Today I’m going to share some tips to help you plan for a single parent road trip with kids. I am a HUGE believer in road trips as a holiday option for single Mums (or Moms) and Dads.
Road Trips are a great holiday option for Solo Parents
Road trips give you the freedom NOT to stay in resorts and hotels full of married people showing off their perfect, functional families.
What I’ve also found is that road trips allowed us to travel for longer and visiting a different time zone meant I could work at the start or end of each day, while still having lots of time in the day to spend having fun with my daughter – something that wouldn’t be possible if we’d been on a 2-week trip to Greece. Here was my desk in Tofino, Vancouver Island:
Since Flea was small, we’ve done a series of summer road trips, for anywhere from two to six weeks. Close to home, we’ve done trips around Scotland and the Lake District. Further afield we have now done three road trips around California, a month long trip to British Columbia and an amazing epic road trip to the Grand Canyon. This summer, we’ll be heading from New York on a road trip with home exchanges through the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky.
Planning a single parent road trip
It goes without saying that, as a single parent, planning your road trip with kids is especially important. This means you need to plan ahead of time to make sure your trip is as safe, successful and stress-free as possible. No matter the destination, you need to be a little more prepared because when things go wrong (and they will) you won’t have another adult to help you sort things out.
Here are my six golden rules to help you plan a single parent road trip with kids:
Know your road trip itinerary
I tend to start planning road trips anywhere from 6-8 months before we hope to travel. This means I can get the best prices on things like flights, car hire and accommodation.
I use Google Sheets to keep track of my itinerary with a spreadsheet showing each day or week of our trip. I’ll record details of accommodation, what deposit I’ve paid, contact details, and when the balance is due. I’ll also note down any tickets I’ve bought in advance, for things like theme parks or tours.
Remember not to over-schedule your road trip. We generally book 1-2 activities per week on a four week trip. That leaves lots of space for adventures. Like the day we pulled off the road in Big Sur to picnic by the river. Flea found a rope swing. Best. Day. Ever.
A small note here – if you do book accommodation way ahead of time, check prices again before you travel. We booked a hotel in Hawaii 5 months before our trip but then cancelled and rebooked two weeks before our road trip. We saved £1,500 on the total price, which meant we could upgrade our car hire to this natty little convertible.
This itinerary is then shared with someone who is at home when you’re travelling. It means if you don’t show up somewhere, someone at home knows where you should be, and when. It also acts as a budget planner because if you’re anything like me, it helps enormously to spread the cost of a big summer trip over several months.
Book your car hire REALLY early
In the last couple of years, the number of new cars available has fallen. That means that car hire prices have doubled in many countries. Research shows that last minute bargains aren’t really a thing for car hire, and it’s better to book as far ahead as possible, especially if you know you want a family sized vehicle with air-con and good storage.
Research suggests the best time to book your car hire is 56 weeks ahead, especially for popular vehicles at peak times. Having said this, we almost always end up being given a complete TANK when we drive in North America, and a wheelbarrow when we’re in mainland Europe. It’s just a law.
Make sure your paperwork is all in order
Before you go on a single parent road trip with kids, read up carefully what documents might be needed. In many countries you’ll need your photo card driving license, and potentially an authorisation code from DVLA for the agency to check your driving record (I’ve never been asked for this, but I always request one from DVLA just in case).
Along the same lines, I also have an International Driving Permit, which you may be asked for in some countries, especially if you have an accident. They only cost £5, last for up to three years, and are a sensible addition to your wallet.
You probably know this tip but in case it helps: take photos of all your passports, insurance documents, travel confirmations and flight details and save them to your phone (and the cloud). It’ll save a bunch of time if you lose something.
You absolutely need excess insurance
You always hope that nothing will go wrong with your car on a road trip, especially as a single parent. But accidents DO happen, and the last thing you need to be doing is stressing on phone calls after a prang or lost keys.
Annual excess insurance costs around £55 for a year’s global cover. This policy that will reimburse you for any excess you need to pay on a damage claim. It also covers for costs associated with things like damaged wheels, lost keys and other items commonly excluded from car hire insurance policies. Excess insurance is FAR cheaper than paying for this cover with a car hire firm, which will charge around £20 per day.
Excess insurance literally saved our trip when I did this to our car trying to pull out of a parking space after a long day at Disneyland in California.
Get an Audible Subscription
Audio books are a fantastic option for single parents on road trips for a couple of reasons. First, it saves the kids watching screens and becoming sick.
Second, it means you have something to focus on and distract you on long drives – because I promise your kids will fall asleep and it gets SUPER hard to stay awake and alert when you’re driving on long roads.
Once my daughter was about 10, we have had some amazing trips listening to all the Vampire Diaries books, the Fallen series, and pretty much everything written by Rainbow Rowell or John Green. If she falls asleep on the roads, I switch to my own audio books, and I find it much easier to stay alert than listening to music.
If you don’t already subscribe to Audible, you can sign up on Amazon for a free trial for 30 days, which gives you access to two free audiobooks and the Plus library, which includes podcasts and classic audio books that are free with your subscription. A subscription after that costs £7.99 a month, but you can pause your subscription when you don’t want to use it (this is what we do).
Make sure you download them before you travel, or you’ll be like me and trying madly to download the second half of a book in a Tim Horton’s on a random highway in Canada because you don’t have a mobile signal.
Get Data for you and the kids
My last tip to help you plan a road trip with kids if you’re a single parent is to sort out data before you go. Because there’s nothing worse than being on your own with a child, and not being able to call for help.
If you’re travelling to major European or US destinations, my tip is to get a Three PAYG SIM card and activate it a few days before you travel. You can pay £27 for up to 36GB of mobile data that you can use while overseas, as if you were at home. No major bills, no concern about running out of data, and you can top up via the web if you do happen to run out.
If we travel outside of areas covered by Three’s service, we use a global SIM before we travel. These are SIM cards you can buy and pre-load with voice and data credit, for us in specific countries. They were a big help in Canada, for example, where roaming charges on my regular mobile network were positively eye-watering. Using a global SIM meant I paid $35 for a month’s data and local calls.
Best Road Trips for single parents
If you’d like to know more about any of our road trips, then check out the posts below for inspiration!
California Road trip from San Francisco to Santa Cruz and San Diego
California Road trip from Los Angeles to Hawaii, via the Grand Canyon
Canada Road Trip from Vancouver to Washington, Vancouver Island and Shuswap