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A Singularly New Kind of Holiday

You know that old maxim: “Do one thing every day that scares you”? Maybe you’re a little too busy for every day or even every week, but what about once a year or every summer? My children all go to different schools; the older two are also in separate school districts, often resulting in differing vacation days or weeks. This year at Spring Break that very situation occurred with my eldest having a whole week off that his siblings did not. We took a lovely, short family trip, (aka visited the grandparents in BC the week they were all off), and I took my eldest son on a trip away, just the two of us, during his following extra week off school.

We’re lucky to be able to do that and take that time; though it rained every day, it still turned out to be one of the best trips I’ve ever had. Allowing him, and even relying on him, to navigate on our journey from airport to our booked cabin was wonderful. Shopping for the groceries we wanted to consume, (not his brother’s or his sister’s or his dad’s favorites), introducing him to “old” classic movies (from the last 10 to 20 years) that made me feel like a senior in our rain-soaked cabin, walking on the beach to gather shells for his brother’s school project and surfing together was, as the credit card advert says, “priceless.” He even turned off his phone for five days without being asked – nothing short of a miracle.

Being able to create different patterns and routines, if only for a short trip away from home, can have such a positive effect; for as they say, a change is as good as a rest. Jane Richter, a now re-married former single mom, has found that her parents’ impending divorce, while not without its challenges and sadness even when everyone involved is an ‘adult,’ has also brought about positive changes, and they became evident to her while recently traveling to visit her father.

“My parents, who have been married for over 40 years, recently announced their intent to divorce. Shortly afterward, I went to visit my dad who is still in the middle of processing this life change and we both actually had a really nice time. The routine events and traditions that typically went along with a visit home could be, and were, re-written. I could spend time with him in a different way, more time than I might typically, and the thought that our relationship and familial routines could change now didn’t bring on a motionless cloud of melancholy, it was liberating and exciting,” she says.

While change may be scary, stepping out of your routine into a new experience or even environment that a vacation can bring, can also have profound effects on your sense of capability, as Catherine Bareham, a single mom of two school-age girls attests. “Going on vacation alone with my daughters has changed me massively. When I first got divorced, I suffered from a lot of anxiety and I didn’t really go, or want to go, anywhere and definitely not very far, but I also wanted to take my kids to places and do things with them. And I realized, being single, that we wouldn’t get there if I waited for someone else to organize it. The vacations we’ve taken over the years have given me a lot of self-confidence and boosted my belief in myself.”

Of course, any pre-vacation “what-if” type of anxiety can perhaps be a little more intense when you realize that you’ll be the only adult to rely on while away from home, but that too can be empowering. As Catherine describes, “I started out just going on short trips an hour or so away. They were easy to manage, and I was pleased afterward that I had done it and with how it had gone, and that set me up to go farther afield.”

One vacation, we took a trip to Spain and as we were leaving the resort on a coach, a massive wildfire swept across our path. We ended up being trapped overnight for 17 hours on the coach with sea to one side of us and a mountain road considered too narrow for the coach on the other. As night fell, it was a lot more difficult to keep track of where the fire was in relation to us. It was very scary. The next morning, we could set off again and when I got home, I realized if I can manage in that situation, I can pretty much deal with anything.”

Still, when there’s just one of you in charge of more people than just yourself in an unfamiliar location, or simply away from the comforts and conveniences of home, there can be challenges – but certainly not enough to prevent you and your child/children from enjoying themselves. While away with my son, I awoke in our cabin one night to what sounded like the downstairs of the cabin being ransacked. After calming my heart rate and realizing that: A.) There is no 24-hour front desk to call when staying at a cabin resort and B.) We were miles from the nearest police station and had sketchy cell coverage, I investigated the noise myself. It turned out that my terror and panic were not required; however, what had been required was the collection of garbage by resort staff before nightfall, which apparently had not been completed that day. Yep, I had been awoken by the rather harmless sounds of scavenging raccoons, but it really did sound scary in the cabin – honest! Still, it did make me rethink our safety for future trips should I have had to reach someone for help in the middle of the night.

