Mentally exhausted mom? Read on.
But first, a warning: This article is NOT for everyone. This is an article about mothers doing solo travel for self care. It is about how to refresh by taking a “Momcation”.
It is not for people who hate solo travel. It is not for people who are feeling content right now with exactly how their home flow is going. This is not for women who have zero desire to be away from their children for any amount of time.
Further, to be practical, this article is not for people in the situation where being away from home for 24+ hours would cause undue stress (ex: nursing mothers who, like me, found pumping torturous and not vacation-like at all).
So who is this article on trips alone for, then?
This article is for people who are — like I was in June of this past year — on the verge of a mental meltdown from the day in and day out of parenting young children.
It is for women who — though they love their family to the moon and back — are being swirled by the cyclical churn of cooking, cleaning, caring, and constantly giving as a mother. It is for any burned out caregivers, in fact.
It is for women who — despite not wanting to trade their current situation for anything — sometimes ache with nostalgia for aspects of their previous life… that life which involved one bag and two minutes to get out the door instead of 3 diaper bags and 15 tantrums.
It is for people who know that even one day spent alone in a new place will refresh and renew them. With that established, let’s get into it.
How to do fun solo travel as a mom:
1. Understand why adventures alone are vital.
It took several years of life as the mother of two young kids to realize why I didn’t feel like myself anymore, despite adoring those little sweeties: Before I was married, my favorite way to reboot was solo travel. I assumed that as a mother, that was no longer an option — and that made me dejected.
Happily, it has become clear that trips alone do NOT need to stop after kids. Through a series of conversations with my family, and logistical arrangements that I shall share in the subsequent sections, I began short trips alone again — and what a difference they made!
Do not underestimate the power of one single night away from dinner and dish duty. The rejuvenating effects of time away make us better parents… and people! Now, how to begin?
2. Start your “Momcation” small and inexpensive.
Let’s face it: It’s a big deal for a mother to do a solo trip for pleasure. Society, emotions, and logistics can derail that first launch from the nest.
To support success, therefore, I’d suggest making your first trip away short — one or two nights max — and within an easy drive or efficient direct flight home. Being relatively close diminishes stress about any (highly unlikely but still nervous-making) need to rush back.
Why should the first solo trip be inexpensive? More expensive trips can be stressful, pushing for you to have a perfect, full-out time, 100% of the trip. With an affordable first trip, all you have to think about is clearing your head by whatever self-care you actually need… including sleeping all day or wandering aimlessly around a new town.
So, how can a Momcation be done affordably? It starts with your choice of location.
3. The Best Places to Travel Alone Are…
Answer: It’s not what you think! The first key is that the destination must be easy and affordable to visit — and beyond that, it doesn’t matter if it’s flashy or famous. let’s break this down point by point.
A) Map out destination options by transportation radius.
If you’re driving or taking a bus, check a map for intriguing spots within a 2.5-hour radius. Using social media to crowd-source the question of “Where is fun for a short visit near us?” can yield tips on fabulous small towns that weren’t on your radar before.
If you’re flying, use the “Everywhere” feature on Kayak or Skycanner (affiliate link) to unearth direct flights of 3 hours or shorter that are on sale. It was in this way that I found my discount Colorado mountains escape last summer! Got a few options in mind? Let’s move to the next step.
B) Assess savings on accommodations.
Once you’ve identified a few possible destinations, think about which ones will have either friends you could stay with (thus eliminating hotel costs), or inexpensive accommodations, such as off-season deals. Browsing sites like TripAdvisor (affiliate) or apps like HotelTonight can reveal surprise discounts. During a random Momcation to Minneapolis, I was able to use that app to find a 4-star hotel for a fraction of its usual price!
Regarding staying with friends: Remember that “solo travel” often doesn’t mean being fully alone. It just means there is some part of the trip (sometimes the transportation) during which you have time by yourself to clear your head. A weekend away with an old friend can be the perfect thing to refresh your soul after being deep in mom world.
