“Get off your device!”
“Come upstairs so we can eat dinner together.”
“Just tell me one thing you did at school today. Please.”
Sound familiar? These are just three examples of my ongoing trial-and-failure attempt at connecting with my kids. It’s not that we don’t talk. Too frequently, though, it just seems to be rushed or forced.
And their favourite time for chit-chat is, of course, at bedtime — after we’ve brushed teeth, read stories, sung songs and snuggled quietly in the dark for 18 minutes and I’m nearly certain they’ve fallen asleep.
In the past year, however, I’ve taken each of my kids on a trip. Alone. Without a co-parent. Without siblings. The result: happy, easy travel with plenty of time to connect more deeply.
Top tips for 1:1 travel with kids:
1. Let your child help plan the adventure. In our family, vacations inevitably include activities that one of my kids really wants to do but the other doesn’t. So when we started planning our 1:1 vacation, it was important that each kid had the opportunity to choose what we’d do together.
My 10-year-old son had been asking since he was four to go camping. It was always met with “maybe one of these days” brush-offs. Unsurprisingly, he requested a camping trip — with fishing — for our 1:1 getaway.
My ski-bunny eight-year-old, on the other hand, wasted no time asking to take a ski trip together. Most of the time, she’s limited by her brother’s intolerance for long days in the powder and hesitation to do the bigger steeps.
They were already excited to have me all to themselves, but empowering them to help make decisions about how we’d spend our time definitely amped up their anticipation.
2. But make the trip easy on yourself. After all, you’ll be flyin’ solo on this one and even though it’s just you and one child, don’t underestimate how much work it can be. Here’s where travel packages that have all kinds of inclusions — like the trips we took in summer with Wild Adventures Canada to Algonquin Park in Ontario and in winter with Air Canada Vacations to Big White Ski Resort in British Columbia — come in handy. You can book almost everything ahead of time and leave very little to chance at your destination, saving spontaneity for the important stuff (like one versus two helpings of S’Mores).
(Photo credit: @powdermatt)
3. Get out of your comfort zone. Maybe this means learning something new together, sharing a unique experience or pushing yourselves more than you thought you could. There’s something incredibly bonding about trying new things or facing fears together.
Trust me when I tell you that I initially had very little desire to canoe into a remote campground and sleep in a tent. On top of that, I don’t fish and am thoroughly opposed to swimming in lakes. But our Algonquin adventure was made more extraordinary because my kid knew I was doing it for him. It also turned out to be super fun and sleeping in a tent with a mattress pad wasn’t so bad. Plus, having an expert guide cook for us all weekend was pretty sweet.
My 10-year-old, scoping out our home-away-from-home in the Ontario wilderness as we arrive by canoe. (Photo credit: Andrea Traynor/@mommygearest)
At Big White, my daughter and I booked a private ski lesson and decided we wanted to make it to the mountain’s 7,606-foot summit — accessible only by a T-bar during our visit. Despite our many ski trips, riding a T-bar was new to both of us and this one’s 1,093-foot ascent was one for the books. We skied to base camp feeling incredibly accomplished and talk about the T-bar trek to this day.
4. Ditch the devices in the safe or go somewhere without WiFi. Don’t get me wrong — for the road trip or plane ride, I’m totally onboard with electronics. But once you reach your destination, find a safe place to store both of your devices so they aren’t out in the open tempting you.
Alternatively, you can vacation like it’s 1982 and go somewhere that doesn’t have cellular service at all. Our canoe trip was off the grid and we simply didn’t bother turning anything on for three days because there was no point. On our second day, my son turned to me and said, “I thought it would be way harder than this.” And you know what? He was right.
We tented, we fished, we shared new things. Together. (Photo credit: Andrea Traynor/@mommygearest)
5. Throw out the rule book (temporarily!). We’re a bit militant when it comes to bedtimes and nutrition with our kids, so making exceptions on vacation feels extra-special. Instead of a strict bedtime, consider a late-night tête-a-tête over a shared dessert. Perhaps breakfast one morning is an over-the-top feast that would normally be reserved for the holidays.
One of the restaurants at Big White had “The Ultimate Hot Chocolate” on its menu; I normally wouldn’t order a $5 beverage full of whipped cream, marshmallows and sprinkles for my 60-pound kid — but for our 1:1 trip, it seemed like an indulgent must-have. We also had an impromptu dance party in our hotel room one morning before the crack of dawn. Just because.
The Ultimate Hot Chocolate at Big White is The Ultimate Rule-Breaker. (Photo credit: Andrea Traynor/@mommygearest)
6. Really talk. Whether you’re spending two hours in a canoe or 15 minutes on a chair lift together, this is where the magic happens. Between intimately shared experiences and fewer distractions than you have at home, you’ll have plenty of one-on-one time when you vacation together — the perfect opportunity to reconnect with your child. You’ll be able to get beyond the daily small talk. This is the time to dig into topics that might not be appropriate around younger siblings or could be embarrassing to chat about in front of the other parent.
7. Rinse and repeat. Once you’re home, talk about other ways you can steal 1:1 time during the week. Go through pics from your trip and make a photo album or scrapbook together and re-live the awesome memories. Start a 1:1 vacation vision board for your next trip — even if it’s five years away.
If a 1:1 getaway isn’t in the cards right now, start with a tea party in your bedroom or lunch together at your kid’s favourite restaurant. Take your tween to High Tea at a fancy hotel or invite your teen to spend an afternoon in the kitchen learning a family recipe from you.
The way I see it, the more I can convince my kids when they’re little that hanging out with their mom is cool, the better my chances are they’ll choose to talk to me about the big stuff down the road.
Disclosure: Consideration may have been provided by brands mentioned in this post.