Nikki Quinn is a single mum who lives in Singapore with her son Harvey (19 months). In his short lifespan Harvey has been to 12 other countries including Malaysia, Vietnam, South Africa, Montenegro and Ireland. Nikki chats to suitcases&strollers about the reality of family holidays as a single parent and why it’s worthwhile to keep traveling with kids, even if it does mean you have to preplan to go to the toilet!
Where is the first place you traveled as a single parent with Harvey?
We went to New Jersey, America, on our first trip when he was 11 weeks old. My sister lives there with her family and so I wanted for them to meet Harvey and do it while still on my maternity leave.
What motivates you to keep booking trips away as a single parent with Harvey? Why not just stay at home?
You give up so much of yourself when you become a parent and you do so happily. However, I realised I didn’t have to give up my love of travel just because I was a (single) parent if I just adapted my plans a little. He is still almost free to travel with, so I’m making the most of that perk until he turns two years old.
[Travel with my baby] has made me stop and smell the roses even more than before. I work full time and so the time I get with him is precious. When we travel, I get him all to myself and we have real quality time together. I tend to compromise on our activities so that while we don’t have many late nights, we also don’t spend all our time at kids’ play zones.
A few months ago, we went to Yangon, Myanmar. When we were at a temple, I watched as a monk tried to show him how to ring a big bell. All around, people were stopping to smile at their little interaction and it was a simple but gorgeous moment for me. I’m quite sure that before I would have had my back to that sight and would be focused on getting the perfect shot of the pagoda.
What do you think Harvey gets out of travel that he doesn't get staying at home?
He gets my undivided attention, 24/7.
He also gets to do things that we just wouldn’t do at home like go to the beach, see new animals, spend time with extended family, feel a cold breeze... He is still so young now but soon he’ll start to remember these places and I’m hoping he’ll be bitten by the travel bug (and not just mosquitos!).
After every trip, I can see new changes in him. He picks up new skills and confidences and I have some great new memories to cherish!
Is it getting easier or harder to travel with Harvey as he gets older?
It changes – it’s not necessarily easier or harder, just different. In some ways it is easier when they are really little and very portable and in other ways it gets easier as they get older, drop nap times, don’t need bottles to be sterilised and can eat food from the restaurant menu!
How do you cope with travel as a single parent? Are there things you can't do because there is only one adult?
I don’t think there is anything I can’t do that two travelling parents could do, apart from sleep a little longer in the mornings. When he is up, I’m up! I nap at the same time as him and try to get as much sleep as possible in the evenings, so that I don’t let exhaustion get in the way of a good trip.
I’m slightly envious of other parents where one takes responsibility for the child and the partner gets to relax at different times but the flip side of this is that I don’t have to share Harvey with anyone and I get all the cuddles.
The other thing I can’t do (or won’t do) now that I travel with him is check my work emails while on holiday. I simply don’t have the time or energy and the end result has been that my work has not suffered one bit and I get a total mental break from the rat race. I wish I had [started doing] this earlier [before I had Harvey].
How do you pack for you and Harvey when you travel? How do you move about traveling as a single parent with all the luggage that comes with travel with kids?
I’m getting better with experience. I restrict myself to only one suitcase and have different sizes at home to suit different trips. Generally, it is three quarters full of his stuff and only one quarter full with my things.
Apart from the suitcase, I now travel with a stroller, a kids car seat (which I check in), one hand luggage and Harvey! My stroller is a Mountain Buggy Nano which folds up into hand luggage size and so I bring it on board with me which saves a lot of airport hassles. I love it!
I also try to make sure I’ve arranged airport transfers before leaving home so that I’m not jostling in queues with a tired baby.
How do you do things like go to the toilet or change a diaper when you are moving around traveling as a single parent with lots of luggage, a child and only one adult?
It is easier than it looks! When Harvey was smaller, I would put him in a carrier and wear him a lot which meant I had my hands free. I have mastered the art of balancing in a third world toilet with a baby on the front and some pretty average toilet facilities on the other side!
I can usually find a good, discrete and, most importantly, clean place to change his diaper wherever I go. Last week in Sri Lanka, we went into the middle of a grassy field to change his diaper. He is a wriggler and so I need to be FAST!
Which is the hardest destination you've travelled to as a single parent with Harvey?
I can think of two things here.
When he was 11 weeks old we flew from Singapore to New Jersey. The last 3 hours of that flight were awful for both of us as he wouldn’t stop crying, I was so tired and all the other passengers had really had enough. On hindsight, I would have broken that trip up and had a day somewhere else midway so that neither flight would have been more than 12 hours.
Since then though, he is getting really used to travelling on planes and is good as gold.
The other time was our trip to Italy when he was 6 months old. Venice is a truly amazing place but it is hell on earth if you’re trying to get around with a stroller. Harvey is a little on the hefty side and I couldn’t wear him all day, so opted for the stroller. I didn’t realise at the time that Venice is full of steps and the staircases are crowded with hoards of tourists. I’d leave Venice for another trip when he is on his own two feet next time!
Which was the destination you both got the most out of visiting and why?
Hard to say – every trip has been great! Some trips have been to visit friends and family and it is important for me that Harvey gets those connections, especially as I’m aware that we are a “small” family of only two – him and I.
I loved our trip to Bintan, Indonesia. I went with some friends to do a triathlon, and so Harvey had other people to interact with, he got to share a room with me and have lots of time together, and he also had loads of time on the beach. It was a great balance of something for everyone and seeing him at the finish line brought a tear to my eye!
Are there any places you would not travel to as a single parent with kids?
I can’t think of any that I would avoid just because I’m a single parent. I don’t think we’ll be trekking mountains for a few more years but that is just because I want him to do that when he can walk it and not when I have to carry his 14 kilogram wriggling body kicking and screaming…
What is the one thing you hope that Harvey gains from this experience of traveling the world with you?
I want him to have some fabulous memories and build a deep, lasting wanderlust.