In 2016, I faced the perfect storm of losing my dad, undergoing IVF, a daily commute from Brighton to London and a corporate PR job involving non-stop global travel.
Despite having colleagues that were like family to me – and being a passionate lover of travel – the glamour of corporate life had faded amid juggling schedules for both work and fertility treatment. Add on top the grief of losing my dad suddenly and I was done with trying to have it all. I ended up burning out. I’d be on a plane flying somewhere and thinking: “Well, this feels like a nice private time to just have a little cry.”
Eventually, I quit my job – I loved it but it wasn’t sustainable – and within three weeks, I was on a yoga teacher training course in Morocco. That was really my first time going somewhere on a non-work trip, without knowing anyone.
I realized, when you make hard choices, the world doesn’t come crashing down
As a child of the 80s, I grew up with the mentality of climbing the ladder with one life-long career. So, the idea of packing in my big shiny job to go do something else was terrifying. But, at the same time, hugely liberating.
By choosing a complete career 180, I very quickly had to get comfortable feeling very uncomfortable. Success didn’t come quickly or easily. The salary was a fraction of what I was used to. But I was relieved and happy. I realised that you can make choices in life that will feel impossible – yet when you take them, the world doesn’t come crashing down. The reality really is different from the stories you tell yourself in your head.
Fast-forward five years and my husband and I were lucky enough – following more rounds of IVF – to become parents: first to Dylan (now four years) and later to Georgie (11 months). I was now also successfully running my own yoga studio and retreat house, Breathe Bend Believe Yoga, in the South Downs of West Sussex, alongside being the yoga teacher for Premier League football club, Brighton & Hove Albion.
I decided to combine my first solo trip with one of my great passions: climbing
But in the wake of seven rounds of IV and two pregnancies, I missed adventure travel. My experience from before – and in particular, the death of my dad – taught me that it’s not enough just to exist in life. You have to live. You don’t have forever, and nothing’s guaranteed, so you need to seize the moments that make you feel alive.
To begin with, I wanted to travel with friends but most of mine, like me, have kids. It became really hard to get anyone to take a beach holiday, let alone an adventure-travel trip to the mountains. I realized if I’m going to do what I enjoy, I have to get comfortable doing it on my own.
I decided to combine my first solo trip without kids with one of my passions from my old life: climbing. My old company had opened my eyes to the excitement of climbing, having completed team-building trips together up Mount Toubkal in Morocco, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Gran Paradiso in the Alps, among others. This time I set my sights on the Italian Dolomites.
It felt like I was discovering myself outside of work, being a mum or a wife
Before I left, people’s reactions were mixed. I got lot of, “You’re doing what? Where?”. Their fears amplified my own, so I really had to power through that. It didn’t get easier when I checked into the hotel and I was surrounded by couples drinking welcome glasses of prosecco.
Ironically, my biggest fear was dining alone. But this turned out to be one of my favorite elements of the trip. No dressing for dinner; time to read a book and sip a glass of wine uninterrupted. Couples got bored of each other and wanted to chat and invite me for drinks. But more importantly, the week-long holiday gave me rare time alone, to sit and just be. As a mother not used to personal space, I loved it. It felt like I was coming home – discovering myself outside of work, outside of being a mum or a wife, outside of all those labels that everyone loves.
One of my guides was shocked when he found out I had small children back at home. But I didn’t feel any guilt; I felt pride for going beyond my comfort zone, away from the relentless grind of motherhood, which – for all its joys – can mean you lose who you are a bit.
My dad taught me that you have to have goals: to push yourself and be adventurous
My solo holiday in the Dolomites was empowering, but it was heavy, too. I decided to take my dad’s ashes with me to scatter. There were lots of tears, as waves of grief I thought I’d left in the past came flooding back. It felt good having the time and space to process it all.
As I’d previously done, my dad operated at a really high level in the corporate world and also did lots of endurance events like marathons and Ironman triathlons. He taught me that you have to have goals in life: to push yourself and be adventurous. So, it felt right to scatter his ashes somewhere magnificent, in tribute to his adventurous spirit.
My mum has also been a huge inspiration, taking a month to go traveling solo around Europe when I was around 10 or 11. What better example of following your dreams than watching your mum set off on her own adventure?
There was no guilt on my solo trip. For a moment, I was choosing myself
On the last day of my trip, I paid for a private guide to take me on my first Via Ferrata. It was a relentless and challenging route that reminded me of some of the climbs I’d done with my past colleagues. We got to the top with 360-degree views of the Dolomites, including the Marmolada – the so-called “Queen of the Dolomites”. It felt powerful; the right place for my dad to be.
I could have stayed another week in the mountains. It’s so easy as a mum to feel like you have to put yourself last: it’s a struggle I see mothers often having when they come to me for yoga classes and retreats.
It’s the guilt women feel when they take time away from their children. The guilt so rarely experienced by fathers. But there was no guilt on my solo holiday. For a moment in time, I was choosing myself and there’s nothing wrong with that. Like a luggage allowance, there’s only so much you can carry and there was no room for guilt on top of all the equipment I had to pack.
I want my kids to miss me – to know mums aren’t always at home
I’m very happily married and my husband goes on trips without me, too. Both of us seek balance between our role of caring for our families and caring for ourselves. It makes us happier and more fulfilled people – for each other and for our kids.
My solo escape was a real turning point for me. I realized, I’m not just going to coast through the next 10 years of my life. My dad was away a lot during my childhood – and my family still loved and adored him. By taking time for myself to travel, I’m teaching my kids that they can do the same. I want them to miss me – for them to know mums aren’t always at home – and when I get back, they’ll love me just as much as I loved my dad when returned.
Retraining as a yoga teacher helped me slow down and recover from life’s difficulties, large and small. Solo travel did the same. Both helped me reconnect with who I am – my dreams and goals beyond the everyday hustle – and you can do the same.
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