Travelling alone after kids

The joys of solo travel ...
The joys of solo travel ... Photo: Getty

The first time I travelled by myself overseas there wasn't a Contiki tour, cheap beer or youth hostel in sight. There was a great apartment, chosen primarily because the couch looked so inviting, duty-free gin and lots of sleeping in.

Somehow, although I had travelled to lots of great places, I had never travelled alone until my late 30s, leaving behind three children, a husband and a mountain of laundry. While I looked forward to the promise of solitude and blissful silence, I was surprisingly anxious before I left. After so many years travelling with a partner or friends, would going solo be lonely, unsafe or just a little boring?

I didn't plan to travel alone. But the kids were going skiing with three generations of snow bunnies (which I am not) and my options were either hang out at home and clean out the cupboards or go on an adventure. And Iceland was at the top of my travel wish list.

I could have relaxed and recharged at home. But a solo trip wasn't just about relaxing. It was about rediscovering my sense of adventure and confidence, shaking up the daily routine and having great stories to tell my kids. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone, to explore, to meet people and put myself out there without the buffers of friends or family.

As I left Reykjavik late at night to try and catch the northern lights, I was acutely aware of being the oldest person on my tour bus. By 1am, with no auroras to be seen and our tour guide admitting defeat, I was well and truly ready for bed while my fellow travellers were planning the night's pub-crawl. I may have felt ancient, but I was there to put myself in new situations and the excitement and sense of adventure was worth every brief moment of self-consciousness.

I didn't think leaving behind kids and a husband to travel was especially strange, but many apparently did. My father-in-law gently asked my husband if our marriage was okay. After mentioning the trip in passing to my GP she asked how my husband felt about it and, despite my protestations - "he encouraged me to go!" - a note was duly made on my file.

It turns out that the desire to travel and escape real life is not so unusual. If mumcations aren't a thing yet, perhaps they should be.

After many great experiences travelling solo in her 20s before having children, the pull to travel was still there for Jen when her daughters were three and one. The trickiest part for Jen was justifying to herself the decision to travel across Japan for ten days.

Jen found that her perspective on travelling had shifted since having children. "After a few years with toddlers and having no control over life, I could deal with the uncertainties of travel in a better way" said Jen.

Travelling solo also gave Jen a new experience that came from having a family at home to return to. "I travelled a lot in my 20s when I didn't know who I was and I was hoping I would work out where I wanted to go in life" said Jen.  "And now I was in a place I love -I had this loving husband and beautiful children- I didn't have all the answers" said Jen, "but I had that lovely security to just be myself and go for the reason of travel, just to have a new experience."

Travelling solo as a mum has so many positives, says Jen. It makes you appreciate the life you have and having people to miss you. "I think it's really wise to continue to remember what it is to look after yourself so you know you can do it" she said.

The typical downsides of travelling alone are in fact positives for a mum flying solo. According to Mum's Word blogger Maria Tedeschi, mother of four, when she travelled alone to New York "a highlight was that it was three days before I had a proper conversation with anyone outside of ordering food." Rather than feeling lonely, the ability to be alone with your uninterrupted thoughts is priceless, said Maria.

Maria's advice to minimise any separation anxiety is to have a set time to check in with family. For Maria her mornings worked best, when it was evening at home and the kids were winding down. She then had the day to explore second-hand bookstores and music shops, safe in the knowledge that all was well at home. 

Mother of two and Managing Editor of South East Asian travel site travelfish.org Samantha Brown travels solo for both work and pleasure. For Samantha the real luxury of solo travel is regaining control. So much is outside your control when you have kids, said Samantha "that to not have to pander to anyone else's interests -even an adult's- is a luxury." 

There are few downsides to solo travelling agrees Maggie, mum to Oli, 9. While living in Seattle when Oli was young Maggie regularly returned to Sydney alone to visit family and friends, not wanting to disturb Oli's school routine.

Taking a break from being a stay at home mum meant the opportunity get away from the daily routine and look after myself with no planning ahead, says Maggie. "I'm also more outgoing on my own", said Maggie, "so I'm meeting more people and getting different things out of the experience than I would if I travelled with someone else." The only challenge for Maggie was the logistics and planning involved in leaving her son behind with his dad.

Amber Daines, CEO of public relations agency Bespoke Communications, agrees that the planning involved when she travelled to Singapore, leaving her two-year-old son with his dad, was the biggest obstacle to overcome. "It was a military operation to arrange everything ahead of the trip," said Amber, but her advice is once you are on the plane, relax, have a drink and leave it all behind.

I returned home from Iceland with an energy that kept me going for months. I felt like I had slipped back into the skin of pre-kids me, and it was nice to hang out there for a while. Would I do it again? The snow bunnies are off hitting the slopes again and my single ticket is already booked- Russia here I come.

Mihal is an Australian freelance writer, mother of three and has been living in the Netherlands for the past 6 years. You can follow Mihal on Twitter @mihalgreener