I only took one of my kids on vacation. Here’s why you should, too

Apr 25, 2022

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Whenever I find myself cleaning crushed Cheerios out of hotel room carpet or lugging three car seats through the airport, I am reminded that there is a difference between “traveling with kids” and “vacation.”

To fulfill the need for actual “vacations,” my husband and I travel solo on a regular basis (sorry, boys). But traveling with my kids is just as important to me as traveling without them. I want them to have new experiences and learn about the world outside of our small town in Indiana.

To strike that balance between whatever traveling with a family of five should be called and an actual vacation, my husband and I recently took just our oldest son on a weekend trip to Universal Orlando. We had a fun, relaxing weekend — and I’m planning to make it a point to do the same thing with my two younger sons.

Here’s how – and why – I recommend planning sans-sibling trips with your kids.

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In This Post

Less stressful to plan

Child on escalator with suitcase
Traveling is much easier when everyone can carry their own suitcase. (Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

My sons are currently 8, 5 and 3. When our family travels together, I have to find hotel rooms or vacation rentals that don’t appear to have too many sharp edges or easily breakable furnishings and can comfortably accommodate all five of us. I can spend hours, or sometimes days, searching for a place to stay even after we’ve settled on a destination.

Then there’s the packing. Our suitcases are loaded with sippy cups, swim diapers, arm floaties for the pool and enough snacks to answer every, “I’m hungry!” with a baggie of Goldfish or granola bar before a tantrum breaks out.

There’s no way around it. The fewer kids we travel with, the fewer things we have to bring — and the easier it is to find somewhere to stay. It’s not the most important reason to travel with only one kid, but if your vacation goal is stress reduction, it’s one worth mentioning.

More suited to their preferences

Child and mom standing outside roller coaster entrance
My oldest son is the only one tall enough for VelociCoaster at Universal Orlando. (Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

My oldest son is 8 years old and while he is nowhere near outgrowing the magic of Disney World, he is a huge fan of the thrill rides down the road at Universal Orlando Resort.

Bigger thrill levels mean taller height requirements. He is the only one of our three kids that is tall enough for rides like Revenge of the Mummy, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and The Incredible Hulk Coaster.

That last one is one of the primary reasons for our visit to Universal. During a visit last summer, he was not quite tall enough to ride Hulk. He was so close that his hair brushed the line for the 54-inch height requirement, so we knew he would be tall enough next time we visited the park.

Child and mom standing in front of roller coaster
Finally tall enough to ride The Incredible Hulk Coaster. (Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

Sure enough, when we visited last weekend he had more than bypassed the height requirement and we were able to celebrate that special moment with him.

For the rest of the day, I (mostly) let him lead the way. If he wanted to skip a ride I had suggested in favor of something else, I let him. I wanted the day to be about him — and other than my request to sit on the motorbike rather than the sidecar on Hagrid’s, it was.

More suited to their age and developmental level

Family standing in front of Hogwarts Castle at Universal Orlando
This trip was all about my oldest son. (Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

We’ve taken plenty of theme park vacations as a family, but it sometimes feels like the youngest ones are just along for the ride (especially when I think back to a few years ago when the younger two spent most of the day in the stroller as we bounced from ride to ride).

By the end of the day, they didn’t want to go anywhere near the stroller. They wanted to use their little legs to expend all their pent-up energy. Our oldest, on the other hand, hadn’t had the same limitations because he was older and able to do more on his own.

Being the oldest isn’t always an advantage. We’ve run into the opposite issue when visiting places geared more toward younger kids. There are times when my oldest was bored out of his mind while the younger two were happily playing at a children’s museum or hotel splash pad.

It can be tough to find activities that appeal to a toddler, preschooler and third-grader. When I’m only planning activities for one child, it’s much easier to find activities that he will find fun and engaging.

On this trip, that meant roller coasters and bottomless Butterbeer, but it could also mean taking my dinosaur-obsessed toddler to Chicago’s Field Museum or taking my preschooler camping so he can make s’mores over a campfire (something he requests often).

I can give them individual attention

Child on airplane
I let my son choose his seat on the airplane. Just like mom, he prefers the window. (Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

I definitely see the importance in teaching my kids to share and helping them understand the world doesn’t revolve around them, but my mom guilt sometimes kicks in when I realize that none of my kids get much one-on-one time.

When my husband and I spent the weekend at Universal with our oldest, I was able to have uninterrupted conversations with him (a true novelty in our family) and find out what’s going on in that little head of his.

Of course, it was difficult not to feel guilty about leaving the other two behind, but they are young enough that a “sleepover party” at my mom’s house is still their idea of a good time. It didn’t hurt that we brought them each home a stuffed dinosaur, either. As they get older, it may be a little tougher for them to understand, but hopefully the promise of their own solo trip will hold them over.

Bottom line

Most of us (myself included) can’t afford to take an endless number of vacations every year, but solo time with your kids doesn’t have to mean a week away with each one. You can do a weekend or overnight trip or plan a “staycation” where you stay in town and let your child plan the day’s meals and activities.

We came home from our weekend away with some silly inside jokes and new memories that will strengthen our bond for years to come. I know we all cherished our special weekend together and I can’t wait to take my other kids on solo vacations.

Featured image by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy.

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