How Travel Changes Us: From Solo to Baby in Tow

by | Aug 17, 2020

Young baby being worn by mother smiles for the camera in Bali
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Last updated on November 30th, 2023

Featured Image: Travel broadens minds and horizons, something the children of seasoned solo travellers benefit from greatly. / Photo credit: lastjedai on Shutterstock

Love on the Road

Travel changes us. In ways that sometimes take years to reveal themselves to us. While tourists take trinkets home with them, the traveller takes the pieces of her newfound self with her. And sometimes, she walks away with a whole lot more than that.

This month, we share the stories of two resilient solo travellers whose adventures gifted them with the greatest love of their lives – their children.

“So much of who we are is where we have been.” – William Langewiesche

In 1989, 35-year-old Nancy C. left a marriage of eight years and life in the US, packed her bags and headed for Europe. She visited her sister in Norway, did some volunteer work in England and North Ireland, and couch-surfed with friends she’d made on a three-month solo tour of Europe when she was 20.

“I made it to Dublin, London, Belfast, Geneva, Nijmegen, Wales, Norway, Antwerp, Bern, a small village in The Netherlands and Paris with very little expense and staying with friends,” she says. “Nothing was planned out and this was pre-internet, so not sure how I communicated with everybody.”

One misty morning, she left Bern, Switzerland for Dijon and accepted a lift from Lucho – an Uruguayan man who lived in Paris. The pair flirted their way through the five-hour drive, fumbling over language barriers.

“I know about 100 French words and maybe 10 or so Spanish, so that is mostly what we used,” says Nancy. “I had been married for eight years to a very earnest man with no joy in his life, so I was ready to be happy and enjoy myself.”

As Nancy was headed for Paris after Dijon, the pair exchanged information. A few days later, they spent 24 hours together in Paris. “We never did have much common language, but I guess we didn’t need it. One of my more memorable adventures on the road. I have never regretted it,” she says.

Nancy left Paris for Northern Ireland, where she stayed a few weeks…and took a pregnancy test. She considered raising her child in Ireland or returning to the US, but ended up returning home after a friend, also pregnant, invited her to stay with her and her husband.

“I wrote to Lucho to tell him I was pregnant and said I was happy and would be fine,” she says. “He sent a cassette tape speaking French (Je suis très content!). I had to invite a better French speaker than me to help translate it. He offered to marry me. I said no thanks, but please stay in touch.”

Nine months later, Nancy’s son Alex was born. This was her first child. At 35, she’d thought about children but had been certain she didn’t want one with her former husband. Now she was choosing to become a single mother, and she embraced the challenge.

“In the early years, I knew it was important to network and count on other moms, especially single moms. When my son was two-and-a-half, I moved to a 500-acre farm and community. We stayed there until he was 16,” says Nancy. “I have taken him to about a dozen European countries. In the early 90’s, I started a newsletter for single moms around the world. I appreciate that I had the advantage of being a single mother by choice.”

Lucho meets his son Galen for the first time in Norway

Lucho meets his son in Norway for the first time. / Photo credit: Nancy C.

While Alex met up with his father several times over the years, he hasn’t seen him since he was nine, and Nancy has lost track of him. Still, she remains philosophical about it all:

“Life is all a risk. But embrace life anyway. We can usually do more than we think we can. I wouldn’t change any of it.”

A recent photo of Nancy and her son

A recent photo of Nancy and her son Alex. / Photo credit: Nancy C.

“Everybody needs a co-pilot.” – George Clooney, Up in the Air

Coralie W. – on her own from age 15 – started travelling the world when she was 18 after scraping together enough money for a flight to Havana, Cuba. A year after her stepfather passed away, she, her brother and his girlfriend (now wife) accompanied her mother on a trip to Jamaica.

