traveling with a month’s supply of diapers. Pack a sufficient number for the trip to your destination and for the first two to three days. Actually, you can buy diapers anywhere in the world.
However, for your own comfort and for the sake of our environment, I would always recommend taking some reusable diapers with you. They are not only sustainable but come in really cute designs so that your baby doesn’t even need to wear additional pants in hot weather.
Also, keep in mind that when you travel, you have to get creative when changing your baby. Your baby won’t care as you change his diaper on the beach or on the floor. Nonetheless, you should always have a light scarf or a small towel in your backpack as a changing surface. This way, your baby does not have to lie on the cold or dirty ground.
You know best which care products to use on your baby. And since baby skin is much more sensitive, you actually might want to take those essentials like mild soap, baby shampoo, cream, and lotion with you – especially if you trust only certain organic brands.
The most important cosmetic is sunscreen with a very high SPF. Another indispensable thing to pack is a zink ointment. Especially in a hot and humid climate, it will protect the tender baby’s skin against heat rashes.
Solo Travel With Kids: The Toddler Years
Shortly before my daughter turned two, it was finally time for the adventure I had dreamt of during my pregnancy.
A couple of months earlier, I had been to Belize by myself. At that time, I was working as a freelancing designer and author and had arranged an exhibition at the Bliss Institute in Belize City. Also, I spent a week on the peninsula of Placencia which I then chose for our long-term stay. We would be wintering on the shores of the Caribbean – my dream came true.
The biggest obstacle, by the way, was my mother. Understandably, she was not happy that I took her only grandchild for six months out of reach. However, she fought with harsh and unfair methods, blaming me for – and I’m quoting – sentencing the child to death; oh, the drama.
There is a reason for my mother and I not being close.
I just had to remember the flocks of kids I had seen all over Belize to determine that there was a good chance the child would survive; yes, sarcasm detected.
What the Toddler Years Taught Me to Do And to Pack
As we were leaving for Belize, I had picked a date a couple of weeks before my daughter turned two for economic reasons. When it comes to plane tickets, two is the threshold between paying a small percentage for your toddler and up to the full price for a child.
The downside was that with this toddler ticket, she was not entitled to her own seat. You can always ask for one of those bassinets. But they are rather for tiny babies than for tall almost two-year-olds. As the flight attendant denied me the stupid bassinet, I had to hold my daughter either on my lap or lay her down on the floor – at least there was enough space in front of the first row. However, under these circumstances, the flight from Europe to Central America can get pretty long. Nevertheless, I would always book a bassinet on long-haul flights and give it a try.
Adventure Begins at the End of the Journey
But once we made it to Belize City, things got really smoothly. We took a horrifying domestic flight with one of those small planes designed for a handful of passengers. What’s terrible about these things is that they fly really low so that you can see everything below. That’s beautiful until the moment it makes you really, really motion-sick.
Anyway, I was the only one affected.
Once we made it to the airstrip in Placencia, some guy offered to take us to the village. Unexpectedly, he didn’t have a cab, he had a boat so that we were silently gliding through the mangroves to our interim home.
We spent almost six months in our makeshift ‘house’ next to the world’s narrowest sidewalk – yap, with this walkway, Placencia made it even into the Guinness Book of World Records. Obviously, it took me a couple of days to settle in and get organized, but I worked it out. There were minor issues but nothing too serious. As a matter of fact, it turned out that you don’t need to fear scorpions and tarantulas. With a small child, the biggest health issue is sore knees that won’t heal in the tropical climate. I finally cured Mimi’s knees with a thick, sticky baby balm containing lots of zink. Oh, and she also had a rash – I wrote about the adventure of consulting a doctor in Dangriga in a former post.
All in all, it was an educational and enriching experience. Mimi turned from speaking exclusively German to everyone regardless of their mother tongue to mercilessly addressing everyone in the broadest Belizian Patois – even as we returned home together with the migratory birds the following spring.
How to Travel
As I explained above, the first months and years are the least complicated when it comes to where to go. Yet, there are differences between travelling with a baby and a toddler. Both have their advantages and disadvantages.
