Holidays and Solo Parenting
Updated: Feb 12, 2019
A lot of people do this full-time – and my hat goes off to them. It is hard going. Our first year in London, I barely saw my husband – his work took him away from home to Africa, Europe and beyond and three months would easily go by before he got a weekend off. Again, we knew this would all be part of the deal we signed up for so rather than sit at home and get frustrated, I planned family holidays, weekends and day trips on my own – and if my husband happened to show up, it was a bonus.
Here are the things that worked… and the things that didn’t.
My first trip was Scotland. At this stage, my daughter was 2 and my son was 5 and we still had the big 4-wheel-drive pram. I piled them both into that; put everything else into a roll-on suitcase and we jumped on the train to Edinburgh. The journey was about five hours but it flew by – there was plenty for the kids to see out the window, they could get up and walk around or spread out on the floor with their toys. Edinburgh is a great city for kids. There’s lots to see and in the centre of it all is a fantastic playground where there’s good equipment for a range of ages. We went every day for the kids to let off some steam before going sight-seeing.
At the top of the list was Edinburgh Castle. The kids got a surprising amount of joy walking/running up the steep zigzag path to the castle, where our first priority was morning tea in the tearooms (I may have resorted to bribery half-way up said hill). The view from here is spectacular – you can see right across the city towards Fife. Some of the other highlights at the castle were Mons Meg, the one-o-clock gun salute and all the weaponry inside the Great Hall. Tour guides dressed up as medieval soldiers got a huge thumbs up from the kids who got to see ‘real bows and arrows’ up close. We walked back through the old town, stopping to admire a busking bagpiper or two, then home to our not-so-nice hotel (we were in a bit of a dodgy spot in a bit of a dodgy part of town. Rookie error.)
The Edinburgh Zoo is just too good not to mention. Again, the views are phenomenal and there was a real country charm about the place with lots of space for the kids to run around in. It is on a hill so I was glad to have the pram for the kids ‘sore legs’ but we loved the giant pandas and zebras - the meerkats could have entertained the kids for hours.
The next day we caught a bus to Royal Yacht Britannia, the Queen’s former floating palace. I was surprised by how much we all loved this. You can see where the Queen used to sleep, have tea where she used to have tea and sit up in the Captain’s seat and pretend to set sail. A great big whopping bonus here was the ‘Spot the Corgi’ game – which involves looking for hidden toy dogs in each room of the boat, counting them along the way. Over the next few days, we tried haggis, checked out Holyrood Palace where we were treated to a ride in the Queen’s private elevator (possibly because of the aforementioned 4WD pram!) and fell in love with Greyfriar’s Bobby, the dog from Edinburgh who became famous after refusing to leave his master's grave for more than a decade. We rubbed the golden nose of his statue for good luck then visited the birthplace of Harry Potter - the café where J.K Rowling first put pen to paper.
Edinburgh filled me with confidence that I could not only look after/entertain my children in a different country but actually enjoy a holiday. Next, was Europe. And because I’d never been, I chose Spain. This wasn’t quite as easy as jumping on a train. And because I’d booked cheap flights, we arrived in Majorca at midnight. This was OK-ish until we got held up for three hours in a very long and slow-moving queue through passport control. I had one child on my front, the other on my back and our luggage. But after that first 24 hours, there was no looking back. This was another absolutely doable (and enjoyable) holiday as a ‘single’ parent.
I chose a self-contained apartment right on the water, Roc Portonova en Mallorca at a beach where there were enough restaurants and shops to get by, without being totally overridden with tourists. The sunshine, walks and beaches were just what the kids needed and it was all very easy to jump on a boat or a bus and see other parts of the island. More details here.
As for London, there is so much to see and do with children. Some of it, I wouldn't attempt on my own – like ice-skating or Hyde Park’s pirate park which are too stressful if you don't have a co-parent or friend to help wrestle the crowds. But things like the London Zoo, Windsor Castle, Greenwich, Barnes Wetlands Centre, London Transport Museum and Natural History Museum can be easily navigated on your own. I bought annual memberships and went back time and time again. Another absolute winner for me, given my husband isn’t a theatre enthusiast, is to take the kids to a musical at West End. So far, they have loved The Lion King, Wicked and Aladdin. If you go to a matinee, you can spend the morning at Trafalgar Square or Covent Garden, with a quick lunch at Chinatown. But you do have to keep your wits about you when battling the crowds around here with small children!