I’ll never travel alone again

A few weeks ago I traveled to New York by myself — my first solo trip since giving birth to my daughter three years ago.

I thought my trip would be like many other solo trips I had taken before I became a mother: exploring wherever my feet led, wandering down whatever road looked interesting, my only concern being to find my way back in the evening to where I was staying.

But I was wrong. It was anything but that.

What I discovered is that it’s impossible for me to ever travel alone again the way I used to.

Because even though I was alone on this trip, I felt anchored to my home hundreds of miles away in a way that I never had before. My mind was often on my daughter and husband back at home, wondering what they were up to without me.

A fleeting kiss for a snowman

A fleeting kiss for a snowman

So instead of traveling alone, I traveled with an almost constant, low-level narrative in my head that was split between thinking about what was happening at home without me and how I would love for my husband and daughter see all the things I was seeing in New York.

Since my daughter was born, we’ve always traveled as a family. There have been occasional trips with just me and my daughter, but most of our traveling has been with the three of us. Until this trip, it was almost inconceivable to me to think about leaving my daughter for a few days.

I think solo travel is going to be an entirely new experience for me now. Whenever I’m away, I’ll always be thinking about the people I’ve left at home and missing them and the important little bits of life happening at home without me.

Because the little bits are mostly what life is made up of, right? The hundreds of tiny moments that happen in a day that we gloss over and take for granted.

Discovering a tiny red spider on a nature walk

Discovering a tiny red spider on a nature walk

Well, as it turns out, I take them for granted until I don’t have them, and then they become pretty much all I think about.

I remember the laughter coming from the back seat of the car when my daughter and I tell silly stories to each other. The quick kiss from my husband as he leaves for work in the morning. The shrieks of joy from my daughter when I watch my husband push her so high on the swings at the playground. My daughter’s tears at the end of a long day when it’s past her bedtime, and she’s exhausted and just can’t keep it together for one second more.

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Yep, the good, the bad — all of it. I don’t want to miss out on a second of my family’s life, which is completely and totally unreasonable, I know. But there it is. I don’t want to miss anything and — at the same time — I dream of somehow finding my way back to a version of my old, independent self who loved being on my own.

So, after a lot of thought, I’ve decided that it’s OK for me to miss out occasionally on moments with my family. Maybe it’s more than OK — maybe it’s even important.

After all, my daughter and I have grown so close because of all the time we’ve spent alone together. Isn’t time alone with her dad just as important? If I’m not there, doesn’t it mean that they have the chance to develop their own ways of doing things? My daughter can share inside jokes and rituals and traditions with her dad, just like she does with me.

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And maybe the best way to let them forge those bonds is to let them figure things out by themselves sometimes.

I’ve always been amazed at the incredible experience of being the person responsible for introducing the world to a child. I get a front row seat to see my daughter figure out all sorts of things about life.

But sometimes I’m going to have to give up that front row seat to go off and do things on my own, and — more importantly — show my daughter that it’s important to take care of yourself sometimes when you’re taking care of others.

I know I’ll miss them like crazy when I’m away, but I comfort myself with knowing that I’ll be home soon to tell them all about my adventures. And my daughter and husband will fill me in on the adventures they shared while I was gone.

It’s not such a bad tradeoff, I suppose. Maybe my mind will always be tethered to home while I’m away. But it’s also nice to know that there are people I love thinking about me, too, and waiting for me to come back.

What about you? Have you ever felt sad or guilty when leaving your loved ones behind while traveling?

Big cities and sore feet

So I decided that I was going to take only one pair of shoes to New York. That decision — when combined with a few transportation snafus — turned out to be a big mistake.

I decided on the one pair of shoes because it was such a short trip. I try to pack light, and I thought it would make sense to take just one pair of shoes that went with all two (two!) outfits I took with me.

Here’s my unsolicited travel advice on shoes: if you’re only going to take one pair, please make sure that they’re comfortable for an entire day of walking, not just a few hours. The shoes I brought were comfortable enough (I thought) and went with all my clothes. But I had never done miles of walking in these shoes, and they turned out to be, well, not so comfortable. Mid-way through my weekend, I would have killed for my comfy Merrells.

New York City sunrise

Good morning, NYC.

That being said, I had a lovely time wandering the streets of the city. Part of my exploring was because of track work on the subway that prevented me from taking trains all the way to my destination. But I choose to see that as a serendipitous event that led me to see more of the above-ground part of the city (even if it was at the expense of my feet).