The fact that a toddler can sit, stand, and walk makes roaming easier. On the other hand, the ability to walk makes travelling more challenging. While a baby sits or lies cozily wherever you put it, a toddler takes off as soon as there is something interesting. And those objects can sometimes be quite dangerous to grab.
So yes, you don’t have to carry the child around, you can order her to stand or sit, but you have to be constantly on the alert. Which makes travelling with a toddler quite exhausting.
To make your trip smoother, try to pre-book everything you can: If your child is small enough, book a bassinet. Also, order a kid’s meal before boarding. If your toddler gets her or his own seat, make sure it’s away from the aisle. As other passengers pass by, they might bump into a small fidget. Also, as the food and beverage cart passes by, little hands and arms are in danger.
Depending on how far your child is developed, it might make things a bit more relaxed if you can explain what’s going on. That you are packing for an exciting trip that will take you to a place that’s possibly very different from home. That you have to get on that big plane to get there. Finally, there is no reason to be scared. It’s fun – and helpful – to do so with the help of picture books.
I was a single mother and very far from being wealthy. In Europe, hiring a babysitter was basically unthinkable. In Central America, however, women charged way less. This allowed me to leave my daughter in the morning with her babysitter for a couple of hours. After we enjoyed lunch together, she had her after-lunch nap. Then, we hit the beach and spend the afternoon together.
What to Take
As you are travelling solo with a toddler or even with a bigger child, you should pack one large piece of luggage for both to keep things simple. This way, you won’t have to lug several bags on your own while traveling.
As long as your child can sit in a stroller, a backpack is the better choice so that you have both hands free. As soon as your child is walking at a travel-friendly pace, you’ll need only one hand free to lead tiny travelers through airports’n’stations.
Stroller – Car Seat
In my opinion, a stroller is the most important piece of luggage when travelling with a toddler.
Yes, even if she is already an avid walker and runner, you’ll need a stroller to transport your child from A to B at your own pace. And you’ll also urgently need a stroller to tie your child down when needed in a civilized fashion. Since toddlers are curious and pretty mobile, you’ll need the option to stop the child from doing dangerous things without constantly running after her and wrestling her down. A stroller is a means of transportation – and at the same time a handy jail.
Last not least, the child can comfortably nap wherever you go.
I had a light, foldable stroller with me. If yours has a small hood or an attachable parasol, even better. Otherwise, a large scarf spread over the handles will do. Also, rain skin and a mosquito net come in handy – especially in tropical areas.
Since I’m not driving, I cannot tell you much about car seats. I assume that in many countries, you can get one at a car rental company. However, I’ve witnessed the most ruthless ways of entire families travelling on one motorcycle. Will say, there are countries where the definition of safety is very different from what we wusses from industrialized countries are used to. Hence, you should bring everything that’s crucial for your and your child’s physical well-being with you.
Feeding your child is so much easier during the toddler years than with a baby. If your toddler is hungry, you can stuff her with basically any food that’s available.
You can. Nevertheless, you shouldn’t.
Although I must admit that I felt a sensation of freedom when I simply bought Mimi her very first kid’s meal on our layover in London, I recommend packing some healthy snacks like pieces of apples, baby carrots, cucumbers, rice cakes, and cheese. Not only to avoid too much junk food at airports, but also to have something on hand when the service onboard takes longer than expected.
Also, make sure to have a bottle on you. Every airport restaurant should be willing to fill it with drinking water for your child.
Even if your toddler is already potty-trained, I would always have a couple of diapers on hand. You know that the waiting, as well as the check-in process, can be a challenge even for our adult blatters, so you better be prepared. While I urge you to use reusable diapers at your final destination – simply for environmental reasons – I don’t recommend using them while travelling. Seriously – do you want to carry one or even various used diapers between continents?
Since you won’t be able to hold your toddler back from touching everything within reach, wet wipes provide a basic level of hygiene for all ages.
This being said, you should always carry one or two changes of clothes for your toddler – and at least one change of tops for yourself for the very likely event of spills. Also, plastic zip-close bags can store items ranging from toys and snacks to soiled clothes.
