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Going solo in the great outdoors… with kids

A reader recently submitted this question:

My hubby has poor health, but I *need* more outdoor time! Any tips for a mom and kids outdoors on their own? Mine are 7, 5, 3, and 2 mos. We live in beautiful western Oregon, but I have a thing for the SW.

-Meaghan

Meaghan, thanks for this excellent question.  It’s something I deal with all the time as a stay-at-home-mom who is also an outside junkie.  I actually really like getting the kids out on my own.   I’m not much of a home body and getting the kids out for a hike or a trip to the lake always seems like a far better alternative than futzing around the house.  Our situations aren’t that different–I’ve got a 5-, 3-, and five-month-old.  Granted you’ve got an extra child, but let’s just call your oldest an extra ‘helper’.

Your style for getting outside with just you and them will be all your own, unique to your personalities and situation, but here are some random suggestions that might make getting out on your own easier.

PS rare photo of me (above) taken by my good friend and awesome photographer Rebekah.

1. Don’t psych yourself out.
It’s not as daunting as it sounds. One less adult can usually be mitigated with better pre-planning.  Remember always what your objective is.  To be outside?  See something new?  Have a wee adventure?

Figure out what you’re going for and ‘settle’ for doing only that thing.  When the kids cry or complain, when something goes awry, when you call it quits early, just remember your objective… “well, my goal was to get outside for awhile today, and we did it!”  Have that attitude in mind before you even leave the house and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to feel good about your solo trip from the moment you’ve locked the front door.

2.  Pre-Plan.
Because being out with your kids can be a bit more stressful (in the beginning) make sure you take the time to pre-plan.

  • Know where you’re going and how to get there so that you don’t have to navigate on your own. For you’re first outing try going somewhere familiar if you’re not feeling up for a ‘new’ adventure just yet.
  • The day before you leave, pack the things you will need. Food, water, first aid kit, extra shoes/clothes, and all the gear you will need for your outing (lake supplies, picnic, hike, sledding etc). Packing the day before keeps the stress level down on the day of. I even keep most of this stuff in a box in my van that stays there always to make packing easier.

Two posts that will help here:

3.  Think of your kids as a bonus instead of a limitation.
Seven and five year olds can carry enough stuff to be useful.  Put them to work!  Also give them each something to remember each time you go on a trip–the things you forget.  They’ll love catching you being forgetful, and love even more actually being useful.

4.  Don’t expect too much.
You don’t have to plan an epic adventure.  Be happy with a trip to a local river or lake or embark on a short hike.  Stay close to the car if that makes it easier.

5. Snacks.
Bring lots. There are not many problems that can’t be solved with snacks.

6. Ask yourself:  “What’s the worst that could happen?”
Worried about losing a child?  Pick a location with a focal point that is likely to keep their attention. Whatever your worst case scenario is, imagine it, figure out how to prevent it, and then ask yourself again, “Now what’s the worst that could happen?”  When the worst thing that could happen is something you can totally handle on your own, you’re ready to go!

Also, since you have little kids of napping age, you might find this post useful as well… The dreaded nap: How to have an outdoor life and a well-rested child (tips for dealing with nap time when you’re out and about)

It’s TOTALLY doable, and even fun (especially if you can con a mom friend to join you). You live in such a beautiful area, you have to take advantage of that. Just take it slow. Start out with a trip lasting a few hours and work up to camp outs. It’ll be great!

Best of luck!

Do you have any additional tips for Meaghan? If so, leave them in the comments section!

17 Comments so far

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  1. Meaghan

    Wow, thanks! Those are great tips, especially the really thinking through what could go wrong and plan for that. And I am going to put a box together to keep in our van. Getting the kids ready just to go to the library takes forever, I love the idea of having hiking stuff all ready! Look forward to any comments from readers!

    • Meaghan – I hope it helped, and look at all these fabulous comments! When (not if) you get out on your adventure let me know how it goes!! It’s gonna be great!

  2. Traci Lehman

    This is a super article! I think many moms are nervous about going out alone, but you can do it.

