Much has been said about the logistics of traveling with children. Very little–perhaps nothing–has been said about what it’s like to travel as a child-free individual or couple. I’d like to open this discussion.
Having children in tow presents some constraints over things like where you choose to spend the night, the activities you plan, where you eat, and how drunk you get. However, my parents took me everywhere from England to India, and it’s no surprise that families, including single moms, travel the world as vigorously as we do.
I’ve seen how families traveling with children get on, how their children open up doorways to communication and laughter that would be impossible to achieve otherwise. Children break the ice, elicit smiles, and create a warmth and camaraderie. There is empathy, interest, and engagement between those with kids. Kids themselves bond instantly with others they meet, allowing the parents to do much of the same.
Children are one of the constants across cultures. The condition of being child-free, on the other hand, is anomalous. It’s viewed suspiciously almost everywhere. Because breeding is universal, it’s arguably harder for a child-free couple in our age bracket to travel than it is a family. I’m not trying to be facetious or get attention here. I’m sincere when I say that it’s socially unacceptable to be a 40 year-old female who doesn’t have or intend to have children. It’s practically a stigma. In the old days, a woman like me would be called unsavory terms like “spinster,” and ridiculed for the rest of her days.
Many people assumed that we were sowing our wild oats, getting the travel bug out of our system before settling down. This was never true, and because of it, I have inadvertently isolated myself from other people. With kids, a woman has an instant bond with other women regardless of other linguistic or cultural barriers. This is why even single moms have an advantage when traveling. Without kids, I have no women to relate to on such an instantaneous and fundamental level.
Being child-free, and admittedly child-averse, can therefore be difficult socially. Meeting people my age has become harder than ever. It’s not that I’m lonely (I have great friends, both child-free and breeder), but I have become aware that being child-free separates me from the mass of humanity. It feels maybe like strangers don’t trust me, at least as much as they would if I had children. Do you think that might be true?
Pope Francis recently weighed in on being childfree, claiming that childfree lives lead to the “bitterness of loneliness.” I like this pope, but I respectfully disagree. Being childfree does not necessitate loneliness at any stage in life, and having children does not guarantee protection from loneliness. I know some deeply lonely people who happen to have children, and likewise, I know eternally childfree people who exude love and altruism.
My childhood heroes were relatives who were childfree and who had traveled to all 7 continents, proving you do not need to have children to live a full life. I’ve followed in their footsteps, and likewise want to inspire other young people who do not necessarily feel the pull to parenthood.
In spite of the stigma, I’m happy to be child-free, and I love meeting other people who have never wanted children and who have never second-guessed or apologized for their inclinations.
If you’re a child-free traveler, please comment on your experiences. We would love to hear from you.