Talking ’bout liquid-proof containers: For years, Mimi got motion-sick. While it never was a problem on planes, there were quite some moments in cars and on buses where I panic-stricken rummaged in my hand luggage in search of a suitable container. Hence, I started to collect the vomit bags you find on planes. They serve their purpose perfectly: Until you need them, you can store them neatly folded in your bag. Once demanded, their sturdy paper keeps them in shape, their plastic lining makes them waterproof. Somehow this structure also makes them less embarrassing and gross for everyone. Also, until you have to use them, they make a nice souvenir with the air company logo on them…
Obviously, a toddler’s skin is usually more sensitive and prone to rashes than the skin of an adult. Hence, I assume you have your favorite brands of mild soaps, baby shampoos, kinds of toothpaste, and creams. And although I’m usually the don’t worry, you can replace it everywhere-type, I’m very picky when it comes to cosmetics for kids. Simply because in many countries, they are not that aware of the whole organic thing, hence, the products are loaded with chemicals and fragrances and stuff that’s simply not good for you – and therefore, even less for your child.
For instance, I found out the hard way that Mimi is allergic to some kind of bandaids. The adhesive stuff literally burns her skin. Therefore, although you can buy regular bandaids everywhere in the world, I always packed a small stash of hyperallergic bandaids just in case.
Also, I was extremely picky when it came to sunscreen. Of course, I took a couple of bottles of sunscreen with a very high SPF. But I also made sure it was specifically for babies or at least an organic adult product.
By the way, it was neither the bite of a tarantula nor a malaria spasm Mimi had to fight in the tropics. No, it was her sore knees. She was a toddler, of course, she….toddled. And fell and broke the skin on her knees. Beware that even minor scratches or cuts can be tricky in the hot and humid climate.
I tried everything – from iodine that made it even worse to those bandaids that burned her skin. Finally, I simply smeared some of the zink cream* I had with me to cure diaper rashes on her knees. They dried and healed the wounds in the blink of an eye.
Ever since I haven’t travelled anywhere without a small jar of zink cream. Nothing fancy, just the stuff they sell at the drugstore.
While you don’t need to schlepp toys for your baby, a toddler actually does play with certain toys. However, you shouldn’t get overboard. I would take two or three pieces – and maybe not the favorites. On a trip, there is always a chance you break or lose something, and I presume you don’t want to deal with the drama.
Actually, I liked to buy something special for the trip – which adds to the excitement. Also, normally, kids do get some stuff to play with on the plane, so this can be used during the entire trip, too.
I rather bought a cheap thing or two at the destination than carry much of her stuff from home. Then, she also found all kinds of shells and twigs on the beach – the Belizian peninsula as such was really entertaining enough.
Since we spent a couple of months in Belize, I printed out a couple of pictures of family and friends and pinned them on the wall of our
shack house. This way, her life back home was always present, however, in an unimposing way.
Before Mimi had to start school in Germany, we stayed in Central America three times: Five months in Belize when she was two, six months in Honduras when she was four, and eleven months in Honduras and Costa Rica as she turned six. Obviously, I couldn’t pack changes of clothes for months and months. I had to do laundry – either at some laundry place or by hand. According to my experience after decades of travel, you find a laundry place everywhere in the world. Sometimes it’s kind of a humble laundromat, sometimes it’s a lovely lady doing your laundry by hand.
Until today, regardless of the length of a trip, I’m packing clothes for eight to ten days. Then, every other week, I do laundry.
In one of my most featured posts, you can learn more about how to pack light and yet travel in style.
Solo Travel With Kids: The School Kid Years
When it comes to travelling solo with kids, I’d say that the school kid years are the easiest stage.
From the age of five, kids really grasp what’s going on. That they are leaving home, that they hear foreign languages, eat unusual foods – in brief: That the world is an exciting place.
This age group is soaking up what they’re seeing, hearing, and doing. If you play your cards smart and achieve to sell culture and history as the big adventure it actually is, you’ll have curious travel companions asking you a million questions while exploring historic sites and grand art museums.
