Traveling With Kids: Are Solo Moms and Dads Treated Differently?

Oct 9, 2018

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Most parents can agree that traveling with young kids alone isn’t always easy. An extra set of hands helps, but sometimes we find ourselves in situations where that’s not always possible.

I’ve been fortunate enough to continue traveling after having kids, and the fact that my children love jet-setting just as much as I do certainly helps my case. Plus, there’s something precious and rewarding about the “art” of traveling solo with your children while they are young — despite the challenges.

These days it’s not unfamiliar to see plenty of moms navigating through the airport juggling luggage, strollers and wearing babies. I admit as a frequent traveler, however, that it is still a rare sight in 2018 to see a dad traveling alone with kids of any age.

For the most part, seeing a solo traveling dad typically results in a perplexed reaction from other travelers. Maybe they’re wondering if there’s a deeper narrative or backstory to why the father is possibly traveling without mom in sight (even though, of course, there isn’t even always a female parent).

As difficult as many aspects of solo parenting can be, our culture sometimes (still) paints dads as superheroes for doing normal parental stuff, while moms are expected to “have it together” at all times when it comes to kids — including while flying and traveling. I don’t think these observations reflect poorly on fathers or families by any means; it’s just a matter of preconceived societal roles and family norms of what’s expected of a “mom” and a “dad,” even in the quickly changing social landscape of 2018.

Photo courtesy of Angelina Aucello
Photo courtesy of Angelina Aucello

Are Traveling Moms and Dads Treated Equally?

Over the years, I’ve exchange stories and tips from other traveling parents, and I think it’s time to shed some light and clear the air. Do traveling dads get treated differently than solo traveling moms? When I asked other parents to weigh in, the observations between moms and dads were interesting.

For the most part, in my experiences traveling alone with my two kids, I found other travelers to be extremely helpful, positive and courteous to the fact that my hands are tied. But, I sometimes noticed an attitude that I was just another frazzled mom that would probably be an annoyance on board. The good news is that I ensure that I am optimally prepared for every flight, so that my kids are on their very best behavior. I think that it’s 100 percent a parent’s responsibility to do his or her part to make sure that traveling with little ones is not disruptive to other travelers or more stressful than it has to be.

Photo courtesy of Angelina Aucello
Photo courtesy of Angelina Aucello

As a frequent traveler with top-tier status on many airlines, I board when my elite tier or boarding group is called, including on family-friendly airlines like JetBlue and Southwest (Mosaic and A-List Preferred, respectively). I can’t count the amount of times I was told to stay back and “let the elites” board when I approached the gate with my kids in tow and boarding passes in hand. “We haven’t called family boarding yet, miss,” the gate agent exclaims loudly.

By this point, I’ve learned to playfully brush those comments off with a one-liner like, “Oh yes, sorry, she’s the elite, not me,” while pointing to my 3-year-old daughter. While it’s wrong for airline employees to make presumptions about who is elite and who is not, that’s just those good ‘ole societal stereotypes coming into play. They think, “She’s just another young mom with kids. There’s no way she’s elite.”

Photo courtesy of Angelina Aucello
Photo courtesy of Angelina Aucello

A Solo Traveling Dad’s Perspective

On the other hand, TPG‘s Senior Points and Miles contributor, Richard Kerr, weighs in with his observations as a solo traveling dad:

My conclusion after the first four years of traveling fatherhood: People say funny things to a dad traveling alone with littles.

I’ve observed airports and hotels with increased scrutiny looking for a dad in a similar situation to mine. I was admittedly hoping for the eye lock and obligatory head nod representing we both understood the struggle, and also the joy. Even when I really pay attention, I don’t recall too many times I’ve seen a dad traveling along with little kids.

This all adds up to the countenances of fellow passengers displaying shock, joy, endearment or “glad it’s not me” when I roll solo into the gate area with my backpack full of diapers and a 2-year-old girl in the umbrella stroller. It is often painfully obvious that many people in the gate area or hotel lobby are looking behind me wondering, “Where’s mom?”

