After spending just under 3 weeks in Fethiye this summer, an area in Turkey popular with British, Turkish and European families, something really stood out to me: I was the only single parent in sight.
Everywhere I looked, all I could see were married couples with their children.
I’d naively thought it would be the same as the UK, where I see single-parent families everywhere. But it felt as though I was living in a parallel universe where single parents didn’t exist.
I asked my single-parent friends and followers what held them back from travelling abroad with their children. Whilst some feedback highlighted issues such as lack of consent from the other parent, or lack of financial means; the overarching theme was that it was daunting and overwhelming to travel alone.
This last point inspired me to put together some tips to help those who would love to travel abroad with their children, but aren’t sure they can manage it without losing their mind in the process.
Try not to have a fixed idea of what a holiday should look like, based on the experiences of your married friends and family. Some types of holidays may not work for you as a single parent. As single parents, it may be hard to try and have the exact same type of holiday that married couples have with their children. By managing our expectations around what a holiday ‘should’ look like, we can instead turn our focus to making sure we have a great time with our children.
Websites like TripAdvisor may feel dated, but the wealth of information available on the forums is enough to transform you into a tour guide.
In its simplest form, spending time reading the posts in your destination’s forum will give you a good feel for the place. My first stop is to read a little about the destination, and then bookmark helpful tips that cover everything from where to fly into, who to book your airport transfers with, recommended excursions, tips for getting around, and a multitude of other travel-related gems.
Ultimately, what all this pre-planning can give you (apart from the excitement of researching and planning a holiday), is a quiet mind when you’re out there. You won’t need to figure much out once you’re there, because you’ll already feel familiar with the place, even though it might be your first visit. This makes it easier for you to be present with your children, and therefore enjoy the little moments that could otherwise pass you by.
This may sound ironic, but what I mean specifically, is to ignore advice from friends and family who are not single parents. Although they mean well, they probably don’t know how hard it is to walk in your shoes. Any advice they give you will come from their own experience, so it’s already skewed.
Suggestions to rent a car or book the cheap 2am flight like they did, may make perfect sense to them, because they had another adult to help out. But if the thought of driving in a foreign country feels like a nightmare, or you’re wondering how you’d cope with two tired children on an early morning flight, then give yourself permission to ignore that advice.
You know best what will add unnecessary stress and hassle to a trip and what will make it more convenient for you. As single parents, we need to value convenience over everything else if we want to not just survive a holiday but have a good time too.
Budgeting is hugely important when planning a holiday. As single parents however, we need to be clear about which areas we can happily make savings in, and which are no-go areas. Convenience is the key filter to use here. Any money spent on relieving the burden on yourself is money well spent and one of the best forms of self-care.
As tempting as the price tag on that 2am flight is, think about the practicalities of getting yourselves on that flight, compared with spending a little extra and arriving well-rested at the airport and then arriving at your destination at a decent time. Airport hotels can make things a little easier when it comes to early flights, but also come with their own hassle. Weigh things up sensibly and ask yourself, is this going to make things easier, or harder for me?
If you can fly from a local airport, then they usually have much cheaper rates for their airport parking, which is ideal because I advise parking as close to the terminal as possible. Many will see this as a luxury, and at airports like Heathrow the prices for parking that close can be extortionate (more money-saving tips on that later). However, the closer you park to the airport, the less you have to struggle with getting children and baggage on and off buses, as well as keeping an eye on them during the 20-minute journey (which always feels longer with children in tow). Instead, you can quickly walk to the terminal, and have a much nicer and easier experience of arriving at the airport.
You can still make savings here however. By signing up to the airport’s newsletter, you can receive discounts on parking, which combined with booking as far in advance as possible, means you’ll find the rates pretty fair. Do check for online voucher codes as well, in case you find something that beats their official offer.
With larger airports like Heathrow, you’ll be hard-pressed to find discounts and you may need to explore other options. ‘Just Park’ for example, finds you safe and sometimes gated driveways to rent, minutes from Heathrow. Depending on the owner, you can also arrange lifts to and from the terminal for a small extra fee. Hiring a driveway near the larger airports can cost the same as booking premium parking at your local airport, making it easy to continue with the strategy of keeping things convenient, without having to spend your life savings.
When researching, it’s easy to end up with an ever-growing list of must-see places to visit. Whilst some of these places may look incredible, it’s advisable to choose your excursions wisely, especially if some of them entail a full day out, with two hot and tired children and hundreds of other tourists all crammed into the same spot.
