Pulling double duty is part of the territory when you're a single parent taking a trip with your child. You get to answer all their questions. You've got no one to help you remember to pack the sunscreen. And forget a leisurely sprawl on the beach with a John Grisham novel, because there's no other adult to make sure the little one doesn't get overpowered by the waves.
Still, single-parent travel can be a whole barrel of fun, rewarding and educational for both parent and child.
Taking a break from the rushed schedules of everyday life can give a single parent the chance to connect with their children in a deeper way, says Dr. Laura M. Hooks, assistant professor of education at University of South Carolina.
"You get to know your child better when they're away and not stressed — stressed as in, busy with other things," Hooks says.
"When you're a single parent, you have so many stresses on you," says mom Brenda Covert says. "You've got to work. You've got to make sure the kids are getting their education. You've got to make sure they've got clothes, that they're clean. You've got to pay all your bills. You're responsible for everything. . . . We go away on vacation, we can relax. We've got time to play games. I'm not looking at a sink full of dishes, I'm not looking at cat hair on the floor."
When Covert, mother of an 11-year-old and a 12-year-old, plans a vacation, she tries to find a place that has lots of activities. Sometimes they camp for a couple of days; other times they use their time-share and hit a resort.
The single-parent travel market is growing, and resorts are beginning to cater to them, says travel agent Polly Foster.
For instance, this past summer the Beaches resort chain offered discounts to single parents traveling with their children, Foster says.
Many single parents take their children on trips with friends or extended family, and there are benefits in connecting with a large group of loved ones, especially as kids have the opportunity to see themselves as part of a whole, Hooks says.
Relaxing and leaving behind daily routines are part of the fun of vacation, but parents shouldn't toss structure completely out of the car window, says Dr. Deborah Thomason, cooperative extension specialist and professor in the College of Health, Education and Human Development at Clemson University.
"Any parent needs to maintain some structure when they go off like that, making sure the children continue to eat and get enough rest, but still planning a lot of fun along the way," Thomason says.
Keeping a loose routine makes the transition back to nonvacation life a bit easier, Thomason says.
A mix of structured and non-structured time is best, says Hooks.
It's a good idea "to have time when you don't do anything," Hooks says. "You don't go to the go-cart place, you just go walk on the beach, or you just do nothing. Have time that you don't have to have everything scheduled."
It's important, Thomason says, to build in things that Mom or Dad will enjoy as well.
Covert is also a planner and she picks two or three activities for each day of the vacation, keeping in mind the interests of each child when she's planning.
Her children enjoy just about every trip they take. Twelve-year-old Barron particularly enjoys camping because he gets to help his mom cook.
His sister, on the other hand, prefers the coast. "I like to go to the beach and play in the water, and dive in the water, except for the sand. I don't like the sand," Jasmine, 11, says. "I'm a good swimmer."
While there are plenty of financial costs associated with a vacation, the benefits can be priceless.
"It can only improve family communication," Thomason says. "It can give them a chance to talk about things and spend time together . . . getting away from the regular grind of things but still having that quality time together."