Richard and kids
Richard and kids (Photo courtesy of Richard Kerr)

Below is a list of recurring questions I receive and my favorite stories from the last few years when traveling alone with my son or daughter:

“Where’s your partner?” — The only time I’ve routinely been assumed to be gay is when I travel alone with my kid. Apparently, if I am a dad alone on the road with a little one, it’s because there are two dads in the relationship; because dads with wives (I guess) don’t take kids on their own.

Flirt much? — I’m no Brad Pitt look-alike, but when I am on the plane with just my son, the flirtatious lines I get are 10X compared to when I travel alone. Last year my wife, son and I were flying Southwest and I was in the middle seat, my son in the window and my wife on the aisle. Apparently I was doing something that made the flight attendant not understand my wife and I were married. During drink service, she quipped all kinds of flirty lines. I watched with great enjoyment as my wife in the aisle seat rolled her eyes in ever greater circles as the flight attendant made corny jokes related to ginger ale service and my cute son.

Table for three? — If you’re on the road, restaurants will obviously be a part of your trip. I’ve had a number of hostesses assume I needed a table for three when I come in with just one of my kids. Mom must be right behind. I usually respond, “No, just one and a half of us” with a smile and they are quite surprised. This happened twice on my recent daddy/daughter trip.

Daddy Diaper Duty — I have a pretty easygoing demeanor. There isn’t much that gets me excited, angry, offended or similar. One thing though that does drive me absolutely bonkers are men’s rooms with no changing tables in hotels, airports and restaurants. On top of that, many don’t have a single flat surface, other than the floor, which would allow me to change a diaper. If you’re a business owner reading this; please go posthaste and install a Koala Kare table or similar in your men’s room. Businesses can pick up a Koala Kare changing station for around $211 on Amazon with free shipping.

I know there are thousands of dads traveling solo with their kids on a daily basis, but there aren’t enough. I’ll admit one reason is that there’s significant anxiety that comes along with traveling alone with a toddler or baby. Not having the backup of mom and realizing you and you alone are responsible for this kid (and will feel the wrath of mom should any harm come to said offspring), can be overwhelming your first few times.

Solo Family Travel Tips

Whether it’s mom or dad that’s heading out on the road with the littles, here are a few tips everyone can use to make traveling with kids just a tiny bit easier. First and foremost, ease into traveling with children by adopting a simple agenda. You can work up to more involved trips over time, but get into a groove with a few straight-ahead outings that are devoid of complexity or multiple moves and transitions.

Try to eliminate the chance of problems on the aircraft by working out your family’s seating assignments in advance. Trust us, you don’t want to have to beg other travelers to swap seats during boarding so you and your kids can sit together.

Remember that when you set off on any trip, you should keep security in mind. Have a plan to keep track of your kids so you won’t ever leave your child behind at the airport like this couple did. If swimming is on the agenda, use some safe swimming vests or similar for those still learning to swim, especially if more than one child is involved. As for booking a hotel, it usually makes sense to pick one that has room service or easy lounge access in case everyone wakes feeling both hangry and lazy. If room service isn’t in the budget, select lodging that has free breakfast or an in-room kitchenette where you can prepare some simple meals yourself.

Last but not least, don’t push your kids or yourself to do more than you feel like doing. Even just hanging around the hotel pool together can result in fun and lasting memories — hopefully without any public meltdowns.

Mommy Points' kids swimming on a 'girls trip' to Florida
Mommy Points’ kids swimming on a “girls trip” to Florida

Bottom Line

Traveling solo with kids is hard at times for both moms and dads. However, the more you do it, the more comfortable it becomes. Plus, flight attendants, hotel staff and fellow passengers will generally offer a helping hand, whether they see a need or not. In the end, the memories with your children during these “difficult” solo trips prove to be well worth it looking back.

Of course, it comes without saying that I may feel a lot differently had I been entirely alone during my daughter’s epic meltdown in the middle of a busy airport. I’m glad those days are over!

I’m curious to see how your observations as a solo traveling parent compares to ours. Feel free to chime in in the comments!

Angelina Aucello covers family travel for TPG and blogs at Angelina Travels. Follow her adventures on Twitter and Instagram.

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