Single Mom Survival Guide: Traveling Solo

My 2014 New Year's Resolution was to embrace my independence. Basically, I wanted to get more comfortable with the idea of doing things on my own. As a married person, there were a lot of things I had become accustomed to doing as a pair. Some of them were as simple as going out to dinner or the movies, up to the big things like negotiating the purchase of a new sofa, new car, or a new house. Honestly, making decisions on my own didn't come easy at first, even despite my bossy persona. Most of it has gotten easier with time and out of necessity.

My challenge for this year was taking a vacation on my own. Just a long weekend away to explore a place I've never been that is on my "bucket list." Now, I must confess, although I was adamant about accomplishing this, the whole premise terrified me. I had a lot of anxiety about going alone. Some of the anxiety stemmed from the idea of not really knowing my way around or how to navigate a new place. And some of it was irrational - what if I don't have the guts to leave the hotel room and explore the city once I get there? What if I stumble into a crappy neighborhood and get mugged? As a result, I booked and cancelled my getaway trip twice before I had the courage to finally go.

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Following this last trip booking, I decided that I had to go and I couldn't make any more excuses. So I booked a long weekend in Seattle. Seattle was a city I always wanted to visit. It always seemed like a fun and safe city, with an interesting history and a small footprint which makes it easy to see in just a couple of days. After talking to a lot of other single mamas, I realize how lucky I am to have a long weekend to myself every other weekend. It was time to take advantage of my time alone and do something adventurous.


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The first thing I did as soon as I got on the plane was made friends and asked questions. I was flying with lot of Seattleites, and they were all very proud of their city and the fun things it had to offer. On the flight out, I sat next to a very nice guy - a lawyer originally from L.A. who moved to Seattle 10 years ago. He put together a list of all of the best restaurants and live music venues. He also told me which neighborhoods to avoid and drew me a map of the public transportation system. Once we landed, he took me to the light rail line and gave me a business card in case I ran into any trouble.

Once I got into downtown Seattle, I quickly found my bearings. The concierge at my hotel provided me with a map of all of the touristy stops. I visited all of the essentials: the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, the Great Ferris Wheel, and a lot of museums (I managed to find their shopping district too, inflicting some damage to my credit card). At each stop, I asked locals where they liked to go to dinner and what they liked to do for fun. I found a lot of good spots that way, and I also learned that although there are 2,000 of them in a 5 square mile radius, Starbucks is not well loved by the true Seattle coffee people.


The highlight of my trip was going to a Seattle Sounders game. As a Philadelphia Union fan, I was excited to see the best team in the league play, but I couldn't believe the fan base. I bought a ticket 4 hours before the game on Ticketmaster for $40. My seat was great - 8 rows back at mid-field among all of the season ticket holders. After they made fun of me being from Philly and preparing for me to throw punches or the F-bomb after the first bad call of the game, they took me in as one of their own. It was a neat thing to see 50,000 soccer fans in a sea of green that were so proud of their team and their city.


My last day there, I just wandered around town, revisiting my favorite coffee shop on my visit and taking time to enjoy the water view. As I sat overlooking Puget Sound, missing my kids and finally realizing just how far from home I really was, I was overwhelmed with a sense of calm. I made it. I have evolved. I'm not the victim I could have easily taken the role of; I am the exception, improving myself and my outlook on life.

Happiness doesn't find you. You have to seek it out every day. Adventure doesn't find you. You have to step out of your comfort zone and seek out those things that excite, scare, and ultimately inspire you. And sometimes, doing those things on your own gives you a greater sense of accomplishment. For a while, I was lonely waiting for someone to experience life with, but now I'm learning that you have to lead the charge on your own. Explore the world - sometimes you will have the luxury of a travel companion but don't avoid travel if you don't. Work and kids and bills and house cleaning will all be there when you get home, so make your free time worth living for.

Here are some of my favorites from my Seattle visit:

Favorite place to wander around aimlessly: Pike Place Market - this is definitely a foodie must. There were amazing baked goods to try and a huge variety of amazing fresh seafood picked right out of the water. The Hmong flower stalls were beautiful as well. They have gorgeous huge bouquets of flowers for just $10, which is unheard of around here.


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Favorite Tourist Spot: Bill Speidel's Underground Tour (James St. & 1st Ave.) - a fun way to learn the history of the city at the expense of its founding fathers, complete with a 90 minute trek under the city streets.

Favorite Seafood: Ivar's Acres of Clams (1001 Alaskan Way) - the clam chowder and seafood cocktail were delicious and only a few bucks during happy hour. They also encourage feeding the seagulls at their walk-up fish and chips shop outside. Those birds were the happiest but most obese I've ever seen.

Favorite Coffee: Storyville Coffee (1st & Madison) - best latte of my life and they even make the foam on top look like a heart. A far cry from my typical Dunkin Donuts fare.

Favorite Brunch: Sazerac (1101 4th Ave.) - I recommend the Diablo scramble - muy delicioso.

Favorite Museum: EMP Museum (325 5th Ave. N.) - a museum dedicated to all things pop culture. I loved the Nirvana exhibit - brought me right back to high school and my alt rock CD collection of the day.