Before committing to any excursion, check in with yourself first on why you’re considering it. Is it because you feel like you ‘should’ see it? That you’ll ‘waste’ an opportunity if you don’t? That it’s a ‘must-see’ so you must see it? Or is it because you genuinely feel like you and your children would have a fun and relaxing time?
As single parents, it’s helpful to not expect what could be an easy day out for families with two adults, to be the same for us too. Whilst I did go on a few excursions, they allowed for plenty of rest (boat trips for example), and weren’t too much for me to handle on my own.
Ultimately however, some of my best holiday memories are of takeaway-dinners in our villa garden, in our pyjamas. And these are the special memories I remember often. So, you really don’t have to do any excursions at all if you feel it’s too much, in order to experience special moments with your children.
It can be daunting to think about how tiring it will be to have the children 24/7 with no relief or respite, especially if you’re used to having help back home. On holiday it’s just you and them, and everything falls on you.
Try not to put pressure on yourself to provide an action-packed itinerary that ‘guarantees’ you’ll all have a great time. Take some time out, whether that’s having a lazy morning and not being in a rush to go anywhere, or balancing out activity days with go-slow days by the pool.
You may not feel like you have the luxury to do this if you’re only away for one week, but remember that it’s not about how much you get done. By slowing down, you’ll find beautiful moments right there in the everyday things you do with your kids, but you’re usually too busy to notice.
We may not have the luxury of choosing the same destinations as families with two parents, especially as women who have other safety concerns to keep in mind. Will it be safe for you and your children to wander around in the evening for example? I chose Turkey because whenever I’ve visited, I always felt safe and didn’t get hassled.
As a mum of two pretty picky children when it comes to food, knowing that almost everything was halal in Turkey also made a huge difference. They ate a lot better compared to a previous trip we made to Lisbon, which was a fantastic city, however they were limited in food options.
Turkey also had an abundance of villas with completely private swimming pools (a must for me as a hijabi who still wants a suntan). When compared with my native country of Morocco for example, I realised that a lot of the villas with private pools weren’t geared towards smaller families, and were often in the middle of nowhere where you needed to hire a car to get around. Unfortunately, you’ll also find that a lot of hotels in areas such as Marrakech discriminate against women in modest swimwear, so these are often out of the question if you want to cover up.
You may no longer need a suitcase full of nappies and wipes, but if you’re going away for more than a week, then pack those extra clothes. Whilst it’s to be expected that at some point you’ll need to do some laundry, especially if you’re self-catering, try to minimise it as much as possible. Remember, you’re on holiday too. If you’re travelling in the summer holidays, look out for the summer sales in July and stock up on extra swimming gear and summer clothes. H&M do a great range of summer clothes that start from as little as £2.99.
I did feel anxious during the build-up to going away, especially the first time post-covid. The thought of having so much responsibility on my shoulders was overwhelming at times. However, there are ways to overcome any concerns you may have.
Create a document that you can share with family or friends which details everything relating to your trip. This way if anything unfortunate does happen, it’s easy for your loved ones to get hold of you and help out in any way they can. We can’t protect ourselves against every eventuality, but we can prepare as much as possible.
Booking travel insurance is a must, and it’s wise to book more than the standard cover so that you’re covered against most circumstances. Having premium travel insurance made a cancelled flight home from Lisbon a much easier situation for me to deal with. When faced with the single option from our airline of staying another four days before they could fly us home, I was able to book our own flights home the next day instead, knowing the full cost would be reimbursed. It also meant the children didn’t miss any time off school. But premium cover doesn’t have to mean premium prices. Using sites such as moneysavingexpert.com can find you great cover at very reasonable prices.
When taking precautions to protect against the what ifs, there are some things which are just out of our control. When you’ve done everything logistically that is within your control, it’s time to leave the rest with Allah. Tie your camel, take a deep breath, and trust in Allah. Make copious amounts of dua that He will return you and your children home safely, and put barakah in your trip together as a family.
If the thought of travelling abroad with your children still feels too much, consider taking a break in your home country instead, keeping with the mantra of ease and convenience over all else.
When you feel you might be ready to travel abroad, consider an all-inclusive hotel. They have the benefits of having staff on hand in case of emergencies, they can provide airport transportation and activities for the children, and you don’t have to worry about where to eat as you’ll have plenty of options within the resort. It can be a great way to ease yourself into holidaying abroad as a single parent.
Ptissem Abourachid is a Life Coach and Writer. She helps clients overcome their emotional struggles and challenges and realise their full potential. She has written about themes such as domestic abuse, spirituality and emotional well-being. She is currently writing her first novel. To find out more, visit www.ptissem.com