We arrived home yesterday in one piece after the 24-hour+ journey back. As with all life-changing travels, though, you never really come back entirely. Instead, you leave little pieces of yourself scattered about the world and in the hearts and minds of the people you meet along the way. So, now the trip is over, let me try to answer the question honestly. Can you travel the world alone with kids?
Maybe more importantly, do you want to?
Can You Travel the World Alone with Kids?
Well, obviously, I am living and breathing proof that, yes, you can. But you need to dig deep into the reserves of strength and courage you didn’t know you had. You need to be prepared to go through some of your darkest moments, do things you’re not proud of, lower your standards a little (actually, a lot), and place more faith in your kids’ ability to judge right from wrong.
Traveling alone with two small children is not a ratio that will ever work in your favor. You won’t find (m)any other people doing the same thing. In fact, I didn’t find a single one but that’s not to say there aren’t. It’s just that most people don’t have the odds stacked against them. They outnumber the infants, they have four hands instead of just two, four eyes, two adult brains.
They aren’t trying to fireman lift one child on either side as they leave the plane trailing a suitcase behind. They aren’t sitting at a restaurant wondering which kid needs attention more urgently–the one wandering toward the road or the one about to fall off the swing.
They aren’t being gossiped about or frowned upon because they are a socially unacceptable travel number. They’re also able to stop their infants from getting too close to the edge of the pool before they’re at the edge of the pool.
They can give each other a break and take turns to change diapers, nurse the sick, do the bathing, feeding, various other activities, and maybe help map-read and pass the kids the never-ending amount of items they need and that fall on the floor while you’re traversing the treacherous streets in a car that’s being encircled by mopeds.
It Was the Best of Times, It Was the Worst of Times
When I cast my mind back to a few months ago, the question going round and round in my mind was whether I could do it. Could I really, honestly, pick up the kids, drive across the country to Portugal for the summer when it was challenging enough making it to the end of the road without one of them screaming.
Then I had a wine-fueled evening, took leave of my senses and decided to go all-in on my decision to show my kids the world by buying tickets to Bali. I received two types of responses only: shock and awe or absolute negativity. I was either entirely courageous or incredibly stupid. In reality, you need to be a bit of both.
You also need to swear a lot and lower your radar of how much you give a f**k about what other people think. Traveling the world alone with kids will place you in multiple situations you’d rather not be in.
Bothering other passengers on a plane. Having to fit three people in an airplane toilet. Sitting down after ordering your meal only to have to get up and take one of them to the bathroom. (That means taking both of them to the bathroom by the way, and all your belongings as well).
After the many many miles across the parched lands of Spain, arriving in Ericeira Portugal, tired and late, to leave them at Happy Kids daycare center the next day was one of the hardest moments of my life. I literally drove back to the apartment bawling as my heart was severed in two leaving them crying in an unknown place pleading to come back with me.
If you have to work while you’re traveling with your kids, you have to be prepared to go to some deep dark places. But it’s only when you’ve seen the blackest tunnel that you’re able to recognize how brightly the light shines on the other side. How excited, happy, energetic, invigorated, and protected they were there every day melted my heart.
We were extremely lucky to have found such a caring and loving surroundings for them and it made Portugal not only possible but enjoyable.
We still had the restaurant issues, the toilet problems, and the constant fighting and swearing at Google Maps. But, the first part of the trip was, without doubt, a resounding success.
Can you travel the world alone with kids? If you’re driving, honestly, it’s much much much easier. The hardest part of all is taking two tiny people on various airplanes across time zones and cultures.
The Dark Places
I think if I knew how horrendous traveling with Valentino on an airplane would be, I wouldn’t have done it. My sweet, charming, loving and gentle boy literally turns into a swirling, wriggling, flailing, frothing monster on every. single. takeoff (and landing)–to the (oh, so many) raised eyebrows, huffs, and glares from the other passengers– at the beginning at least.
