Two and a half years after Roni Dagan’s husband died, she and her seven-year-old son, Gal, found solace in places far from home.
They didn’t confine themselves to a single location. The act of traveling itself is what has brought Dagan and her child joy — something they started after that first year of grieving.
Before she had Gal, she lived in the United States, and traveled to India and Ibiza.
“To have adventures and to explore — this is freedom to me. And Gal is in the place where I can do that with him,” Dagan told CNBC Travel. “That loss … it made me realize … you just have to go and do the things that you love to do.”
Dagan, who runs her own marketing firm in Tel Aviv, Israel, has spent the past year and a half traveling as often as possible with Gal. They’ve camped in the deserts of Egypt and snorkeled in the Red Sea. They also did a safari in Tanzania and visited Bulgaria last summer.
The pair just spent six weeks on the Greek island of Syros with Boundless Life, a travel company for “slow-traveling” families. She said the trip pushed them out of their comfort zones, but checked three critical boxes: she had time to work, her son engaged in educational and social activities during the day, and the trip gave the feeling of “living” someplace else.
“I wouldn’t do this on my own. You need to have community; you need to have coverage when you’re traveling on your own as a single mom,” she said. “Here, there’s always someone you can count on to help you out if you need to.”
Work, school and play
Dagan is part of a wave of single moms who are rediscovering themselves and reconnecting with their children through travel.
It’s a demographic Boundless Life hasn’t specifically targeted, yet the trips — which include accommodations, coworking spaces, and schooling — are resonating with single moms and single dads. Across its locations in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Bali, the company is also seeing more bookings from moms voluntarily traveling solo with their children, and divorced parents either traveling together or splitting the trip into two parts.
Boundless Life’s six-week summer package for a two-bedroom apartment and one child in school is around €9,050 ($11,540).
That includes Wi-Fi, weekly cleaning, access to a coworking hub and yoga classes. Packages are cheaper in the winter and get proportionately cheaper the longer you stay.
“We have several families in every cohort joining us as single parents,” said Elodie Ferchaud, Boundless Life’s head of demand generation. And “we’re welcoming more and more.”
“We often hear from single parents that they need the community to make the traveling experience richer and more fun for the kids — and for themselves. Single parents deal with so much already. They showcase strength, resilience and connection, but they want more for their children,” she said.
Travel ‘saved me’
Like Dagan, U.S.-based single mom Alison Lewis turned to travel to deal with heartbreak. She escaped to a friend’s apartment in Hawaii for three months with her then two-year-old son, O, after the breakdown of her marriage in 2018.
The pair have since traveled all over the United States, taking in lakes, mountains, beaches, hot springs, dinosaur relics and diamond-digging.
“I love traveling — it kind of saved me,” said Lewis, a digital design consultant who now lives in Texas. “My kid always had new things to look at and enjoy that weren’t his screen.”
But traveling hasn’t been easy, she said.
“It challenged me to my limits as a human being to travel alone as a mom with a two-year-old,” she said. “During that time, we had lost everything. So I had to start over.”
Like Dagan, Lewis and her son, who is now seven years old, have also done a six-week summer stay with Boundless Life, this time in the medieval hilltop town of Sintra, Portugal. Lewis said she worked, but had time for weekly hikes and to bond with other moms in the group. She said she isn’t looking forward to going home, where she often feels the odd one out as a single parent.
“The joy and happiness that O has right now … I don’t know how to provide that for him when we go home, in terms of the planning and the playdates,” Lewis said.
“We always want to hang out but everybody we know always has a reason that they can’t do something on the weekend. And that has to do with being a single mom, because [traditional] families stick together, and single moms are kind of left out,” she said.
“People don’t do it on purpose. They’re just in their own world.”
Traveling after a relationship ends resonates with Catherine Chinatree, an artist based in Margate, U.K. She embarked on a three-month trip with her child, Sonny, then aged four, when she separated from her partner five years ago. They rented an apartment in Bangkok, and from there traveled around Thailand as well as Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore and Nepal, she said, visiting temples, hiking and seeing wildlife.
“I wanted to break out of the life we had built up in London. Sonny was starting school, and I was doing my Masters in Fine Art at university and it was all pretty hardcore,” she said. “I wanted … three months just to focus on him.”
They returned to the U.K. and put travel on hold during the pandemic, she said. But that feeling of wanting to get away again soon resurfaced.
This time, though, Chinatree had a major solo exhibition to prepare for, so she needed facilities for Sonny while she worked. She joined Boundless Life for a three-month trip to Sintra in the spring of 2023.
“Sonny loves football, so we went to the local football team, and asked if he could train with them. He joined that straight away, then we had this instant community of Portuguese football kids,” she said. “My social life also became bigger there than it is at home, but I also was able to consciously choose to do things on my own too.”
Revitalized by their travels, and feeling confident as single mom travelers, Dagan, Lewis and Chinatree are already considering destinations for 2024 with their children. Possibly Sintra for Dagan this time, or even India, she said.
For Lewis, Costa Rica is calling, to see an old friend who lives there. Chinatree is open to her next travel destination, as long as there’s a community for her and her son.
Regardless of where they go, Dagan is painfully aware that traveling with her son may have a shelf life.
“By the time they’re teenagers, kids can be done with you and want to be with their friends instead over the summer,” she said. “I have this window that I want to make the most of.”