I took a two-week vacation this past summer to Europe with my teenage son. Just my teenager—my husband didn’t join us. This isn’t the first time my son and I have traveled alone together, although it was by far the longest trip we’ve taken without his dad.
When these trips come up in conversations with friends and family, I tend to get strange looks from some people. Others aren’t shy about voicing their opinions that a family vacation without one parent isn’t really a family vacation, that somehow we aren’t doing this whole vacation thing right.
Here’s the thing: I believe these trips actually make us all closer. My reasoning? Stick with me here:
1. Three is only company on ’70s TV shows. With an only child, a three-person traveling party can quickly make one person feel like, well, a crowd. We made a conscious decision to only have one child. That is, we decided to have an only. We did not decide to have a lonely child, but that can be the unintentional outcome of a three-person vacation (or of having just one child in general). Now, that’s not to say that we don’t take family vacations, because we do. But, when we do, we need to be much more intentional about making everyone happy than might be the case in a family with two or more children where I can only assume that the kids entertain themselves to a certain extent.
2. Conversations go beyond grunts, “uh-huh”s and “I don’t know”s. When just one of us travels alone with our son, it’s amazing the kinds of conversations that we have together. I get some insight into what he is thinking and vice versa. And if you think back to when you were a teenager yourself, you probably understand the importance of having actual conversations with a teenager. When we are at home, in the school/work routine, getting a 15-year-old to share anything can be like pulling teeth. When we are on vacation together, just the two of us, we actually talk to each other a lot. It’s more than wonderful.
3. Memories, baby! Beyond those conversations, when I travel alone with my son, we learn so much about each other, and we are creating memories that I hope will last him a lifetime. Now, not all of those memories are fantastic, but that’s true of every vacation experience I’ve ever had, and the positives outweigh the negatives by far.
4. No compromise needed. Solo-parent/teen vacations also help avoid having to compromise on what type of trip to take or even where to go. Case in point: Our most recent trip was to Europe, and my husband actually did not want to go to there (and no, I am not kidding). However, my son and I very much wanted to go. Problem solved: A one-parent and child vacation. No compromise was needed, and that was fine. Besides allowing for the memories, conversation and experience I’ve already mentioned, traveling with one less person also saved us an enormous amount of money, money that can be spent when my husband and son want to travel somewhere this winter to see a Green Bay Packers game together (an experience in which I have absolutely no desire to participate).
5. Blessed, blessed alone time. I also cannot overstate the importance of “alone time” for the parent who stays at home. As I think many other parents can appreciate, having even an hour or two in a quiet house alone is priceless. Turn that into a weekend or a week (or longer), and for me, at least, it’s an opportunity to relax, take time for myself without any guilt, and take care of some of those pesky chores around the house that never seem to rise to the top of the priority list. When the traveling parent and child return from their trip, everyone is happy to see each other and to share the memories and experiences of that time spent apart.
Now, I should add that this type of solo-parent/child vacation didn’t start happening in our house until our son was already a teenager, and I don’t think I would have even considered it when he was an infant, toddler or preschooler. At those ages, having another adult to travel with is almost a requirement. Now that my son is a teenager, it’s a different story entirely. All of a sudden, we are racing the clock to spend time with him before he leaves the nest for college.
For me, these trips with my son are also a way of honoring a family tradition from my teen years. Way, way back when, my Dad had a ritual of taking one of his three kids out for lunch each Saturday. Every third Saturday was my turn, and I remember truly looking forward to those one-on-one lunches with him. It didn’t matter where we went; to me, it was just important to have that hour together when I wasn’t fighting my siblings for airtime. I like to think that my solo-parent/child vacations are an extension of that idea.
I know that a lot of people still don’t get why I enjoy these trips alone with my son, but that’s okay, because it works for us. Now, if you will excuse me, I think I hear the siren song of vacation-planning websites calling my name. Off to plan the next great adventure!