In fact, most of my “solo travel” during the year I spent abroad (before marriage and kids) consisted of staying in hostels and meeting new people to travel with in the common area. Traveling alone just means you have the freedom to step away at any time, which is the refreshing element.
C) Investigate walkability and feelings of safety.
The next tip on picking a perfect, affordable destination for your Momcation: Select a spot that is either walkable (with food and entertainment less than a mile from your accommodations), or has everything you need right where you’re staying (like a resort).
Why? Transportation isn’t exactly relaxing, and thus it’s a lot nicer for your mini-vacation to not necessitate hopping in a vehicle every few hours just to get food or entertainment. It’s often worth it to pay a little more for accommodations to stay closer to what you want to eat and do, since you ultimately save money on transport.
Finally, in selecting a destination for solo travel, the question that always comes up is safety. This means something different to each person, but feeling safe is paramount to a happy Momcation (for both you and the people at home), so don’t skimp on making sure you get this settled.
For some, it means staying in a town with people you know, so they could help out if you feel lost, lonely, or nervous. For others, it means being at a higher-tier hotel, or staying right in a populated area full of tourism infrastructure. For still others, it means selecting a destination where friends have already visited and reported they felt good there.
For me, a solo trip to Dubai while 5 months pregnant with our second child felt fine to me because I was staying with my former second grade teacher who had moved there with his family. For others, that would not have been a match for relaxation as a mom. Do what works for YOU!
Now that we’ve got the destination and figured out how to make it affordable, let’s hit the often harder part: How to make the family logistics work.
4. Arrange childcare and home duty logistics.
A) Plan your trip’s timing to work with those helping.
The childcare piece is the part that usually dictates when a Momcation should take place, because getting someone (even a beloved partner) to help with kids for the 1.5-3 days you’ll be away is no small ask.
What’s worked well for us is finding a time when another family member will be in town to support my husband with childcare, or driving the whole family out to live briefly with extended family (plus partner) while I’m away.
When this is not possible, we time my trips for days when my partner has a lighter work-load, and proactively hire supplementary babysitters. (Note: I know this is expensive, and will address the money element in a subsequent section.)
Having all childcare — including backup logistics and emergency plans — meticulously arranged before departing is key for a revitalizing, relaxed Momcation.
B) Investigate what will make it worthwhile for your family.
To reiterate: It can be a big deal for a mother to leave her kids for a solo vacation, even for one night. It’s therefore essential that the person or people doing the childcare while she’s away feel positive about the arrangement. In the past, I didn’t believe it was possible… but have since realized the secret: Everyone has something they want.
We often think that for others to support us in solo travel, that means we need to support others in doing solo travel of their own (in exact 1:1 correspondence), but it doesn’t work that way. Balance and fairness are in the soul, not in mathematical equivalence.
What will make it worthwhile for your partner or helping party to be alone with kids for 24 hours may be something random like: “In return, you’ll take my dishwashing chore for the following week,” or, “In return, you’ll cheerfully support me going to the neighborhood basketball games once a week this month.”
If you think your spouse wouldn’t want you to travel, curiously investigate. Ask questions to figure out what it is THEY want in life and marriage that they’ve been afraid to ask for, because this is their chance to negotiate for it in return for your trip. There is always something that makes a new thing worth it to try for a person.
C) Know that leaving for a short time HONORS your family.
This is the essential mind-shift in embracing traveling alone for self-care as a mother: By leaving (albeit for a day or three), you are honoring your partner, family, and children’s competence.
I vividly remember getting back from a solo trip to Turkey, during which time my husband had been the primary caregiver for our young son. Not only was the house in better shape than before I left, but my husband and son had created a sweeter and deeper bond than I’d ever seen them display.
“It was hard while you were away,” my husband explained, “but I felt really good knowing you trusted me to take care of everything, and I’m proud of the job I did!”
