Single-parent travel has been a bumpy learning curve for me. At first I assumed that as I’d been an independent traveller before I had my son, so I would be after – just with a mini-me attachment. But the mini-me attachment has turned out to have ideas of his own...
‘I like you very much, Mummy,’ he says, ‘but after a while you are very boring!’
I, too, am finding endless conversations on the various powers of Pokemon so tedious I could pass out.
“I know, love,’ I say, ‘let’s go and find some friends for you to talk to instead.’
Its not that I’m particularly unsociable – it’s just that I don’t want to go onto a specialist holiday for single parents. There’s no appeal for me of a coach tour with lots of people I don’t know and with whom the only thing I’ll have in common is that we’ve all been deserted by our partner. Lovely as they might be, I can’t quite face it.
Holidaying with friends has been one solution – I’ve done a lot of slumping by pools and on the beach as other dads have thrown Arthur around in the water very happily. But it’s not always so easy to arrange so we can’t do it every year – and anyway, occasionally I like to go to places that my friends do not.
Campervanning in the UK has been good – it suits my grumpy, itinerant nature, and Arthur can rush around campsites making friends with other semi-feral children. After being on our own all day slowly bumping through the rain, we are both eager to talk to other people and they find it harder to get away if stuck beside us in a field. There are always interesting people at a campsite (unless you go anywhere run by the Caravan Club), and Arthur has become very good at sidling up to people with a campfire asking if he can toast some marshmallows he just happens to have on him (we long ago discovered that a child with marshmallows is a popular child).
Having recently returning from four weeks of campervanning, however, the mud of countless campsites etched into our feet and hair, I realise there is only so much we can take. Our holidays need refining again. Arthur has existed on a diet of Spar sandwiches and plain pasta (I find it hard enough to cook at home, let alone over the ancient, gas-leaking, weak ring in the campervan) and seems to be losing weight. I've developed the stomach of a long-distance lorry driver and the attitude as well. I have the largest vehicle on the road (at least on most B roads) and will not stop or speed up for anyone (bunnies beware). We also need some sun, please.
Next year I think we might take to France in our campervan. This has the benefit of sun (if we manage to get far enough south), of new and beautiful countryside to look at, and of a better class of Spar sandwich. But it is risky; I’m not a very capable single parent and, alongside the lack of cooking expertise, I don’t think I could get my campervan up and running if it broke down on a back-road in France. Perhaps I should try to fit in a car-maintenance course between work, housework and childcare?
My aunt – who brought up three children on her own on an island in the South Pacific, and who, if I remember rightly, built her own house, started her own business selling T-shirts to people from other islands (who didn’t really want them) and travelled the world endlessly – would tell me not to be pathetic. But I think you need to ease into travelling with your children, experiment with them, try new things or refine the old, and discover exactly what best suits you both.
Take this summer, for example. We drove from London to Devon, where my parents live. I’m very lucky that my son loves driving: he puts on headphones, eats bad snacks and badgers me from the passenger seat about Pokemon cards. We have a very slow, old campervan and it takes us pretty much all day to drive out of London. It’s preparation for the day when I take off round the world with him on a family gap year...
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