Actress Keke Palmer on the Importance of Family Vacations — Especially As a New Single Mom

Travel Leisure
11 Min Read

Keke Palmer kicked off the year doing something she hadn’t done in a long time: Enjoy a vacation to Antigua with her whole family.

“It was the first time in a long time that my entire family and I did something together,” the 30-year-old actress, singer, and host told Travel + Leisure on a Zoom call last month. “It was a transformative trip with all six of us and my best friend being there together — and my son as well. He’s the newest family member.” 

Her younger sister packed the itinerary to the max, she told us, with activities from helicopter rides and swimming with stingrays to playing with the island’s famous pigs. 

“It was just an amazing feeling to be able to look at each other and just say, ‘Man, I’m so glad that we are all here,’” she said. “We love each other, we are taking time to appreciate one another, and do something fun with each other because sometimes you can take your family for granted. I think it set the tone for my 2024.”

Indeed, it’s been an impressively busy time for the multi-hyphenate who released her own film and album Big Boss last May, and has already appeared in the Jennifer Lopez film This is Me…Now: A Love Story this year and is currently the host of the reboot of the classic game show Password on NBC.

With Keke Palmer

Window or aisle?

Destination you love revisiting? 
Amsterdam is one of my favorite places. Spending time there really impacted me almost to the point where I would live there. It’s just such a beautiful city, and you can walk the whole city. Even when it’s cold, it feels good, like it’s cuddly and freeing — and it’s amazing.

Favorite way for her son to pass time on the plane:
He’s gotten more into entertainment, so I put on [the toddler video series] “Ms. Rachel.” I downloaded about five of her videos and he watches those on the plane.

Go-to travel outfit? 
I have this one long sweater jacket from Zara. It’s black and made out of Teddy bear-like material. That is my version of the Beyoncé hoodie. I especially love it on a flight because it just keeps me so warm and comfy! Underneath, I put on any kind of shirt, sweatpants, and boots.

Ultimate dream vacation?
I love traditional mundane American Midwestern life vibes. So we’re somewhere fishing, sitting on an outside daybed and the sun is really crisp burning down. We’re eating sardines and some Wheat Thins. I just love that kickback.

Celeb Check-in

But above all, her major priority is her son, Leodis “Leo” Andrellton Jackson, who celebrated his first birthday in February, with Palmer posting a loving tribute that “nothing else matters.”

In fact, little Leo has already become quite a jetsetter. “My son has been going on jets since he was born,” she said. “I mean, he’s had a better life start than me, honestly!” Despite being a frequent traveler herself, she admitted that she was “pretty nervous about him going on a commercial flight.” But since she had to travel to film Password, as a work perk, Universal sprung for her to fly on a private jet, which helped ease into the experience as a first-time parent.

Since then, he’s traveled quite a bit, with Palmer admitting it is “definitely more expensive” with her son in tow. She also zones in on all the little details to “make sure that he’s comfortable.” That often includes also bringing a nanny or one of her aunts along. 

“I want to make sure my son is well supported and also has a lot of love around them and we have a good time, especially as a single parent,” she said. “It just takes more time and consideration to make sure that we have a good time.”

Fortunately, he’s “actually really good with flying,” the proud mom said, though she does pack “tons” of toys. “But you know what’s so funny about kids is they want whatever you have and turn it into their toys,” she said, explaining that she’ll often find him playing with water bottles or her earrings.

“Whatever I’ve got on, that will be the perfect toy!” she joked.

The Harvey, Illinois-born performer loves being able to show Leo to the world. After all, she also grew up enjoying traveling, despite her family vacations usually being road trips to spots like Indiana Beach and Mississippi, and other midwest destinations, often for family reunions. 

“My parents really did try their best,” she said. “Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, they tried their best to make sure we had fun and new experiences.” 

She fondly reflects on fishing trips with her dad, as well as tons of road-trip games with her siblings, like quoting lines with her fellow television- and movie-loving family members.

“People laugh about my Angela Bassett impression now, but we’ve been doing that kind of stuff since I was a kid,” she admitted. One of the most memorable moments was when she and her sister accidentally launched a spitball onto the back of their dad’s head! “We were cracking up laughing because he did not feel it all,” she said. “We were like, ‘Do we tell them? Do we not tell him? We knew we weren’t supposed to be doing that!’”

Her love for car trips through the U.S. continues to this day. When asked what her dream trip would be to go on with Password’s executive producer and regular celebrity contestant Jimmy Fallon, she immediately says a “road trip all around America or at least all around the Midwest.”

Keke Palmer and Jimmy Fallon on “Password.”.

Getty Images

Perfectly imagining the scenario, she said, “We’d hop into that trailer and just go taste the best new foods. I can see us doing kind of like a Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives-type of vibe or a running Password in every little single city! A Password road trip!”

But the best part is, she knows they’d be compatible travel buddies. “He’s a Virgo, so we know when it’s time to separate.” Palmer said. “ We’d be like, ‘I need my alone time.’ We both go into our separate corners and then we already get the energy we’d be like, ‘Hey!’”

One type of travel Palmer still has on her bucket list: solo travel. “It’s been a dream of mine,” she said, getting emotional. “I get all dramatic right then because it’s something that I really wanted to do for myself.”

She hopes to someday go backpacking through Asia, though she does have some fears. “I hate that we are always so scared of safety as women,” she said. “I want to go literally all by myself, but my mom always scares me. Like as a kid, she was always scared that someone would kidnap me!”

When she does finally find the time and courage, she does know what the first thing she’ll pack: her skincare products. “I’m always talking about skin,” she said. “I’m big on skin, so all the good skin products. 

Her beauty essentials include “tons of La Roche-Posay,” including the Mela B3 for dark spots, a lip balm, a spoolie to brush out her lash extensions, ponytail holders, hair pomade (“You gotta be able to slip that hair back in case things go awry”) and an eyebrow pencil (“You gotta make sure the eyebrows are on point!”).

With travel being such a crucial part of Palmer’s life, she’s also teamed up with Chip Ahoy, which recently shook things up by introducing a new MMMProved recipe, to give one winner a dream getaway that she helped design, picking Malibu as the detention for the Chips Ahoy beach house. Anyone can enter by following the instructions on Palmer and Chips Ahoy’s Instagram posts by May 31. (Full contest rules are here.)

“Anybody who’s been to Malibu knows it’s like a world of its own, even though it’s in California,” she said. “It’s like, you’re on another planet. I wanted them to feel like they were outside of their norm.”

But more than anything, she wants the getaway to be about truly letting go, perhaps even with a Chips Ahoy and “a little milk,” her favorite way to enjoy the classic cookie. “As a new mom who’s working all the time, I just wanted them to be able to have an enjoyable relaxing time,” she said.