It wasn’t until they witnessed me literally battling with all my strength to keep him pinned in the seat, until they saw the blood, bruises, and scratches he was causing me, or the flight attendants gasping that they’d never witnessed anything like it that the disgust turned into something close to admiration, at least, from some people. (At least, I think that’s what it was).
After the longest journey from Valencia to London, London to Hong Kong, Hong Kong to Denpasar, Bali (all without my daughter’s favorite toy), lost luggage, and a ghastly hotel upon arrival, Cataleya immediately got sick.
It wasn’t until wasting almost a week treating her for a tropical virus that I took her to the hospital and we discovered that she had pneumonia.
All that stressful travel, all the pain that I inflicted on my own children only to have her dangerously sick was like a black hole swirling around me.
I was stupid and selfish. I had failed spectacularly. They were too young, and I was being punished for my misplaced bravado. I was also ugly and old (and a bucketload of other criticisms I flung my way just to really kick salt into the wounds).
But then, she got better.
The terrifying and cluttered streets became less daunting. The unknown became familiar, we started to get into a routine, going to places and peeling back the layers of Bali little by little. Before we knew it, we were right at home among the jungle, beaches, temples, ramshackle market stalls, and Australian tourists.
The Memorable-for-the-Right-Reasons Places
Watching your children grow among other cultures, take delight in pointing at the colorful fish in the pond or the strange food on their plates, seeing them make friends with children, wait staff, and other passengers and travelers from around the world is a privileged position to be in.
I saw my children in a different light. I witnessed what they were capable of and saw their personalities develop and unfold in front of me. My four-year-old taught herself to swim. My one-year-old picked fresh flowers every day of different colors to show me. We became like the three amigos, in this crazy experiment together, never leaving each other’s side.
After dedicating most of my time to working as the kids grew up (and even through both my pregnancies), spending so much time up close with them witnessing new things for the first time was a delight. Our trips to Portugal, Bali, and Singapore will be forever carved into my memory. And only the good will remain because the good by far outweighs the bad.
Any parent can resonate with this, whether they travel with their children or not. It’s not always fun being a parent. In fact, it can be darnright miserable.
Those first few months of sleepless night after sleepless night would be unbearable if it weren’t for those incredible moments that pierce through the dark. The smiles, the giggles, the sitting up and rolling over, the calling you mommy, the saying “I love you”. All these things outweigh every awful moment spent clearing up vomit or calming tears.
The Kindness of Strangers
So, yes, you can travel the world alone with kids. But, it isn’t for everyone and it certainly isn’t easy. Know that for every beautiful Kodak moment is a slew of miserable, ugly, awful moments (usually awash with bodily fluids).
But one thing to definitely note, (because this world is full of all types of people) there are plenty of people who won’t lend you a hand, who won’t help you, who will barge past you in a line, and do their level best to make you feel like a second-class citizen for traveling with kids. But for all of those people, there are angels sent down to protect and help you through your turmoils.
Many a time, the kindness of strangers brought me to tears and got me through the hardest of times. Like when I drove down a one-way street the wrong way and couldn’t reverse and a man came out of his shop and stopped the traffic to help me turn the car around. Or the Japanese passenger from Bali to Hong Kong who let my children leap all over him and play and laugh while making them origami.
The Balinese nanny who went out of her way to get Valentino a pacifier and bring it to the hotel as a gift. Agus and Katut who had my surfboard ready and waiting for me every day. Wayan, who knew exactly what the best time to clean the room was and who left me extra coffee. The lady who made a special effort to come up to me at the airport to tell me what an incredible mother I was and what a good job I was doing…
Mark Twain said he could live for a couple of months on a good compliment. Well, I think I could live forever being amazed and astonished by the kindness of strangers.
In a world that sometimes feels as if it’s falling apart at the seams, in which we’re still losing the fight with the sweeping gap between rich and poor, love and hate, right and wrong… people are still fundamentally good and caring at heart. And that’s what fuels you to go on.
That’s what makes it possible to travel the world alone with kids–that, and some pretty steely determination (and a few Bintangs in the evening).
More blogs on the details to come later.
Never let them break your spirit.