‘A woman, traveling alone, with a child?’ All the questions I was asked on my European travel adventure as a solo mum

Solo mum Tess Woolcock decided nothing should stop her from taking a European trip with her young daughter. She never imagined she’d be rummaging for a birth certificate to ward off authorities in Monaco.

When it was announced borders were opening back in February it was only a matter of hours before I had return tickets to Paris booked for myself and my daughter Lola, now 5.

Like so many of us, I had been waiting two years for a big international trip, and had started getting emotional looking at photos of the Eiffel Tower, and complete FOMO imagining the inside of a long haul flight. Having emerged from the pandemic as a single mother, this was a long overdue “treat yourself”.

I’d never traveled as a single parent before, but I booked the tickets as carefree as I would have before motherhood/separation. My biggest concern was obviously the pandemic, but being a mother traveling alone with a child did not even enter my thought process. I am an empowered woman, I run my own businesses.

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Taking my daughter to France felt like a completely natural thing to do, creating wonderful memories together – we were both beyond excited.

It wasn’t until other people heard about our trip, I noticed that it was not quite considered the norm. I was greeted with responses like, “Aren’t your parents going with you?”, “Do you have family there?” to the more sinister, “A woman traveling alone with a child, what about the Russian mafia?”.

Tess and Lola and the Eiffel Tower.  Writes Tess, 'As soon as her belly was full, she was laughing and happy.'

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Tess and Lola and the Eiffel Tower. Writes Tess, ‘As soon as her belly was full, she was laughing and happy.’

What about it indeed? This all seemed like backwards crazy talk. I thought Europe of all places would be progressive and forward-thinking, and didn’t give it a second’s thought. My biggest concern, other than dodging Covid (which we successfully caught and recovered from with a week to spare) was managing all of our luggage on our own.

However, much to my naivety, there were a lot that traveled around Europe with a 5-year-old taught me, and they may not be what you expect.

Surprisingly for me, my daughter was the easy part. She was the perfect little travel buddy. She slept on flights, walked 20,000 steps a day, and didn’t complain. Yes, you read that right. And the fact it was just us alone 90% of the time meant we spent quality time together and this led to hardly any tantrums. Margherita pizzas also seemed to make her kid “drunk” so she was laughing and happy as soon as her belly was full. Easy, done. Who would ever have thought that would be the easy part?

However, we definitely encountered a level of shock that it was just the two of us traveling all the way from New Zealand, with no man or grandparents in tow. It started lots of conversations, and we received plenty of sideways glances. But it wasn’t at the border as you might expect, we sailed through that super easily. It was checking into hotels where things were a bit more of a challenge, and more specifically in Monaco.

Lola at the Louvre in Paris.  She didn't mind walking 20,000 steps every day.

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Lola at the Louvre in Paris. She didn’t mind walking 20,000 steps every day.

After a delayed flight from Paris to Nice we were definitely not feeling our best when we checked into the Fairmont Hotel in Monte Carlo. The woman at the front desk did the standard passport and credit card check, but then became very concerned after seeing my surname was different to Lola’s.

“We have an issue here,” she said in front of Lola. “I need proof she is your daughter otherwise you can’t stay here and I may need to call the authorities.”

I was completely flabbergasted. It’s 2022, how many women have different surnames to their children? Also, this was not a border official, it was a hotel. I felt immediate panic, as Lola heard the whole thing and began to look very scared.

“You’ve got to be kidding, what sort of proof? Would you like to see my C-Section scar?”

RYAN ANDERSON/STUFF

Auckland Airport’s Strata Lounge has been revamped. The updated space has five full bathrooms as well as bookable private relaxation spaces to stay calm before your flight.

She went on to tell me that it was standard practice in hotels. I had never heard of it before. By this time, Lola was getting quite upset. The hotel demanded I produce a birth certificate but with the time difference in New Zealand that was going to be challenging. Fortunately, I used to have the same surname as Lola before separation and had an old credit card with my married name on it, which was very reluctantly accepted.

Hard lesson learned. I can only think how badly things could have gone if I didn’t have that.

So my big tip for parents traveling solo with kids is to bring a copy of their birth certificate. After researching further, I would go a step further and have a signed statement from the other parent saying they consent to overseas travel. It’s better to be prepared than to have distraught children, and at the end of the day they are all measures to stop child trafficking – I just wish I had known what I do now as the whole experience is firmly etched in Lola’s brain for life.

Traveling as a solo mum brought a whole lot of perks with it, too. There is the extra legroom on the plane when traveling with a small human. And if you think being on a honeymoon is the way to free upgrades, think again.

Thanks to Lola, our hotel in Paris put us in an Eiffel Tower view with a balcony, we had amazing service at restaurants and got free treats and ice cream. People also strike up conversations with you more when traveling alone with a child, it’s a real icebreaker.

All in all, people are just friendlier – aside from the patrons at a Saint Tropez beach club who gave us dagger stares, when we turned up with Elsa and Anna toys. But hey, I can’t really blame them for that.

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