Thursday, 7 August 2014

Travelling Alone, Or Not

I used to be a solo traveller.

I was way past thirty when I got married; I lived many good years as a single woman. Occasionally, I travelled with friends, and as I got older and more confident in my ability to cope on my own, I began to travel solo.

I didn't do any 'epic' adventure trips alone. But I loved exploring and experiencing those places alone, on my own pace, free to change my plans on a whim.

So my heart beat faster and my head nodded in agreement when I read this, written by Shauna Niequist in Cold Tangerines:

There are only two things I like to do alone: reading and traveling, and for the same reason. When you travel, and when you read, you are not actually alone, but rather surrounded by other worlds entirely, the footsteps and phrases of whole other lives keeping you company as you go.
It felt like being at a fancy hotel's breakfast buffet, where you're so overwhelmed by the options, you almost want to give up, but more than overwhelmed, you are delighted, and you want to taste every single bite, and just walking up to the stacks of plates makes you feel like something great is happening to you. That's how it feels to be alone in a city, like something great is always about to happen to you. And it always is. There's always some side street or café or painting in a gallery or park or person or something that takes your breath away. And you look differently when you're alone. When you're with someone else, you share each discovery, but when you are alone, you have to carry each experience with you like a secret, something you have to write on your heart, because there's no other way to preserve it.

This comparison of reading and travelling hit me somewhere deep in my heart. Yes, yes. To be surrounded by the unfamiliar, to see and hear it, smell and taste it. To imagine what it would be like living there. Momentary immersion. Writing it on my heart.

But as soon as I had read this, something in me whispered: "I should not have read this right now."

We were in the middle of a family road trip. I'm no longer a solo traveller, I'm a mom traveller.

I do love travelling with my husband and my child. Seeing places not only from my perspective but theirs, too. Sharing experiences and discoveries. Again, Shauna Niequist has written eloquently about why they travel with their children:

...We travel because I want my kids to learn, as I learned, that there are a million ways to live, a million ways to eat, a million ways to dress and speak and view the world. I want them to know that "our way" isn't the right way, but just one way, that children all over the world, no matter how different they seem, are just like the children in our neighbourhood - they love to play, to discover, to learn.
        I want my kids to learn firsthand and up close that different isn't bad, but instead that different is exciting and wonderful and worth taking the time to understand. I want them to see themselves as bit players in a huge, sweeping, beautiful play, not as the main characters in the drama in our living room. I want my kids to taste and smell and experience the biggest possible world, because every bit of it, every taste and texture and flavor, is delicious.
Shauna Niequist in Bread and Wine

Yes, yes, yes to travelling together and helping my child to understand and experience that "different isn't bad" and our way is not the only right way. (I'm not so sure all the tastes and textures of the world are delicious, though. Perhaps Shauna has not yet encountered Swedish surströmming. :) )

What I really want to know is how Shauna is able to reconcile her 'solo traveller' and her 'family traveller' identities. Perhaps she gets plenty of solo travelling because of her work - speaking engagements, etc.? Enough to satisfy her taste for solo travel?

But my circumstances are different. I haven't travelled alone anywhere since getting married - 11 years ago tomorrow.

And if I start to long for solo travelling in the middle of a family road trip...? It's like seeing a little puzzle piece of my identity, a piece that has been lost under the carpet for so long that it has no place in the puzzle any more, now that the other pieces have shifted and changed shapes.

As a mom traveller, I can't focus solely on my own experiences. At least some part of my focus is always on the child - his well-being, his need for information. I need to constantly adapt my pace to his.

And yet I still have also this need for experiencing new places on my own. How do I put these pieces together? Our circumstances do not allow for me to hop off on solo trip. Getting some solitary hours in the middle of a family trip is great, when it's feasible - but I need to be more intentional about that, because if I don't ask for it, it's not going to happen.

I wonder how others solve this?

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