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kid-free vacation

Tips for Planning (and Actually Enjoying) a Kid-Free Vacation

No one on earth appreciates a quiet beach and a book like the parents of a three-year-old.

Especially when that three-year-old is nowhere in sight.

For a lot of parents, that dream trip remains a dream for years. Instead of indulging in a kid-free vacation, they’re left to scroll and hate-like the Instagram photos of childless friends having fun in the sun.

Time and again, I’ve watched nervous parents of young children broach the idea of a kid-free vacation on social media only to be slammed by judgmental types.

I say, ignore them.

The fact is, you do deserve a break from the kids. And in most cases, you (and the kids) won’t just survive a child-free holiday, you’ll be better for it.

Plus, until the Facebook trolls are getting up three times a night to deal with the non-existent monsters under the bed, answering every time the child says “Mommy?” (and forgets what they were going to ask when you respond), or fighting the urge to scream because someone won’t eat their toast crust … they don’t get a say here.

I speak from experience. I’ve been waving goodbye to my kids and boarding planes for almost 15 years.

Not every trip I take is without them, but many are, and I can promise you that not once over those years has either of my children ever confused my absence with a lack of love for them.

Tips for a Successful Kid-Free Vacation

I credit some key techniques for the fact that my children have come to not only accept but enjoy our time apart. I’m sharing these kid-free vacation tips with you in the hopes that they will inspire you to pack your overnight bag and make a dash for the runway sooner than later.

Keep It Short

If you’ve never left your little one with anyone before, a seven-night Alaskan cruise likely isn’t the best way to test the waters of a child-free vacation. Instead, take the incremental steps necessary to build a foundation of trust that will increase your (and your child’s) confidence in you being away from home.  An overnight with a grandparent or family friend is a great place to practice. If it goes well, you try a little longer down the road. And if it hits a hiccup, you can try it again after figuring out what everyone could do to make it better.

Start as Early as You’re Comfortable

If you’ve never left your kids and they are now tweens, the break is going to be harder on both of you. There’s nothing wrong with waiting—they are your kids and the decision is entirely yours to make. But I’ve found that starting early set up the idea of parental travel as a natural occurrence. Had we waited, we’d have had to change an expectation that we would always take them with us. It can be done, but it would have taken more effort.

Break the News Intentionally

This is no time for surprises. The earlier and more casually you broach the subject, the more time everyone will have to get used to the idea of your child-free vacation. Tone and word choice matter. You aren’t “leaving them,” they’re “having a new adventure.” Stress the positives of their activity and how much fun they’re going to have. I used to tell my kids that it wasn’t a vacation if they weren’t with me—no matter how much fun it seemed I was having.

Don’t Take Your Worry on Vacation

Buy your tickets, book your holiday spot, and then pack your … worry? That makes no sense. Do all your worrying at home, then set up a system that you’re so confident in, you’ll have no worries while you’re away. Overpack the kids’ medical bag, overdo the emergency contact list, send twice the amount of clothes that they’ll need—and then leave knowing you’ve more than prepared the people with whom you’ve entrusted your kids for your time away.

Limit the Check-ins

It can be hard, but while you’re away … be away. When you’re making a plan about how and when you’ll contact them, keep in mind that their needs—not your feelings—should come first.  Calling every night might make you feel better, but for them, it may be a reminder that you aren’t next to them—and that can be harder than if you hadn’t called at all.

Constant calling or check-ins also suggest to the child that you may be lacking confidence in their ability (or your trusted babysitter’s) to manage without you. Instead, leave them the information they need to reach out to you, and talk to your trusted caregiver about how and when it will be used.

Know the Beginning and End Are the Toughest Parts

I love my solo trips and romantic getaways, but there are still plenty of times I miss the kids a lot. The hardest moments of my child-free trips are on the way out the door (when I’m trying to make sure I’ve remembered to tell them everything and tie up loose ends) and on the flight home when all I really want is to get the bear hugs that greet me on my return. Knowing that about myself allows me to enjoy the middle more, and to just let those entry and exit points be what they are. It allows room for the natural emotion without letting it derail the trip.

Reap the Rewards

The greatest gifts that my time away from the kids have given me are the moments when we’re together again. Neither they nor I take our time together for granted. I have never regretted the time away. Kid-free vacations are a reset button for me (or my husband and me) and we are all more engaged with each other. And—thanks to some time away when my focus was on the wine list not the “whine list”—in a much better frame of mind to be the mom/wife they need when I’m back.

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Heather Greenwood Davis is a lifestyle journalist and a National Geographic Travel columnist. Follow her on Twitter @greenwooddavis or keep up with her family’s adventures on

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