Ok, I know the title of this post has most parents rolling their eyes or writing me off as crazy for thinking that traveling alone with a toddler is a good idea, but hear me out. Taking a three week trip to Europe alone with my two year old was one of the best (and yeah, craziest) decisions I have ever made.
I will never get this time back – Modern family life is hectic at best. Almost every parent I’ve ever talked to says they feel too busy, or if they stop running round they feel guilty for letting things slide. I booked this crazy mom-and-toddler trip because I was pregnant and my days of one on one time with Benton were numbered. I knew I would likely never have this opportunity again and the timing was perfect. Before I know it, Benton won’t want to sit in my lap and read him books; he will be a teenager locked in his room, moody and not talking to me.
There is something unexpectedly wonderful about completely uninterrupted one on one time with your child. At home there is always something else to worry about: groceries, dishes, laundry, daycare drop off, work, play dates, time with your spouse and friends. When I have other things pulling my attention away from my toddler, I find myself getting more frustrated with his normal toddler behavior and then increasingly frustrated with myself for my own lack of patience and understanding. Even when we are at home on weekends, it almost always feels like there is something else I need to be taking care of, instead of giving my child my 100% undivided attention. Sure, during our travels we had things on our schedule, but they were all fun. Beyond our trains and planes from city to city, all our plans were flexible.
My son came back a different child – Even if he is too young to make lasting memories, travel is an incredibly formative experience. Hearing new languages, eating new food, visiting new places, all help your toddler become an adaptable young human. Benton came home from our trip a boy with more words, clearer sentences, more desire for autonomy but also the ability to ask for help. In the few months after getting home, Benton was far better behaved than when we left, with fewer tantrums, no hitting, and more capacity to engage with us and his peers.
Benton had my undivided attention for over three weeks. Sure, I occasionally talked to our Airbnb hosts or the random tourists at a playground speaking English. Most of the time my two-year-old was the only person I talked with all day everyday. Even when we are all together at home as a family, I spend a good amount of time (attempting to) talk with my husband instead of spending every single waking moment talking my child. If you have ever tried to have an adult conversation with a toddler around you know that you can only get about four words out between shouts of “MOMMY?!” or the need to redirect their behavior. I felt more relaxed only engaging with Benton instead of trying to multitask and talk with another adult at the same time. All of that lead to exponential development on Benton’s part and helped me enjoy my child more.
I became a better parent – I somehow developed extra patience in dealing with my toddler since I knew there was no other option. There was no one I could tap to say “hey can you watch him so I don’t explode”. I talked to Benton about all our plans. I let him make choices when ever possible, even if it was just to choose which way we walked home. We made sure to visit playgrounds almost every other day.
I am not anti-technology or judgmental about parents using their phone around their kids. We all need a break sometimes. However, I found the lack of wifi/data when we were out and about totally freeing. I was never drawn to my phone to just check out Instagram for a quick sec (turned 15 minutes). I let my brain slow down and I found that I enjoyed my child more than I previously thought possible.
The tail end of the trip I was feeling the strain and let Netflix downloads be my co-parent. Honestly there were times when watching Paw Patrol on my phone was the only way we could get through a meal where both of us ate and didn’t just run out of the restaurant embarrassed about how he tripped the wait staff or stole a patron’s cane (which definitely happened). When he was watching one of his favorite shows, I could eat with one hand and shovel food into his mouth with the other. I know it was less than ideal and not a great habit but sometime you have to Tim Gunn and “make it work”.
It sounds daunting to travel alone with your toddler and most people will never get an opportunity like this but I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone with your child, even if it just means going for a walk in a new place.
I have no idea if it will be possible for me to do a similar solo trip with Wyatt in 2 years but I really want to try. I would love to give him the same opportunity to see new things and have that uninterrupted bonding time when he is a toddler.
I would love to hear your experience it you have ever traveled alone with your toddler, for fun or necessity!