A very deep rooted feeling that also stems from social conditioning is the fear of doing something by yourself. Let’s accept that we are social creatures and need people around us from the time we pop out of the womb until the day we die. How many of us have never felt the need to be cuddled or embraced when we were scared of something or someone? Probably no one right? It is a cognitive and affective need to associate with someone other than ourselves for self fulfillment. It is also a fascinating and well researched fact that a baby in her sleep, reaches for the mother’s bosom!
This general need for association and safety grows with us as we grow up, and often comes from how we feel in our immediate environment. Our parents become our first guardians (protectors), followed maybe by an outer circle of grandparents, siblings, primary school teachers, spouse and then friends we trust with all our lives. We tend to rely on atleast one other person to be able to get through unfamiliar situations. Remember that this feeling is absolutely normal as we are homo sapiens and are a part of a social structure that we identify with. We also differ in the way we have been brought up with some of us growing up in more protective environments than the other. I was someone that was brought up in a very protective home. For years, all I knew was the route on the school bus from home to school and back. I was not encouraged to venture anywhere that I was going to be by myself, even if it was a movie. I was accompanied everywhere, and I went on my first school trip with my classmates when I was all of 16 (along with my teachers of course). I also have an older brother so you can imagine how guarded and sheltered I was from the outside World. It was only when I turned 19 that I was allowed to step out (literally) of home into the real World. I moved to a bigger city to study, and thus broke free. By ‘breaking free’ I do not mean I suddenly became wild and reckless, but I began to start exploring and seeing things with my own eyes. That is when I started enjoying the happiness that individual freedom can bring with it.
Venturing into unknown territory is unnerving for most of us. It was the same for me and seeing photos and reading stories of women who were hiking in Machu Picchu or staying alone and working in other countries not only fascinated me, but gave me hope because girls just like myself were actually going through it alone. I never thought someday I would be the one writing about facing our fears with the credibility of having travelled alone for sometime now
Solo Travelling with my baby: What is everyone going to say?
Have you ever had this thought run across your mind? Every mother who is in some way inspired to travel or loves travelling and now has a baby may have thought about this at some point. Our environments make it worse for us, because there are innumerable reasons that people around us including our immediate families come up with to express their disdain and concern about this lifestyle. While travelling as such is looked upon as a very loved activity, and family travel is in fact encouraged and looked upon with envy and admiration, solo travel and more so solo parent travel often does not get a piece of that ‘admiration pie’.
There could be several reasons to explain why solo parent travel is not really encouraged or duplicated but all the reasons stem from a root cause: that of well being of the baby (and the parent) ! This particular blog is not meant for a systemic analysis of social conditioning or analysis of factors responsible for only a handful of solo parent travellers in India (and some other geographies), but to give you a real life example of how the thought of ‘what is everyone going to say” went through my mind multiple times but my concern was more about ‘how do I justify this to my family”! I have a close knit family and we end up discussing everything under the sun, but then there are boundaries too that we are expected to respect. So how was I going to make my protective family understand my travel dreams and not be a rebel without a care for the people I loved? I definitely did not want to upset my family just because I wanted to follow my heart. I understand the difference between cold defiance and practical actions. I am a parent too and no one can explain why we have this underlying paranoia about our children that does not understand logic. Having understood where this fear and concern in our families come from, I decided to first address each issue and come to an amicable resolution that was also going to help me face my fears in life.