New York City street

A morning walk in the city

New York felt different to me on this visit. It wasn’t as alien as it was when I was younger. I remember visiting New York City in the 1980s and seeing lots of motorcycle jackets, green mohawks and graffiti — stuff I rarely saw in my hometown.

Maybe it was because I wasn’t in the section of town that has the tallest skyscrapers. Or maybe I’ve become accustomed to visiting other urban cities in my travels since I was last in New York City. Whatever the reason, it seems like the city has changed a lot since my first visit so long ago. But I’ve changed a lot, too. Maybe if I went back in time and ran into those mohawked punk rockers from the 1980s as my present self, I’d have a much more relaxed reaction to them.

New York city men spa

On this trip for the first time, I felt sort of… at home in New York. I walked down sidewalks that weren’t clogged with people. And the people I saw didn’t seem to be in a crazy important rush to get somewhere. They were friendly and stopped to help me when I was lost and asked for directions. I stopped in early one morning at an Amish market that had beautiful baskets of fruit and vegetables.

New York City Amish market

I didn’t go anywhere near any touristy or business areas, so maybe on this trip I’ve finally seen a side of New York that most short-term visitors don’t get to see: the real, everyday New York City that people actually live in instead of just visit.

New York City… alone!

If you’re a full-time parent like me, you’ll understand the magnitude of what I’m about to say:

I’m embarking on a solo trip. That is alone. As in by myself. No husband, no kids. I don’t even know how to express how excited I am.

I’m going to New York City for the first time in decades, and I can’t wait.

New York City at night

Part of the New York City skyline

I still remember how it feels to travel alone. I can close my eyes and cast my mind back to years ago, before the husband, before the child, to a time when I took off for parts unknown by myself several times a year.

I think back to a trip to Prague with my boyfriend (now husband) just a few months after we met. I had done a lot of solo traveling before going on that trip, and it was strange how easily I slipped into traveling with a new person. It was great, but I didn’t realize how different it was until one day on our trip he didn’t feel well and decided to stay in bed that afternoon. After being assured by him that he was only mildly ill, I opted to go out and explore a little by myself instead of spending all day in the hotel room with him.

I walked out of the hotel and started wandering in whatever direction I thought looked interesting. I felt myself relaxing into my old self from just a few months ago. “Oh, right, THIS is what it feels like,” I thought as I explored the winding streets. There were no consultations on where someone else might want to go, no negotiations about where to eat or if we should stop. It was completely up to me.

Prague, Czech Republic

See those little streets? Fun to explore with someone else or alone.

Fast forward to the present day with a husband and child, and it’s been a long time since I’ve traveled alone. When we travel, there are always other voices that need to be heard. My husband might want to go to a museum while I want to stop in at that cafe down the street for a croissant, and my daughter needs a nap. I’m well-accustomed to the negotiations and compromises necessary when traveling with my family.

But on this trip, I’ll be in charge. I’m going to the Women’s Travel Fest conference, but guess what… if I get there and decide that I want to explore the city instead, I can! I probably won’t, of course, but that’s not the point. The point is that all decisions are in my hands.

I’m wondering if New York seem as big as it did when I was younger. Will I still be slightly intimidated by all the people rushing around on sidewalks and huge skyscrapers filling the skies?

I want to see how the city has changed since I last visited. But I also want to see how I’ve changed. The city will be different, but – several decades later – I’ll be different, too. The way I see things now will be different from how I saw them when I was younger. How much of the change in what I see will be attributable to the city itself changing, and how much is attributable to how I’ve changed over time?

It’s a short trip this time – just for a weekend – but I’m going to squeeze in as much exploring as possible in each of those 48 hours I’ve got.

Here we go

Quite simply, I cannot think of a better start to this blog than this video. Take a second (or ~3.5 minutes) to watch it:

A lot has changed in the five years since I created this video in grad school. The boyfriend has become a husband. We have a new refrigerator (yay!). And the magnets have been carefully packed away in a box to make room for a certain three-year-old’s artwork on the new refrigerator — because isn’t it the duty of all parents to proudly display their child’s first scribbles to anyone who happens to wander into the kitchen?

But even though the magnets are out of sight now, they’re not out of mind. Through all the toddler clutter of toys and books and tiny clothes replaced far too often because she’s growing up so fast, I can still feel the magnets tugging at me from their hibernation in a box in the attic. Waiting.

Waiting for me (us) to get to a point where we’re ready to start adding to our collection again.

Until then, though, I’m trying to appreciate every magical, mundane and maddening moment of my life in the here and now.

So grab a glass of wine. Sit down. Let’s hang out for a while.