Traveling With Only Children

I’ve been daydreaming about travel a lot lately, and thought I’d reach out to this community for insight and advice about how to make traveling as enjoyable as possible (when we’re allowed to do it again). We have one child, age 7, and we have always traveled a lot as a family and had lots of fun together. However, our child is old enough now that I’m wondering if traveling with just Mom and Dad will be his cup of tea for much longer, as I really feel like he needs that social interaction and play time with other kids. We have sometimes met up with friends who happen to be in the same place on vacation, but I’m wondering if we’re going to need to start inviting a friend on trips with us (which, I’ll be honest, intimidates me a bit – so much responsibility and added expense!).

What do other families with only children do on the road? Travel to places where the kid can join a group (like a kids club) or camp? Bring a friend? Other ideas? I’m also curious to hear about the travel experiences of parents who were only children themselves. Were you okay just being with your parents on trips? What worked well for you, and what didn’t work so well? I had a sibling growing up, but we didn’t travel much and when we did, it was usually to visit extended family so I had cousins to play with.

Thanks for any tips! Hopefully we’ll be able to put them to use in the not-too-distant future…

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RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

I am an only child who travelled a lot with my parents. Up to 6th grade, traveling with just parents was fun, although it was a lot more fun in lower grades. There was one summer when I was in 5th grade when my parents and 2 other families with kids did an epic 2 week road trip together. Kids ranged from kindergarten to 7th grade. 6 adults and 6 kids. It was one of the best vacations I ever had because there were other kids to play with constantly. At the end of each day, other kids went to their hotel room with their siblings and I felt envious. I never realized what I had been missing the whole time traveling alone with parents. After that trip, vacations with parents were never the same. I yearned for the company of other kids. I continued to travel with parents but grew to dislike the experience even when it was at the Four Seasons on a tropical island. I was lonely. When I was in high school, I finally told my parents that I did not want to go on a vacation unless there was going to be another kid (either I bring a friend along or they arrange kids at the destination.) They were offended and sad. 
Anyways, this is a long way to say that a 7 year old will have a lot of fun with parents on vacation although you probably want a break from your kid. 

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

I am an only child of a single mom, so really didn't have a lot of options for playmates on vacations, which we did a lot of! Many road trips, sometimes to destinations like a college town where she would take a class for a couple weeks and I would do a kids' program. That worked pretty well. Once we met family friends at Disney World so I had another kid to go on the rides with, that was fine. We had a trip to Europe when I was 16 that I just really didn't want to do with only my mom. I think you're basically right to be aware that sometimes the loneliness of being an only is heightened when you are in unfamiliar locations. But you probably have a few more years before it's a really acute issue.

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

How long do you plan to travel for? A week or two is fine for an only child. Our 9 yo always finds buddies to play with at the beach or pool where we are staying. We sometimes travel with friends but invite the whole family and they pay their own way so it doesn’t increase the cost. We also make sure there are plenty of activities that our boy likes to do. We have gone with kids clubs but he doesn’t like them and would rather make friends on the fly. I think you are over thinking it!! Just travel and have fun and make family memories together. Your child is lucky to have the experiences!! 

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

I have an only child--now 15 and we've done a combination of what you proposed--some trips with just him, some with family or friends, and occasionally inviting a friend for a less expensive close-by trip.  All of them have been great.  I actually love traveling with him alone, and it's easy to travel with just one child--less expensive, only need to accommodate one child's opinions, no sibling fights.  It's special time together.  There's not as much down time for me as an adult, which is a slight down-side. Especially when he was younger, we needed to plan more activities/action during the day. When he's with a friend, they will occupy each other and leave more adult space. But when he has a friend, he's totally absorbed with them and I miss the parent-child bonding time.  So, do what works best for you--if you're still having fun with him alone, without friends, keep doing that! You may find out that he loves the time with you.  

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

I'm not an only child and I have 2 kids, but our kids are a boy and girl who are 4 years apart, so they're not exactly thrilled about only having each other for company when we travel. But I agree it's a lot of responsibility (plus potentially expensive) to take a friend for one or both. Thus, we travel with other families a lot. It actually works out great for everyone because we generally get some family time, but also we get time with other adults and the kids love being with friends. I highly recommend it. It does take some coordination but we've traveled with one family in particular a lot, as well as a few families here and there over the years and it's been awesome.

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

We did a big vacation with our five-year-old last year and loved every minute of it. We all enjoyed each other's company immensely and made wonderful memories together. I imagine that dynamic is still possible until the tween years (and maybe longer depending on the kid). We've also traveled locally with friends which has been a good experience so long as you can handle the "sibling moments" when the kids argue. I also think beaches are a great place to let kids meet and play with other kids on a casual basis. I am skeptical of adults-oriented vacations with attached kids' clubs/care because I think only the most outgoing and/or assertive kids will enjoy it. 

