Solo travel as a mother: An alternate reality trip to Bangkok

Everything changes when you have children.

If you’ve been living and travelling across the world for years before you have children, then things change even more. And I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week.

Heading to Bangkok on my own (kind of)

Last week I spent five nights in Bangkok to take part in the first TBEX Asia conference. Alone.

Well, not really alone: I travelled with fellow travel blogger Di of Travelletto, and was there with some 600 other bloggers, many of whom I knew, but when I say I was alone, I mostly mean that I left my five-year-old son at home.

I’ve only done this twice in his life before – during two (shorter) trips to the Gold Coast for Problogger. This was the first time I’d been overseas alone since I became a mother, and the longest trip by a couple of days.

Solo travel as a mother

I have to say that solo travel as a mother is a mixed blessing. It’s a rare chance to feel really like yourself again, and not have to constantly be concerned with meeting the needs of other (smaller!) people. But it’s a trip that inevitably comes with a layer of guilt, plus some sadness of missing your child. (In fact, I should confess that the night before I left I decided I just couldn’t go and would cancel everything … I’m glad I didn’t, though!) Thankfully, there is Skype and FaceTime and all the other ways to keep in touch (although this took place at 5am Bangkok time every day … but I was happy to be awake to see my little boy on the screen!)

FaceTime calls with my son for Solo travel as a mother

FaceTime calls with my son – essential part of my time away!

Anyway, beyond the bliss of not looking after anyone else for once, this time I was in a brand new country, and a fascinating one at that. Perhaps, also, because I was constantly surrounded by fellow travel-lovers, this felt like taking a step back into my old life, when I lived abroad and travelled regularly.

More than that: What life could have been like

But no. It was more than just a window looking back on the past. This trip to Bangkok was like experiencing an alternative reality of my own life.

Personal moment: it took me more than three years of trying to get pregnant (our son is a fertility treatment miracle – the boy we shouldn’t have been able to have). That three years was not fun in any way at all, and as it marched on I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would do if it turned out I wasn’t able to have any kids.

For me, pretty much the whole point of returning to Australia and leaving the excitement of Europe behind was to have kids. If there were to be no kids, did I need to be in Australia? Not long before I finally became pregnant I had started scrolling through overseas ESL teacher positions again, tossing up between destinations like Moscow and Morocco, and deciding that one thing I would definitely do would be to ride the Trans-Siberian again, but this time solo and non-stop.

Solo travel as a mother - meeting other travellers

Seeing new places and meeting new people in Bangkok

But then I did get to have kids – well, one kid, and he is so magical that he makes up for everything – and I’ve stayed in Australia. Being at TBEX, though, was like seeing what I might be doing more often if I’d ended up childless. Walking the Bangkok streets at night with fellow bloggers, many of whom live ex-pat lives in exotic places, along with the simple fact of being surrounded by people of varying nationalities, all of it was a thrill, both a blast from the past and a kind of alternative reality, a glimpse of how my life might have worked out.

Would I swap?

I’m not going to lie and say I didn’t feel a little sad that I wasn’t actually living that kind of life full time. There’s a part of me that aches with missing the constant curiosities of living abroad, the special bond like-minded ex-pats have, the fun of having friends from vastly different cultures, the chance to take regular trips to new places and to experience new things. Living in the most isolated city in the world, where the high cost of living and vast distances make regular travel pretty prohibitive, doesn’t help either.

When I returned to Australia, just in time for school pick-up on Monday afternoon, then I experienced what really was one of the most memorable five minutes of my life. My son was so incredibly happy and excited to have me back – he and I both agreed he was even more excited than when we took him to Legoland (I never thought we’d top that). I would never swap that amazing unconditional love for a life abroad, but in the moments when I feel sad about my son growing up and eventually leaving me, it is definitely nice to daydream about moving back to this alternate reality some day.

But you could travel the world with your family …

It’s true, there are families who travel the world with their kids, and do a good job of it. I love following their journeys, but it’s not a journey my family will take. My husband’s work isn’t particularly portable – quite apart from the fact that he has no desire for a nomadic life – and if I’m honest, I do love having a home base. Since my son started school, I also have a strong urge to keep him there, and give him a good sense of stability in life (interrupted as regularly as possible by exciting trips, of course).

More solo travel as a mother?

Will I do this again? Or often? I don’t know. As much as I really do love travelling solo, there are plenty of reasons for me to take the family with me. Not least of which is the mammoth task of organising a roster of carers for my son when I’m away!

I absolutely wholeheartedly enjoyed being in Bangkok last week, but getting that taste of what life used to be like, and what it could have been like – well, to be honest, I found it pretty unsettling. It’s a feeling I can do without. But who knows what the future holds – and as my son gets older, leaving him will probably get easier. We will just have to wait and see!

What about you?

To all my fellow mothers: have you travelled often or ever on your own, leaving your kids at home? How did you feel? Am I being ridiculous? Let me know in the comments!

Comments

  1. You did well to be so far away for so long! And as unsettling as it sounds, if you’d stayed, I wonder if Mr 5 would’ve said that seeing you was more exciting than Legoland on Monday at school pick up? Absence makes the heart blah blah. It was an awesome fun trip and I’m so glad you didn’t cancel it. Anytime you feel the urge to travel ‘kind of solo’, I’ll be your travel buddy x

    • I know, I think we all did well! And Mr5 did in fact think it was already more exciting than Legoland! Which was extremely flattering 😉 Definitely glad I didn’t cancel and agreed, I would very gladly travel with you again my fabulous travel buddy!! x

  2. Our sons (now 31 and 28) somehow survived having me as their mother and seem to be fairly content, contributing members of society and capable of living independently. When they were pre-teens, it did feel hard to leave them. My husband’s job provided some nice travel opportunities and once or twice a year, I was able to join him because my parents would move into our house with our boys. (They only lived 15 minutes away). My parents and our sons, then their only grandchildren, developed a very special bond and mutual admiration society which enriched/es all our lives. I think my job (stressful full time lawyering) when our boys were growing up was more of a negative circumstance than travel breaks without them. Interestingly, I inherited my wanderlust from my father and it has been inherited by our younger son, also a location independent travel blogger, but not our older son. Now that your son is “older”, take him with you on trips during his school breaks. It will be a different, but not less valuable, experience than solo travel was before he was born, and I think trips together is a fine way of building your own, unique family history. Our sons still reminisce about our family trips to Mexico, local caverns, Disney World, Italy and even the family trip from hell to Gettysburg (a Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania).

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment Suzanne! I agree, family trips are a brilliant way to build a unique family history – so far my five-year-old has been to 11 countries with us. That’s why it was unusual for me to travel without him, but there wouldn’t have been anything for him to do while I was at the conference all day and my husband couldn’t take time off, hence the unusual solo trip for me – and I’ll probably do it again (because I think it’s good for my son to see that) but most of the time will take him with me!

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