“None of them had ever traveled before. I had. And my style of travel is commingling with locals, visiting markets and using public transit to get different places that seem interesting to me. My other family members had been cloistered and were uncomfortable doing anything unplanned or without a guide,” Coralie says. “So although I spent a great deal of time with them, and supported my mom in the ways she needed, I also broke free to move around the way that I am comfortable.”

Within days, she met some expats and locals and fell deeply in love with the culture, food, music and people. She knew she would return one day to explore more. That day came a year later, when she flew back to the island and rented a small room in Duncan’s. She spent the next three or four years returning a few times a year for a couple of weeks at a time, making lifelong friends in the process.

“But after a few years, I felt that I was limiting myself to that area and those people and not really seeing this island that I had grown to love. I worked for a few years in my early 20’s in a fairly dangerous job and was making some pretty reckless decisions. At a certain point, I realized that I needed to separate myself from the path I was on. I had saved up a bunch of money, and decided to go back to Jamaica where I could live very cheaply,” she says. “I had mastered the Patois language, so I was no longer seen as a white girl tourist.”

She put her things in storage and made the bold decision to move to Jamaica to write, volunteer and spend some time mulling what to do with her life. She took out a map of the island, closed her eyes, and let her finger fall on a spot to decide where she’d go. Turns out, that place was Treasure Beach.

“What an enchanting name! It was very much down the southwest coast, away from any touristed areas entirely. A little daunting, but exactly what I needed,” says Coralie. “I booked a flight and bought a copy of Lonely Planet Jamaica (again, no internet or websites back then). I found cheap accommodation, and bought a phone card to call them and see if they had anyone they could recommend to pick me up in Montego Bay and take me there – a harrowing 5-6 hour ride back then on mostly unpaved roads.”

That someone was Lloyd, who ended up being pivotal in connecting Coralie with people she needed in her new life in a new country. The man who owned her rental lived on the same property and took her in as family. She still refers to him as “dad.”

“Treasure Beach Jamaica came to me at a time in my life where I needed think-time by the ocean, the freedom to write and walk and talk and be. I needed to find myself and my purpose,” she says. “I was right on the ocean, so I was able to draw energy and inspiration to write, and I had people who loved me and were willing to make me family, protect me, keep me company, feed me if needed, caution me if I was running with the wrong people or at risk. So I went from being on my own at age 15 – struggling, grinding and hustling – to being on an island in the Caribbean without a care in the world, and feeling free unlike any other time I can remember in my life.”

Treasure Beach is built around four bays surrounded by little fishing villages. There are only four or five family names in the surrounding parish. It’s a place where every knows everyone and is related in varying degrees of separation. So it still puzzles Coralie that she didn’t meet her ex-husband “T” until she’d lived in the area for a few years. Especially since she befriended several of his cousins and fellow fishermen.

Part of Coralie’s newfound “freedom” included those friends stopping by to see if she wanted to accompany them on outings. One fateful day, Fud – a taxi driver, friend and cousin to T – asked her to keep him company on a drive to Springfield, a town about an hour away.

“This is what happens in rural Jamaica when you keep someone company. You are likely in for a full day (because secretly they want to show you off), and you are definitely going to be eating some GREAT food, stopping some interesting places, and meeting some fun people!” says Coralie. That day, we stopped to say hello to a friend who had a watermelon farm (packing a few in the trunk for the ‘white lady’ to take home, stopped at a ‘shop’ (read: little roadside bar) for a Red Stripe or two (not the driver), and stopped to drop sweets off to the mother of his children in a neighbouring area.”

Somewhere along the way to Springfield, they encountered T. And in the way of things on an island where everyone knows everyone, Fud said: “Hey bruddah, you wan fe come dung de road wid we?” The trio ended up at a little cook shop for jerk chicken and beer. And from that day on, T wound his way into Coralie’s life – and eventually, her heart.

Until that point, she’d had a couple of short-term flings in her many years of visiting and living in Jamaica. On her terms and consensual. Being in or finding a relationship wasn’t in her plans. But as they say, life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.

