Five Tips for Road Tripping as a Single Parent


Five Tips for Road Tripping as A Single Parent

As a single parent, I understand the struggles of traveling with kids alone. I have three kids, two boys, and one girl. I began to road trip with them in 2020 after my divorce and it was something that I fell in love with. Traveling with my kids has brought us closer and allowed me to create incredible core memories with them. The best part of it all is listening to them tell people stories of our past trips. Like the time we were stung by jellyfish on our road trip through Texas, or when we went through Roswell, New Mexico, and ate at the UFO-shaped McDonalds. My kids have also grown an appreciation for nature as we travel through incredible landscapes like the Grand Canyon or do some stargazing while driving down the highway at night. My goal with this blog is to help wanderlust parents travel more with their kids and help reduce the stress that we face as single parents on road trips. So, here are five tips that I hope you keep in mind when you begin your next road trip.

1. Slow down and smell the trees

The most important advice I can give you is to slow down and smell the trees. Yes, I know that is not the right analogy, but after smelling a Ponderosa Pine on one of our hikes, which smells like vanilla, I decided to give the analogy a little twist. Slowing down on your road trip and allowing yourself flexibility in your itinerary is going to really help reduce stress, and will give you and your kids a much more rewarding experience. On our first long road trip, I really stressed out about sticking to the itinerary because of all of the things I wanted to squeeze into the two weeks we had on the road. We were traveling through Texas and I had found so many places I wanted to visit and attractions I wanted to take my kids to enjoy. I found myself keeping an eye on the time and rushing out of the places we had planned to visit to try to continue to stick to the itinerary. Looking back at that first road trip, I realize that my kids did not care about how many places we got to see, they never talk about the things we missed on any of our road trips. Instead, they talk about the experiences we had and eagerly talk about the journey that is coming next. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to slow down on your journey and keep it as flexible as possible. I also want to emphasize to slow down on the entire experience and enjoy the small details of your trip. Find a ponderosa pine and take a sniff! Take a full day to go to a water park and ride down a waterslide with your son or daughter! Whatever it is that you have planned for your journey, give yourself time and flexibility to enjoy and immerse yourself and your kids in those experiences.

2. Roadside Attractions

As a single parent, roadside stops should be a part of your itinerary. Roadside stops will help break up the drive times and give you a break from the road and a chance to get out of the car and stretch your legs. When you create an itinerary, you should have your major stops that you are going to. When you plan out these major stops and what routes you are taking, you can begin adding roadside attractions, viewpoint stops, and even small museums. This allows you to include more experiences in your trip, and finding quirky roadside statues can be really fun for a family. Finding the largest pistachio in the world, or making a quick 20-minute stop through the Museum of Weird in Austin, can bring a memorable and unique experience to each road trip, and helps you make long drives more manageable as a single parent. Just keep in mind that you don't have to stop at every roadside attraction on your route. You should really include stops that you know your kids will enjoy checking out, or something that you have an interest in seeing. If you are in the United States, the Roadside America website is a great resource to find roadside stops in each state.

3. How To Select You Stops

Everybody's situation is a little bit different. I have three kids, and as a single parent, managing all three of them can be difficult at times. As they have gotten older, it has gotten easier. They become more independent, and can begin helping with larger chores or tasks that can help reduce your workload on the trip. For parents who have toddlers or babies, it is definitely more difficult than my situation and you may have different limitations than I do. But knowing your limitations as a single parents with the number of kids and ages they are at, is very important when selecting your stops on a road trip. You have to consider rest time that you will need throughout the trip, because you will need to rest. If you are a single parent with toddlers and babies, you can check out things like the Children's Museum, or making stops like the Colorado National Monument, or the Grand Canyon, that has a variety of very short hikes for families,. A lot of national parks also include scenic drives that will give you the opportunity to enjoy some beautiful places, without going on long hikes. If you continue to travel as your kids grow, your limitations will change, and you will have opportunities to take those longer hikes or enjoy a ropes course with an incredible zip line. But just understand what limitations you have at that time and plan around that.

4. Practice makes perfect

If you want to travel more with your kids without the stress, you have to start small and practice! I would suggest starting with short day trips to areas that are 2 to 3 hours away from your city or town. If you are traveling with babies or toddlers, these type of trips will help get your kids used to those longer drive times and will give you opportunities to test out different hacks that will help your kids enjoy the ride! If you think your kids do well with a 3-hour drive, you can bump it up to a camping trip and take the weekend or your days off to do a camping trip to an area that may be 5 hours from where you live. As you continue to make small trips like this, you should set expectations that your kids can adhere to. This consistency with expectations and rules will help your kids on future trips. After a few years of traveling, my kids love the long car rides and really bond with each other during these times. I do have three kids, so I understand that single parents with only one child will have a different experience. I have two boys who are very close in age and a younger daughter who adores her older brothers. Car rides give them great one-on-one time with each other, and yes at times I do have to separate them a bit and force them to have some quiet time after too much fighting. Getting all of this practice in with short trips will really help you gear up to a 2-week, or 3-week, or month-long road trip!

5. Budgeting on your road trip

Being a wanderlust parent means we always budget for travel. As a wanderlust single parent, this burden falls solely on us. To make it possible for my kids and I to travel, I had to save and look for areas where I could cut expenses. The main expenses you will have on your road trip is gas, lodging, food, and excursions. If you need to save on lodging, camping is definitely the best option for cutting costs. There are many campgrounds across the United States that you can use on your travels. If you are not a camper or do not feel comfortable camping alone with young children, there are many Airbnb options that are very affordable. I look through AirBnB for RVs that are available to rent. I have found great RV options for a total of $80 after taxes and fees! This is a great price compared to most hotels. I have even found a school bus Tiny Home that is in Kimball, Idaho that we are staying in during our 2024 road trip. We rented it for a total of $85 and we get to experience what it is like to sleep in a school bus! You should also cut expenses by avoiding buying snacks in gas stations and convenient stores. Instead stock up for a few days from a grocery store. Choose some high-protein snacks, and also some of your kids favorite snacks for the road! They will always remember driving down the long highways and eating their favorite snacks! Gas is a tricky one to save gas on. You can join loyalty programs at gas stations to accumulate rewards every time you fill up. You can also use apps like GassBuddy that will give you a map of nearby gas stations and the prices at those locations. Avoid filling up in locations that are high in tourism and try to fill up in the closest small city. Finally, excursions can get expensive, depending on what experiences you are looking to have with your children. When we road trip, visiting national parks are a big portion of our trips. We love to explore different outdoor areas, find geological wonders, and fish in a new lake! We use the America the Beautiful Pass and I plan on spending time throughout our trips at National Parks to reduce the costs of excursions. I also use apps like Groupon or Undercover Tourist to find as many deals or discounts as I can before I book anything. There are also so many locations in every state that are great stops to include in your trip, and are free! Spending some time in researching free things to do in the locations that you are visiting, will help reduce your excursion costs.