Single mom travel
It’s often said that travelling with a child is not only possible but worthwhile. These days we are increasingly less surprised to see parents traveling with a toddler, even to far-away places. I decided to take this a step further and write about single mums who regularly take their children away to explore distant places (unfortunately I failed to locate even one single dad, which is a bit puzzling). It goes without saying that organizing a trip with two adults is much easier, both logistically and financially, than with a child. And of course difficult moments can easily happen while on the road to even the most well-travelled of us. That’s why I so admire these women who not only manage this by themselves but don’t even treat it as something extraordinary.
Here I present four stories of Polish mums who decided to take their children on a journey. I hope these stories will above all reach many single parents who are possibly right now going through hard times, and struggling to believe there are good times ahead. I hope this article can be a helpful crutch for them, and a proof, above all, that nothing is impossible, and it is always worth striving for your dreams. And for those parents who are rising their kids together and are afraid to travel with them, let this be a subject to reflect on and give them courage to act.
Asia, known as Bestia Peluda and her 20 months old daughter Gaja (somosdos.fotowyprawy.com), are currently travelling through South America.
We’ve been on the road since May 2014, from the moment when the Little One started taking her first steps. Why did I wait until then? I guess every mom, even the one travelling, sometimes needs to have two free hands. Even if it’s to be able to lift her rucksack to be able to put it on her back. Add to that a child carrier and another bag-that’s how it was at the beginning of my travels.
It was initially difficult for me, very difficult. My initial plan collapsed, I couldn’t buy a second hand car in Peru and I was on the brink of giving up on our entire escapade when fate in the form of Andrzej Pietowski (co-discoverer of the Colca Canyon) came to my rescue. For two months, in exchange for food and shelter, I taught English at his school in the south of Peru. It was there that I slowly started figuring out how to make travelling with an 22-month old feasible during weekly weekend trips for our teaching team. I quickly realised that ‘Improvisation’ would become my second name-something all single moms have in common. What I could plan ahead I did, but the sheer amount of circumstances beyond my control was overwhelming. I tackled problems in the order that they came up, trying not to worry about those that were waiting to occur just around the corner. That is how I embarked on my first trek into the mountains with a 22-month old toddler to my beloved Choquequirao, already so familiar to me from my first trip to Peru a few years back. I rented out a horse, I bought food, I borrowed a tent and sleeping mats…and I headed off with Gaja through the Andes to the holy city of the Incas, in the hope of telling her why that place was so important to me and so dear to my heart.
Choquequirao was, and is, so important to me because the dream of being able to return there one day saved my life. However ridiculous that may sound, retrospectively I know that that is wholeheartedly true. When my partner of many years decided to leave me two weeks before the birth of my daughter my world ended. My entire world crashed and burned, and in that darkness and despair that followed, there was only one light at the end of the tunnel. It was South America, and there; Choquequirao. I survived. I didn’t take away our lives, although I was inches away from it. I cried a lot. Actually, all the time. The simplest of tasks was excruciatingly difficult for me. I barely got up from bed, desperately trying to take care of this little girl that had just been born. I hated my new world of being a single mother. Up until this day I don’t know how I managed to buy us those plane tickets and pack us up being in that state. It was like a dream. I only knew that I had to get away, to escape from that cage of responsibilities and horrible suffering that I faced – actually, it was more so that I realised that I had to take that cage with me and somehow manage to get used to it. I order to do that, I had to do what I’d been dreaming of all along; set off on a journey into the world, making my second biggest dream come true as I realised that I would never be able to make my first dream, the one of having a complete family happen.
My friends laughed at me; ‘why are you dragging that child around the world? She’ll never remember any of it’. True. She probably won’t. But I wholeheartedly believe that every day, every situation, every person we meet along our way, are little bricks that are helping to mould and build the wall that will become her personality. I am certain that it will be a strong and resilient wall. I also believe that when life presents her with a painful hurdle to overcome, she won’t fall as hard as I did – after all I do believe that I’ll be able to be a source of strength for her now as well. I’m slowly healing and growing here. Every challenge and the 20kg on my back are healing the wounds in my heart and my soul. Maybe it’s a process that will never end, but at least it is now easier to wake up, easier to breathe. Easier to smile to my little child, genuinely and wholeheartedly instead of wincing in a forced grimace. So, every day I put on my 20kg of weight on my back and walk straight ahead facing a new day, being ridiculously happy doing so.
Do I have any advice? I dare not give any advice. What is good for me, might not necessarily work for someone else. I can only suggest that getting out of your comfort zone on every level costs a lot, but that the reward for doing so is even more. So I can only hope and wish for myself and you dear moms, many journeys outside our comfort zones and lots of courage to do so.
Monika with ten year old Sara (5thousandsteps.com) visited more than 30 countries, including Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Portugal, France, Serbia, Montenegro, Israel and Palestine.
Our travels began in the first month of Sara’s life. My parents lived 10 hours away from where we lived so I was forced to travel through the whole country alone, even though I wasn’t a single mom in those days.
I chose Brussels and Amsterdam for our first long trip together. The most difficult thing wasn’t packing or looking for a place, like you might expect, it was convincing my family that what I was about to do would bring more positive effects than negative. It probably sounds like a paradox, but I found traveling with a child much easier than travelling with adults (I always emphasize that toddlers are breaking barriers much faster than we are).
Another language? Not a problem. Your child will find new friends even at the Norwegian playground. Food? Everything will probably taste better from your mum’s plate. Sleeping? Every possible positon in every possible mean of transport is fine as long as mum is nearby. If you’re with a baby, locals tend to be friendlier and they treat you like a human not an ATM machine.
