Whether a Mom or Dad is a single parent, or just happens to be taking a one-parent trip with kid(s), parents traveling solo with children face special issues when traveling, such as: how will a vacation be priced, given that rates are usually based on two paying adults? And how comfortable will a parent feel, if most other vacationers are two-parent families?
The good news is that with many holidays, single status hardly matters: car trips, camping, Disney theme parks, even European odysseys (where hotel rooms are priced by number of beds) -- there are many situations where neither price nor social ease is affected much by being solo with kids.
Many families, however, dream of a Caribbean resort, or a cruise... And on these holidays, traveling as a solo parent can mean a whallop to the wallet.
For advice, I turned to Sally Black, the prime mover at VacationKids family travel agency, who explained the prevailing practices in the travel industry.
My 10-year-old Child is an Adult?
Single parents may get a big shock when a child gets charged an adult rate.
This occurs because resorts/hotels base room prices on two adults sharing one room, i.e. the resort expects to charge, say, $300 a night for a room, but expresses this to customers as "$150 per person based on double occupancy" -- "person" meaning an adult guest. Kids can then stay for free or pay a discount rate.
Unfortunately, if you're a single parent the resort still wants its $300. So your child will be charged an adult rate.
Single Supplement Blues
The other bane of single parent travel is the "single's supplement fee", which is again a way to bring the room price up to the $300 that the hotel/ resort wants. The single parent is charged the "per person" rate of $150, but is also charged a supplement of 50% to 100%. How do these common industry practices play out, when you're traveling with one, two, three, (or more) kids?
One Adult, Plus One Child Traveling
How nice it would be if the adult were charged only the regular "per person" rate per night, and the child paid only the regular kids' price. A few resorts do offer this kind of price break during special promotions at low-volume times of year.
But more likely, the adult will be charged a single supplement, and can consider him/herself lucky if the child gets a discounted children's rate. As Sally Black notes, "many resorts insist on collecting the two-adult rate, even if you're traveling with a three-year-old who doesn't eat much or water-ski."
One Adult, Two or More Kids
Add another child to the equation, and the extra child(ren) should get the discount child's rate. If, for example, a mom were traveling with a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, she'd probably pay two adult prices and the 3-year-old would pay the kids' rate.
Price by the Room - Yay!
Fortunately, some resorts charge by the room, no matter what age of occupants: at Disney World Resorts, for ex., room rates are the same for up to four people. (And the Value Resorts start at under $100/night, with many perks.)
Likewise, many hotels price by the room. The trick is to read prices carefully: look for prices that say "per room per night", rather than "per person per night".
Some Helpful Changes
Until recently the travel industry has done little to make life easier for solo-parent travelers. But a few concessions can be found.
- Single Parent Tours tracks deals for solo-parent travelers and organizes trips several times a year.
- Beaches Resorts-- the popular Caribbean all inclusive chain-- has Single Parents months each year.
- Some other resorts, such as the Breezes brand and Franklyn D. Resort, offer promotions for single parent travelers. (Franklyn D. Resort in Jamaica assigns a "vacation nanny" to each family during their stay-- terrific for solo parents!)
Feeling Comfortable as a Single Parent
Besides pricing, another issue faced by single-parent travelers is: will I feel comfortable with other vacationing families? To quote VacationKids' Sally Black: "Many single parents feel like an outcast at family resorts. Although these resorts offer the best children's programs, parents sometimes feel peculiar trying to socialize with married couples."
- One solution is to sign up for Single Parent Tours (above) or visit Beaches or another resort during a Single Parents promotion.
- Some Club Med all inclusive resorts have a welcoming ambiance for single parent vacationers: traditionally at Club Med meals, guests sit at round tables that seat eight, which encourages friendly chat. (Note, however, that several of the Club Med resorts most frequented by North American travelers have shifted away from this practice.)
- Smaller resorts sometimes offer a friendlier atmosphere and more opportunities to chat and meet other guests for company.
Final point: parents traveling solo with their kids need to be aware that they may need extra paperwork when crossing into other countries. Be sure to read about Crossing Borders with Kids: Documents Needed When Only One Parent is Traveling.