Family vacations are an important part of our family life. My husband and I also love a solo getaway now and then too. And a few years ago we added a new tradition to our travel itinerary: travel with one child. And let me tell you, these trips are an absolute delight.
The concept of one-parent-one-child trips is pretty simple and just as it sounds. Though we are a two-parent household with two children, one parent will go away with only one child. In our family, these vacations started as “Birthday Weekends”, when my husband would go away with each of our children to celebrate their birthday. The birthday child chose where they’d go and what they’d do—within reason, of course.
Birthday Weekends started as a way for my husband to spend some quality one-on-one time with each of our sons. At the time, he was working very long hours and I was a part-time work-at-home parent. I had plenty of time with our kids and we often spent summer afternoons going to the movies or the swimming pool. Sometimes we’d make a day trip to the beach. My husband wanted to have these adventures with our kids too.
These one-parent-one-child adventures have continued for several years now, and they don’t just benefit the parent and child who are away for the weekend. The whole family benefits from these one-parent-one-child vacations too.
Related: Motherhood didn’t take away my love of travel so I take my son on adventures
These solo child adventures don’t need to be a week-long vacation—or even a weekend—either. They can be an afternoon adventure or an overnight staycation in town. Last year, in the midst of our family vacation, I incorporated a one-parent-one-child adventure with each child. I spent one afternoon horseback riding with one son and another afternoon doing horse therapy (a new concept for both of us) with my other son. Each adventure was like a vacation within a vacation for us. We got to spend quality time together, sharing in our own little adventure, while my husband spent time chilling out with the other child. It was a win-win for everyone.
Though some people might find traveling with one child at a time a bit strange, experts say that one-parent-one-child travel offers a lot of benefits.
Travel with one child makes kids feel important and special
While I am a firm believer that family travel teaches children how to share, cooperate and compromise, alone time with a child offers different benefits. With a parent’s undivided attention, a child feels important and special. They get to make decisions about what to do and where to go. Without a younger or older sibling around, the activities can be more focused on their age and interests. And without other companions, they get our undivided attention, feeling more seen and heard.
“There is nothing worth more than the time you invest one-on-one with your child,” Dr. Lisa Long, a licensed clinical psychologist based in Charlotte, North Carolina tells Travel + Leisure. “This time is a direct message to your child that they matter to you.”
Of course, children also need to learn how to share and compromise, but experts say that sprinkling in one-on-one time with a child will boost their wellbeing in other ways.
“Kids need to feel that they matter as an individual to their parents,” says Long. “When a parent gives a child attention independent of the rest of the family, the child will develop a greater sense of self-esteem and importance.”
Travel with one child lets kids see their parents in a different way
One-parent-one-child trips don’t just benefit kids—they benefit parents too. Being alone with one child, without the distractions of other children or the off-kilter dynamic when both parents are around, our child can see us in a different light.
“As parents invest this time with their child, the child also is able to gain a better sense of who their parent is,” says Long. “This is a great way to help build a child’s confidence and foster a closeness in the parental bond.”
When we travel as a family, I spend a lot of time putting out fires and settling sibling squabbles. But when I’m alone with one child—whether it’s a dinner-and-movie night or a weekend at home together—we can talk uninterrupted. We can listen to each other more intently. We can share inside jokes and laugh at shows only the two of us enjoy. And my husband is able to do the same things when he is on an adventure with one child.
Travel with one child doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive
For many families (my own included), time and money are tight. Fortunately, one-parent-one-child trips don’t need to be expensive or extended vacations. They can be as simple as an afternoon hiking trip at a state park near your home. They can be tickets to a sporting event or a night at a nearby hotel with a swimming pool.
Related: I travel with my kids even if they don’t remember it (or appreciate it)
Whatever you choose to do, consider including your child in the planning process. By doing this, you can extend the scope of the one-on-one time to include the planning phase as well—and sometimes the planning is as fun as the adventure itself. When planning one-parent-one-child trips with our kids, we give them parameters on the length of time and price range. They make suggestions and then we talk through them to decide on something.
As you travel with one child, try not to forget some kind of memento, whether it’s a souvenir or a few photos. Because not only are one-parent-one-child trips a wonderful way to bond at the time, but they can also be happiness anchors with lasting memories for years to come.