As a travel writer, I was taking thirty trips a year, all international, before I had babies. I was always on the road and loved every minute of it, from the airplane food (I know!), to the excitement of the plane descending into a new destination, to meeting new people and having great experiences, often outside my comfort zones. Then I had two babies. Leaving them at home while I went off to travel was really hard…at first.
As a new mum that travelled often I ran into a lot of expectations—and judgments—from other people, especially other mothers. Was I a bad mum for leaving my kids in the care of their fully capable father or their loving grandparents or their highly trustworthy babysitters? I was okay with it (more than okay with it—I desperately wanted to get back to my travel roots, especially when I was battling postnatal depression), but other people’s judgments made me hesitate.
But then I realised several things that made travel sans kids not only manageable but also enjoyable. I learned to quiet the voices of the naysayers (even in my own family) and look deep inside myself to see if I was at peace with my choice to travel without the kids. Here’s what helps get me through and allows me to relax on vacation:
- My kids get amazing experiences when I’m not around. My boys, now ages five and seven, spend a good chunk of their time with me. However, when I travel they get to have wonderful new experiences—with my husband, their grandparents, their aunts and uncles, their school friends and babysitters. Trying new playgrounds and eating different foods—it’s all good for them.
- Travel lets me recharge. As someone who works full time from home, I am constantly giving. To my job (writing articles), to my kids (working on homework and chauffeuring them to sports), to my marriage (planning date nights), to the school (volunteering), and to our home (which is constantly a mess). Travel is for me. It recharges my batteries; it gives me a break from giving to everyone and instead allows me to focus on my needs. Just like kids may be over programmed, mums can also be over-taxed, and a holiday is a great way to let go of some of the stress and focus on ourselves. Travel lets me focus on me.
- Kids are resilient. When I’m home, I am full-on. So if my kids get sick, fall at school, get whacked in the head on a play date, or throw up after going to a birthday party, I’m in charge of figuring out what’s going on. But sometimes, most of the time, it’s all okay and not a big deal. Taking a holiday with the kids and letting others handle the kid stuff reminds me that everything is not a big deal. That kids are resilient and can handle mum being away.
- I get insight into myself. Perhaps one of the most important reasons I love to travel—and how I learned to relax while doing it—is because it lets me escape from the chaos that is my everyday life. Two always-talking and on-the-go kids, play dates, relatives, friends, and neighbours—I love the chaos, but sometimes I just want some quiet. Some time to reflect and find my inner peace. Travelling without the kids is that for me. I can be selfish and go to the fancy adults-only French restaurant and eat my escargot and drink my Pinot Noir and think about what makes me happy, what things I want to change in my life, where I want my career to go next. Learning to relax while I travel means learning to realise that I’m important, too. As a mum, I focus on everyone else’s needs, but it’s a house of cards if I don’t take care of myself.
Not only have I learned what works, but equally important is knowing what doesn’t. And the big one for me is parenting from afar. If I’m away, I have to give ownership to the person watching my children to make the right decisions. If grandma thinks my kids need to go to the doctor for sniffles, I can’t tell her she’s overreacting from 3,000 miles away. If my husband gives the kids McDonald’s for dinner—and I always strive for homemade fruit- and veggie-rich meals—I need to let it go. Otherwise, not only am I stressing myself out on my trip, but I’m also undermining the person who I charged with watching my kids. It doesn’t work for anyone.
So I’ve learned to appreciate travel for what it is—oftentimes a break from the kids, a chance for me to recharge, and a chance for my family to survive (which they will) without mum for a few days.
How do you let go of all the the guilt (self-imposed, or otherwise) and truly relax when you’re traveling?
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