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Traveling with a 10 month old: I have a plan

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This time last year, my husband and I were making the final preparations for the arrival of our sweet girl, meaning holiday traveling was non-existent. Getting his very pregnant wife through a 30 minute drive to his parents' house for Thanksgiving was a piece of cake and since our little one's due date was the day after Christmas, the family came to us. This year we are coming face-to-face with the terrors of holiday traveling while adding a 10 month old into the mix.  Let's just say its impending arrival has this mama shaking in her house slippers. Did I mention the majority of our family lives a minimum of 7 hours away. Exciting, right!?

Don't get me wrong, we've made big (and successful) trips since our daughter was born with little to no problems. Vacations to the beach, visiting the grandparents, visiting the GREAT grandparents, the usual, all happened with little, to no, fuss. I even managed to get my daughter and two very smelly, very hyperactive Boston Terriers from Georgia to Virginia BY MYSELF without losing my sanity...AND we are a cloth diapering/exclusively-nursing family so add another two hurdles to our highway marathons and you could say we are pretty experienced travelers. But there is something about the added stress of traveling during the holidays that has me a bit nervous. Especially because the little girl that used to love car rides and would basically sleep for an entire trip is much more active and not a huge fan of the confined space her car seat provides. Did I also mention my 10 month old has already started walking. Yes, sitting still is no longer a part of her vocabulary. PLUS, since my husband and I have the biggest vehicle, we'll be hauling more than just ourselves, but his parents and brother as well, and although we may want to, we can't forget about the dogs. So when I say space will be more than limited, it's quite the understatement. But I have a plan, sectioned off into 5 main steps I'm taking to make our 7-hour journey a little less daunting.

  1. Ditch the cloth. GASP, shame on me. My husband and I initially decided to cloth diaper as a way to save money. End of story. As most cloth diapering moms can attest, once we started using them we started to see the appeal of how environmentally friendly they are and how much healthier they seem for our little one. So needless to say this part of the plan was originally met with substantial reluctance from yours truly, but given the fact that our vacation will be spent in an old farmhouse filled to the brim with people and a washing machine about as old as the land it sits on, it's just the easier choice. I'm sure many die-hard cloth diaperers would call me out saying that, "you don't decide to cloth diaper because it's an 'easy' option", so I'll rephrase and say it's the most efficient choice for our given circumstances. Not to mention the amount of space those suckers take up. Instead of the human-sized duffle bag filled with covers, liners, detergent, and wet/dry bags, we'll be able to save space with a pack of diapers.
  2. Snacks, snacks, snacks. Thankfully one of the perks of having a squirmy 10 month old is that she loves finger food. Gerber puffs and Cheerios are like catnip and it never seems to matter if she's actually hungry, she just loves feeding herself. I'm making sure I am locked and loaded with plenty of soft or easily mushed snacks for the ride. I've also recently discovered the brilliant invention that is the puree pouch. Why didn't I think of these things?  My daughter loves them out of the car, and she'll love that she gets them in the car.
  3. Set Pandora to 'Kid Mode'. My husband comes from a family of artists. Music, theater, dance, and even clowning has been a part of his life since before he actually had a life. So when it comes to normal vacations, we always have some kind of entertainment flowing through the speakers. Generally it's a combination of our favorite tunes and stand-up comedy acts but now that one of our primary concerns will be to keep Miss Priss satisfied for a 7 hour stretch, the entertainment is getting an upgrade. I'm talking Sesame Street, Raffi, Yo Gabba Gabba, and all the other kid-mesmerizing groups out there. We are fully prepared to transform our Ford Flex into a lean mean sing-a-long machine.
  4. Reading material. I am so thrilled that my daughter loves books as much as I do. She'll normally go for a book over one of her toys and she gets so proud of herself as she flips the pages. This is traveling gold, folks. I plan on filling the space we saved with opting for disposable diapers with tons and tons of books. Ok, not tons, but plenty. All of her old favorites, the ones that make noise (Lord, help us) and even a few new books she hasn't seen to spark her interest if and when she gets tired of the old stuff.
  5. Warm and snugglies. My daughter is one big snuggler, so if she can't snuggle with us while she's in her carseat, I'm going to need something to help fill the void. My secret weapon to keeping my little one calm in the car: all matter of warm and snuggly things. Her favorite stuffed animals are a given, since she'll need those to help feel comfortable in a different crib. But I'm bringing out the big artillery with our warmest quilts and blankets. I find these to be essential, especially for winter travel. I always ditch the bigger coats once she gets in the car seat, to make sure the belts are as close to her body as possible, keeping her safe. Thick, warm blankets are the perfect way to keep her warm down in the seat without risking safety. They're also a great way to provide comfort and attempt to simulate the warmth of my husband and my bodies during snuggle time.

So there you have it moms and pops, my 'sure-fire' plan to a successful holiday travel experience. Here's hoping they work and our family can get there and back with our sanity intact. At least most of it.

Share your own sanity-maintaining tips for vacation travel in the comments below. What has worked for you? What was a dismal failure?

Oh what joy it is to ride in a screaming baby mobile!