Have a conversation with yourself and your partner:
When you have dreams to travel by yourself or as a solo parent, most often you will be talking to yourself, so you may as well start the process early. I spent my free time planning and listing out pros and cons of travelling alone with my child who was barely a year old at the time. The most important person that needed convincing was myself, and I promised to hear everyone out with an open mind and then take my own decision. I have always followed this principle and have seen its benefits. I also kept thinking everday about what I would do with my kid when I actually reach and what a life changing experience it will be for me post motherhood. So, I started talking about the plan to my spouse which was most important as he also has an equal footing when it involves travel with our child. It really helps to have a supportive partner who also believes in your dreams, as otherwise the battles start right in the bedroom. I had started this discussion when my baby was in my womb, and he had been totally supportive since then. I was lucky because I had my spouse on the same page when it came to travel, but many of us do not have partners that support these ‘seemingly unconventional’ decisions. The route would of course begin with discussion and not an argument or statement so please remember not to defy when it comes to taking decisions for your child because if you are married and live in the same house, you both have an equal say in your child’s lives. Your spouse has a right to express his/her concerns and sometimes question your plans. If it involves an infant, expect the questions to be manifold and remember to list down his/her valid concerns. These will help you plan your trip better. There also may be spouses who express their concern even more because they have travelled a lot without a child, and know what to expect on the journey. He/she may remind you of the difficulties of handling a baby at airports, train stations, cafes, and simply while walking around a city. Changing a baby while you are out, or making sure you find the right kind of food for your child, making sure they do not get sick while travelling or even navigating a destination with a map as a solo parent is TOUGH. These situations are very real and need a lot of careful planning. But they should not become reasons for you to CANCEL your plans !! They should instead motivate you to plan better and have a very practical conversation with your partner about why you are doing this. Once he/she is convinced and is on the same page as you (a little kiss and makeup doesn’t hurt eh?), you will have conquered two most important fears : CONVINCING YOURSELF and CONVINCING YOUR PARTNER. Give yourself a pat on the back Momma! Also important to remember is:
If your spouse/partner and you are convinced of this decision and they want to help you make it a reality, treat it as the only affirmation you need. Listen with an open mind to your families, relatives, friends and everyone else that has concerns about your trip and remember the valid points exchanged, but never let their comments/questions change/affect your decision to travel solo with your child. The only person that needs to be convinced is the father/mother of your child and once that is done, listen to everyone but take your own decision
Do your homework before you leave
This is THE most important thing you can do for yourself while planning the solo trip with your child. When one is planning family trips one often tends to rely on others for the basics involved in travelling. Now since you are anyway going to be travelling alone with your child, why let anyone else do the planning for you? Take it in your own hands and start planning your travel from scratch, starting from where exactly you want to go. If you feel travelling to a different country with a baby requires more effort,look for a city in your home country that you always wanted to visit and plan a trip there. Start small and gain some confidence with this first trip. I took my daughter to Bengaluru for a music festival when she was 9 months old and this was my first trip with her as a solo parent as we had been taking a lot of family trips with the baby since she was three months old, but I had never really ventured out on my own. Doing this week long trip was such a revelation and experience as I started handling everything on my own and also had a great time with my baby and friends. This became my practice ground for planning my future trips with the child as I was now convinced that I would be able to manage her without any help. Asking your significant other or friends and family is of course useful and can provide you with a lot of insights (as in my case where I learnt a lot of travel planning from my spouse. I was particularly bad at reading maps and doing flight research, but over the years, I have honed my skills in both) The nitty gritties like visa applications, flight tickets, accommodation, destination research and packing list should all be ideally taken care of by the passengers, in this case the only adult passenger which is YOU! You could take the help of a travel agent also if it is your first trip because leaving the important work to a professional completely makes sense. We do not want to be stranded at an airport with a baby but without an e-visa right!! However, make it your responsibility( and not your partner’s) to discuss everything with the agent and follow up while the process is going on. Take ample time to research as these everything is available on the internet. Double check reviews of accommodations before you book them, read a lot of travel blogs from real travellers, pre book online (or skip the line) tickets for busy attractions so you do not waste time waiting in long queues with your child. Have all your bookings in one place (a digital wallet or in a printed folder that you can carry along. Also, make a practical packing list for the baby. You can check out my article here that has very useful tips on “what to pack when you go backpacking with your baby”. You can also choose to do a regular trip that involves a little more luxury and pack accordingly. The tip here is to not over pack and increase your luggage as you alone will be resonsible for all of it (along with a baby)! Thus, you will have now conquered your third fear: PLANNING THE TRIP ON YOUR OWN
