PARIS — After spending close to three glorious weeks of wandering the charmingly narrow cobblestone roads of Lisbon, sampling the cuisine up and down La Rambla in Barcelona, allowing the Parisian sun to kiss the nape of my neck and people watching from the beach in Cannes with my children, I’m refreshed, yet devastated to be home.
Cliché phrase, I know. Anyone coming back from a good vacation is devastated and dreading going back to work. But this time it is different.
Stay with me, something more is at play here.
Last year, my daughter declared that for her 10th birthday she wanted to visit the French playground of Cannes. I’m not one to ever let my children down, and since my children are in the midst of one big disappointment in life — their mom and dad not being able to work their marriage out — I made it my mission to indulge this wish.
Above: After the breakup of her marriage, Kathryn Dickson sets out on a solo adventure with her children.
After all, I’ve been a lifelong traveller and was feeling a little chained down. Anytime I am grounded in Toronto, you can be assured I am suffering from a severe case of wanderlust, so the trip became the perfect distraction.
After nine months of saving up the money and three months of late night, meticulous itinerary planning, this was the first family vacation that was just my children and myself.
It was the first vacation in many years that the undertones of stress and discontent between my husband and I were absent. I was free to enjoy every moment with my children, meeting new people, trying out new languages, moving at the speed we wanted and where we wanted.
I was up early every day ready to get that coffee in me and start sightseeing, but my children had other plans that entailed sleeping in and eating their breakfast at a ridiculously and frustratingly slow pace.
However, there were so many special advantages to having this time with my children alone.
That’s why I want to share my recent family travel experiences with other single parents who need to know how attainable travel can be and what to look forward to when taking your children on a solo parenting expedition to foreign lands. Like a plethora of “firsts” we experienced:
• First time trying to figure out what the helpful driver was saying in Spanish when we stepped off the bus at Barcelona’s Plaça de Catalunya.
• First time ordering off a menu in French at a restaurant in Marseille recommended by our hotel receptionist. However, we had no cellphone signal in the restaurant to activate our translation app to assist you with the order. My only option was to stand upstairs, but I did not because that would have meant leaving my children.
Above: During the trip, Kathryn's children got to see wonderful things and learned some valuable travel lessons.
• First time riding a subway in Milan and and we get off at the right stop and emerge from the correct exit for the Duomo. Success! We celebrate with high fives on the stairs, annoying everyone we’re holding up behind us.
• First time putting our feet in the water of the Bay of Cannes and being oddly shocked that the water isn't warm. We’re in the south of France after all! Doesn’t south mean warm to a Canadian?
These “firsts” will be the basis of memories and inside jokes for years to come between my children and I and other single parents can enjoy the same by planning a trip abroad.
Sure, mistakes can be made or unpleasant incidents can arise, but it’s all in how you handle it.
Chances are, if you are solo with your children and across the ocean, you’ve already assessed some important minutia about what is important in the grand scheme of life and what can truly make or break your day.
There is no question there’s only one “adult" in charge of holding passports and travel documents at airports, train stations or bus terminals. If you don’t have them in your backpack or purse, it’s on you. There is no other adult to blame and therefore no friction.
When you are packing up in the morning to move on to your next destination, there is no other adult to get annoyed at for not pulling their share of the work.
Travel is a great opportunity to show the children what needs to be done and delegate tasks to them.
Your children will learn valuable packing skills, which they can apply to future vacations.
Advising children on how to read departure gate boards will teach them (hopefully) how not to miss flights, trains and busses in the future when they endeavour to travel on their own.
They can also cover your butt, as I discovered, when I glanced really quickly to check and misread which gate we were supposed to be at for our flight.
Above: The trio huddles to escape the cold of southern France and mom celebrates her accomplishment.
“But Mom, it said 10, one, zero. Not zero, one,” my daughter reminded me.
Explaining terms such as jet lag and calculating the hours as you pass through time zones will hopefully bestow your children valuable lessons, such as the importance of sleeping on airplanes so you don’t lose a day of sightseeing.
After all, mom really wants to make it to Pastéis de Belém as soon as possible when landing in Lisbon.
Imparting the lessons of currency conversation and seeing money as an object, then realizing that it only goes so far, is a skill to have and treasure.
It can really only be taught in the midst of bargaining for a better price on a souvenir purchase.
Saving the money, sacrificing daily luxuries such as eating lunch out and afternoon lattes, the stress of planning, packing and organizing two children and myself and assuring their father that I was actually going to return with them to Canada, was no small feat.
It took some time management and a lot of prioritization to make this dream come true for my daughter, son and subsequently myself.
This was a very needed distraction to the everyday troubles of what now looks like a mundane life.
It’s hard to say how the other parent could react if you request to take the children abroad for any period of time, even if you are still happily married.
But if the situation is remotely amicable and your former (or current) spouse will permit you to take the children on a vacation, without him or her, please do it.
Not just to put some time and distance between the two of you, but for the children.