I’ve been reading a lot about traveling solo lately, and realized that most solo travelers are a) single and b) childless.
I am neither of those. Married with kids (one grown, one almost-grown), I am nevertheless preparing for two solo trips. And I feel guilty.
The first one will take me to the Caribbean, New York, and then back by way of the TBEX conference in Spain. It’ll be about a month long, and I’ll be back in time to see my 16-year-old son through his final exams and to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary with my husband.
The second trip will be two months long and distinctly further outside my comfort zone. I’ll be going to Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.
My husband and I have always been very independent people. We’ve traveled separately before, either alone or with one or both kids, but never for this long, and rarely completely alone.
What I mean is that my husband, for example, went to Nepal for three weeks some years ago with his best friend. I went to the US on a school trip, and to Israel to visit family. I’ve been on work trips where I had a whole day alone before or after a conference. Once I went to Guatemala on my own for two weeks, but I went there to study Spanish and lived with a host family, so, again, I wasn’t completely alone.
My husband and I are fine with spending time apart. I’d even venture to say that it’s been good for the longevity of our relationship that we continue to pursue our own interests separately from each other.
When I first brought up the idea of all this solo travel, I asked my husband for his honest feelings about my being away so long. The answer: “It’s fine. It’s just a pain in terms of things like cooking.”
What he means is that we share the chores at home pretty equitably. Neither of us particularly likes cooking, so we take turns, and we each shop for our own cooking needs. I do a lot of the cleaning these days, but he vacuums and does most of the laundry and folding. And so on.
So if I’m away, he has to do it all. Much of it he can put off: none of us is particularly fussy about tidiness, so it’s not a big deal if he doesn’t do much. However, the cooking is an issue. Because I won’t be there, he’ll have to do all the cooking and shopping himself. He hates that.
It’s not just about the cooking though. My son is approaching some very important exams. For each major subject, he’ll take a test that covers all of the material from the last two years. Assuming he passes, he should be able to go to the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program next year, which is what he wants. If he doesn’t pass, he’ll have to repeat the whole year of school.
It makes me feel guilty for leaving. Yet, at the same time, I realize he doesn’t really need me. Even when we’re home, we barely talk. He’s just not a talker, and I’ve gotten used to that. He’s attending a “study center” every day after school (at his request, I hasten to add!) so he’s probably getting better help preparing for the exams than anything he’d accept from me. He knows I’m here if he needs me and that I love him, and just knowing that seems to be enough for him. The question is: if I’m off traveling the world, will he still feel that?
Money and solo travel
And then there’s the money. I’m spending a lot of money on myself, and not for any really good reason, except my mid-life crisis. How self-indulgent can I be? Granted, it’s my own money that I’ve saved, but in the meantime my husband has been supporting me while I’m on sabbatical with no income at all. He’s been such a sweetheart, and that makes me feel guilty.
Assuaging solo travel guilt
The cooking issue is most easily addressed, and I’ve been able to work on assuaging the guilt to some extent. I spent an afternoon in a friend’s much better kitchen mass-producing the quiches that both my son and my husband love. There are four in the freezer ready for them to heat and eat. That takes care of one meal a week. (My son will eat the leftovers for breakfast.) I’ll add some lasagnas as well, which will take care of a few more nights.
I’ve also started teaching my son to cook, with the idea that once a week he’ll be responsible for cooking. He has two simple student cookbooks, each filled with the kinds of recipes he likes (heavy on the meat, light on the vegetables). Every Friday for the last few months he’s cooked us a recipe from one of them. I sit nearby while he cooks, ready to advise if he needs help. Mostly he doesn’t, and we’ve had some great meals as a result.
So my son will cook once a week. Add once-a-week quiche and once-a-week takeout and my husband will only have to cook four nights a week. Not too bad, right? But I still feel guilty making him do it.
As for the exams, there’s not much I can do except encourage my son, I suppose. I did arrange the two trips so I’ll be home while he’s taking them. I’ll do my best to cheer him on, and I’ll probably cook and bake to his requests while I’m home. I’ll also be busy preparing more for the freezer collection for the next trip, while I’m at it. What else can I do? Feel guilty.
The money-related guilt is probably the most difficult to deal with. I’ve bought the cheapest plane tickets I can find. I’m avoiding any shared rooms, like in hostels, because I just can’t stand them, but I’ll try to save as much as I can, barring that. I’ve found, for example, an airbnb room in Guadeloupe that ends up about 25 euros a night and includes use of the kitchen. And, unlike the usual way I travel, I’ll do my best to avoid restaurants as much as possible. In Asia I should be able to buy street food cheaply, and in the Caribbean I’ll cook for myself. I’ll carry a refillable water bottle instead of buying drinks and, as much as possible, I’ll stick to public transportation.
So I’ll cook ahead, and encourage my son, and spend as little as possible. Nevertheless, the whole endeavor—the sabbatical itself as well as the solo travel—is tremendously self-indulgent, and I don’t think the guilt will ever really go away. Maybe I have an over-developed sense of responsibility, but that’s how it is.
And none of this addresses the more general guilt: the environmental damage done by the greenhouse gasses the planes produce, the damage to local cultures and environment caused by the tourist industry, and so on…
If anyone reading this has been a solo traveler while married and/or with kids, I’d love to hear about your experiences! Did you feel guilty? How did you deal with it?