Travel with kids can be awesome. The joy on your kid’s face as they discover new locations, people, and activities is priceless. But it can also be exhausting which is true about most things involving kids. Travel without kids can be just as awesome. Sometimes mommy and daddy need a break and a change of scenery. Whether you’ve traveled without your kids before or are trying to convince yourself to leave them behind for the first time, here are my tips for making travel without kids happen.
Find Someone You Trust To Watch Your Kids
Obviously, this is the most important step. You cannot leave your kids at home by themselves. And you cannot leave your kids with someone you barely know. You must find someone who will watch them (almost) as closely as you would. Otherwise, you will never be able to get over the guilt of leaving your kids behind.
We are so incredibly fortunate to have lots of family nearby. This means we can almost always find a grandparent or aunt or uncle to watch our kid when we travel. But if that’s not an option for you, there are non-relative alternatives.
If you have close mom friends, consider trading babysitting services. They watch your kid for a week; you watch theirs for a different week. Your kid will probably love sleeping over at a friend’s house and having someone to play with all the time.
If you have friends who are childless “aunts” or “uncles” to your kids, consider having them watch your kid for a few days. They will know how to show your kid a good time. You can also trade babysitting services for pet sitting or house sitting services
I used to watch my nephew a lot before I had my own kid. At three years old, he used a step stool to climb up on a kitchen counter to get Halloween candy out of a high cabinet. Then he used scissors to cut that candy open. All while I was asleep. From them on, I would set a couple of pieces out for him already opened so he could have candy for breakfast and I could sleep in. I got to be the cool Aunt. He didn’t die in a tragic fall or scissor accident. And, his parents had a great time on a cruise. Win-win-win.
Understand Your Absence Teaches Your Kid Important Life Skills
It may be hard to imagine, but there will come a time when your kid doesn’t need you to do every little thing for them. Part of growing up is learning how to be independent and do things for yourself. When you travel without kids, you teach your kid independence. They learn they can have fun and be happy without your constant presence. You learn they can thrive without you controlling every little thing in their lives.
Your kid also learns to bond with other adults. When they are watched by a grandparent, this is great for everyone involved. Your kids learn the importance of family and forge lifelong connections that will influence them for the rest of their lives. Your parents get to spend quality time with their grandkids without you nagging them about how they do things. They did raise you after all. They can probably keep your kid alive too.
My kid actually learned his own name after staying with Grandma for a week. We called him so many pet names that he was understandably confused but she sorted him out. He also learned how to crawl up the stairs without supervision while staying with Grandpa for a few hours. From then on, he crawled up the stairs on his own (with supervision). That was far more independence than I thought he was ready for, but I was wrong and he was fine.
Realize That Your Sanity (and Relationship) Is Worth the Time Away
There is not a mom or dad on this planet who couldn’t use a break from their kids. (Whether or not they are willing to admit it.) As much as we love them, kids are a lot of work. They are mentally and physically exhausting. Parents are not machines with an infinite supply of energy. Everyone needs a break from time to time.
Travel without kids lets you recharge your batteries and reconnect with your old self. I think when you return, you have more of yourself to give to your kids. That makes you a better parent, not a worse one. Time away from your kids can be as simple as a solo trip to the movies or a weeklong vacation. Either way, it’s important to take that time to care for yourself so you can keep caring for your kids.
Also, it’s a universal truth that parenting takes its toll on a relationship. It’s hard to be a good partner when you are working so hard at being a good parent. The stresses of day-to-day life and day-to-day parenting wear down even the strongest relationships. While you still love each other, you might find you don’t like each other very much.
Travel without kids helps remind you that you are an individual and you are part of a couple in addition to being parents. It helps remind you why you love your partner and why you like them too. Ideally, you will have to live with your partner long after your kids leave the house, so nurture that relationship as much as you do your kids. Time to reconnect without distraction is priceless. Be a little greedy and take that time.
(But also, I’m a huge advocate of solo travel without your kids or your spouse. You do you.)
