I’m on a 3-week roadtrip with my kids as a single mom and no, I’m not crazy


Greetings from my family’s third annual Midwestern road trip!

You can read about trips in years past here:

I’m a single mom going on a 10-day road trip with two preschoolers and it will be awesome

I’m a single mom and I went on a 10-day road trip with two preschoolers and it was terrible. Terribly awesome!

6 tips for taking a road trip with little kids as a single mom — and enjoying it

For the record, every year my kids and I go on this trip (they are now 5 and 7). We have a small Subaru Impreza hatchback, don’t bring a tablet, and spend our many hours on the road listening to audio books (Stuart Little is a tradition– great travel story!), podcasts, singing along with the radio and talking. Oh, and being silent. I didn’t realize that I am an anomaly in this regard until the Wall Street Journal last year interviewed me about my renegade no-iPad road trip practice.

I realize most people think I am a renegade, and by renegade, they really mean a total moron, for traveling alone for so many hours with children. I’m no moron, and I’m also no hero. All this feigned “admiration” and quizzing/judging only  speaks to the general over-parenting/coddling trend that complicates parenting and stresses out adults and children alike. I mean, read Little House on the Prairie. The Engels and their gaggle of girls were on the road for MONTHS. WITHOUT AN iPAD. And while I suspect that Mary and Laura probably took turns beating the crap out of each other with a plastic hairbrush for 15 minutes just like my kids did last night, everyone lived to have bestselling memoirs and a prime-time spin-off created in their likeliness about how normal they all were.

The other point: Everyone assumes that single motherhood is so prohibitively impossible that a meager American rite of passage (the great road trip) is beyond their ability.

To which I say: Eff that.

This trip, just five days in, reminds me how much I love traveling with my kids. How they are really on their best behavior when on the road. With so much to entertain and engage them, with so much of my undivided attention and with a break from our usual (often grueling) routine, they are a delight, hairbrush pummeling aside. In other words, people are full of crap. They tell you that you are crazy for traveling alone with your kids because they don’t think they can do it. Don’t let others define what you are capable of. You’re raising children alone for crying out loud. You’ve been through a hell of a lot worse than grumpy children whining for McDonalds while a sign reading ‘Next rest stop 40 miles’ whizzes by. Let’s put things in perspective. Personally, touring around the beautiful upper United States in summer with two of my favorite people is a hell of a lot easier than being cooped up in a Queens apartment with those same people. But that is just me.

car morghan

This year we started off in the Catskills with my single mom BFF Morghan and her parents rented a lake house and invited us. Despite the perpetual rain, the kids had a great time fishing, beating the crap out of each other and playing board games while Morghan and I caught up on work news, men news and drinking. The kids are like cousins, having grown up knowing each other while their single moms, who are like sisters, got their acts together, and it was a great sendoff for the rest of our voyage. Thanks guys!

h fish

Five hours later: Niagra Falls, bitches! Inside scoop: Stay on the Canadian side, which is about 5,000x nicer, cleaner and prettier than the New York side. We did the whole scene in about 18 hours: takeout eaten on a picnic blanket at Victoria Park, taking in the falls, a dip in the hotel pool, an hour of Canadian Broadcast kids’ TV, bed. Then breakfast at the hotel, a Hornblower falls boat tour, lunch at Canadian fav Tim Hortons and on the road again. Single mom insider tip: Make sure you get your ex to sign a travel consent form, or else the very cute, ripped, blond Canadian border agent will grill you and make you wish you had. Take it from me.

kids niagra

Last night we landed in Charlevoix, Michigan where we are staying for nine days in a giant, 5-bedroom historic house. For free, thanks to my new obsession, HomeExchange.com, which connects travelers who want to swap homes. For free.  So the lovely couple whose house we are trying not to destroy is staying in my New York City apartment and (presumably) feeding our cat and watering the plants. More on this arrangement later.

Later next week we will head to Chicago, Milwaukee and Northern Illinois to spend time with friends and family, before heading home. I’ll document more of our shenanigans
here, and you can follow my photos on Facebook here. 

How about you? What are your plans for this summer? What have you done recently as a single mom that others said was crazy/impossible/stupid? Share in the comments!



Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.

Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.

A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

23 thoughts on “I’m on a 3-week roadtrip with my kids as a single mom and no, I’m not crazy

  1. Not sure why, perhaps it’s the feeling of being overwhelmed with making travel plans, but I have so much anxiety with traveling with just my daughter and I. I know we could create such great memories and I need to but the anxiety away. any thoughts/ideas.

      1. A good idea… plus i just wanted to say it was very nice of you to reply and take your time to give a suggestion.

      2. Thanks for the response. Guess I’ll bite the bullet and go where we want to go. Just pick a spot and go. Thanks again

  2. Ahhh! I LOVE road trips. Another good book on tape is To Kill a Mockingbird. You trip sounds truly great!

    This summer we are doing a bunch of camping – never more than a 5 hour drive from home. I’m looking forward to the day I can take a few weeks off work and take us on our third big road trip of my son’s life. In the meantime – will live vicariously through your Facebook photos!

    1. So great – travel doesn’t have to be expensive. Even staying a weekend with friends can be fun and give you a fresh new POV. Keep us posted!

