Closer columnist Rebecca Finlay - aka the Maverick Mum - has revealed her top tips for travelling with a toddler as a single parent
The Maverick Mum is one of our absolute favourite mummy bloggers ever - not least of all because she keeps things fresh, honest, and hilarious.
The teenage mum has rebuilt her life after unexpectedly finding out that she was pregnant, starting up her successful blog and heading back to uni with her “terrifying toddler” in tow.
Now she’s joined the team here at Closer HQ to share her insights, advice, and anecdotes with you all via a brand-new weekly column.
Here’s Rebecca’s third instalment…
Last week when we arrived in Amsterdam, I abandoned my bags in line at passport control and prayed that the guy behind wasn’t a thief who wanted to steal my identity, money, and cheese puffs.
I sweatily bounded after Reuben who was climbing UP the downward escalator whilst he screamed ‘NO BAD MUMMY GO AWAY’.
As security greeted us and told me it would be greatly appreciated if I could keep my child under control, to which I replied ‘yeah that would be lovely, wouldn’t it?’… I did wonder why on earth I do this to myself.
Some of you will already know that the moment I was given the news that I was pregnant, my first question was not ‘How will I afford this?’, or ‘What will my dad say?’, or even ‘what about my career?’
No, the first thing that came out of my mouth was ‘But what about my trip to India?’ To which the doctor looked at me with total bewilderment and pity, and my mum laughed in my face.
And rightly so.
Everyone knows once you have a baby you can kiss the carefree backpacking days goodbye. And you can say hello to damp caravan holidays at your local seaside town because realistically you can’t take your baby to Tesco’s so why would you take it to a different country?
Unfortunately before Reuben graced me with his presence, I always had quite itchy feet (possibly out of discontentment rather than a desire to see the world but that’s another issue for another time) and I was 100% sure that I would never stay home for too long.
So when I had Reuben, and ended up doing the parenting thing on my own, out of everything I was most devastated that I was being forced to stay in Northern Ireland.
As time went on, I made peace with the new path my life had taken and most of all I made peace with living in Northern Ireland. However, this didn’t mean that Reubs and I weren’t allowed a break now and again.
As a result, every so often, usually around exam time when I’m super stressed and superbly procrastinating, I take something of a head stagger and book flights. For myself and Reuben. Just us. Travelling alone to another country. No biggy.
Or so I think, until my dad absolutely freaks out because apparently a young woman travelling alone with a child is just asking for trouble. Sometimes I get frustrated at Reuben as he has no fear. Nothing is too daunting for him and it near enough always ends in tears. But I’ve realised I have the same problem, and I can see why my dad gets frustrated.
I have no fear. And I’m not sure if it is a bravery or just plain stupidity. Either way, I am determined to travel with Reuben and there is no stopping me. Not even a tantrum-prone toddler who attempts to get me arrested at the airport.
1) My top tip is to go into it with an open mind.
When we went to Rome, it killed me a little at first but I knew I couldn’t see all the sights with a toddler in tow. Or else the only sight I’d be seeing is a screaming Reuben.
All I hoped for was a week of quality time together, soaking in the culture, exploring an amazing city, and eating my bodyweight in pasta. And that is exactly what I got. And it was heavenly.
People usually tell me I’m crazy. I probably am, but I don’t think we should go down that path. They tell me a toddler will hate an unfamiliar environment. There will be nothing to do. I won’t cope on my own. The flights will be terrible.
Well, I’m going to get a little sassy right now and tell you all, not only has Reuben enjoyed our trips, but I would actually ENCOURAGE parents to take their toddlers away. That’s right, I said it. Travel with your toddlers!
Flights don’t have to be as nightmarish as you imagine. I love airports. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, they are the best. I was so scared that my mini maniac would ruin my airport trips but I can honestly say it couldn’t have been smoother.
Since moving to Belfast Reuben has been quite obsessed with planes and on route to Amsterdam I had so many heart-swelling moments when all his dreams came true and he seen where the planes ‘live’. On other trips he didn’t completely understand what we were doing or why he was being told to sit in one place for more than 5 minutes.
However, the perks of flying when they are this age is that they are free. And all the best things in life are free.
2) Be super organised.
“Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”, as my biology teacher always said in school. Even though I’m always more prepared for those flights than I was for any exam, at least something from school sunk in. I usually have all my documents in a poly pocket file, and I make up an extra special travel bag for Reuben.
I’m so proud of that bag, it has earned me some serious mama points. It had a box of brand new dinosaurs from Poundland, all of his favourite food treats in a separate box, a little tub of toy cars, a brand new sticker book, and a clear plastic bag with medicine, water, and juice.