Catherine has similarly found that the main concern for her and her family on vacation is feeling safe, especially in the evening, at the location she chooses to take her children to; however, she acknowledges that she would probably feel the same way if vacationing on her own. She tries to research her trip and the surrounding area as much as possible in advance, and tries to find locations that offer lots of activities and amenities on-site as well as local places to visit during the daytime. “I look at where we’re going and what’s around there. I look at our safety and I try not to isolate myself. If we’re going for the first time, I try to make sure that there’s plenty for the kids to do, a beach or somewhere nearby that offers a change of scenery. I don’t want to travel all the way to a faraway place just to stay put.”

However, trips and vacations don’t have to be in distant locales, especially if cost is an issue, as Jane recently experienced first-hand. “I did travel a long way to visit my dad, and while I had gone to visit him, and the goal was not to have a holiday, we did need to get out of the house. We ended up having all kinds of day trips and excursions. Does he have to deal with tantrums and nap time and snack time with his 37-year-old daughter? No, but I am a dietary nightmare making meal times, especially when traveling, a challenge to say the least, so it wasn’t just plain sailing for him. But it was really fun just to explore some of the places locally that we’d never been before or not for a very long time,” she says.

“We went to a pub one evening and my dad told me that he used to come to it when he was young. Apparently, when he was 16, in the summertime he and his friends would get the bus to the village, climb a local hilltop trail and afterward come to the same pub we were at where the two sisters who ran it back then would let the group of teenage boys have half a pint of cider and chips in the beer garden as long as they were ‘no bother.’ It was a happy memory for him, and I never knew about it, or the pub, and it’s only 20 minutes from his home,” says Richter.

Catherine also found that one of her and her daughters’ best trips occurred close to home, just an hour away and also relatively cheaply, as she explains. “During the last school holidays, I went online and found a cheap deal at a hotel in a town just an hour away that had a pool. I looked for activities and places nearby to visit, rec centres, museums and so on, and found some of them had deals on as well. We’d go out during the day, and then come back to the hotel where the girls could swim in the evening. It was an inexpensive trip and the kids had a great time.”

Researching information, finding resources and even joining groups online has been hugely beneficial to Catherine, resulting in her also connecting with other single parents who have been, or are going, to the same places she is considering. “I use Trip Advisor for everything, and I also google the name of the place I’m going along with the term ‘single parent’ to see if there are any online blog posts or reviews posted by single parents who have been there before. I’m also taking my daughters to a family festival this summer, and I joined an online forum of other parents going there who camp together who swap tips and information,” she says.

Of course, there’s always the option of traveling with friends or other single parents with their children. “I have done that in the past,” states Catherine, “and it was good, but we tend to go on our own. We have a pattern we tend to fall into now. We got out during the day, but get back around 7 or 8 o’clock and spend the rest of the evening where we are staying together. We like our time together and the girls always look forward to it,” she says.

While you can always set up automatic withdrawals from your chequing account to a savings account holiday fund, Catherine has also found vacation organizations that facilitate payment over weekly instalments so that by the time your vacation arrives, you’ve already paid in full. “I didn’t notice the small amount coming out of my account each week, and now we don’t have anything to pay for toward our holiday this summer. I found that really helpful,” she says.

So did I have a wonderful time with my son on our trip away together? Most certainly. Did I surf? Let’s put it this way, I was thrilled to stand up for a second or two on the second day. He spent his time doing tricks like surfing backwards and lying down, literally. (Did I mention that I stood up? Yay me!) Was it a relaxing break? Absolutely. But on our last evening, I treated us to a yummy dinner at a posh restaurant and as we left and were walking back toward the car, my about-to-be teenage son, now taller than me and who also now shaves, put his arm around me, gave it a quick squeeze and said, “Thanks, mum.” I’ll never, ever forget that moment and how happy it made me feel. All the effort and manageable (thank goodness for air miles and travel points!) cost had been worth it. Surely that’s one of the main reasons we take our children on vacation anyway, near or far, for a day or a month, for the memories.

Victoria is a freelance writer living in Calgary.

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