Coralie and daughter Cara on a pre-pandemic trip to Mexico

Coralie and her co-pilot on a pre-pandemic trip to Mexico over Christmas Break / Photo credit: Nancy C.

Coralie and her daughter
Coralie and her daughter

Fast forward to Coralie and T becoming a couple, moving in together, and deciding to get married and build a house on a piece of landed gifted to the couple by his parents – a Jamaican tradition. She tried to make it all work, but when Coralie was seven months pregnant, she felt she had no choice but to head home to Canada, so her child could be born with dual citizenship and in a Canadian healthcare facility.

It took 18 months, but with the help of her Minister of Parliament, many petitions to the Minister of Immigration, and thousands of dollars in legal filings, T was granted permission to come to Canada as a Permanent Resident on December 5, 2002. He had no money as his fishing business had dried up. He was not bonded with his daughter, who was almost two years old. He had no warm clothes and little education as the son of generational fishermen. It was a formula for acculturation (and marriage) disaster.

“I was the only one working and making money to pay for my daughter’s needs, to feed us and pay for our apartment. He couldn’t work as he couldn’t read or write. I couldn’t leave my daughter with him because he didn’t know how to care for her, and he was resistant because ‘in Jamaica men don’t raise babies,’” says Coralie. “He needed to go to school to learn to read and write to be employable. He said school was too hard, parenting was too hard, cooking and cleaning were too hard and not a man’s job.”

It proved to be too draining for an emotionally and physically exhausted Coralie to handle. After an incident in which her daughter was injured in her husband’s care, she left him. In hindsight, Coralie realizes that she shouldn’t have entered into a relationship with anyone in Jamaica, as the cultural differences are too great.

“But at the same time, I was meant to have my daughter, so I will be forever grateful for that time in that magical place,” she says. “I learned a lot and although I loved him, there was MUCH that I really didn’t know about him that would have likely made me make some very different decisions along the way.”

Coralie and daughter in Tanzania

Coralie W. and her daughter all smiles in Tanzania. / Photo credit: Coralie W.

It was a hard road for both Coralie and Clara, but they each gained a trusted co-pilot in each other. Just a sampling of the places the pair have explored together over the past 20 years: Hiking in China, Tibet and Hong Kong the summer Clara turned eight during the Summer Olympic Games; Chile and Easter Island; Peru and The Amazon, three treks though different countries in the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey); Greece and its Islands; Morocco and Spain; Africa three times (including camping through East Africa for Clara’s 15th birthday and then flying over to Zanzibar to float in the Indian Ocean for a while); South Africa; a bunch of countries in Europe (with Italy and Amsterdam always being return hubs); Central and South America; Mexico; and many Caribbean islands, including Cuba.

“I decided when she was born that I would not stop traveling the world. I am grateful every day that I decided to come back to Canada for her to be born so that she could travel the world freely with me as a Canadian citizen,” Coralie says. “I have developed some mobility challenges and physical issues over the last three years, so we have had to just do easy trips to Mexico and places close by, but we hope that after COVID restrictions are lifted, we can start making plans together again before she dumps me to start traveling on her own, or with her friends!”

Despite the challenges of single motherhood – by choice or by circumstance – neither Nancy nor Coralie would change a thing. Their travel adventures and the romances that blossomed during them gifted each woman with an enduring love: The love of a mother for her child.

Missed last month’s compendium of love stories? Read it here.

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Amanda Burgess is a Toronto-based writer and creative strategist whose bags are always packed for her next adventure. She is a Certified Cancer Journey Coach who creates a safe space for cancer patients and caregivers to design their dream lives – while living with cancer, and on the other side of it. Amanda freelanced for JourneyWoman until December 2021.

1 Comment

  1. Ann Rutgers

    Loved the article on Milestone Birthdays. I’m 62 now and have often thought about doing this but never put it into practice. After reading about how much fulfillment Nadine receives each 0 and 5 birthday,it gives me new hope. I believe I will start with my 65 birthday


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