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The Single Parent Road Trip


I’ve been a single parent since my kids were three and five, which means I’m used to orchestrating our vacations on my own.

We’ve had some disastrous vacations, like the one to the coast where the beach house we’d rented was so creepily isolated that I ended up booking a second place. What started out as a cheap and cheerful vacation rang in at just slightly less than what it would have cost us all to fly to St Tropez and vacation aboard one of those rented yachts. The SUV we’d rented to guide us on our travels arrived in terrible condition… and without GPS, and the beach was covered in dinner plate-sized jellyfish.

Over the past several years, we’ve become much smarter about our vacations. We’ve discovered that road trip destinations ought to be about three hours away. Any closer does not feel like a getaway, and any longer makes us squirrely.

We’ve discovered that in spite of us having a shared hatred of their gravy, a vacation isn’t a vacation unless we stop at a Cracker Barrel.

We’ve discovered that we need to be on water, and we need to kayak or stand-up paddleboard. This is not negotiable unless it’s winter, in which case, we need to ski.

We’ve discovered there will be some last minute panics along the way. On our last vacation, my daughter found a tiny insect on her pillow. After several minutes of panic-fueled Googling, I was positive we were in the middle of a bedbug infestation in spite of my son’s protestations to the contrary. I flipped over the mattresses in our four-star hotel room and inspected the seams like someone on CSI, convinced I’d have to burn our suitcases and flee. After consulting with the hotel manager–and then verifying what he said online–it turns out the bug was a harmless spider beetle.

We’ve discovered we can do things we didn’t know we could. Every year we try new things: climbing a waterfall, paddle boarding and the terrain park. This year, we drove a NASCAR race track in the family SUV behind some brand new Corvettes. It was both nerve-wracking and excellent, which is how a great vacation should be.

At the end of our journey, we are exhausted, grumpy and have ingested an unseemly amount of candy, ice cream, and carbs. We are also more bonded and secure in our relationships with one another.

Soon I will no longer be a single parent and most of our vacations will be done as a larger family. I look forward to sharing the burden of responsibility (and bugs!) and the fun that comes with more people. I will also miss those cozy nights where our tiny family of three sits in the hotel, watching bad reality TV and eating Cracker Barrel candy, discussing the adventures of the day.

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With an MBA in Finance, JEN LAWRENCE worked in investment banking; was Executive Director of a Children’s Museum and is a pioneer mommy blogger. Jen writes and speaks about women in business, critical thinking, strategic planning and is the author of Engage the Fox: A Business Fable About Thinking Critically and Motivating Your Team. When your world’s been blown apart, Jen Lawrence can help you pull yourself together, and pinpoint those next steps that will help you find your new normal. She can also be found at

5 thoughts on “The Single Parent Road Trip”

  1. Jen, we have three grown children who are married, and three grandchildren. We all still travel together, and love those family vacations. We just returned from a beach trip which was a 6-hour drive, made even longer with two toddlers and a 4-year-old in tow. But the fun memories will live on forever! Your family vacations will likely never end because you have created those rich times yourself. Our children take with them the most special parts of their childhoods when they start families of their own. You are giving yours so much to treasure!

    • I think family vacations are an excellent investment. There is nothing quite like them to build memories, is there? Vacations with grandkids must be even more fun!

  2. One of my all-time favorite memories are when James and I went to New Mexico on our “honeymoon” with his 11-year-old son. I started crying on the way to the airport because I didn’t want it to end. It was the first time in my adult life that I felt like I was part of a family. I’ll never forget that trip. xoxo, Brenda

  3. I’ve just been on vacation with my husband, his parents, siblings, their partners and the kids – we rented a house in Ohio and managed to squeeze all 16 of us in for almost a week! There were definitely moments when I needed to go and sit in a nearby meadow so I could decompress rather than trying to hold my breath the entire time (his family are wonderful by the way, I’m just not used to having so many people around constantly!) and the first night I was panicking and wondering how I was going to survive the next few days. Of course, it ended up being a really wonderful trip with lots of gorgeous family memories but I think everyone feels vacation pressure at some point or another! Esther xx

  4. I too was a single-mother, and I have fond memories of vacations I took with my son when he was young.
    Looking back, it seems that there was a sibling-like quality to our interaction as we discovered wonderful new, zany, and sometimes bad, things together.
    Good times! Thanks for bringing them back for me.
    XO Donna

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