There’s a million and one articles about family travel, and most don’t really speak to me. As the parent of an only child, family travel for me looks very different than what most people talk about. I’m not juggling multiple kids, managing different food preferences, or playing peacemaker among my tribe of small people. No, family travel when three is the magic number is very different.
BabyGirl’s been told she’s lucky that she doesn’t have to share with a sibling or do things a brother or sister like but she doesn’t. And, that’s true. But she also doesn’t have anyone to talk to or play with when Mom and Dad are planning or organizing or strategizing. And she also has to do things that many other kids may not because she is an only and there is no other option.
I have friends with large families, and others with just two kids. I don’t have but a very few who have just one child. So, I often just watch and learn because saying anything about how different it is with just one is often met with a “you have it so easy” type of response. And, sure, I get that with one child it’s not the same. But, there are challenges.
Benefit: Everyone gets to have their own “space” when we travel.
This is great because, as you likely know, downtime is good. If CycleGuy heads out for a workout or bike ride in the morning, I’ve got just one to organize to get ready and go out to breakfast. Getting ready does not involve needing to intervene to prevent World War III.
Drawback: We’re her playmates.
There’s no “go play with your brother/sister” conversation. Even though BabyGirl loves to read or will play games on her own, sometimes playing alone gets boring.
Benefit: No fighting with siblings over anything.
I’ve seen parents exasperated at playing referee. Even “good kids” get tired of their siblings once in awhile, and even if they’re not tired of dealing with a brother or sister sometimes it’s just fun to pick on a sibling.
Drawback: Sometimes she has to do “grown up” things.
Yes, BabyGirl’s had to sit quietly and patiently while CycleGuy or I handle business matters when we travel. She’s had to learn how to be a young lady at more fine-dining restaurants than most kids. Her desire to eat “kid food” is often overruled. And she has to visit places that are boring for kids but mom or dad are interested in seeing.
Benefit: We travel light.
This is both literally and figuratively. In the literal sense, with 3 people there’s often less luggage to manage. Even when there was just two of us to Italy, I got everything into one carry-on for each of us (and that included bringing her animal and own pillow). It also goes for the technology. While many families share, there are families where each child has their own technology stash. For us, packing tech for 3 (despite taking 5 phones with us when we went to New York) is less stuff than when there are more kids. For the figurative sense, while many of my friends with multiple kids are travel pros, traveling with just one child doesn’t come with some of the stress of traveling with multiple kids comes with.
Drawback: Sometimes one of the parents gets left out.
Kids have preferences. For BabyGirl, she’d much rather sit next to her dad on most roller coasters. In any situation where only two seats are together, one of us grown-ups has to sit apart. Even at dinner, there are times when one parent is left out of the conversation. There have been times when BabyGirl’s done a program when we travel, like the youth programs at Disney, and only one parent is permitted to be with her. That whole idea of “me time” takes on a new meaning for the parent left behind.
Benefit: Don’t have to do things because a sibling wants to.
Sure, BabyGirl has to do things because sometimes mom or dad want. However, this is very rare. But she never has to do things just to please a sibling. Parent’s can’t cater to just one child when there are multiple children. I’ve seen my share of upset kids because they don’t want to be somewhere or do something but the parent doesn’t have the option of skipping it and disappointing the other child(ren). Many parents divide and conquer, but it’s not always possible.
Drawback: Pleasing the child becomes a key part of parenting an only.
While there are different views on this, the fact is that parenting an only often leads to following the wants of the child. Yes, most parents do things so their kids will be happy. But when it comes to travel, few parents let their kids have as much input as those parents with onlies.
We all love our kids and couldn’t imagine our lives without them, regardless of whether it’s an only or enough for your own basketball or baseball team. Family travel with an only child is different. Not better. Not worse. Just different. Our kids are often the ones who want to play with your kids at the pool, but aren’t sure how to do it. Our kids are watching yours at restaurants, sometimes wishing they had someone their age to talk to. But our kids are also having a great time and making memories on family vacations.