The great American road trip, a summertime rite of passage that can feel overwhelming for parents. It becomes a decidedly more stressful affair as a single mom. Pre-divorce, I had been solo for the travel portion of vacation before; however, the planning and funding was done as a team. Now I’m responsible for all the things. Literally ALL THE THINGS. Recently I decided to take a road trip to visit family in Wisconsin with my six-year-old, the first since being on my own. It was an interesting experience. Here are some things I learned:
1. People will have opinions. Apparently traveling alone with your child as a single mother increases your chances of the following by 1,000%: breaking down in the middle of nowhere, encountering ax murderers, highway robbery, flat tires, inability to drive for more than three hours, narcolepsy, and frequent stops at unsanitary gas stations (or potentially cornfields—don’t judge). I know this because many people informed me of the risks. I ignored them. I’m not recommending that you should ignore potential safety concerns, but realistically do not let others’ objections or concerns dissuade you from your plan. Use common sense and take basic precautions. Make sure your vehicle is capable of making the trip. Let people know where you are going and when you think you will be there. Check in with a relative or friend daily. Basically, do all the things you should’ve done when you were in college and thought it was a good idea to take an impromptu road trip by yourself. If you can manage your life alone, with a child, a day or three on the road is nothing, mama!
2. Lower your expectations. My ideal version of family vacation involves more relaxation and less hotel room cable, tons of educational experiences and exciting activities. I had to let that go. When your child is cranky and tired, and you do not have someone to “sub in” for you, you do what you can to manage. Basically, it’s like your regular single mom life, only with fewer toys and in a more confined space. Try to remember that you are on vacation too, and although you’re attempting to give your child lasting memories, Mommy might need a room service glass of wine while appreciating the theme song to Elena Princess of Avalor in a whole new light.
3. Splurge on comfort. I’m an advocate of the nicer hotel room. Yes, it may require budgetary cuts on other items, but I guarantee that the larger, well-appointed room at the upscale place will feel much more gratifying and “vacation-y” than a lower budget chain. This is especially true if you’re in a metropolitan area where parking is limited. Valet is your friend. Let them carry your bags. And my favorite part—room service can bring wine to your room when needed!!
4. Insta-worthy meals are unlikely. Carefully consider whether trying that restaurant you saw on the Travel Channel is really worth it. The universe may be on your side and your child may want something other than bean and cheese tacos or Whataburger that day. However, the probability of that happening is about the same as them asking to eat only vegetables for dinner. Save your money and put it toward the nicer room. I paid WAY more than I should have for an “authentic” Chicago deep dish cheese pizza, only to have my daughter stare at the waiter and say, “What’s this, Mom? I wanted a cheese pizza!” Kids do not care about restaurant reviews—and apparently they do not believe that cheese under tomato sauce on a crust qualifies as pizza. When I asked what her favorite vacation meal was, my daughter replied, “The night I ate gummy worms in bed.” In my defense: (1) it was not my proudest parenting moment; (2) she had turned down highly regarded pricey pizza an hour earlier; and (3) we had to walk many blocks back to our hotel room and I was just DONE. Cue Elena of Avalor and room service wine. Moral of the story: Don’t stress yourself out finding the best food. Enforcing vegetables at dinner can wait. Save your energy for when you get home.
5. Have a general plan, but give yourself a break. I’m the type of mother who lives by her calendar. I have a plan for the week with items each day that I need to accomplish or complete to be ready for the next. Yet when life happens, things get moved around and I know life goes on. Getting divorced only intensified my planning because now I have more to do on a daily basis. This trip, our first as a family of two, my insistence on making it memorable and fun only increased my stress and made us both miserable. Giving in and realizing that I did not need to overcompensate for her dad not being there, changed how the rest of our vacation went. Luckily we only lost one day of vacation to my perfectionism. Be kind to yourself and your kids; take a break from the daily grind that is being a single mom and see where life takes you. Resist the urge to over-plan.
6. Pack more efficiently than usual. If it is too heavy for your child to carry, assume you will be carrying it. Along with with everything else. Typical #momlife, right? Now add souvenir t-shirts, snacks, and travel-related items such as hotel room keys, in addition to driving for five hours. No further explanation needed.
After a week of fun we made it home safely, and this mommy was ready for a nap. Cue Elena Princess of Avalor again—but sadly, this time I had to get my own wine.