Connect and network with your friends based around that destination
This is one thing I have begun doing very frequently now. When I was travelling to Germany, I reconnected with two old friends of mine from my volunteering days at Auroville as they were both based in Germany, but in different cities. It took me just a ‘hello’ to initiate this connection again as they were both excited to know that I was coming to their country. After weeks of travelling, and shuttling between European cities, we finally met in Berlin and it was so much fun to see someone I knew from before. We travelled on local trains almost into midnight, dined at a beautiful place with the baby, and it helped me feel really safe in a country that spoke a different language altogether. It also helped me get a lot of local information about the weather, people, and safety issues before I even left with my friend Sophie dishing out all information required through instant messaging. I did the same thing during my recent trip to Spain with my baby. I met a friend of my friend who was based in Barcelona, and although I did not stay with her, I spent almost an entire day learning and enjoying local food in Barcelona and she met my baby too. I got into the local neighbourhood, sampled delicious food and drinks and it made me very comfortable in a new city in another part of the World. As a solo traveller, it is imperative that we work on our social skills in order to help ourselves and have a great time with the child. It helps to scan your friends list on Facebook or your contacts on the phone to see if anyone you know is based there or has a friend living in the same country or city. You will find that establishing this network helps you in many ways. Ask them specific questions that may be nagging you such as ‘which brands of baby food are available in your country?’, ‘what will the weather exactly be like so I can pack accordingly?’, ‘is English widely spoken in that city?’, or ‘will I get access to 24/7 supermarkets in case i run out diapers for the baby?’ Even if you do not have anyone around, you must make it a habit to ask for help. This helps when you have lost your way, or are making sure that you are getting on the correct bus or just need a helping hand lifting the baby stroller down the stairs. There is no shame in asking for help, and learning a few broken words in the local language. I do this all the time, especially in smaller cities where there are no signages in English or I cannot spot any ‘i'(information) booths. Many times I have had locals themselves offering help as they spotted a mother travelling with a baby and wanted to reach out. If you are visiting a city in the same country, you will be more at ease because of the familiarity, so take the first step when looking for help or advice. Here you would have conquered a fear known as : TALKING TO STRANGERS AND ASKING FOR HELP!
Nowhere is 100% safe and that could well be your neighbourhood
I get a lot of questions in my social channels about how I manage to stay safe while travelling with my baby. I realise that this is something that is very very subjective and based on experience and also has a lot to blame on the media we consume on a daily basis. These days, there is no single destination that I can point out to and assume there is no crime happening there. What we need to do instead of cancelling trips because places and people are unsafe is to equip ourselves with the right kind of information and skills to tackle these issues head on. A skill that I will swear by is using common sense in all situations. Taking a life along with you and being responsible for their safety is your priority. Remembering this basic tenet will help you navigate through places and situations with common sense. It is best to trust your gut in all practical situations. For eg: when you know you should be heading back because it is getting dark and you may probably have to walk back alone with a baby stroller through a lonely area, or when you know you should not wear any flashy items or have your body bag in front of you in a city that is reputed for petty crimes, trust your gut. Despite all our guards on, we fall into situations that are outside of our control (such as getting lost or missing a bus back to your accommodation or even worse, getting mugged in broad daylight!) These can happen anywhere regardless of location and time, so the best way to approach safety issues is to BE SAFE! Remembering at all times that you may not be able to run with a baby, or let them get hurt in any way, you can follow best practices when you are travelling. Picking out accommodation in central or residential areas, picking out BnB or homestays where the host family lives in the same house, reading reviews of hotels from travel sites before you book, keeping your hotel and your family back home informed of your whereabouts and carrying along safety items such as pepper spray, a sharp object etc. for all unforeseen emergencies should be enough to see you through the trip. Using common sense is key but getting paranoid about safety will do more harm than good to your long cherished dream of solo travel. In my personal experience, I can guarantee that out of a 100 people I have met in my travels, 90 of them have been extremely safe and helpful so doesnt that say a lot about why the World is not as unsafe as it appears? Now you will have conquered a fear called : FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN ( BAD STUFF HAPPENING TO ME)
Your fears are within you and no one but yourself can tackle them head on and move ahead! Think of all that you are going to teach your baby as you both meander through busy streets, airplane journeys, beautiful sunsets, rolling waves and what not! Think of the time when they go through all these memories with you twenty years from now and thank you for introducing them to this beautiful planet and the joys of travelling with you.