Single Dad traveling with kids isn’t so easy…

I just took my kids (13, 10, 6) to Orange County – aka “The OC” – to visit my folks for a week, and while it all went smoothly for the most part, there was more than one point when I really had to stop and marvel at how difficult it is to travel with kids as a single parent.

To set the scene, my kids really are experienced travelers, great on airplanes, and generally cooperative and happy young folk, but I think what’s most difficult is that there’s no break, no relief from us being jammed into a tight, foreign space for day after day. No “I’m going to my room to read and get some breathing space!” or “I’m off to Sue’s house for a few hours”, just all of us constantly together. Which can get difficult, to say the least.

I even planned ahead and invited my sister to join us from Alaska for a sort of mini-family reunion then asked if my 13yo daughter A- could bunk with her, which worked out great.

It wasn’t the hotel room space that was difficult, though, it was just the progression of days…

Again, don’t get me wrong, I feel like they did well, and I managed reasonably well, even if I didn’t have five minutes off in a week (one luxury of being a single dad is that half the time my kids are with Linda and I have a busy, satisfying and recharging single life, except, of course, when I’m on the road with the kids. I call that the single parent silver lining, but that’s the subject of another post).

There were a few moments during the week when I also realized how little positive feedback I get for being such a dedicated dad: for even taking the kids on a trip of any sort, let alone an expensive one that included time at beautiful Laguna Beach and a trip to our family’s favorite SoCal venue, SeaWorld. Instead, I thought about how one of the challenges that us single dads have is that our culture is so focused on how wonderful, important and critical mom is to children, but dads? We’re all the pyscho angry stalker types who screw up our kids. When do we get the positive feedback for even a job adequately done, let alone done well?

kids playing in waves laguna beach ca

Kids playing in the waves, Laguna Beach

I know that in my immediate family there’s little positive feedback. My kids are surprisingly thankful, but when they’re appreciative one minute and arguing with each other the next, well, it’s hard for the positive to stick. Getting positive feedback from my ex is vanishingly rare for reasons I won’t go into here, and my parents are great folk, but totally clueless about my challenges as a single dad. So I do what I bet a ton of single dads do: I plod along, trying to do the best I can and hoping that I’m just racking up karma points and helping positively influence and love my children. That I’m “doing it right.”

man riding dolphins seaworld san diego ca

Man riding dolphins, SeaWorld San Diego. Cool, eh?

After a few days I could see the interpersonal energy between my children start to lag, where the collective grumpiness rose to the point where each was interested in what they wanted to do and quick to complain about anything else. So I was in Southern California — a place I love, full of cool things to do — with a 6yo that was just dying to go back to the beach, a 10yo who said he “hated” the beach and it was boring (even though he’d had a great time when we were there, as you can see in the above photo!), and a teen girl who would have been fine laying on the hotel bed, reading her new book, then going shoe shopping. OMG.

We muddled through, and I only threatened to drive to the airport and fly home early (which would have cost $400 in ticket change fees, thanks to Frontier Airlines greedy ticket change policies) once or twice. But we survived, the kids all said that they had a great time, and we made it back to Colorado intact.

first manicure

During the trip, I took the girls for a manicure, my 6yo’s very first!

Still, it makes me wonder why travel is so tricky. I know it’s not just me, because I hear from my kids and, occasionally, Linda, about how it’s hard when they’re all together too. I guess my sister and I fought when we were on family trips too: is that just the nature of travel with children, the push-pull of wanting the known, the normal, the regular rhythm of daily life versus the adventure and change of travel and places new?

I have to admit that I was greatly relieved to see my friend Ashley E. Kingsley (who runs the nifty Daily Deals for Denver Moms) post the following to Facebook the day after I got home:

“…remind me: travel with kids causes spurts of insanity, shortness of breath, redness in face, lack of patience, hysteria, drinking straight from airplane liquor bottles, and occasional Tourettes syndrome, bouts of crying and excessive dreaming of ‘remember when we were single’ moments.”

In fact, Ashley, your posting was the impetus to write this blog post. Why? Because I was afraid that saying the trip was other than joyous and harmonious would somehow reflect badly on my parenting skills, that if my kids weren’t happy 24×7 that it was somehow a reflection of either my inability to entertain them or of my corrupting, negative influence on them as they’ve grown up. Yeah, I’ll let you, dear reader, unwind all the unstated assumptions in that statement.

dave taylor self portrait seaworld san diego ca

Self portrait at Seaworld San Diego. Yes, it was hot!