When Mimi was in elementary school, we did a lot of shorter trips of up to three weeks and even stayed in all inclusive-hotels. Something I would never do again, however, at that time, it was really comfortable. Nevertheless, since I’ve always had those itchy feet, I made sure to escape and explore as much of the surroundings as I possibly could. I visited historic sites, I saw exhibitions, and I did go on day trips. Since I was a single mother, Mimi had to come along no matter what. However, during those activities, I did reward her: She got some extra-ice cream in Cairo, we went to see Shrek at a cinema in Cádiz, and we were swimming below the ruins of Tulum.
However, being a designated culture vulture, I’ve seen far fewer landmarks and museums than I would have wanted to. On the other hand, Mimi saw far more of them than she ever wanted. Hence, it was a compromise – the basis of every well-functioning relationship.
What the School Kid Years Taught Me to Do And to Pack
There is no such thing as homeschooling in Germany – at least there wasn’t before the pandemic. Therefore, as Mimi started school at the age of six, our ex-pat years were over. We had to stick to the school holidays. Also, there were moments during our long-term stays when I envied those families vacationing in the convenience and snugness of posh hotels. I wanted some serious pampering, too. So for these two reasons, I booked some quite touristy trips for a couple of years. Therefore, I cannot tell you how to do some survival training in the rainforest in the company of a seven-year-old.
Nevertheless, if you book some conventional vacays, often tickets and packages are cheaper for kids under a certain age – mostly it’s ten or twelve. So that’s a big plus and something you should take advantage of as long as you can.
Happiness starts already on the outbound flight when your child is finally willing to entertain herself by watching movies and checking out the toys she gets from the flight attendant. Not only are schoolkids interested and curious, but they also make friends easily. They have fun on the beach and join heartily the entertainment program at your hotel – the cheesier, the better.
If things go well, you won’t have to ask your child to give you a break – you’ll have to beg and extort her or him to spend at least the meals with you.
How to Travel
As having a sleepover is exciting for most kids, having weeks of sleepovers in a foreign country in a hotel room takes the cake. You can actually increase the emotion by explaining in a storytelling fashion where you are going, a bit of the history, local traditions, and customs, foods, and more. We also took children’s books set in specific countries with us. Obviously, movies are great for this kind of preparation, too.
Once you’re there, take everything nice and slow. During our first trips, I didn’t do that much sightseeing. And when we did, we took breaks instead of racing from one sight to another – something I passionately do when travelling on my own.
To avoid frustration on both sides, you have to free yourself from any kind of FOMO. We altered long days on the beach and short sightseeing tours or day trips.
It’s a great time to install rituals such as going for a last swim before or playing cards or board games after dinner. Then, cuddling up while reading before bedtime.
However, it’s also a great opportunity to apply some different rules than at home. If there is some hotel entertainment, bedtime can be easily postponed a bit. More dessert doesn’t really hurt, and drinking sweet sodas now and then makes a vacation special.
Last – and by no means least: Make always sure your little travel companion has your contact information at all times. If your child has a mobile phone, you should put your own number and preferably the contact details of your hotel on speed dial. Mind you that not only a child but also a phone can get lost. I always made sure that Mimi knew the hotel’s name by heart. Also, when visiting sites like a museum or a theme park, we agreed to meet at a certain spot in case we lost each other. Worked like a charm as we lost each other for a moment at Universal Studios in Orlando.
What to Take
When travelling solo with a bigger child, you can still stuff everything in one big family suitcase. Nevertheless, it can be more convenient to pack two smaller suitcases if your little travel companion is allowed her own checked luggage. In this case, the child should be able to pull that suitcase if absolutely needed.
At school age, the child’s own carry-on becomes very important. The child should pick what she absolutely wants to take with her – which will be mostly toys and other nonsense, but that’s okay. You should only step in if the whole thing gets overboard or if she packs things that are not allowed in hand luggage, obviously.
Also, there should be room for some snacks and a change of clothes or at least tops in case of unexpected spills.
And yes, we also carried one or two vomit bags against motion sickness with us.
