I can only remember one weekend in my life when my parents travelled and left my brother, and I at home to be cared for by my paternal grandmother. There was a funeral that we were “too young to attend,” and this was the only safe, and logical option for everyone.
It may seem strange, but our parents rarely left us; it was often us leaving them. Sure we had the occasional night with babysitters while they attended weddings, or bar mitzvahs, but those were few, and far between. Usually my brother would stay with a friend, and I’d be carted over to my aunt’s house to play with my cousins under my my maternal grandmother’s not-so-watchful eyes.
For my parents, it wasn’t a matter of not trusting anyone to babysit us, it was a financial decision. They both worked hard for their money, but their wages didn’t reflect their efforts. It was far easier for them to ship us off to a relative, or a friend, than it was for them to pay someone to watch T.V. while we slept.
We did have a small string of babysitters though; I’m sure I scared many of them out of having their own children. I was an insecure child. I was afraid of my own shadow, and everything that went bump in the night. I wasn’t like that with my grandmothers, or when I slept out though; I was only afraid at home. The reasons why are probably best composed in another post.
My parents had a very small circle of friends. Their peers never travelled without their children, or went on grand family adventures. Our lower-middle-class family was much like any other in our era. We’d pile into the second-hand family car, roll down the windows, and hope the cigarette butts that the adults flicked out as we drove down the highway didn’t land back in the car still lit.
We’d stay at the same motels, and motor lodges year after year, adding our own juice stains to the carpets, and grooves in the couches. Life was simple, for the children at least, and the adults seemed happy enough. Knowing what I know about life now, I suspect they weren’t, but there’s no changing the past, is there?
My brother, and I had different experiences with adults. Through the lives of our friends, we saw adult-only vacations while our peers were left at home with nannies, or farmed off to summer camps for two months. We were sometimes the hosts of children crashing in our rooms while their parents travelled to places that we only knew of from commercials, or school atlases.
Back then, while graciously hosting our friends, our parents would sneer behind their backs and judge their parents for taking vacations without them. From my vantage point in life now, I strongly suspect some jealousy on my parents’ part. They never left us because they couldn’t, so they judged people for doing what they probably dreamt of many, many times.
Time thrust me into adulthood with responsibilities of my own. My own path settled me with someone who refused even the most adept babysitter. Our children were never “left” with anyone. Without adequate grandparent supervision (again, not to be touched upon here), we were bereft for childcare options.
Many occasions were missed, or one of us (me often being the default parent) would stay behind to entertain the children while the other tended to social responsibilities. There were many battles. I often pushed for freedom that couldn’t be granted because as the default parent, the children were dependent on ME.
Eventually I won my case and a few select friends were granted the pleasure of supervising our children while we tended to society without them. By then, our children had grown some unhealthy attachment issues, and jealousies towards being excluded from outings and events.
Much like my parents, we travelled with our children. The difference is that we took risks, and adventures, rather than staying in the same parking spots, eating at the same restaurants, and connecting with the same people.
As we travelled, I was once again the default parent employing my patience, my anxieties, my organization, and my guilt to help run the trip as smoothly as possible. I had to ensure everyone’s needs were met. I had to ensure that everyone felt safe. I had to ensure that everyone felt seen, heard, and valued all while having the times of their lives. More often than not, someone was left crying because they didn’t get their way. Sometimes the tears were shed by adults.
Travelling as a parent is not vactioning; it’s parenting in a different location without any of your usual tools, or comforts. It’s not about you as an adult, but about being the caregiver to everyone else in your party: other adults included.
Terrible circumstances led me to taking my first solo trip post childbearing. A rushed trip to visit sick relatives proved that I could take time for myself, provided I prepped the entire house, and family before I left.
That experience opened the door to many self-guided trips, although unfortunately, I’m still tied to expectations, and rules. Trapped in a world that thrives on jealousy, I have ONE safe place that I’m permitted to visit solo. That restriction will be changing in a breath. In travelling solo, I create waves of jealousy amongst the home dwellers. To be honest, none of that bothers me, nor should it.
Amongst my friends, several of them travel in groups to wild, and exciting destinations. Some float off to fancy cottages with friends, others board tin birds and scatter themselves along beaches, or get lost in dense cities. Their partners “hold down the fort” while they’re away, or their parents step in to help.
Many couples I know travel together leaving their offspring with generations of love to care for them. None of these are options in my life. Even if they were, I’d still choose to travel solo when possible.
Travelling solo allows me to breathe. Even conformed to one destination, I’m able to make decisions for myself without stressing about everyone else’s happiness. I can choose to eat, sleep, or maneuver myself any which way I please. I laugh. I socialize. I breathe.
People used to ask me if I was lonely taking solo vacations. How could I be? I have great company in myself, and the ability to reach out to whomever I choose to invest time with. Honestly, if I could give anyone advice on life, it would be to travel alone at least once. Go somewhere familiar, or travel into the great unknown and find a new place to call your emotional utopia.
Don’t be afraid of new places. Talk to strangers. Eat new foods. Explore. You will find a best friend in yourself, and create memories that you will cherish forever.