As a stay-at-home mum I felt invisible – but solo adventure changed my life

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I grew up in India, but have spent the past 12 years in Dallas, Texas. I live with my husband and our two teenage sons. My partner and I got together young. Once we had our children, I was totally immersed in my role as a stay-at-home mum. I found it hugely fulfilling and I don’t regret a minute of it. But there came a point about six years ago when I began to question things. 

My boys were getting older and more independent. It started to make made me wonder “Where do I fit into this picture?” I felt lost, like I was somehow invisible to the world around me. I was struggling with the notion that I had become boxed into my identity as a homemaker and caregiver, when in reality, that’s just one part of who I am.

As I approached my 40th birthday I decided that I would give solo travel a go – in an attempt to pull myself out of this low point. I started small with a four-day hiking trip close to home. I enjoyed every minute of it. It was so liberating to do something just for myself. It was out of my comfort zone but I felt truly alive – like a different person.

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On impulse, I signed up for Flash Pack’s group trip to Cuba

From then on, I started to go away on my own every three or four months. I had so many fears about meeting new people and finding my feet with new activities, but I decided to push through regardless. I started to became mentally, physically and emotionally stronger with each new challenge I took on, such as trekking the Grand Canyon or cycling through Death Valley National Park.

Then, on impulse, I signed up for Flash Pack’s group trip to Cuba just one week before it began. I enjoyed it so much – there were tons of activities I’d never have considered doing alone – that, a few months later, I joined another Flash Pack adventure to Brazil

Both escapes were amazing. I hit it off with my fellow travellers straight away, the group leaders were very supportive and the itineraries were packed and full of fun. And I could switch off completely from being a mum. It felt great to have someone else take charge of decision-making and planning, too. Back home, I spend so much of my time trying to control things.

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In Brazil, I did paragliding above Rio de Janeiro

In Cuba, I went drumming, dancing and clubbing on the streets of Havana until 2am. I tried snorkelling and sea kayaking in the Bay of Pigs, too. My husband couldn’t believe it as I’m terrified of water. But there’s something about being in a new situation, with people you don’t know, that helps you push yourself beyond your limits. 

In Brazil, the fear-factor continued with a paragliding adventure above Rio de Janeiro; something the old me would never have dreamed of, especially since I’m also scared of heights. Brazil in general was such a warm, friendly place – it felt like somewhere you can be whoever you want to be. 

I think sometimes you forget what you’re truly capable of but these solo adventures have been a lifeline for me. Before I had kids, I used to travel a lot with my husband. His job meant we lived in various different places from Thailand to Jordan and beyond – and so I was constantly navigating new cultures, languages and systems alone.

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I would find myself trying to justify why I was travelling alone

Somewhere in the years I spent raising young children – during the stages your little ones rely on you 100% – I lost sight of the fact that I am still an adventurous person. I love to meet new people and I relish the freedom that comes with expanding my horizons. 

However, my decision to travel without my husband and kids doesn’t always sit easy with other people. I’ve found myself trying to justify my choice to travel alone. I’ve lost track of the amount of times I’ve been asked, “Is your husband OK with that?” 

It’s also considered an unusual thing to do given my Indian heritage. I’m from a conservative background where, as a married woman, you put your family first, followed by your extended community. Even my mum, who is sweet and supportive, questioned it when I first raised the idea of travelling alone.

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The whole experience has done nothing but enrich me

For the record, my husband is very supportive of my decision to go solo. The fact that I know my own mind is one of the reasons he loves me. We both feel it’s important to make time for the things we enjoy as individuals, independent of family life. And, just as I lead on day-to-day parenting ordinarily, he picks up the load when I’m away.

My kids love it, too; they’re intrigued, and it recently inspired my younger son to plan a volunteering trip for us both in Guatemala later this year. We also travel more as a family – everywhere from Iceland and Peru to Hawaii – as my kids and my husband can see how much I enjoy it. 

It’s not always explicitly said as such, but my decision to travel alone seems to break an unwritten value system we have in place around marriages and motherhood. And yet, the whole experience has done nothing but enrich me – and those around me.

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Solo travel is a choice. If I can do it, anyone can

It’s helped me overcome the perceptions society sometimes has of stay-at-home mums, too. Even today, it’s a choice that can be seen as lazy or somehow lacking in ambition. Nowadays, six years into my solo journey, I know my worth isn’t tied to a job title (or any title, for that matter). Like so many other people I’ve met on my travels, I wear different hats in life. I can be confident, fearless, adventurous and a present and loving mum. And equally, I understand that, as people, we have more in common than we think. We all have our own worries and insecurities to overcome.

When I return from my trips, other people – especially fellow mums – have been eager to hear my stories. It’s even motivated a few friends to join me or plan their own solo trips. Most people want to try it, in fact – they’re just afraid to take that first step. I tell them, ‘I was scared of so many things back at the beginning of this journey’. If I can do it, anyone can. 

Solo travel is a choice. It’s something that everyone, no matter where you’re at in life, should feel free to pursue if you’re lucky enough to do so. Not only that, you should strive for it. It’ll expand your world, give back to your loved ones and make you a bigger person, in so many different ways. 

Pooja Gupta is an adventurer and stay-at-home mum from Dallas, Texas, who travelled with Flash Pack to Cuba and Brazil.

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: courtesy of Pooja Gupta, Flash Pack and Unsplash

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