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When I first started travelling alone with my kids I was terrified. With Hux a tiny nappy-wearing milk guzzling baby and Elfie having medical needs that necessitates the carrying of syringes through airports, it seemed the solo parent holiday milestone would be too complicated to hit.
I took my mum as emotional and practical support on our first holiday as a threesome – a cruise – and though she and I nearly threw each other overboard at one point (spending a week living with your mum in a ship’s cabin as a grown-up is a definite learning experience) it was a total pleasure. And so I persisted on my single parent holiday journey: we discovered the brilliant holiday company Mark Warner and have now been on four holidays with them. The first to Lakitira in Kos, a ski holiday in Tignes and twice to the brilliant Levante resort in Rhodes.
“Two children came along, one husband departed, and all of a sudden it became a hell of a lot more important to prioritise convenience on holiday over living like a local”
Pre-kids I’d never been on an all-inclusive resort holiday and instead favoured michelin star restaurants with rooms: I had lofty ideas about being a ‘traveller’ over a ‘holiday-maker’, spending time exploring little-known Greek islands, bartering at Souks and eating in local restaurants. But then two children came along, one husband departed, and all of a sudden it became a hell of a lot more important to prioritise convenience over living like a local. Backpacks and winging it on local buses were no more: all I needed was a side of sunshine with my Samsonite, and if that came with an order of a UK-qualified Nanny-led Kids Club then quick, pack the Trunkis, WHO DO I GIVE MY CREDIT CARD TO?
There are no two ways about it, going on a solo parent holiday is nerve-racking. Not only do you have the logistics of co-ordinating the cross-continent luggage, travel and organisation of your family unit alone, but you have that awful new-school feeling of arriving at your destination amongst nuclear families of four with no best friend (i.e. husband) to use as a comfort blanket. If you’re anything like me you’ll overthink this, worry about the (mostly non-existing) judgement from the married parents, fret that your kids will feel somehow different or suddenly notice there isn’t a dad on holiday with you (as if they haven’t lived all of their lives this way), and overcompensate by being overly cheerful and drinking too much Sangria (hi).
That being said, I’ve had some of the best holiday experiences on the summer solo parent trips I’ve been on with Mark Warner. For a start their resorts are all completely plug-and-play: they might not sate the appetite of the most intrepid traveller, but rock up with your kids and your holiday garb and you need not leave the resort if you don’t want to.
They have everything you could possibly want, including that UK-qualified Nanny-led kids club which is inclusive in the holiday price, and this really makes the whole experience for me. I adore my kids and want to spend as much time with them as possible when we’re away, but at the same time I think it’s excellent that I can leave them in the hands of experienced and fun caregivers while I read a book in the sunshine for an hour or two.
The children were hesitant to spend time away from me in the kid’s club the first year we went away – Hux was four and Elfie six – but now when we holiday it’s something we all actively look forward to. And, crucially to ease the guilt I feel for pulling the kids out of school during term time (I can’t afford the same trip during the summer holidays), they spend time learning new skills like windsurfing and kayaking.
There’s also no way you can underestimate the importance of the evening video club, either. Feed your children supper while sipping a happy hour pina colada, then drop them off with their new friends to watch a movie and play board games while you eat a quiet dinner (with both hands) while chatting to other grown-ups.
I’m a social being when I’m on holiday and one of the things I love about Mark Warner is their willingness to cater to people like me, solo parent holiday-makers who don’t want to sit upstairs all night eating a room service dinner. They run what they call ‘social dinners’, big tables of travellers who would rather chat and mingle on holiday. In the early days I’d approach these tables with trepidation, those first day of school feelings arising again. But I’ve met some incredibly interesting people this way, other single parents, married parents, retired parents.
Yes, I sometimes feel like I have to approach the groups of socialising adults with promises that I’m only looking for people to laugh at my jokes, not for a new husband (I don’t know if any other single mums worry that other women on holiday will think they’re predatory?: “I can’t handle my own husband” I want to tell them, “I don’t want yours”), but the whole experience of being solo on holiday has been overwhelmingly positive.
The evening kid’s clubs kick out at about 10pm, giving you just enough time for you to share a bottle of Rosé with your new holiday pals, before moving on to the remainder of the evening’s entertainment. There are singers, there are dancers: this would all have sounded terribly, well, terrible, back in the days when I fancied myself as a ‘traveller’. But one happy hour pina colada and two glasses of local wine in and all of a sudden it’s the best evening you’ve ever had and you can do the floss like an 8 year old in full flow.
One of my favourite evenings of the solo parent holiday last year was the night we did Tipsy Tennis, a game that is exactly as it sounds – tennis with added drinks. Admittedly I’m not great at brandishing a racquet at the best of times but I thought this would be a little like my approach to bowling; chuck a little booze into the mix and it refines your hit and aim (though not too much booze, otherwise you’ll get sloppy).
I might not have won at this game of hitting a foam ball after three glasses of sangria but the real winners, our friends we met on the social table, let us hold their very legitimate and not at all home-made trophy. And that was good enough for me.
It’s coming up to holiday season again and I can’t WAIT to go away with my two favourite people once more. I’m in the process of deciding if we head for Levante for a third time – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I guess? – or whether we head for their brand new property in Paleros. Wherever we choose I know there’ll be an absolutely huge amount of fun, laughter, and yep, pina coladas.