It was during parents’ evening when my daughter’s primary school teacher turned to me and said, ‘Everything you do with your daughter and all the places you travel to, just shine from her”. I am constantly struck by what a lovely thing it was to say and every now and again, have to confess getting bleary-eyed when recounting her kind words because as a single mother, I am pretty tough on myself.
I always worry the love of one parent is somehow not quite, enough. I may make bold statements saying I have enough love to give for both a mummy and a daddy but I never quite believe it myself. However, that may well be another story…Let’s go back to the stuff shining from my child. The said ‘stuff’ is – travel.
The lost legacy of Interrailing
One glorious summer, nineteen years of age and moving between first and second year of university, I undertook what seems like a lost legacy of the student experience. I bought an Interrail ticket that would eventually see me travel through vibrant European hotspots from dusk to dawn. If memory serves me well, I bought the golden ticket for the princely sum of £129 and what I do know for sure, is having only £200 to cover both food and accommodation for the entire trip.
The heyday of boundless travel
Nothing stopping me, I somehow managed to squeeze every last penny from this tiny sum, spending six weeks working my way around the jewels of Europe. From Paris to the south of France, through a huge loop of Italy where I spent most of my time and returning home after traversing Austria and Switzerland. The sights…the experiences…have stayed with me for life and it was through my first solo travel venture when I was bitten fatally, by the travel bug.
To put my grand adventure in context, this was long before the concept of cheap flights and the budget city break we are now so familiar with. Imagine or cast your mind back to a life before EasyJet – to an age when travel outwith the package holiday was only for the very affluent. I felt very lucky to have ticked off Paris, Rome, Milan, Florence, Venice, Vienna and Geneva in just one summer.
It’s not all plain sailing
Fast forward a couple of decades and here I am, a single mum. It never crossed my mind for one second travelling with a small child would be impossible. Okay, it’s not all plain sailing and we have certainly had our moments. I remember the first time we arrived at an Italian train station. How could I have forgotten about the ‘sottopassaggio’ – a passageway under the tracks entered and exited by neverending flights of steep stairs. Or, the many Italian trains raised above the platform where climbing to at least my head height to board safely, is unavoidable.
I knew trains. I know trains. I just hadn’t considered they might be a challenge to a mum on her own. Hey, I’d successfully traipsed around Europe without the help of Google or a mobile phone. Thank god for naivety! Somehow I managed single-handedly with a sixteen-month-old, a pram and two pieces of luggage. All of it worth every minute of exasperation. The experiences we now share supercede all of the minor problems you may anticipate when travelling solo with a small child.
Travel is in our DNA
Nowadays, we try to get away at least twice a year, taking advantage of cheap flights and collected air miles. Also helping our travel bug is having taken advantage of two redundancy packages during my career. On both occasions, I’ve found myself spending a couple of months abroad and irresistibly submerged in a different culture. My daughter is going to be eight years old on her next birthday and she has travelled to as many countries as her years.
Making unexpected friends
One of the greatest advantages of travelling solo with my child is the unexpected number of friends I have made. Never being someone who would easily ‘join-in’, I never found it easy to make holiday friendships or join in with fellow Brits while abroad. But travelling with my daughter, I more often than not find myself in places where the locals hang, like parks and public beaches. People, like me, are nosey so it’s not unusual to find myself explaining who I am and why we happen to be in a particular place. People love a Scot!
The innocence of children making friends
My daughter will immediately make a new best friend in the innocent, uncompromising and accepting way children do. It’s not long after meeting when playdates are arranged, telephone numbers are exchanged and adult friendships are made in return. We have made some great friends on holiday and have welcomed guests from abroad. We have also been guests and have stayed with European friends.
Our holiday this summer
Having just returned from our Italian summer holiday, we had lunch almost every day with friends we met last year at the same Riviera seaside spot. The mum and I prepared our meals together while ‘pantomiming’ cooking instructions – as she has very little English and my Italian despite constant study, is still at Brit abroad level. My friends have two kids and together with my daughter, the playful three swap stories in a shared language with no name, while dad (not relying on any Italian stereotypes!), naps.
They are the best lunches. Simple yet delicious and beyond anything you can buy in a restaurant. Meals suffused with love and nurture. On the surface, my fellow cook and I have very little in common. She is a stay at home mum, does not work nor drives and she doesn’t understand the internet. Unlike me who is a juggler of work, house restoration, finances and childcare. However, we do share a deep bond for the love of our families and what we do have in common is, we are both feeders.
Empathy, language and communication
I would never have experiences like this if my daughter hadn’t opened the door to what is now cherished and special. I feel privileged. My girl has three constantly praised skills and what’s more, she demonstrates those skills way beyond her years. Empathy, language and communication I can confidently say have all been developed through travel.
Solo parent travel is more than possible
I have watched admiringly as she plays with children she easily gives time to and in situations where she has no vocabulary. Yet, she is able to communicate and convey a warmth and friendliness through her body language. It’s extraordinary to watch. For any single parent out there wondering if you can – it is possible. Yes, yes, indeed it is. Even when your two-year-old locks herself in a rented holiday apartment and she looks at you with calm, reassurance and togetherness as you break in through the bathroom window. Of course, it’s possible.