This is part of the power of a Momcation: Stepping away from the usual routine helps us to not only appreciate each other more, but also to form new and deeper bonds within the family.
D) Arrange time to reconnect after the Momcation.
Being alone is revitalizing and exciting, but if you don’t build in clear time to reconnect with your loved ones after your trip, resentment can ensue. (We figured this one out the hard way!)
If you have a partner, scheduling a date night (with a paid babysitter) so you can go out for a walk or dinner to debrief about your adventures apart is worth every penny. If family is primarily helping out when you’re away, considering doing a lunch or dinner all together to close the circle of thankfulness for all.
Sometimes it helps a partner to know there is a romantic getaway for you two as a couple on the calendar for the future, so see if you can book one of those together for the same year as your Momcation.
You want everyone involved to have a great experience with your solo travels so you can do them again! With those logistics arranged, let’s move to the big one: Money.
5. How to save money for solo travel.
The answer to this one is similar to my advice on how to exercise when you don’t want to: It is not a question. If you know, as I did shortly after having kids, that you would lose a part of yourself if you couldn’t travel alone anymore, you will find a way to make the finances work.
To reiterate: a Momcation needn’t cost much at all, and in fact, probably shouldn’t. Here’s an example of a very cheap way to do it:
A) Call a friend who lives 40 minutes away who you know has an extra couch. Ask her if you can stay there for a night in exchange for taking her out to eat. She replies, “No problem, but I have a busy day tomorrow, so you’ll be on your own most of the day.” Perfect!
B) Arrange with your partner, family, or friends to watch your kids for the next 24 hours in exchange for something that will make it worthwhile to them, which works for you.
C) Set off by car, bus, or public transport to your friend’s house. Have a great heart-to-heart dinner out at an affordable local restaurant. Go to bed early.
D) In the morning while your friend is out, wander her town, taking time to sip coffee and browse bookstores (instead of feeding other people). Maybe curl up and watch a movie, or spend time in the town library, journaling. A change of scene is transporting!
E) Pack up, thank your friend, and head back home to the embrace and appreciation of family. Total cost: Under $50 and total time: Under 24 hours. Revitalizing effect: Powerful.
Sound doable? It is! Now for some closing logistics.
6. Final tips on making your Momcation great…
A) Pack as “easy” as possible.
Note that I didn’t say “pack light”. If it’s easy for you to pack light, it can be very liberating, and makes it simpler if you’re flying. That said, sometimes it’s easiest to just throw a bunch of things you love into a medium-sized suitcase. It saves decision-making stress, and also eases the panic of wondering whether you’ll have everything you’ll want upon arrival.
B) Embrace the exhilaration of take-off.
One of my favorite parts of solo travel is the initial take-off. Whether you’re in a car, bus, or plane, savor that first leap out of the gate into your own private world. For the next day or three, you are only yourself, doing and being whatever YOU want.
C) Lock in that solo trip so your future shines.
Treat yourself — don’t freeze! Taking a Momcation changes everything for the better, so find some way to lock it in and get it on the calendar, so the future you’re living into is exciting. Buying a plane or bus ticket is one classic way to do this, as is booking a hotel or making a restaurant reservation. Get it in writing!
Is it Worth it to Take a Solo Vacation?
YES! For further help on Momcation logistics, check out this guide from the wonderful Tawanna Brown Smith. While I cannot guarantee that your first solo trip after having kids will be perfect or even 100% safe (disclaimer!), I CAN guarantee that even 24 hours of distance WILL help clarity — even if it’s the clarity of making you realize that you never want to travel alone again.
As the brilliant work of Esther Perel (affiliate) illuminates, we often think that the way to closeness as a wife and mother is by… closeness. In fact, however, space, temporary separation, and even risk can often be the most effective route to deep reconnection with the family unit.
Quite a profound and revolutionary thought: By taking that vacation by and for yourself, it may not just help you, but may also contribute to all those around you as well. Onward to appreciation and revitalization!