Travelling as a Single Parent
I have to admit as time goes on, it's hard to find time to keep blogging at the rate I was in the past. I probably should set a resolution to blog more in the new year, but really who ever sticks to a resolution? (hahaha). Anyway, I wanted to make two separate blogs about my recent trip to Japan: One about my trip in general and one about travelling as a single parent with a young child. I hope either or even both blogs help or inspire in some way.
When I was younger, I always had a desire to travel. I never went because I was so caught up in the grind of everyday life and never had the finances to do anything. I had travelled inter and outer state with Tayla while I was still with her dad, but his drinking problem did make some logistics difficult with travelling and I found it more stressful than it was worth. So towards the end of our relationship, we rarely left town and outings were limited to friend's houses or a quiet beach. The first year of being a single parent was a time for me to readjust myself and figure out the possibilities, I took Tayla on a few road trips out of town, and for both of us, that was adequate.
Early last year, the desire to travel came back in full force. At that point I had a permanent job and I felt it was a big possibility…. but I wasn't sure what I could do. By sheer chance, I found a great 7 day cruise deal around Tassie and down to Melbourne. We went December last year and had an absolute blast! Then we had a huge 10 day holiday in Melbourne to visit some of Tayla's relatives and then finally we just capped off a 7 day holiday to Japan (our first trip overseas EVER). I will talk about Japan in a separate blog as I want to use this one as a means of discussing travel as a single parent. As anyone would appreciate, no families are exactly the same and there are so many different circumstances and logistics to consider. In my case, I am a single mother working as a teacher in a permanent job who has full custody of a daughter who is five years old (almost six). I can't give feedback or advice about taking multiple children as I have never been in that position when travelling.
Ok….. so where do I start??? Beginning sounds good I guess!
Throughout 2015, I was doing lots of research and pondering as to where I wanted to take Tayla. I had considered a few options: The 3 week trip to the USA, a flight to Melbourne and train to Adelaide or a cruise to New Zealand. With also buying a house and having to do all the saving for that, my options were becoming more limited. But then, out of nowhere, a few days before leaving for Melbourne in July, Jetstar had a great deal to fly to Japan. It a 'fly over and fly back free deal' from Cairns. For the two of us to fly over to Osaka return, it was only around $585! That was actually cheaper than our return flights to Melbourne! Crazy! I was a little reserved to take on the deal, but after some encouragement from family and friends, I took the plunge. Just to give you insight into what was involved in organising it, this is what I did:
1. I had to get passports: Jump on the Australia Post website and fill it out online. Make sure you are well organised and have all your documentation and evidence ready to make processing fast. You will need someone who has a current and valid passport to be a gauantor, a good quality passport photo (get it done at Aussie Post - yes it costs a little but makes life a lot easier down the track) ID including your birth certificate and contact details of the other parent and their permission. My suggestion is to not waste time applying if you can't get permission from the other parent or they are generally uncooperative. All it will do is make the experience heart breaking and you will lose your money. The current cost of a passport is about $250 for an adult and $125 for a child + roughly $30 for passport photos to be done at the Post Office. This is if you are ok with waiting on the 3 week turnaround. If not, it's significantly more. Also big tip…. make sure you let the other parent know that the passport office will call and seek confirmation. Some people don't life answering certain numbers and all it does is delay your application.
2. I had to book accommodation: I am not sure what most people's perspective on accommodation is, but I am someone who sees accommodation as a place to rest my head and doesn't need to be flash or perfect. Definitely must be safe and clean…. but not flash. I jumped on Expedia and found some good deals on accommodation for Tayla and I. Because she was still so young, we could get a smaller room at a cheaper place, so it's worth doing your research. Look at the pictures on the site and the general feedback and ratings people give. I look for things like, "clean, quiet, safe, friendly staff, easily accessible from Train Stations or Airports, reasonably close to shops." We stayed at "Hotel Shin-Imamiya" in Osaka ($138 for 4 nights) and "Palace Japan Hotel" in Tokyo ($124.68 for 3 nights). I talk more about both places in my other blog.
3. I had to consider transport: I needed to find quick and efficient ways to get around Japan and found a JR pass was the best deal.
4. I needed to get to Cairns: I considered all of my options and opted to drive to Cairns and leave my car at the Airport for the week. Worked out significantly cheaper and my car was safe for the week.
5. I need to find stuff to do: I think it's essential to find the right balance when travelling with a child as a single parent. You need stuff that stimulates yourself, your child and both of you at the same time. It's still a partnership. You want it to be an amazing experience for everyone involved and what's the point when EVERYTHING is about the child or EVERYTHING is about the adult? No one truly wins. So I did tons of research between websites, blogs, feedback from people who have been to Japan and were currently in Japan. From that a devised a list of 'non-negotiables' (that is things that we were definitely doing) and 'negotiables' (it would be great if we did it, but if something else came up, we'd be willing to do something else.) Some things we did included: Osaka Castle, Osaka Aquarium, Legoland, Osaka Science Musseum, National Art Gallery, Disneyland, Harajuku Mall… and so on.