My thoughts post-trip are revolving around finding someone to travel with us, whether it’s an au pair, babysitter, or even another family (which would be ideal: another single dad or a single mom with one or more age-compatible kids) (there’s a business opportunity there, y’know…), or taking trips with just one child, which has historically been way, way easier: this summer I’ve taken my 10yo son solo to Chicago for a week and my 13yo daughter solo to Colorado Springs for a week, both of which were delightful and far less stressful.

But enough about my musings.

If you’re a single parent, talk to me about how you approach travel with your children. Do you only travel to your family so you have a support team at your destination? Do you bring a FWB to help with the kids and, um, the evening entertainment after they’ve gone to sleep? (only mostly kidding with that one!!) Or do you just skip traveling, waiting for when you’re in a stable, committed relationship again and can travel as a bigger unit?

17 comments on “Single Dad traveling with kids isn’t so easy…

  1. Thanks for the note, Dr. Wright, but “if you’re not prepared”: I was prepared and it was hard.
    Again, though, there’s an implication that if I were a better parent, if I had put more thought and effort into it, if I were “more prepared” it would have been easier. See what I mean about these subtle judgments about difficulty = bad parenting rather than perhaps difficulty simply = the way of travel with children?

  2. We will be taking our daughter to Disney next month. She’s been on planes since she was very young and she is a happy child with great manners. It is my anxiety levels that rise up on trips like the upcoming one because as a Dad I’m expected to make the itinerary for what we will do and also teased about being the “camp counselor”. I’ve never taken my daughter on a trip together alone but she’s not even 3, the most we do together is daddy/daughter date days where we go to a park, a meal and have fun, but not that long, maybe 4-5 hours. Not sure where I am going with this but I enjoyed the post and the glimpse into your life as a single dad.

  3. Dave,
    I am so glad you wrote this. My rant on Facebook was all that – a rant – and true. It is so hard to travel with kids. Even though we had amazing moments and memories that will last – the tough points are REALLY tough. It’s like a roller coaster every day.
    I would call Bob and say ‘I have to come home early, I cannot handle one more minute!’ He would hurriedly check flights and fees to get us out early…
    And then I’d call him a few hours later with tears in my eyes because my son said “duck” and my daughter was pretending to be a mermaid and singing happily in the water. I was momentarily overjoyed.
    I think you are a great Dad Dave. I think we are all doing the very best job that we can. And when we wish others would take note – the most important, is that we are raising kids that are kind and mannered, smart and know how to fend for themselves. A big, huge job.
    Travel for us will probably be an emotional tug-of-war for some time to come. Ours are still quite young. But I don’t think I would trade it… even the moments when I thought I would lose my mind.
    Hell, I even put Scout in time out in a closet at one point – and I’m not embarrassed to admit it. We aren’t perfect. We are human.
    And after I wrote this on Facebook… “…remind me: travel with kids causes spurts of insanity, shortness of breath, redness in face, lack of patience, hysteria, drinking straight from airplane liquor bottles, and occasional Tourettes syndrome, bouts of crying and excessive dreaming of ‘remember when we were single’ moments” I fell into a deep slumber and dropped the kids off at school today – and I miss them terribly.
    I bet your kids will be raving about the waves to all their friends for sometime to come. And I am certain Scout will be telling her new friends at school that she went on ‘boat rides and walked through ‘magic forests’ with Mommy and Sawyer. OH! What a good time we had!’
    The schizophrenia of parenthood continues….
    Thanks my friend!

  4. Well, I’m not a single parent, but I certainly understand the under appreciation we dads get in general for jobs well done. It stinks. Anyway, we also took a trip so SoCal this year, except we drove. The boys got to do so many things that other kids will never do; Palos Verdes (where I grew up), Malibu, Hearst Castle, Santa Cruz, Alcatraz and SF, etc … . Anyway, they spent at least half of it fighting and acting like little turds. I can only hope that in the future they look back and thank me for not tossing them out on the highway 🙂

  5. I think you did amazingly well, all things considered. It was hot as heck and everyone wanted to do what they wanted to do. You never once raised your voice or lost your temper – which most people would have done – you were pretty much the voice of reason! Good job, Dad!