Feeding your school kid during the trip shouldn’t be too difficult. You can either carry some favorite snacks. Or, in case you forgot, buy some overpriced stuff at the airport. Life gets so much easier the older your child gets.
By the way, people tend to be a bit too cautious about what to bring on a plane. While since 2006, only small amounts of liquids are allowed in your carry-on, you can bring snacks with you which are neither fluid nor creamy, hence, no yogurt and even some kind of cheese can be a problem – unless it’s spread on a slice of bread. Why I’m even mentioning this? Well, you obviously haven’t read my story on how I got in trouble for carrying an artisan goat cheese from Toulouse to Hamburg: A truly cheesy flight.
So yes, you can make sandwiches and bring apple slices. You might not be allowed to take them with you after landing due to pest control. But I assume that you intend to finish your fresh snacks like sandwiches and fruits on board, anyway.
Care Products and Hygiene Essentials
I presume you have your favorite brands of organic soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, creams, and lotions. Normally, I’m the don’t worry, you can replace it everywhere-type. I’m getting quite picky when it comes to cosmetics for kids. Especially in a tropically hot and humid climate or in the icy cold of high mountains, your child’s sensitive skin will be stressed. To avoid skin conditions or allergies, you should at least pamper it with cosmetics that are organic and free of chemicals and fragrances.
Also, I’m always carrying loads of good, fragrance-free sun protection with a high SPF from home since I don’t trust just any stuff there is in store.
Am I the only one who loves to buy a new piece or two for an upcoming trip? Obviously, my closet is exploding and I certainly do not need another blouse. But I simply enjoy having some new travel companions in my suitcase.
Talking ’bout travel companion: Evidently, I also bought some cute new pieces for my daughter – before the trip to add to the anticipation and during the trip as a useful souvenir.
Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe. Actually, only on my very first road trip – by Greyhound through the Deep South of the USA – did I take something borrowed with me, namely a backpack. Eventually, I discovered that you can have the spirit of a backpacker without actually ruining your back. Howsoever, let’s skip the blue and silver part and get right to the old and the new.
Probably, your child will insist on taking some of his favorite toys on the trip. As long as Mimi didn’t get overboard, I just accepted some dolls and a stuffed animal – although I learned on the first two or three trips that she would ignore those toys, anyway. Instead of minding her babydoll, she rather took windsurfing lessons. Instead of dressing Barbie, she played pinball with some boys. Hence, if your suitcase is already quite full, you should try some careful negotiating – because chances are that those toys will be used far less than expected.
However, I often purchased a new game – for obvious reasons rather cards than board games – and books that were set in or connected with our destination. For us, playing games and reading books has been a wonderful bonding experience.
Solo Travel With Kids: The Teenage Years
Well, well, well, now we are entering the danger zone. While babies are happily napping in a stroller as you are sailing the seven seas and a schoolchild excitedly helps you set the sails, a teenager will be prone to complain and criticize.
It’s a shame since, during the teenage years, you finally don’t need to care’n’control all the time. You are finally in the position to let your hair down.
It could be so much fun. Yet, often it isn’t and the earlier you don’t bother about the long face, the faster you’ll relax and thusly avoid many conflicts.
What the Teenage Years Taught Me to Do And to Pack
But let’s also look at the bright side: Having a self-reliant and mostly self-sufficient travel companion has many advantages. You can tell a teenager to stand in line at the counter while you are checking something on the board. As you go to the bathroom, you can leave all your luggage with a teenager. At that age, the child that’s travelling with you is actually of help and no longer rather a burden. Combined, you have two brains and four hands – don’t underestimate this luxury.
Also, a teenager is definitely responsible for her or his own entertainment. Reading some cheap-ass magazine, listening to their iPod, or checking social media on their phone. As we spent 8 hours onboard a plane that due to a blizzard never took off, Mimi watched the movie Step Up four times in a row – without complaining the teeniest bit.
From my post How To Plan a Trip From Scratch, you know that I’m a manic travel planner. Come to think of it, I enjoy putting together meticulous itineraries almost as much as the trip as such. Nevertheless, travelling with a teenager with no sign of FOMO whatsoever forced me to make time for some unplanned activity and actually introduced me to some pretty cool spots’n’neighborhoods. Will say, being a bit more open is good for both of you.