When Reuben was smaller, I carried him in the Tula which left my arms free for security and afterwards I put him in the pram so I could enjoy a Starbucks. Priorities, I know.
Recently I just put him on the luggage trolley and if he threatened to jump off, then I threatened to check him in with the suitcase and he could travel with the luggage.
3) Think about flight times carefully
I always try to book flights really early in the morning or really late at night so there’s a chance he may sleep, although I have to admit my only experience of a late night flight didn’t go as planned.
It was after 9pm and Reuben was overtired, grumpy, and throwing multiple tantrums. I knew as soon as we took off he would settle and fall asleep. But the people sitting in front of us didn’t know this.
They told me they couldn’t stick listening to my child for the next 3 hours and that I better do something about it. I told them that anyone with common sense would know that he was tired and about to fall asleep. A few more words were said and Reuben fell asleep almost immediately. (I was right. I said he would fall asleep. Can we just acknowledge that please?)
3 extremely peaceful hours later I met the couple again at baggage claim. They avoided my eye contact so I asked if they'd had a nice flight, because I certainly did. I shouldn’t have argued with them. It wasn't the answer, no matter how embarrassed I was.
In my defence, I know how to deal with toddler tantrums but I’m still learning how to deal with adult tantrums.
4) Don’t put too much pressure on yourself
If you are travelling alone with a young child, I would recommend going with the flow and exploring at a leisurely pace.
Reuben and I usually spend a lot of time doing a ‘park crawl’, chasing pigeons, and exploring the city at a toddler’s pace. Which you just don’t do at home because life is hectic.
This forces me to slow down and I end up seeing unexpected gems that I wouldn’t have noticed had I been rushing to every tourist spot possible.
As we stroll along taking everything in, I find Reuben is always a wonderful conversation starter. Everywhere we go, he receives an abundance of waves and cuddles.
He gets free sweets, free gelato, free pastries, free juice… the locals give him anything for a cheeky smile in return.
One night after dinner in Rome, the waiter even gave us free shots. Mine tasted like every bad night out I ever had, but Reuben’s was this cute little toddler size shot of orange juice.
In Amsterdam he made friends with the Dutch toddlers (and stole their toys) and their parents were always up for a friendly chat. On public transport people were always willing to involve or amuse him. As a single parent, this takes a weight off me. There is always someone around that is willing to help.
5) Don’t expect a perfect trip
I’m not going to pretend it’s all going to be a wonderful holiday romance with your toddler. They will do the exact same thing, and by that I mean they will throw the exact same embarrassing tantrums, but just in a different city. But the distraction of being in a completely new environment usually minimises these moments. And if that doesn’t comfort you, at least you will never see the onlookers ever again. Every cloud and all that.
I also can’t pretend that Reuben is the only one who has created issues on our adventures. In Rome I spent one of the days in our room vomiting, crying, and trying to stop Reubs from wrecking the place.
This is where travelling alone got a little scary - I had no one to care for Reuben when I could barely lift my head off the pillow. Thankfully the family who ran the hotel were willing to help and even drove me to the pharmacy (I’m pretty sure they did all this for Reuben) and to this day, I’m still not sure if I caught a bug that Reuben had, a touch of sun stroke, or the extremely dodgy lunch I had at the Vatican the day before.
But I am sure of one thing; always be prepared for the worst, and know the nearby hospitals, pharmacies, and taxi information. Take plenty of pain killers, and emergency small toys for amusing a demanding toddler who doesn’t understand why mummy can’t leave bed.
6) Be aware of your surroundings
My final tip is to be self-aware and not always completely distracted by your toddler. Unfortunately, I fell victim to this and had my purse stolen. I know - I can hear some of you rolling your eyes at me from here. Typical Rebecca. I have lost count of how many times I have lost my purse and had to block my debit cards. I’m a bit of a scatterbrain. The customer service man at Santander agrees with me.
Apart from these minor issues, which you probably won’t experience because you’re not as scatty as me, travelling with a toddler is wonderful. It is the perfect excuse to opt out of life’s responsibilities for a few days and you can be greedy with quality time.
Sure, it can be exhausting constantly keeping a watch on them, and when Reuben is rolling about the bus screaming and throwing his dummy at pedestrians through the window – I do wonder what I’m doing.
But isn’t it way more fun to question your craziness in a different country than it is when you’re stuck at home?
And I can assure you, it’s always worth it. I’m already wondering where we can go next and my dreams have been filled with candle lit dinner dates with Reuben by the canals.
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