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

I have an only child, too, who is 13. He loves traveling with us! He loves food and will eat almost anything, which makes being in new places easier. What I've done is schedule trips where there are lots of activities. We went to Tokyo for 5 nights and did a cooking class, met a sumo wrestler, went to the fish market, went to a few kid-friendly museums, I let his dad take him somewhere else while I went fabric shopping. We were super busy during the day and then chilled in our hotel after dinner each night. We also went to Egypt and prepped beforehand by talking about Egyptian gods. He and our tour guide were chatting like experts together - and he was just in 5th grade! We also went on a road trip last year to the California Gold Country - went to Sutter's mill and a former gold mine that still has it's mine opening visible and lots of other stuff like that. When he was little and traveled with us, we'd go out in the morning, then come back after lunch and plan on hanging in our hotel room for a few hours (bonus if there was a pool). Then back to sightseeing in the later afternoon. I definitely try to plan ahead so we don't spend too much time in lines or trying to figure out what to do. That's frustrating for adults as well as kids! I think as long as you organized activities w/ your kid in mind, they may really like it! I

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

I’m the mom of an only son who’s now 14, and we’ve traveled quite extensively all his life, just us 3 or 2. It’s fine, especially at 7. When he has a friend along it’s much more fun for him, but he doesn’t learn as much or have equally important time with parents. I think he was really fine with the situation until he was about 13, then friends became more important. We sometimes meet up with another family, sometimes bring a friend for a few days only - like mid trip. And we let him call friends and play online. It all helps. He still has loved those trips, even big international ones.

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

We have an only child who is 8, and both my husband and I were only children.  Like you we have had a ton of fun family vacations just the three of us - and part of the fun is that we have been able to swing vacations with one child that would be too daunting or too expensive with two or more.  We went to London last summer and all three of us had a blast - we will never forget it.  On these big trips, like you, we have sometimes been able to meet up with other families , and have stayed with some out of state friends with kids.  Mostly have done smaller trips with other families - camping, trips to a cabin, and that has been a blast....but it may just be my son's personality but I don't think he would want a friend coming along on a big trip either which is a relief to me - I wouldn't feel comfortable either. Like you, I do wonder if the trip magic will change when he hits middle school...

I have a friend who said on their last big trip she felt her two (almost middle school age) kids could have used playmates, so I don't just think it is an only child worry....

As an only child, I had a blast going on trips with my family until I was about 6th grade.  My parents were not nearly as social as my husband and I are, so we rarely met up with other families on trips or went on trips with other families and it was still fine and I have some great memories.  

Anyways, overall I feel like the age our kids are at, just family of 3 trips are still good.  I hope we can all travel again soon!

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

We faced the traveling-with-single-child challenge twice!  We had just one child for 12 years, then we adopted a second.  Once the first went off to college, we were back to single-child vacations much of the time.  Here's what we did/do:

  • With our first daughter, we traveled with another family who also only had one child.  The girls were the same age and in the same school, which made for the same vacation breaks.  We started by meeting up in Mexico for a few days.  That went well, so we ended up taking many more trips together over the years -- Italy, Guatemala and Paris.  We love the other set of parents and got a lot of enjoyment traveling with them, and our girls enjoyed it much more than they would have just being with their own parents.
  • With our second daughter, we took "family trips" with Intrepid Travel -- https://www.intrepidtravel.com/us/theme/family.  We went to Jordan over one spring break and Egypt over another -- both trips were fascinating, well-organized and pure fun for our daughter and for us.  We'd never traveled with a group before, but it worked out really well.  Particularly in countries where you would need a guide anyway, it's nice to have everything built in.  The guides both times were excellent and really knew how to keep kids happy -- which meant that we parents could focus on what we were seeing and doing on the trip rather than making sure our kids were amused.  Intrepid is relatively low-budget, so you'd have to be up for non-fancy accommodations.  It worked well for us!
  • For both kids, we did a lot of camping, which usually puts you in a place where there are other kids.  More often than not, our girls would make friends with the other kids at the campgrounds and have someone to run around with.  
  • We also brought our girls' friends with us on camping trips, and even on trips farther afield (Maine and Mexico).  With the right friend, that can make life a lot more enjoyable for all.  And you may find that the parents will reciprocate some day and take your child on a trip -- a vacation for all concerned!

Wishing you happy travels . . . in the not-too-distant future, as you said :-) 

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

One more suggestion to add to my lengthy list!  The best Thanksgivings we ever spent were at the Fort Mason Hostel in San Francisco with our good friends and their two kids.  Yes, even though our families lived only 20 minutes apart in the East Bay, we would pack up the cars and kids and meet in San Francisco and be tourists for a couple of days.  We'd spend two nights in the "family rooms" at the hostel, which is beautifully poised over Fort Mason, with views of the Golden Gate bridge.  We'd bring our bikes, skateboards, a unicycle even, and enjoy all that the waterfront and the city offered.  Our friends would plan some activities and we would plan the others, and no matter how those particular activities turned out, it would always be fun because both the kids and the parents were with friends.  

To make a long story short, it was much more fun for us, as parents, to either travel with other families, go on a group trip, or bring along a friend for our daughters when they would have otherwise been traveling alone with us.  Seven is such a great age for travel -- let's hope you get the chance soon!

RE: Traveling With Only Children ()

One option you didn't mention is traveling with another family. We did this about once/year for nearby trips (like weekend snow trips). Of course you have to get along with the parents! 

Also, if you/your kid is outgoing and you stay someplace with a pool, chances are they will meet/play with other kids there! We sometimes then made plans with those families during our stay.

We did invite a friend of my daughter to come along with us on trips (and sometimes she was the one invited). Always worked out great. We started at about age 10 for nearby destinations (road trip to stay in a rented house in Santa Barbara for example). For those trips we covered all the expenses and told the parent how much we were going to give our daughter for spending money so they could do the same if they wanted (ie to buy something in the gift shop or whatever). Then around 12-13 we did a couple trips where we invited a friend along as well (farthest was Vancouver). On those trips we asked the parents to cover the plane ticket (and spending money for their kid). Of course we felt like we had a pretty good sense of the family's financial situation before issuing the invite! Be sure to bring an authorization for emergency medical treatment (google to find a form) as well as the child's health insurance info, any allergies, etc.