Finding alone time when I’m traveling solo with my four children is one of my top travel challenges. I know I’m not the only parent who struggles with finding alone time while traveling, road tripping, or adventuring around the globe. As my children get older, it’s getting significantly easier to find a few moments to myself when I’m somewhere far away from our home base.
But it’s still not easy. When I’m in a new, unfamiliar destination, alone with my children half-way around the planet, and not knowing anyone around, leaving my children alone even for a short time is not an idea that sits well with me.
I can’t begin to tell you how many yoga classes or trail running adventures I’ve wanted to take in new places, cities, towns, and parks, but have missed because I’ve had the kids in tow and no one to watch them for an hour–or even for thirty, little, precious mommy time minutes. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been so exhausted while traveling somewhere on this planet and wished that I could have 30 seconds to call my own–just to breathe and regain my happy, patient mommy footing–and had to settle for the space offered behind a closed bathroom door.
But I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve gained traveling solo with my children for anything.
I’m certainly not the first mother in history to grapple with the alone time issue. Single moms, single dads, married/partnered parents without (and even with) the support of significant others, and solo travelers deal with the struggle of finding time to themselves–time to recharge, restorative time, downtime, me time, whatever you want to call it–everyday. Even people without children struggle to find personal time and space.
Finding alone time while traveling alone with a child (or multiple children) is often challenging. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. This can be tough even when there are two parents traveling together with kids. It can be hard to find individual alone time, not to mention couple time.
With a little bit of mom magic and creativity, I’ve come up with 12 ways for finding or sneaking in alone time when you’re traveling solo with kids. Read on if you’re desperately seeking ways to recharge.
1. Remember to Breathe. When you’re traveling, especially with children, don’t feel like you have to do everything or show them everything to absorb the experience. You don’t have to satisfy an endless bucket list in order for the travel experience to influence, shape, and soak into a child. Take time to breathe, especially when you’re stressed out or exhausted. Seriously, bring awareness to your breath. Allow yourself the gift of slow travel, even if you only have a short window of time from which to make the most. Allow space for yourself and take things a bit slower. Allow your child to have space to breathe, too. Kids often appreciate downtime when traveling. Enjoy the adventure.
2. Schedule Relaxed Activities that Restore Balance. Opt for activities that will recharge you and restore your balance, even with your child(ren) alongside you. Perhaps this means finding a lovely coffee shop, buying your favorite beverage, and giving your child a bunch of crayons and paper or activity books (or an iPad), while you sip away and people watch. This was one of my favorite ways to restore balance while spending a month solo with my four kids in Paris. Perhaps it means a low-key park picnic or a trip to the playground (where you can sit quietly on a bench and read a book, while listening to your children play around you), instead of taking yet another castle tour.
My me-time while traveling confession: In one city, I opted to buy the multi-day double deck bus tour not only because I knew my kids would love it and would love listening to the audio tour (and would love getting “free” headphones), but because it gave me hours to sit on a bus with few mom demands. I bought my kids soda (a big deal) and candy treats. They happily learned about the city’s incredible history while chugging down Coke and eating sweets, and I enjoyed a bit of zen.
3. Start a Yoga & Meditation Practice. As I mentioned in this interview, yoga and meditation are powerful tools that allow me to find me time within the same space I’m occupying with my children. Sometimes I take time to work on yoga poses (asana) while the kids are playing or talking to me, or when I find beautiful, breathtaking places that call me to yoga practice. While it may not be the perfect place or timing for meditation, I can usually sneak in a few minutes to meditate somewhere in the day or at night before I fall asleep–my mala beads are useful in getting in a round of mantra and breath. Getting up before the kids to squeeze in a yoga session is always so incredibly peaceful–and I don’t even have to leave the house, rental, hotel, motorhome, etc.
4. Movie Time. As you might do back at home, you can always play the movie card. Stream a movie on your computer or pop in a DVD on your television away from home for the kids, close the door, and go enjoy time to yourself in the other room–or time with your significant other.
5. Ask your apartment owner or hotel for babysitter leads. On several occasions, I’ve asked the owner of an apartment that I was renting on Homeaway, AirBNB, or VRBO for babysitter or nanny leads. If you rent a property from a family, chances are they may know someone–such as a neighbor or local nanny–who is trustworthy and can help you out with babysitting services. Some hotels keep lists of babysitters and local nanny services who provide short-term care. Some rental advertisements on sites such as Homeaway will even mention that babysitting services could be available. I remember looking at a rental on a family farm in France once, and the owner told me that her teenage daughter loved to babysit children. The longer you stay in a location, the more likely you will get to know other families or people in the neighborhood who might be willing to help you out.
6. Join homeschool, Expat, or other networking groups in your destination. Once you know your destination, consider looking for local homeschool, expat, or other parent-child groups online, Facebook groups, meet-ups, where you might learn about local babysitting services or opportunities that will afford you alone time.
7. Kids’ Night Out. Look for kids’ night out (sometimes called parent night outs) in your destination that allow you to drop off your child(ren) while you catch a couple of hours to yourself. When I’ve traveled to New York City, I used Project Playdate several times, which gave me a bit of time to enjoy the city as a grownup. Look to recreation/fitness centers, YMCAs, churches, gymnastics schools, play centers, and childcare centers, as they often host these opportunities.
8. Spa night. Buy some amazing products from your local destination–bath soap, bath bubbles, maybe a bottle of wine, sparkling juice or water, a candle, a good magazine or book–and fill up the tub after you’ve tucked the kids into bed.
9. Workout. If you are staying in a hotel or apartment with a fitness center, and you feel comfortable enough to leave your children, you may be able to go across the hall or downstairs and sneak in a workout to yourself. Also keep in mind that some fitness centers offer childcare. You may find a fitness center in your destination that offers childcare while you workout or remain on the premises. On my RV trip, I traveled with a Burley and found time to run on the beach with my kids.
10. Shut the bathroom door. Sometimes you just have to tell your kids you need a few moments alone, head into the bathroom, and close the door. Read a book, sit in silence, cry, meditate, pray, call your mom, significant other, or BFF. If it helps you, it’s worth it. Happy parent = happy kids.
11. Invite backup. If you’re planning to travel solo for an extended period of time and know where you’re headed or hope to be, ask your mom, dad, sibling, or best friend to come for a visit. While on my 48-State RV Tour, my parents met me at a campground in Florida. I remember enjoying a rare night out sans kids.
12. Look for Classes. Enroll your child(ren) in classes, workshops, programs along your travel adventure. While they are in classes or camps, you can enjoy time alone or have a bit of downtime to focus on another child (or fewer of them). My children have enjoyed week long writing workshops and art classes in New York City, French classes at a Language school in Paris, tennis classes in Germany, yoga classes in California. While they have attended classes, I have enjoyed one-on-one time with my youngest or time alone exploring a destination.
Don’t be afraid to get creative to find that important and precious alone time! Just because you’re away from home or away from an established support network doesn’t mean you can’t find a little time to yourself.
Have other ideas for sneaking in alone time while on the road or away from home? What did I miss?
Other reads you may like:
- Small Houses, Tiny Apartments, RV Living: The Benefits of Raising Children in Small Spaces
- Stabilizing the Destabilizing Effect of Extended Family Travel