As a single parent, the thought of planning a getaway with the kids can be overwhelming.
But as the travel industry starts to take notice of this growing market, a real family vacation may be easier than ever before.
Kendra Smale, a single mother living in Northeast Wisconsin, has traveled to Yellowstone National Park, Alaska, and the Grand Canyon with her daughter Violet over the last three years.
Their first and favorite trip was the Geysers & Grizzlies Family Adventure in Yellowstone when Violet was just 6 years old, arranged through Austin-Lehman Adventures.
The company was started 35 years ago when Paul Lehman joined forces with travel entrepreneur Dan Austin, and set out to create a family-friendly travel company with an emphasis on adventure.
Lehman recognizes that planning a vacation is difficult and time-consuming for anyone. “For single parents,” he says, “those needs are even more intensified because that parent is acting as mom, dad, and employee 24 hours a day.”
More than 60 percent of Austin-Lehman’s bookings are either returning guests or referrals, and one in four is a single parent or grandparent.
Sometimes money isn’t an issue, but finding other people to travel with is a challenge. By booking through a tour operator, families can be strategically matched up so their children have similar interests and are around the same age.
Many parents say that a positive experience with professional guides is what keeps them coming back to a particular company, year after year. A low guide-to-guest ratio (ideally one guide to every six guests) allows parents more time for relaxation, and less pressure to keep their children constantly entertained.
Kendra was particularly impressed when their Yellowstone guide prepared a solo hike that she and Violet could enjoy together. “I really appreciated that quiet time to hike safely by ourselves away from the group,” she says.
Lehman describes the six-day/five-night Yellowstone vacation as a great “starter trip” for families. At around $2,000 per adult (plus a $680 single supplement fee), and children averaging around $1,700, it’s also their most economical option.
Get more tips in our Family Travel section.
When funds are limited, a quality vacation doesn’t have to be out of reach. Eileen Ogintz, a 30-year veteran in the news business and author of the Web site TakingtheKids.com, offers practical and expert advice for traveling families:
“All-inclusive vacations can be a good bet for single parents,” says Ogintz, but she advises parents to consider their unique personalities on larger trips like cruises and resorts. “If you’re not really outgoing, you could find it really lonely,” she warns. “The kids are at their activities, but there you are at the pool with nobody to talk to.”
In this case, Ogintz suggests vacationing with extended family or friends. This allows parents to share expenses with adults that they know while providing playmates for their children at the same time.
Even though single parents are a huge percentage of families these days, Ogintz says they’re not being thought about. Due to scheduling conflicts and complicated lives, there are a growing number of parents traveling solo with their children even if they’re not technically single parents. “It’s a much bigger market than people think,” she says.
Check out more ideas in our Family Travel – Kids’ Programs section.
While the tourism industry is still catching up to meet the needs of single parent families, viable options are starting to reveal themselves. “The travel industry is really suffering too,” says Ogintz, “but they’re doing all they can to encourage people to travel through deals and incentives.”
One of the biggest challenges is the dreaded single supplement fee, but some companies are taking notice. From June 1 through August 31 of this year, Mexico’s Grand Velas All Suites & Spa Resort is waiving its single supplement fee for parents traveling solo with their children. This means that instead of one adult paying a double occupancy rate, they pay one and a half times the per-person price, and their children essentially stay for free.
Learn more with Eileen Ogintz’s Taking the Kids: How to Make Sure Mom Gets a Break on Vacation.
Due to feedback from their guests, the Velas Resorts often offer extended Kids Club hours until 9 p.m. on select nights, giving single parents an opportunity to have a night off with adults while their children participate in structured activities and games.
In addition to Austin-Lehman, there are many reputable adventure travel companies that Eileen recommends including Backroads, Thompson Travel, and Wildland Adventures.
If traveling by airplane, Ogintz advises single parents to strongly consider their airline choice. Southwest allows each person to take two free bags, and they don’t charge to change flights. Jet Blue doesn’t charge for the first bag, and they have satellite TV (a real treat for the kids and the parents).
Single mother Mary Mannocchio has been on four trips in five years with her 13-year-old son David – all with Austin-Lehman Adventures. “I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even read the brochures anymore,” says Mary. If she sees the company’s name attached, they’re in.
Mannocchio likes that parents and children can choose their own pace and interests, without being forced into any activities. “I’m not a swimmer and I’m not a horseback rider,” she says. “But David can still be exposed to activities that I generally wouldn’t want to do.”
Give back as a family, check out: Taking the Kids: Family Voluntourism
While the two take smaller trips every year on their own, they like to leave their larger vacations to the professionals. “I sit behind a desk all year long and I don’t get a lot of vacation time,” she says. “It’s just so nice to not have to organize anything.”
“I’m so fortunate that I have a son who wants to go to Egypt and Jordan as opposed to just dragging me to Disney World repeatedly,” says Mannocchio. “Not that I don’t love Disney World, but we’ve done that.”
By Wendy Wegner for PeterGreenberg.com. Visit Wendy on the Web at www.WendyWegner.com.
Check back next week for travel tips from veteran traveler Joumana Kidd on traveling with kids, plus how to bring a significant other along for the ride.
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