The single parent’s (brief) guide to fun family vacations

By Kate Kovats

Picture this: You are newly divorced and summer vacation season is coming up. You might be tempted to spoil your children with trips to Disney World or the Caribbean. You all just went through divorce, after all.

I’m here to say you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to compensate for your divorce with fancy, expensive family vacations. When you are ready to start planning, consider this brief guide to vacationing with the kids as a single parent.

Know your budget.

Before you book that vacation to Disney, the tropics or {insert dream locale here}, ask yourself if you can afford it. If the answer is no or not right now, it has to be a no-go. Not for forever, but for right now. And that is OK. You are the only responsible party now that it’s just you and your children. That doesn’t mean you don’t vacation, but rather you must…

Reimagine vacation.

A vacation that isn’t mindlessly put on the credit cards is going to take more thought. It’s easy to spend money. It’s more of a challenge – but perhaps more gratifying – to consider how you can create shared experiences and memories on little or no budget. Kids can have fun on zero dollars camping in the backyard. Maybe you elevate the experience by borrowing a projector and a firepit for movies under the stars along with a dinner of roasted hotdogs and s’mores.

Embrace getting to know what your kids like.

Rather than one “go big or go home” sort of vacation that might not be within your budget, take time to get to know what your kids like and finding ways to sprinkle affordable – or even free – activities into your free time together. Maybe your kid is really into dinosaurs, and there’s an exhibit at the local museum. That museum might even have a time when admission is free.

Or maybe the kids are really into roller coasters and, while a trip to Disney might be out of reach, season passes to your local amusement park might be in your budget. That’s an adventure you can, and should, do over and over, all summer long. Kids won’t remember every detail of one big trip. But they will remember how they convinced you to ride the Fury at Carowinds and how you screamed your head off.

Or maybe during a trip to see the grandparents, where lodging is free, you set out to try every burger joint in town, because burgers are your kid’s favorite food.

Or maybe they are really into Marvel movies, and you plan to watch every single one in order. You even let them stay up late. Kids love that stuff! It sounds cheesy but it’s about making memories. And kids don’t know or care how much it costs to do that.

Be present and engaged.

Not only do kids not care how much having fun costs, what they really do care about is being with you. (The teenagers might pretend this is not the case, but this period is blessedly short-lived.) I know this first-hand. Even before my parents split up, I used to love alone time with my mom. When my dad and brother would set out on a guys-only vacation at our family home in Idaho, my mom and I would stay behind in Florida for two weeks of painting our nails, cooking dinner together and watching only the movies that we wanted to watch. We didn’t do anything special. Being together was special, and it was glorious.

Note to the parents taking those fancy trips, your kids will remember if you spend more time on your phone than enjoying the beach or Space Mountain with them. Just saying.

Don’t be jealous and don’t try to compete.

Your ex might take your kids on bigger vacations than you do, either because they can afford to or because they are not being as responsible as you with their finances, which is no longer your problem. But bigger doesn’t mean better. Don’t even try to compete. The best course of action is to be happy for your kids that they get these experiences too.

And even better than being happy for your kids about those experiences with their other parent is being curious about those experiences and perhaps even finding ways to create your own memories from those vacations without you. Maybe your kids rode the Spider-Man Ride at Disney California Adventure and loved it. So, you dress up in Spider-Man costumes together and watch Spider-Man movies all night (or evening) long or maybe you create a Spider-Man-themed scavenger hunt.

Focus on the memories.

Remember the point of vacation is creating special moments with your kids and enjoying some down time with them. That’s it. When your kids are decades older, they are going to remember the random moments of fun as much – or (I predict) more – than the fancy vacations. And you will, too.