6. I need to make sure I pack right: I made sure I knew what climate we were heading into before we packed. As Tayla is still quite young and small, I packed a suitcase + one carry on and added a second carry on in the suitcase. This saved Tayla and I significantly and just to be on the safe side I opted for a slightly heavier suitcase weight when I booked my ticket. In the end I was still about 10kg under the weight anyway…. yay!
So let's get to the 'getting there' part…. interesting to say the least. As a single parent you don't have the luxury of another parent or person to bounce off, so organisation and an open mind is so pivotal to success. We had to travel to Cairns to get to the Airport so I turned it into a big adventure which was in three parts: The adventure to Cairns, the adventure to Japan and the adventure to Townsville. On the way to Cairns I made several stops so that Tayla could move around and take in the environment around her. I took her on some forestry walks and stayed with some relatiives. More than anything, I wanted her to burn some energy and really take in the sense of adventure before actually getting to Japan. During the driving phases, I would really talk up the holiday and get her excited about it and engaged in the experience. Children respond well when you make the experience fun and engaging and allow them to be full involved.
When we got onto the flight, I had to make sure she didn't get bored because I wanted to keep the momentum going. I made sure I a lot of things to do to sustain her during the flight. I made sure the ipad was loaded with tons of apps, paid for an entertainment package on the flight ($10 for a 7 hour flight - works wonders for both of us) and went to KMart before we left and bought about $30 worth of small gifts for her to unwrap on the flight. I made sure that I spread this out as much as possible. I also made sure each gift was something small she could use like colouring-in books and bracelet making kits. It made the flight quicker for both of us!
Fast forward to today and the experience was beyond amazing - challenging - but amazing! I learned so much about myself and my daughter on that trip and I feel like I have come back a stronger person. It's not an easy experience going to a foreign country, not being able to speak a word of their language with a small child and creating an amazing and enjoyable experience for everyone. I had to think on my feet quite a lot and had to really use a lot of common-sense and logic. The other thing I found too was that I really had to 'feel and listen'. I had to feel and sense the environment around me and really pay attention to any opportunity that an answer came around. Any opportunity I could speak to someone who spoke english or found something in english, or even found a picture that I understood was such a blessing to me. Even noting body language (another reason why Drama is SOOOO important kids!) as a great method of communication: Watching a face, gestures or even the tone of someone's voice spoke volumes. That sheer feeling or satisfaction when I achieved a goal or worked out how to get to a location, was a feeling like no other. Some days were really easy and some days were pretty dam stressful - I had few moments where I sobbed. But looking at my daughter's face when she genuinely enjoyed the experience was so completely worth it. You can never truly place a price tag on a meaningful experience. Yes there were moments where I wanted to have someone else by my side to have an adult conversation with or to take on Tayla for a little bit so that I could recharge, but for the most part I coped really well. Most of the trip went to plan but I had a few glitches along the way and I maintained enough calm and flexibility to work through every situation. I think this is what ultimately made the trip enjoyable.
So in closing (I could write forever, but it would become too tedious then), I would like to offer some tips when travelling solo with a child:
1. Prepare well in advance: Preparation is always the key to success. Make sure you at least have your basics organised and have done some research on your location.
2. Be prepared to be flexible: Life happens…. crazy happens…. be ok with plans not working out. Be prepared to think on your feet and run with it. It's amazing what cool and crazy experiences come from it. Any you will be surprised what you learn about yourself though that.
3. Be open minded: I think it's a buzz kill to leave your backyard with a closed mind. Travelling is perfect opportunity to see things outside of your realm. I feel it develops empathy for others and situations and really makes you love and appreciate what's in your own backyard.
4. Understand that fights and tantrums happen: Children haven't fully developed emotionally (and neither have adults) so they might not be able to grasp or understand leaving a country or control their feelings when they are homesick. Tayla had a few moments where she was really homesick and got quite upset. It's about understanding how they feel and working through it with them They are growing through the experience too - it's a relationship that needs nurturing! Also understand that it's one of our most basic needs to be loved to be able to communicate and be appreciated by others. It's ok to crave adult interaction. I found that jumping on social media at night when Tayla went to sleep helped as I could interact with people and get my grown up communication fill as it was lacking during the day as I couldn't speak the language.
5. Let go of your routine (but just a little bit): I think it's important to understand that not all routines work on holidays. Yes it's important to maintain some things to give a sense of comfort to the child…. but don't have a nervous breakdown if your child doesn't go to bed at their usual time or becomes really fussy with their eating. As long as the child is respectful to you, others and the customs of the country, you're on the right track!
6 Absorb the moments: Every day is a new moment to be experienced. Holidays shouldn't be about the itinerary - it should be about the bond that this developed and the growth within the environment you are exposed to.
I hope you guys found this post engaging and I look forward to blogging about my holiday soon!
Love to you all xxoo