  6. Hey! I’m a newbie amongst your readers 🙂 But I would like to say that it feels really good to see that there are engaged, caring fathers out there! I’m a single mother and in my personal experience fathers aren’t as interested in the whole parenting thing as mothers. I know in my heart that fathers can be good parents too, but I see so little of it 🙁 It’s actually gotten to the point where I’ve decided to not date for now, because I have trouble trusting men in this parenting thing. My daughter is only two years old, so any man coming into my life would also be a big part of hers.
    On the actual topic: I’m with my child 24/7 in our everyday life, too, I work with her, sleep with her and spend my free time with her with only the occasional break for when I am studying, so traveling isn’t such a big change from that. With an older child I imagine I’ll notice the difference more; once she’s more independent, perhaps going to school and such, I won’t be spending this much time with her in our everyday life.
    Just this June, we took a two-week trip involving trains, boats and a short flight. One night she slept spread out on two seats on a train while I slept on the floor! 😀 One week I had my 11-y.o. step sis with and the second week I had my 17-y.o. brother with me, but I didn’t really get time off. While the trip went well and I enjoyed it, I did need about a week or two to fully recover! 😀 Had I the financial means to pull it off, I would hire a b-sitter to come along. I am hoping to travel together with another single parent, but most single parents around my age lack the resources to travel =/
    I can’t imagine not traveling at all; I have friends and family across the globe. Next year my daughter and I will be going to India for three months, to do some volunteering and travel around southern India. We’ll see how that goes!

  7. Great blog Dave! This is my first visit. I have to say you are a brave man, breaking the frontier. I love it. My father was a single parent, I grew up in So. Cal and Sea world, Universal Studios and Disneyland seem to be the backdrop for most of our, err, ‘family’ photos. I only have 1 brother, younger, but I concur – traveling was a beast at times. We were loving siblings early on who became monsters by weekends end. Hence the former commendations to your character! I am not a single parent but traveling with wee ones of differeing age demographics is tough at the best of times – suffice it to say, I’ve granchildren older than my youngest! Our plane rides can be a challenge dependent on the destination, length of time in the air and affordability re: cabin class. 😉 and availability of liquor and choice of mixers.
    Always keep in mind, the kids are having a better time than they let on, (this from my 20 something who let it out of the bag later) and there is nothing in the world bedtime and a glass (a big glass) of wine cannot fix. Keep on keeping on Dave – you are rocking this whole AP thing into the freeworld.

  8. I thought it was amazing that the first ‘attachment parenting’ blog I opened was actually a long whinge from a single dad about how he took his kids on holidays and didn’t get any time off from them! My amusement grew as he continued by bemoaning the lack of accolades given to his Disney Dad parenting.
    Yes, travelling with kids can be difficult at times, but I didn’t hear once in this blog about the redeeming moments – the moments when a parent connected with a child, or watched as a child took a new step to independence or knowledge – those moments that make the difficult times worthwhile and are the internal positive feedback. After all, seeing your positive influence on your children is surely far more rewarding than having someone else tell you what a good Dad you are?

  9. Hey Deanne, thanks for aptly demonstrating something that I talk with bloggers about: regardless of what you post, someone is going to criticize or complain about it or tell you what you’ve done wrong and how you could have been smarter/better/more sympathetic.

  10. Deanne, I think that you raise a valid point: in my desire to vent after an experience that was 95% delightful fun and 10% frustrating and annoying (yeah, it doesn’t add up to 100%. Sue me 🙂 I forgot to mention the positive side of the trip. I am always thankful for the blessing of my kids, however, and a very positive and upbeat parent. Well, 95% of the time, at least.
    And it’s in that other 5% that I think many of us struggle as parents, feeling guilty that somehow it’s our fault that our kids aren’t happy and harmonious 100% of the time. I mean, surely we were happy kids, so what’s wrong with us as parents that our kids aren’t cheery 24×7?

  11. Hey Dave. I replied to you over on API Speaks, but finally had time to read your full post. You know, whether single or not, kids will argue and complain while on vacation mostly because they are taken out of their routine and comfort zone.
    They want to see new things, but they also just want to relax in their own bed and play with their own toys. Our best vacations involve staying in a condo or time share, and if you really shop around you can find a good deal. With a full kitchen, we can plan fewer meals out (which is cheaper and causes fewer arguments). We can have a little more room to spread out, especially when someone gets sick and I swear, someone always does.
    I’m the youngest of three children and my siblings and I still laugh and laugh over our family vacation memories. Once, our parents made us ride in the bed of a pick-up truck for 20 hours to get to Florida. The pick-up bed had a cover, but no heat or AC. They knew we would find something to complain about anyway; years of vacation experience prepared them. So, why not make sure they couldn’t actually HEAR any of the complaining? It kind of made the rest of the vacation delightful.
    So, anyway, vacation is really never restful for anyone. But it can be fun and a great way to see something new, and hopefully to learn something new about each other.
    Seriously, though, leave the friends at home and travel with just family. Just my 2 cents.

  12. The biggest challenge for me when I am traveling alone with my son is the public bathroom issue. He is 6.5 and already refuses to go the ladies room with me. And naturally I cannot accompany him into the men’s room – so I nervously wait outside. Once he couldn’t unlock the door of the bathroom cabin – it’s good that some guy went looking for the hotel’s employee. I cannot imagine how scared my boy was locked inside – he came out pale but no tears…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *