As a Solo Traveler, I Loved Traveling With My Baby

  • When my husband went to Spain for work, my five-month-old and I joined to get out of our comfort zone. 
  • Traveling with a baby reminded me of solo travel because every small victory felt like a huge win.
  • This is an adapted excerpt from “A Trip of One’s Own” by Kate Wills.

In the first few weeks after having my daughter, Blake, I didn’t leave bed, let alone the house. Our four walls became our whole world. Going for a shower felt as ambitious and wonderful as trekking to a waterfall. Meeting a friend for a coffee at a cafe at the end of my road felt like a physical impossibility — those stairs with this pram?!

But gradually Blake and I started walking, and walking and walking. With the country still locked down due to the pandemic, there was nowhere else to go anyway. As a travel writer, I wondered if I’d ever get my suitcase out again, or if I might one day show Blake my dusty passport as if it was an antique relic of times gone by.

A chance to travel again felt exciting and overwhelming

And then in April 2021, we had some news. Guy, my partner, had an upcoming work project shooting in Spain, so we decided to decamp there for a few months. Blake was five months old and the thought of whisking her out of our very small comfort zone was daunting. I lay awake at night making list upon list, thinking through all the things that could go wrong. I had to remind myself that in a former life, used to regularly jet around the world with just a few hours’ notice and not a care in the world.

Stepping foot in the airport for the first time in over a year, I felt as wide-eyed and incredulous as Blake was at all the shiny surfaces, bright lights and so many screens. How did we do this again?

But new protocols aside, it turned out boarding a 747 is just like riding a bike. And traveling with a baby is very similar to traveling solo in that people are much kinder to you. In fact, it’s even better than that and a bit like how I imagine celebrities get treated. Every queue was jumped, the cabin crew can’t do enough for you, and everyone wants to chat.

Traveling with my daughter felt like a dream

When we landed in Cadiz, a sunny little city right on the tip of Southern Spain, it felt dream-like and surreal after month upon month in London. Guy was driven straight to set so it was just Blake and me, two girls on the road! Like Thelma and Louise, but if one of them kept soiling herself and had only just started eating solids.

When we saw the sea for the first time we both started laughing out loud. I felt a surge of adrenaline and a tingle of excitement as I connected with some core part of myself again. All the worries I had melted away, left back at home with our wooly jumpers. I felt like me, not just a mother. This was my equivalent of fitting back into your pre-maternity jeans again.

Having a baby actually made exploring a new country easier

With Guy at work most days, Blake and I went exploring. I discovered that if you’re new in town and don’t speak the language, you don’t need a phrase book or Google Translate to get by. You just need a baby. We got more smiles, waves, and free food than I’ve ever had in my life.

Days were spent navigating Blake’s pram along windy cobbled streets, staring at grand Moorish buildings and sipping coffees in pretty squares. We went to the market every day to buy lemons as big as Blake’s head. We had lunchtime cervezas (me) and siestas (both of us).

It was an unforgettable time. And not just because Blake learned to crawl on our cool Spanish tiles. Living in Cadiz was such a positive experience it made me wonder why people don’t use their maternity and paternity leave to travel more. If you’re going to be spending all day in a constant cycle of feeding, wiping, and no lie-ins, you might as well do it somewhere with a better view.

Soon, we needed another holiday but weren’t sure if it was possible

When we got back to London we swore that now we’d earned our baby on-board badge, we’d make regular trips away as a family. And then Blake started nursery and we got Covid, and chickenpox, and croup, and what felt like every other illness known to man and — in the case of foot and mouth disease — beast.

By the time January rolled around, I felt like I’d been sentenced to wipe dried-on porridge off a high chair every day for the rest of my life. We needed a holiday. A proper holiday. Staycations are great and all, but this called for sunshine and cocktails and lying by a swimming pool, stat. But was any of that even possible with a toddler in tow?

We decided to fly to Mauritius. I’d visited this island off the coast of East Africa many years ago for work, but in true press trip style, I’d only spent a few days there. From what I remembered, it ticked our beaches and palm trees boxes. But it also had a really interesting mix of cultures and tasty food.

Plus, with just a four-hour time difference, it seemed a good place for a baby. I was also intrigued to see more of the spot where Jeanne Baret, the first woman to sail around the world, had settled after traveling the world disguised as a man.

My suitcases held raisins and rice cakes when they used to hold bikinis and beach reads

Summoning the courage for our first long-haul flight took every ounce of my professional traveler expertise. But packing with a one-year-old felt very different from my solo trips. While once my tiny carry-on would’ve been stuffed with bikinis and beach reads, now I had three suitcases, one containing an entire compartment just for raisins and rice cakes. And although it wasn’t a holiday as I’d known it before (I have never been less tanned or read fewer books), it was a whole new kind of adventure.

Traveling with a baby is weirdly similar to solo travel in that every small victory feels huge. It has that same intensity to it, making memories emotional and vivid. I hope I’ll never forget dancing on the beach with Blake at sunset or pointing out fruit bats to her like they were ducks in the park. Toddlers love water and the fact it was now the shallow end of a swimming pool and not a freezing cold puddle in the park upgraded my quality of life no end. Blake greedily drank up the new scenery, and said “flower” for the first time, while pointing at a lotus (Jeanne Baret would be proud).

Of course, there were also moments that were, for want of a better word, a total shitshow. Hand-washing poo out of a sleeping bag in the bathroom sink in our Mauritius hotel room probably wasn’t my idea of holiday heaven. On our first night in a hotel in Spain, we were so scared of waking her in the bedroom that we sat on the floor in the bathroom and ate cold takeaway pizza. There were times on the 12-hour flight when it seemed like it would never end. But on the whole, I’m pleased to report that traveling with a small child is not only possible but infinitely pleasurable.

Excerpted from “A Trip of One’s Own: Hope, Heartbreak, and Why Traveling Solo Could Change Your Life” (Sourcebooks, May 3, 2022). Reprinted with permission from Sourcebooks.