Solo Beijing at night

Beijing at night. Photos by Fiona Tapp

I grew up in the United Kingdom.

When I was a little girl, I had a giant oversized world map adorning my wall instead of boy-band posters or a kitten on a rainbow. Every time my parents took me someplace I would peel off a gold sticker and gleefully mark the new discovery on my map.

By the time I headed off to university, stickers covered most of Europe.

My Wandering Life
My wanderlust continued to take me to far-flung destinations such as Sri Lanka, Egypt, and Thailand. On a trip with my girlfriends to Cuba, I met my future husband, a Canadian. Within a few years, I had relocated to Canada, and although I had added one more star to my map, a sharp decline began from that point.

When you live on this side of the Atlantic, travel anywhere outside of North America can be expensive, especially compared to the quick jaunts I used to make from my London home all over the European continent.

With the intervening years, we added a son to our growing family, and our travel budget became assigned to visiting grandparents between Canada and England.

At some point, I wondered if I would ever add another star to my unchartered territory.

Solo Beijing TravelReclaiming My Travel Bags
And then a peculiar set of events unfurled. Due to some mix up and last-minute plans falling through, a spot became available on a trip to China being organized by a friend. The trip would cost me absolutely nothing. Although I would spend time with others on group tours, I would also enjoy some rare alone time and have a room all to myself!

Could this work?

My son had recently weaned from breastfeeding, and I couldn’t think of a good reason not to go. When I thought about the trip I felt a prickle of excitement in my tummy, I knew I needed this experience.

Arriving in Beijing and waiting for my guide to appear, I suddenly felt nervous. This was the first time I had left my little boy for more than a few hours since he was born three years before.

I was beginning to get the first pangs of mommy guilt as that umbilical cord stretched half way around the world, even though I knew he was being well cared for by my husband and my in-laws.

Some of these feelings dissipated once I arrived at my beautiful lodgings, the Jianguo Hotel. Ornamental gardens and a stream flowed through both sides of the lobby, creating a spa-like introduction to Beijing.

My stay was a quick one, less than a week, but I managed to pack experiences into those days. When you’re not changing diapers and feeding babies you seem to have so much more time!

Solo Beijing TravelChina on My Mind
I scaled the Great Wall, ran my hand along the stones, and imagined the history and labor that placed them there. Each step seemed to have been constructed in a slightly different size and shape so that climbing these winding stairs was as much mentally as physically taxing. One wrong footstep and I could be in for a bruising tumble.

I learned to use chopsticks correctly by imitation and trial and error and found they made me a more patient diner. I enjoyed a spicy cauliflower dish bubbling away in its own little pot, a tomato and egg soup, beef with ginger, chicken and nuts, rice (of course), and Peking duck.

I watched in amazement as acrobats and Kung Fu masters entertained me in a wealth of different artistic and cultural shows. And everywhere I went, I met the most generous and warm-hearted Chinese locals.

Solo Beijing TravelVisiting the Forbidden City was the highlight of the entire trip. This imperial palace served as a home to 24 Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. A series of courtyards and beautiful buildings open to reveal yet more courtyards and gardens. Each new ring that we progressed through distilled the crowds into a smaller and smaller space, until we were shoulder to shoulder, a busy jostling crowd moving together as one.

On my last day I headed out into the hazy downtown to check out the metro and was impressed by the clean modern efficiency of the city. I took the train from Yongali to Tiananmen Square and stood among the crowds as music blared from loudspeakers and a fountain show erupted.

Looking Back Now
China was fascinating, and I would love to return someday. Meanwhile, this frazzled mom was most grateful for the chance to spend five glorious nights alone. It gave me time to think and time to plan and to be creative, without always having to put others needs first. I missed my boys, but my absence and my solo travel were necessary. I returned home feeling more like myself than I had in a very long time.

All women should travel alone at least once in their lifetime. It can make you realize how independent, strong, capable and resourceful you truly are. But for moms, especially, who can often only dream of alone time, it can be transformative.

When You Go
The tours were booked through Majestic vacations-

Practical Trips For Moms Needing To Escape

  • Arrange quality childcare with someone your child already knows. You don’t want to be far away and worrying about their wellbeing.
  • Share your travel plans with your children in an upbeat and positive tone and don’t give them too much notice to dwell on your departure.
  • It can be wise to pre-make favourite foods and freeze them and stock up on essentials so that the person you leave caring for your kids can concentrate solely on childcare.
  • Don’t feel guilty. You are important and need to take care of your needs before you can be an effective caregiver for others.
  • Enjoy your trip and take lots of photos to share with your children.

Second Chance Travels