Thanks to our travels my daughter is more open to people and the world. She’s not afraid of trying new things. She knows that the effects don’t always appear immediately and sometimes you just have to try hard to achieve your goals.
She relishes the small things on our travels. The colourful shells found on the beach. The unknown fruit given by strangers at bus stops. The music played by street artists. She has learned tolerance for other cultures. She is not shocked at seeing different skin colours or ways of dressing. She enjoys every chance to learn a new language, even if it’s only a few words.
I just want to emphasize that single parents in Poland are often stigmatized, especially mothers. I am often confronted with opinions such as “she can afford to travel because of high alimony” or “it was definitely her fault the guy left her”. All those statements are completely wrong. It is really hard to get any money for your child, even from the government. Benefits? Forget it! We work very hard to have what we have, we often miss having another pair of hands to help us out but that doesn’t mean we should give up. And that’s something a lot of people can’t understand: how determined we are in these situations, to believe and pursue our dreams. Life sometimes plays tricks on us when we least expect it.
I would like to tell other parents to follow their intuition. If you want to travel – do it! Your child will only help you. You can do it, you’ll become stronger and you’ll believe in your own abilities. You’re the family pillar, not your mom, your grandmother, grandfather, aunt or anyone else. You fight every single day for your child’s future, it’s you checking if they’ve buttoned their jacket or brushed their teeth after breakfast. It’s you reading fairy tales before they fall asleep. It’s you being nervous when they don’t understand fractions, no matter how simply you try and explain it. It’s you worried about how you’ll survive the whole month on only one salary. So believe in yourself, smile in front of the mirror and believe that other things will come with time. And most importantly: accept your life exactly how it is… not everyone has as much luck as you.
Hania with seven year old Bernard (dwa-bieguny.blogspot.com) have visited about 20 countries together, including Armenia, Ukraine, China, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa and Mozambique.
“Aren’t you afraid to go alone with your child?” asked pretty much every person I met before my trip to Asia and Africa.
Although I had travelled a lot with Bernie previously, it was our first so trip so far away. Also our family had concerns. “And what will you do if something happens? They could kidnap him and rape you!” And they judged: “He will remember nothing from this trip!”
I usually answered that no, I’m not afraid, even when I was feeling afraid. And during our trip it’s true that I had two moments of great fear (while travelling off road in Africa), but my dreams gave me wings and forced me to keep moving. We crossed Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland during our trip and came back via London after four months of travels. Just me and my almost four-year-old son, Bernard.
I can safely say that after our travels, I’m finding the second complaint that he would remember nothing to be completely wrong. He talks about our travels all the time, especially during games. I’m sure these memories will probably fade with time, but who said that we won’t go travelling again? The world is huge, and we still have many dreams to fulfil.
I know what forced us to go initially was a deep curiosity about the world. And COURAGE – that’s something that’s always needed when making any big decision. Luckily, it was something we didn’t lack. FEAR of the unknown wasn’t going to enslave us.
There’s not much more I can say than this. Every mother who is raising her child alone must have courage every day to keep up with life. This is something that doesn’t change, no matter how far the journey takes you from home to the ends of the Earth.
Agnieszka and four year old Hubert have visited about 20 countries, including Montenegro, Albania, Finland, Cyprus, United Arab Emirates, Serbia and Oman.
It wasn’t my choice to become a single mom after my son was born. Before I was pregnant, my partner and I were planning many wonderful journeys together. While I was expecting, we visited the United States and Jamaica together. But then, after the birth, I was left alone and my world collapsed. During those days – alone, with a young child and no money or prospects – I honestly thought I would never achieve my travel dreams.
When I returned to work, the first thing I did was start saving money for our first trip. The hardest part of planning was to obtain consent for a passport because the father didn’t want to give permission to let his son travel abroad for so long. The case was held us in court for over six months.
However, we were finally able to get permission and go on our dream trip to Montenegro (it was a trip with a travel agency). We also visited Albania and Croatia during this travel. In retrospect, I can see that it’s actually less expensive to travel with a small child.
While planning our trip, I was always taking into consideration both of our needs. We even visited Santa Claus last year who is living in Rovaniemi where the Arctic Circle begins. We travel in different ways: sometimes alone, and sometimes with friends or with family. We go for short trips just outside the city and for long trips as well. Sometimes we use promotions and travel agencies. Sometimes I’m able to find bargains by myself. We travel by plane, train, we use couch surfing and look for free accommodation. To be honest, the only thing that ever stays consistent through our travels is that I spend all my time with my child. We decide everything together: where we want to go to go and what we want to see. We talk a lot and our travels bring us together and add a colour to our lives. We dream and we try to fulfil those dreams. Our next goal is to visit South America.
I would like to say to other parents that it’s worth giving it a try. If you love travelling, having a child won’t be an obstacle, but instead a loyal companion.
PS. I feel that I should write something summarizing this article, but I confess that I lack the words. Since I met Hania and Bernie, a few years ago on a train when we were returning from Kolosy (a travel festival in Poland) in Gdynia, I found myself in awe of them. This topic about single parents travelling abroad has been sitting in my head since then and over the years I’ve met so many single parents, all of them dreaming about traveling with their children but anchored to their homes by fear and uncertainly. This article was mostly written for them.
Special thanks for all translators: Monika Kulesza, Marcin Pasciak, Katarzyna Latus, Magda Nowacka, Natalia Dębowska and Robert Burgess.