  3. Great post – it’s definitely daunting at first, but eventually you’ll figure out the logistics that work best for your family, and it’ll become second nature! :)

  4. Love these tips. I like that you “don’t have to plan an epic adventure”. I would suggest starting with a picnic in the park, feeding the ducks at a duck pond, finding local u pick it farms (we love to pick strawberries) and check the website of your state parks for events. You may want to consider joining a mommy group to meet other moms (MOMSClub, MOPS), if you can’t con one of your current mommy friends into your outdoor fun. In large groups, surely there’s another mom who enjoys the outdoors;)

    • Tiffany – Great suggestions! I always forget the simple things, but everything you mentioned is a great way to start. Thanks!!

  5. Awesome article and great tips to apply to outings even when dad comes along. Often I also tag-team with another mom and her kids. Yeah it can double the number of kids…but then you can watch each other’s kids during the inevitable run to the car, bathroom, or kiddo emergency. I also spend a lot of time planning my carrier options…can I carry the youngest on my back or front so i don’t have to worry about them? Can the oldest push the stroller? Do I bring a double stroller for tired legs? Pre-think everything! As best you can…

    • Alyssa – Ya, I guess I could pre-plan better when my husband comes along. I just never do, which I guess explains why getting out the door with 2 parents usually seems more stressful… :)

  6. Becky

    I especially love the bit about how outdoor adventures only need to suit your own particular style and that style can evolve with the advent of children. Right now, for me, a ride around the block with kids on their new wheels at dusk (my favorite time of day!) feels wonderful. So it may be only around my country block, but hey, it takes us a half hour or more. We see horses. Pick all kinds of wild flowers. And it takes no planning what so ever. Just a moments notice and we’re out the door. So for us – for our style and situation – it works. And, as always, we are happier for simply being out together. I love your idea about packing the day before for some real out door adventures. So much less stress! And, if you are already packed, you are much more likely to go!

  7. I do a lot of outdoor stuff with my son during the week when my husband is working and my best advice is to find another mom and kids to join you. I always bring other friends with me on our adventures and it’s great not only for my son, but also for me. I like the extra support. If I need to run into a bathroom for example, my friend can watch my son for a second. We all watch each other’s kids and act as extra eyes/hands for the other moms. The kids just plain enjoy having other kids along on the journey. I even started an outdoor playgroup just so I could meet more stay at home moms with kids the same age as my son who liked to play outdoors.

    • Tanya – I agree, brining along a friend is a great way to go. If anything, other kids keep my kids motivated to keep going on the trail far better than I can! Thanks for the comment!

  8. Interesting. I am a single mother of two and never really thought about the differences. I know that I have to carry everything – kids and gear. I did get good at “striking” (pushing the stroller on crazy hikes and trails). Climbing is difficult and on hold for a bit as I think that needs another adult. I have never done these things with another, so I don’t know any different (thank goodness!).

  9. Great post! As a single mom with outdoorsy tendencies I’ve had to master the great outdoors alone with children. It was scary at first. Our first night camping was a disaster, but looking back it made some great memories… I’ve only got 2 kids, so it may be a little easier, but I imagine the advice would carry over well. Like Lindsey said, put your older kiddos to work, they’ll love it! Let them help pick the adventures. Wherever we go, we check out the area ahead of time and I let them pick out some of the places that interest them as our hiking destinations. And plan, plan, plan! The last thing you want is to be in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of the night, driving around looking for a campsite in the rain (true story)… Spontaneous trips may be fun with significant others or friends, but with the kiddos…. Not so much. The other major thing is to be flexible. Some days out are great, others are a flop, don’t stress, just enjoy the fact that you got out at all. And lastly, if it’s fun for them, they’ll want to keep doing it. If they’re tired, miserable, hungry, etc, they won’t want to spend time outdoors anymore. Happy adventuring!!!!

    • Haley – Thanks for the input, I love it! I was never a planner until I had kids. It is essential!

  10. Amber

    What a great post and great comments from some pretty inspiring ladies. I love the times I spend alone outside with my kids. I feel my relationship with them deepens each time I make the effort (and it’s sometimes a lot of effort) to share the outdoors with them.

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