As a single parent travelling without my kids this summer, the biggest thing that struck me was the absence of the mental load. Back in my home city of Sydney, my ex and I co-parent our three boys aged between eight and 12, but I am their primary carer. I earn the most money, the kids live mainly with me, and I’m the one that does the majority of the organising around the boys’ day-to-day lives.
This was all the more true during the course of the pandemic, trying to homeschool three children of different ages – all while holding down a busy job in grocery operations. There were periods of time when I worked up to 28 days straight in a customer-facing role.
I was 22 years old when I had my first child
I was 22 years old when I had my first child; I was actually travelling in Europe when I fell pregnant. My focus changed when I became a mum, but my personality did not. I was still really young and I was determined to carry on doing the things that I loved. We lived in the UK for a while in those early years. When my son was 18 months old, I went to Spain with three of my girlfriends, leaving him with his dad. I thought, “You know what? He’s got two parents.”
Having the the ability to travel solo as a parent is huge
The fact is, parenting is all-consuming. And when kids are little, they’re entertaining and funny, but they’re not really stimulating. You’re not challenged, even though you’re tired all the time. It’s like you don’t have the space to do things that you’re interested in.
So, having the the ability to travel solo as a parent, and especially as a single parent, is huge. You come back happier and with more patience and tolerance for your family. So – Covid aside – every two years, I aim to get away for a period of time by myself. I know it makes me a better parent.
It does take some amount of organisation to do this, though. My ex and I have a better relationship as co-parents than we did as a married couple. He rearranged his work hours so he could cover childcare for my holiday (I did the same for him when he travelled abroad earlier in the year). My mum also helped look after the boys two days a week while I was away.
I was able to pause most of the mental weight of parenting
Technology helped, too. It’s not like I just decided I wasn’t a parent for a month; I spoke to my kids most evenings on FaceTime. My eldest son is at high school this year and I tuned in to a parent-teacher interview from my hotel room in Croatia.
That said, from the outset on my two Flash Pack adventures I was able to pause most of the mental weight of parenting. I also didn’t have to take care of any logistics or arrange accommodation or transport to get from A to B. It was all organised for us. Literally the biggest decision that our group faced day-to-day was, “Shall we have wine or gin with dinner?” It was so refreshing not having to think about anything. We did some amazing activities; I loved canyoning in Slovenia’s Bohinj Valley – I’d go back there in a heartbeat for a whole week of hiking. In Turkey we packed in so much: paragliding, quad biking, horse riding, hot air ballooning and historical sites.
It was really exciting interacting with other travellers
I was thrilled to make personal connections again, too. Over the past couple of years, there’s been so little chance for face-to-face relationship building. One of the reasons I love travelling is that I relish the opportunity to learn about different cultures, talk to people and hear different points of view. It was really exciting to be in that kind of environment again where you’re interacting with other travellers and local communities.
One night after a couple of wines, we sat down with Suley, our guide in Turkey, and asked him, “As someone who lives here, what do you really feel and why?” I love having those kinds of conversations. You wouldn’t get that with a five-year-old or with other parents at the school playground. It was also a far cry from business calls, too, where every interaction and outcome is planned.
They think it’s cool that I travel
It’s easy to get fully immersed in parenting, but it can be limiting. By taking time to travel alone you return with a different perspective that’ll enrich both you and your children. It was lovely for me to step off the plane after my break, so excited to see the boys again and show them all the little gifts I’d bought from my adventures.
They think it’s cool that I travel, too – although I’m getting closer to the stage where they’ll want to come too. I think my next getaway will be somewhere a bit closer, like New Zealand or Bali, where I can take the boys for a week or so and then have another week alone to explore.
It’s okay to take something back for yourself
My advice to other parents, especially single parents, would be not to feel guilty about travelling alone if that makes you happy. You’ve earned it. You give everything to your kids, so it’s okay to take something back for yourself. Also, make sure you’re comfortable with your care arrangements for your kids. You have to resist that temptation to micromanage from afar.
For me, solo travel fuels my fire: it’s what helps me to go home and parent in a really positive way.
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Images: Courtesy of Katie Black & Flash Pack