  3. So brave but so good for other single mums, I too was a single mum but played it safe driving a short distance to a resort, so I really admire you.
    Re-married and that is when the real fun started for my kids (I was a widow for 6 years) then 36 years with the most wonderful man, hope this happens to you one day, don’t look for him you will find each other, I believe in fate.
    Glad you loved the Canada side and welcome to Canada when you next visit.


    1. Hey Jennie – Thanks for the good wishes and so nice to hear of your good fortune. I was just chatting with the guy I’m dating and we were singing Canada’s praises (his whole life he has spent summers on the St. Lawrence River).

  4. Thank you for posting such an empowering message! My husband and I recently split and I am really enjoying tackling adventures on my own and proving that I CAN do this shit. First up: digging up a whole area of my yard to build a deck. I did `12 wheelbarrow-fulls on my own first (including a trip to the dump where I not only unloaded the dirt from our utility trailer but I also backed it up into a tiny space LIKE A BOSS). For the rest of the digging I am recruiting friends, because I am not crazy or a glutton for punishment… but it was unbelievably awesome to prove that I could do this shit on my own if I needed to.

    Next up: camping road trip on my own with a 3 year old. I’ve done it with friends twice so far this summer and am going to try it once on my own. Tips welcome!

    (and thanks for the shout-out to Tim Horton’s and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls!!)

    1. Hahhaha! SO PROUD OF YOU!! Yes you can do this shit!! Let’s start a thread on the forum:

      “Shit single moms can do”

      I have lots of fond memories of my own single mom when I was growing up doing all kinds of shit: laying carpet and building shelves, etc. Getting in a computerized car and driving on very safe roads around a first world country is not that big of a deal :)

  5. Hi there!
    Reading this came at the perfect time for me! I am a “single mom” getting ready to travel with 6 girls (ages 1-15), by myself, to the Mall of America! this is my first big trip with them so I am excited yet a little worried. I am hoping for the best tho!

  6. Well, July 4 made my 11th year as a single parent. My husband passed away suddenly on July 4, 2004, when my son was just 4. Ironically, July 4th was my husband’s favorite holiday; he loved the fireworks. This could be a very sad time of the year every year if I let it be. But, I try to plan something fun for that day and share the love my husband had for fireworks with our son. This past holiday was spent visiting with family in Virginia and at Water Country.

    Unfortunately, I am not a wealthy widow. I am a working widow. Fortunately, I had a teacher’s license when my husband died, and I left my previous job to return to teaching high school in 2008. This gave me school vacations and summers off with my son. While I took quite a large pay cut to do so and have had to live rather frugally to afford the trips, it has been worth it. During this time, we have had some amazing road trips to visit relatives — Canada, Florida, and Michigan (we live near Greenville, North Carolina). We travel fairly frequently to Delaware and South Carolina to visit with his half siblings (all in their 30s with families of their own–I married a widower with 3 teenagers in 1998). My son was 4 when his dad died. He will be 16 on August 4. The plan for next summer is to drive across the country to California. It will be nice to have another licensed driver to share the driving. I feel that as long as I have my GPS, my cell phone, and my AAA membership I can go anywhere in the USA! (I wish I had the money to travel internationally with my son. Perhaps that will be something I can share with my grandchildren one day.) e Thanks for your posts. Your stories are inspirational to me.

    1. Oh this is great! I think about going to the Rockies and California, but not quite yet ready to go ALLLLL the way across country by car yet. In a couple years, maybe :) You inspire ME!

  7. Thank you so much for these posts. You’ve inspired me to take my kids (5 & 7) away next week when I had been planning to have a ‘holiday at home’ instead. I can do this!!

  8. Good for you! That’s right; we get to create family memories as well. Last road trip I took was when I was big and fat and 6 mos. pregnant. I drove to San Diego for the weekend and went on a whale-watching cruise. Someone asked me if I was whale-watching for two! During the cruise, dozens of dolphins jumped out of the sea and swam right past the boat. I tell my child that they were coming to say, “Welcome, [child’s name].”

  9. I just want to say THANKS! You are completely correct, I hear from so many people about the things I just “can’t” do because I’m a single mommy. You have inspired me to really challenge those ideas and discover what is best for me and my kids. I long to take the traditional road trip and I have sat in fear instead of planning a trip. Enjoy your vacation, I will be taking one with my kiddos soon! Also, I totally agree with you on the IPad decision.

    1. Hey – thanks Dana! We’re 2.5 weeks in and no one is missing a TABLET! And only a couple of meltdowns, which is less than in real life :) Keep us posted on your travels and other single mom adventures (but isn’t everyday a delightful adventure? ;) ) .

  10. I am giving you some credit. My family would drive me up a wall if I had to take a road trip with them. My mom and I went from IL to WA one time and that was enough for me haha. Luckily we get a long really well…


    “Don’t let others define what you are capable of. You’re raising children alone for crying out loud. You’ve been through a hell of a lot worse than grumpy children whining for McDonalds while a sign reading ‘Next rest stop 40 miles’ whizzes by. Let’s put things in perspective. ”

    Mad respect for that. This is what I am telling my single mother clients all the time. They often seem to focus on the negative until I stop them and tell them, “Listen. You’re a single mom raising a kid! And you’re doing a damn good job of it. That’s something a lot of people can’t do. You have to give yourself credit. You deserve it more than anyone.”

    Hope your vacay is going well,

    Elliot Scott

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