I love the school holidays. Some people think it’s weird that I like to spend time with my children, but in all honesty, when the last week of school finally comes, I think I’m probably more excited than they are!
I became a solo parent when I was 5 months pregnant with my daughter. The boys were 4 and 17 months old. I was so determined that I would give them every opportunity that two-parent families had, and that included holidays. This both filled me with excitement and terror. Where would we go? How could I cope with three toddlers on my own? How would we afford it? What would happen if there was an emergency whilst we were away? But the overriding thought was, what if I don’t give them the opportunity to experience time away from our home and explore the world around us? So the planning began.
Our first holiday was to a small house near the coast of Wales. We were given some money from a couple at church with the instructions that we were to go on holiday (I’m not sure how dishevelled I looked at this stage). I crammed the car full of everything that we might need, including two bikes, a bike tag along and no pushchair, and off we set. I’d done very little research into the area, so we spent most of the two weeks driving down to the coast and finding some places that my children would like to go. They were 5½, 3½ and 18 months at this point. My eldest still remembers that holiday. He remembers speaking Welsh with the lady who owned the farm we stayed on, the cows we watched being milked every morning, the castles we visited, the beaches we played on and the miles of coastline that we cycled down. I’m grateful that those memories outweigh my memories of tiredness, struggling with a tiny budget and the backache from carrying my daughter in a backpack because I intentionally left the pushchair at home. Although it was hard for me, I am grateful that it was fun for them. I learnt so much from that holiday, mostly about what not to do.
Our next big summer adventure was to the Isle of Skye, a mere 15 hour drive away! People thought I was mad taking the children that far and camping for 2 weeks. But, having learnt from our time in Wales, I knew that we were going to have an amazing adventure.
The first thing that I did was pray and dedicate the whole holiday to God. I prayed, “Lord this is your holiday as much as ours. Show us what excites you and take us to places that you want us to see, people you want us to meet.” And He did. I have so many stories of God encounters and moments where He showed up in small and big ways. I kept a journal of my time there and my prayers whispered to Him in the darkness of our tent or on the top of the Cullen mountain.
Since then, we have explored most of the UK, each time under canvas and on a small budget. We even had the opportunity to go abroad when the children were a bit older and I had managed to save some money to do so. They will still always say that the Isle of Skye was their favourite ever holiday, and I think that’s because I grew the most as a child of God there. I learnt to let go of my worries and let God take control.
When I look back at our first holiday to Wales, I made so many mistakes. I’d love to be able to share some of those with you, especially to those of you who are weighing up your first solo parenting holiday this summer.
Plan, plan and plan some more. I did absolutely no planning before we went to Wales. Yes I knew what the cottage looked like and yes I knew we were going to Wales, but I hadn’t really thought through how much time we would actually spend driving all over Wales to do things. Doing things all day long with your tiny children is tiring. Then driving an hour back from the beach whilst they are all fast asleep in the back is even more tiring! I was wooed by the cheap price of a holiday as opposed to the location. Now I look at areas first, then the price of staying near that location second.
Routine is important for children and for parents. When the children were little, I worked as a childminder and routine was extremely important, especially afternoon nap time. A holiday means that you will be all out of routine but don’t panic. One of the best things about holidays is that you don’t have to wear a watch. You can sleep when you are tired and eat when you are hungry. Consistency far outweighs routine when you are away. This means being consistent with your family rules. If a child has consistency, they are going to feel safe. My sister has just come back from her first holiday abroad
with her toddler. The bedtime routine was put aside for a week, but the importance of siestas were introduced to him, which he loved.
Switch your mindset. For many people, holidays are a time to rest and relax. Being a parent, especially a solo parent, means that the chances that you are going to be able to relax are minimal. I chose to see each holiday as a chance to introduce my children to the wider world around them. This meant lots of exploring, adventuring and discovering new things, mixed with the odd familiar playpark. When they slept, I was able to get out a book and read. As they got older, they were more able to explore the campsite on their own, leaving me with more time with my book, which at times was lonely, but also restful.
Budget as much as you can. Holidays don’t have to be expensive. We chose to camp for most of our holidays. This isn’t for everyone. There are plenty of cheaper alternatives. I have friends who use youth hostels around the country and further afield. Friends that house-swap with other friends. Or friends that chose to glamp as opposed to camp. In the UK there are lots of free things that you can do. We loved the beach, car picnics, National Trust places with parks, castles and biking.
Emergencies might crop up, so be prepared. I remember one holiday that ended with me visiting the hospital, which wasn’t very fun. Make sure you let a friend or family member know where you are going and for how long. Use the ICE (in case of emergency) function on your phone. Pop a note in your wallet with ICE details on so emergency services know who to contact. If you plan, you’ll feel more prepared if anything major does come along. Also, getting a car breakdown membership plan is so worth it and can be very affordable.
Pray. Just as I did before our trip to the Isle of Skye, pray. Include God in your trip. The Bible says that He has so many good things planned for us (Jer 29:11 and Prov 3:5-6). I know that God’s plans are always better than mine. So what are you waiting for? Go and have an adventure this summer. Now is the time.