The most important consideration when traveling solo with kids is safety. I’ve had two experiences that have made me much more conscious of the problems that can arise when traveling alone especially with toddlers and the importance of having some room in the budget for when they do.
Emergency Room Visits
The very last thing I expected when I took Charlie, then only 8 months old, and Will, who was 2 at the time, to Florida was that one of them would stop breathing and need emergency care. One night as I settled into bed with Charlie, I could tell something was off. Within a few minutes she started having episodes where she stopped breathing. Will was asleep in a pack and play and luckily I was aware that there was a children’s hospital less than a five minute drive away. I packed Charlie in the car seat and rushed both kids to the car and then left my car in the emergency driveway of the hospital and ran in for help. Two nurses quickly grabbed Charlie and she was immediately brought into a room and treated for severe croup. All I really remember at the moment was being in complete shock as she had not been coughing and crying in relief when I knew it was something treatable. As the initial shock subsided, Will, Charlie and myself were all put in a tented room and both children were treated for croup over a 15 hour period. Within the last hour or two, a very kind lady came into the room to discuss with me a sizeable bill.
I am not usually one to purchase trip insurance and to be frank I still do not but I usually travel with a high-limit visa that has been fully paid off. In this case the hospital didn’t ask for my visa on arrival due to the condition Charlie was in but once her breathing was regulated, I immediately had to hand it over. Although my husband’s work insurance covered some of the cost, the hospital visit cost us approximately $2000 US for 15 hours of care and for the two years following we kept receiving bills for additionally fees that had taken longer to process. I have since spoken to parents whose children have broken bones or had somewhat serious accidents out of the country and have heard stories of parents needing their visas to be pre-approved before the doctor would see them or their children. If you are an Ontario resident OHIP does cover some of the expenses but I remember in our case it was a very limited amount.
Whenever I travel alone with the kids my first instinct now is to look around for hospitals and emergency numbers. The fear of something happening would not stop us from travelling but it does make me more cautious. On our latest trip to Jamaica, I chose not to scuba dive at all, even though the risk of something happening to me was quite limited, due to the lack of childcare at the hotel and the amount of time it would take my husband to travel to Jamaica if something serious had occurred.
No matter what country you go to, its good to have a financial back up plan to be able to cover any unforeseen medical emergencies or expenses. Also, you should check to see what your insurance covers and if you are required to pay expenses and then submit your bills for reimbursement or if the insurance company will directly pay the hospital without you having to pay any initial costs.
As most North Americans know travelling in winter can be absolute hell. I have learned that planning long driving trips across America to get to warmer places tends to always end in extra expenses particularly if you encounter a winter storm. On that same Florida trip, I had planned to drive the kids home from Fort Lauderdale to Toronto over a period of 3 days. In a rookie travel error, I enjoyed my last days in Florida without consulting the internet or weather channel travel predictions for the next week. As I was packing up, I began to hear rumbles from friends and family about an on-coming ice storm that was supposed to hit most of the US. By the time we arrived in Kentucky, I knew the weather networks were right. I waited out some bad weather in a local Wendy’s and if things weren’t bad enough, someone stole my Iphone off the table. I realized what had happened, packed the kids up and drove on until we hit Ohio. After hours of bad driving, it was clear that we needed to stop. In the end, we were stuck in Ohio for an extra two days in a Holiday Inn that I literally slid into off the highway. It took approximately 45 minutes to actually remove the ice from my car on the day of departure and we drove straight to Toronto while there was a good weather window. The extra cost of this storm was enormous. Not only did I have the bad luck of someone steeling my phone but I had at least 3 extra nights in hotels as well as food to pay for. Additionally, the car sustained some damage from the storm and needed new wipers before we could even leave Ohio.
The reality of travelling, especially with kids, is that sometimes you have to drive. The cost of the flights to Florida and a month-long car rental would have made this trip impossible for us financially. In retrospect, there is only so much that you can do to prepare for weather issues. Obviously, I should have watched the weather and been more flexible. Our trip dates were completely moveable and had I left three days earlier we would not have encountered the storm at all. The only advice I can offer once you are caught in it is to wait the storm out. The kids may go crazy in a tiny hotel room with limited food options but in reality you are all safe and that is what counts.
For that trip I had stored blankets, pillows, snowsuits, hand and foot warmers and hats and mitts in our minivan. This took up a lot of space but it was important in the end as we might have gotten stuck somewhere that wasn’t so close to a hotel. I also recommend keeping your gas tank as full as possible, storing an extra battery and buying additionally windshield wipers before you leave for your destinations.
Of course weather problems can arise at anytime of the year and fingers crossed I won’t have to write a hurricane post anytime soon.