I absolutely love traveling with my son, but occasionally, it just doesn’t make sense. I recently returned from a trip to Kenya which presented a couple issues for bringing a kid along: an extremely long travel time (30 hours, one-way) and lack of leisure time (it was a work trip) so I went solo. This was my fourth time leaving James while going abroad and every time I struggle with a sense of guilt for leaving him behind.
But, it shouldn’t be that way.
One thing is consistent: the anticipation of leaving is always worse than actually leaving. Once I leave, I’m usually fine up until about day eight so that’s where I try to cap my trips. Leading up to this trip especially, I worried about how far away I would be. Kenya is nearly the furthest point on the Earth away from my home in Los Angeles, there are no direct flights, and it takes more than a day to get back and forth between the two. So, I focused on making sure James would be fine in my absence and reminding myself that it’s okay to do things for me, even it takes me away from home. This is what I did to travel guilt-free without kids:
1. Make sure the kids are with someone you are comfortable with: This seems obvious, but it’s not always black and white. For example, I would be fine leaving James with my husband for a night or two, but not for ten days. For this trip, I flew my mother-in-law in to help out, asked my husband to not travel for work, and we also have an au pair that watches him during the week. This might have been a bit over-the-top, but I knew James would be happy having his grandma there.
2. Choose your location wisely: Plan trips with your limitations in mind. Going on vacation is great, but if you’re going to feel guilty the whole time, it’s probably going to ruin your trip. I’ve traveled away from several times now and I know what I can handle, so I’m more likely to push the boundaries. My first trip was a work trip to Europe. It being the first time away, was pretty difficult, but I’d been to Europe a bunch in the past so it was a location I was comfortable with. I was also living in Chicago at the time so it was only a seven hour direct flight away. From there, I’ve done progressively longer and more adventurous trips.
3. Remember leaving your children is totally normal and in fact can be healthy behavior: Seriously, there are people who routinely have to be away from their family for long periods of time (think military, business execs, etc.). Going on regular vacations or work trips is absolutely fine and will help teach your children to be more independent and secure with themselves. Plus, it enables you to spend some time focusing on yourself and having your own interests, making you a stronger parent when you return home. Start small by doing a weekend away somewhere close by and then work your way up to increasingly longer and farther travel.
4. Stay in touch in a way that your kids are comfortable with: If it were up to me, I’d spend a few minutes video chatting with James every couple of days, but usually that doesn’t work out. On this most recent trip, we tried video chatting and it upset him pretty quickly. Seeing me reminded him that I was gone and he started to cry. After that, I kept it to a quick call or exchanged texts with my husband once a day to check in and make sure things were going well. The point is that staying in touch with the kids is not about you, it’s about them and making them comfortable while you’re away.
Remember, it’s important to do things for yourself. Go travel, have some fun, and enjoy sleeping in!