How to Travel
So yes, some things are definitely easier with a teenager. On the other hand, you probably won’t be able to drag a teenager to all the landmarks and through all the museums you’d like to see.
The best way to avoid frustration and conflicts is if you liberate yourself from the greed’n’need to visit all the attractions and sights. In return, you’ll get to see other things. Therefore, planning your trip collectively and agreeing on mutual activities beforehand might build a smooth ground you later walk upon in harmony.
And just like you should prepare a schoolchild for the trip by telling about the destination and adding some cool’n’quirky background stories, you might trigger your teen’s interest with books and movies.
Nevertheless, you shouldn’t count on being the first at the ticket counter when travelling with a teenager. Most teens will stay up late and then sleep in until noon. I hate that. But I also despise spending the day with someone who’s constantly yawning and making a long face. Hence, I pass on any activities starting at 9 a. m.
If you start the day with a leisurely breakfast and take it slow, chances are you’ll be rewarded with a fresh, rosy, and energetic travel companion.
What to Take
I honestly hope that you will happily skip this chapter. If by now you are still packing your child’s bags, you did something very, very wrong. Your spoilt brat has to pack her own luggage. However, if you find certain items indispensable, you might wanna ask and possibly check if they actually were packed. Although, apart from certain medications or gadgets, you can probably purchase everything your teenager forgot at home at your destination. Usually, teens are very shopping-friendly beings so it will be a joy to replace the T-shirts she left at home at some local boutique.
This section has fewer chapters since depending on the exact age of your teenager, you probably won’t have much say when it comes to clothing’n’cosmetics, anyway. And while you probably have to oversee the packing skills of a 13-year-old, from the age of 16, you can possibly just take a quick check.
Obviously, you are neither packing nor carrying the luggage of a teenager – your days of servitude should definitely be gone. Get your teenager a suitcase or backpack she or he likes and then you’re basically out.
During her early teenage years, Mimi still asked how many t-shirts or shorts I thought would be good to pack, which sandals she should take, and so on. This was totally fine as she was still learning. Over the years, she perfected her packing skills and I didn’t meddle anymore.
Just like you don’t tell a teenager what to wear you don’t have to tell him or her what to eat – I hope. Having been a single mom all of Mimi’s life, I cannot even describe what a wonderful sensation it is once you don’t have to be cautious and provident all the time. You’re hungry? Well, eat. You’re thirsty? Then drink.
So while the simple act of ingestion isn’t an issue, it’s actually a chance to tickle your child’s taste buds with some new and exciting flavors and develop your child’s palate.
While you maybe don’t want to force some fried crickets on your teenager as soon as you set foot on foreign ground, you shouldn’t miss the chance to introduce him or her to some exotic fruits, exciting spices, and exclusive dishes.
Care Products and Hygiene Essentials
When it comes to packing care and hygiene products for adults and teenagers alike, you don’t have to be very cautious unless one of you has a skin condition or suffers from allergies. If you can use basically any product without getting a rash, you’re good to either take everything with you or buy anything on the spot.
As we travelled to the US or to England, we bought basically all our care products at our destination. Mainly because I love drugstores. You literally have to drag me out of Walgreens, Duane Reade’s, and Boots, otherwise, I’d spend my entire trip there. I love drugstores almost as much as art museums.
However, we are based in Hamburg. And while Germany is famous for stupid things like cars and soccer, the fact that the country has by far the best drugstores got somehow lost on the rest of the world. Not only do German drugstores sell all those global brands at extremely competitive prices. They also have some home brands of fantastic quality at incredibly cheap prices.
Hence, shopping for care products on our travels wasn’t really smart. But I must say, that I also loved to take them home with me as lasting souvenirs. I very much enjoyed washing my hair with a shampoo I had bought weeks ago somewhere in Miami.