Ignore Judgment from Other Parents
I can’t believe I have to make this point, but, seriously, who cares what anyone else thinks about how you raise your kids? If your kids are happy and healthy, you’re doing your job. Travel without your kids? Travel with your kids? Whatever. Like I said before, you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of your kids. That looks different for everyone. For me, it occasionally involves travel without kids. You don’t need to apologize or explain yourself to anyone.
Leave Detailed Schedules, Instructions, and Important Contacts Including Your Travel Plans
Make sure your kid’s caretaker has written directions for just about everything. If you don’t write it down, you will probably forget something and it will haunt you for your entire vacation. You will both feel better if everything is written down. Make sure to include daily schedules for both kids and pets, instructions for things around the house like the TV or Alexa commands, and important contacts like daycare, schools, doctors, veterinarians, etc. Notify your daycare/school and doctor in advance so they aren’t surprised when a stranger starts calling. Also, make sure the caretaker is on the list of people who can pick up and drop off your kid at daycare or school. If possible, leave a detailed copy of your travel plans including flights, hotels, and daily schedules so you can be located if needed.
Accept That Things Will Not Be Done Your Way while you’re Away
Even if you leave detailed lists and schedules, things will not be done the way you want them to be. Your kids will probably eat too much junk food. They will probably watch too much TV. And they will probably stay up way too late. Honestly, that’s not really your problem. Their caretaker will have to deal with them so try not to worry about it. It might take some time to get back to the old routine when you return but your kids will be okay. Basically, they get a vacation from the routine while you get a vacation from them. Again, everybody wins!
Find Ways to Stay Connected but Set Boundaries
The number of ways to stay connected to your kids when you travel is nearly infinite thanks to the internet and social media. Whichever way you chose, make sure that you set boundaries for yourself and for your kids. You cannot travel without kids successfully if you are in constant contact. You’ll feel guilty and have a terrible time. Instead, keep in touch without going overboard. Here are a few of my favorite ways to stay connected:
- Schedule a FaceTime or Google Hangouts session for once a day (or once every other day). If you schedule it, you’ll both be able to look forward to it and it shows your kids they are still a priority to you.
- Take a copy of their favorite bedtime story with you and read it to them over the phone before bed. Okay, I got this one from a FaceTime commercial, but seriously, it’s a great way to feel like you’re still part of your kid’s everyday life. Or record a video of yourself reading their favorite bedtime story and have their caretaker play it before bed.
- Write notes for them to open each day or when they miss you. I am 100% against putting love notes in your kid’s lunch box every single day. (Ain’t nobody got time for that. Unless you do, then you do you.) But while you’re gone, it’s important for them to know how much you love them. A handwritten note is something tangible they can see and touch to feel connected to you.
- Have their caretaker show them pictures of you on your travels. Maybe have them print out your kid’s favorite photo of you to place under their pillow at night. Then your kid can look at the photo whenever they miss you.
- Mail postcards to your kids from your destination. Everyone loves getting personalized snail mail. It’s so much more special now that text messages and emails have consumed our lives. Even if the postcard arrives after you return, you can all share the joy of talking about your adventures.
- Bring home presents! Kids will forgive you for pretty much anything if you bring them something special. It doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be from the heart.
Whatever strategy you use to stay connected, make sure you don’t let it overwhelm and consume your trip. Keeping in touch is nice, but it can seriously distract you from relaxing and recharging.
Bonus Tip: It’s Okay If You’re Not Okay
You might find it incredibly hard to leave your kids. This is especially true the first time. While it may get easier, it’s still hard. Every. Single. Time.
I first left my son when he was six months old. I thought I’d be okay with it, but I wasn’t. The worst thing I did was FaceTime him before getting on the plane. I seriously considered calling the whole thing off. Instead, I cried throughout take-off. (I cried a lot more when I lost my passport in London.) And that’s totally okay.
If you’re not okay leaving your kids behind, don’t. Take them with you and hire a babysitter for a night or two. Or just enjoy spending time with them sharing new adventures. Just maybe be a little flexible with the routine, okay?
Just because you have kids doesn’t mean you can’t travel. Travel with kids, travel without kids. Make the best decision for your family and go!