By Courtney Woodruff
Even though we had been expecting them, my heart sank a little when the official orders came through. My husband would be going back to the States for a good portion of the summer — the prime season for travel in Europe — while I stayed behind in Germany to keep the home fires burning for our boys. It would just be a short TDY assignment, but we had been looking forward to doing as much sightseeing and adventuring as we could together after a long winter had kept us indoors for months on end. I could not help but be a bit disappointed.
“There’s always next year,” I said with a smile, but in my head, I was thinking, “That might be the last chance we’ll get.”
“Why don’t you go without me?” My husband suggested.
“You can’t be serious,” I laughed.
Traveling Europe with kids as a solo parent may seem scary and overwhelming at first, but it does not have to be. Consider these pieces of advice and words of encouragement as you make plans for your own brave adventure.
Think about asking another solo parent to join you on your adventures. Not only will your children benefit from getting to share the experience with their friends, you will both appreciate the companionship and coveted grown-up time in the evenings after the little ones have gone to bed.
Register with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)
Safety and awareness is key, no matter where you go. Protect yourself and your children by enrolling in STEP, a free service offered by the U.S. Department of State to help travelers stay connected, make informed decisions and receive pertinent information regarding security conditions. The U.S. Embassy will also be able to notify and help you in the event of a natural disaster, crisis, or family emergency.
Bring plenty of snacks
Although they are more prevalent near tourist destinations, fast food restaurants are not as common in Europe as they are in the U.S., and many shops, cafes and bakeries close for the afternoon. Since traveling has a way of ramping up even the smallest of appetites, bring along a hefty supply of healthy snacks — like fresh fruit, whole grain crackers, homemade trail mix, nuts and cheese — to munch on throughout the day.
Stay in an apartment
In addition to the added space and privacy apartments have to offer, they often boast fully stocked kitchens and laundry facilities, as well, which can make life a lot easier when traveling with children on your own. Instead of eating out for every meal, you can save money (and a little bit of sanity) by cooking healthy, inexpensive meals at your leisure while dealing with soiled clothing quickly and easily. Search for inexpensive accommodations on sites like Airbnb.com and Booking.com.
Avoid group tours
Group tours with children can be stressful whether you are alone or with a crew. Opt for excursions that allow you to go along and revel in the sights at your own pace to dodge any boredom-induced meltdowns.
Plan for downtime
Traveling Europe with kids as a solo parent can be a rewarding, but exhausting experience. Do as the Spanish do, and build time for siestas into your schedule. A power nap can go a long way when it comes to replenishing energy and patience, and uplifting overall morale.
Scope out parks and playgrounds ahead of time
In addition to naps, children will also need time and space to burn off extra energy. Beautifully landscape parks and playgrounds are common throughout Europe, you just have to know where to find them. Do your research and map them out before your trip, so you’ll know where to go when the kids start bouncing off the walls.
When my husband made it home from his temporary assignment in the States, the boys and I had new travel stories to share with him — moments I could not help but wish he had been a part of, but am thankful for, nonetheless.
He was proud of me for stepping out of my comfort zone to take our little ones on an adventure while he was away, and I have to admit it feels pretty good to know I was able do it on my own.
Traveling Europe as a solo parent definitely requires a good amount of courage, patience, energy, time management, and self-discipline, but the experience and precious memories are worth every minute.
Courtney is a military spouse, mom of 2 boys, graduate student, and part-time writer-editor for a travel & lifestyle magazine serving military families stationed in Europe. She has a heart for our troops and their families and hopes to share what little she has learned along the way to help others overcome the unique challenges of military life. You can follow her adventures at her blog, Courtney At Home, or through her social media: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.