Although I presume that most of the packing’n’preparation for a teenager is not different from an adult, I’d like to point out the family tradition of playing games when travelling together. Obviously, we are not schlepping the jubilee version of Monopoly with us. But there are some really cool card games based on the board version – by the way, Monopoly*, too. However, our favorites are San Juan* and Richelieu*. Also, there is a pocket version of the clever game Master Mind* – pun intended. It’s small and light and can be easily taken everywhere.
I’m stretching this point because we do play literally everywhere. Even when we go out to dinner, we are taking a game with us and play while waiting for our food. Obviously, we don’t do that at some fancy restaurants; but we rarely go to fancy restaurants, anyway.
We got into this habit during the school kid era and kept it up ever since. Over the years, this family tradition brought us wonderful bonding moments – and lots of fun.
Last But Not Least
Clearly, you don’t need only the favorite teddy bear and some good sun protection when travelling with a child. You also need some documents. Normally, children need their own travel documents like an identity card or passport from birth.
Depending on from where to where you are travelling, you need not only a valid travel document, but possibly also
- vaccination certificate
- proof of foreign health insurance
If children travel by themselves or with adults who are not their legal guardians, they should always carry an additional document signed by their parents. This can apply also if they are travelling with only one parent, so you always should have written proof from the other parent allowing you to take the child abroad.
Generally, each country decides whether it requires official travel authorization from the legal guardian or parent. Find out which rules have to be obeyed when entering or leaving the country. Also remember that even if a country does not require minors to have a permit to enter or leave the country, you may still need to show one in one of the countries you are crossing.
When traveling by air, it is strongly recommended to check with the airline in advance. Many airlines require official permits and have their own forms for this purpose.
There are countries whose requirements are stricter for parents travelling alone and which require further notarized documents. It is therefore advisable to obtain information from the respective embassy or consulate in advance. Also, every country can change these regulations at any time, so better safe than sorry.
We didn’t have shared custody of Mimi so I was fine. And while I have never been questioned at any border, I would not count on being lucky.
Therefore, you should have the following documents ready on top of the above listed:
- International birth certificate, especially when the child has a different surname
- Copy of the other custodian’s passport, so that the signature can be verified
- Travel authorization for single parents. There is a great template for mothers and fathers in six languages supplied by the ADAC – which is the Germany AAA.
Besides those official documents, you should have
- all urgent contact details of your embassy, insurance company, bank or credit card company
- an emergency form stating your and your child’s name, nationality, contact details, and emergency contact
Finally, I strongly recommend leaving a hard copy of all those documents with some trustworthy friend or family member and also having one set on you. In addition, you should store readable scans of all those papers preferably in a cloud but at least on your phone.
Preventive Health Care and Health Insurance
Today, after many trips where either one of us ended up in a foreign hospital, it gives me shivers that for more than a decade, I was travelling without travel insurance – in the company of a child. Only as we flew to Hawaii a couple of years ago, a travel agent urged me to get health insurance – at a ridiculously low price. Guess what: That was the first trip when Mimi got seriously dehydrated and had to be on a drip for two hours and about 600 bucks. Since then, good health insurance is one of my top priorities when preparing for my trips. I’ve explained in a former post how fast this pays off.
Although I idiotically did not get health insurance when going to Belize, I at least consulted Mimi’s pediatrician before we left. Also, asking a specialist in travel and tropical medicine might be a good idea. This doctor will be able to tell you whether prophylaxis for instance against malaria and special vaccinations such as yellow fever, hepatitis, or rabies are necessary or at least recommended.
For the sake of your child, go see a doctor and refrain from research on the internet or on facebook-groups.
Note: You’ll have noted that the pictures in this post are of questionable quality, to say the least. While I do apologize for this on the one hand, on the other, it only proves their historic value and authenticity. The pix of my daughter were all taken with a standard reflex camera and digitalized only years later.
If you choose to pin this post, please use one of these pictures:
Important disclaimer: I did lots of research for this post and put only links here that look trustworthy. However, information is being provided as a convenience. It does not constitute an endorsement or approval of any of the laws, regulations, services, or products. I bear no responsibility for the accuracy and legality of information or any content of external sites or links.
This post is being regularly completed, edited, and updated.
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