German-born Isabelle (Isi) Von Coels was twenty six years old when her daughter, Kim, was born, and throughout Kim’s childhood, Isi travelled as a single mum to South America, Australia and other places around the world. Kim recently had her own child, Xahli, and spends time between Isi’s home in Portugal, New Zealand and Glastonbury, UK. Now Isi is a grandmother, she reflects on her experiences travelling with a child as a single parent.

Isi’s adventures on her own with Kim started when Kim’s father left when she was one and a half years old. Isi’s was working as a physiotherapist at a local hospital, but when Kim turned two, they started to travel. First to Greece and Europe for around two months in a camper van, and then later to South America. When asked about the challenges faced travelling not only with a child, but also as a single parent she said, “It was fine. Kim was very outgoing. I don’t think she was as bad as [Xahli] is. I didn’t want to have a second baby because I knew I wouldn’t be quite that lucky. There were never any problems when she was a baby. She didn’t scream much.”

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Isi believes that few people sit down and truly plan children. She wanted a child, but Kim was still unexpected. “It’s such a big responsibility, it’s such a life-changing thing”.

Comparing travelling with Kim to travelling on her own Isabelle told us, “It was fine. I mean, there were certainly restrictions travelling with Kim because of certain things that were more difficult, even though she was really easy. When I was in South America my relatives lived near Argentina and I went by bus to Rio de Janiro, which was about forty hours pretty much non-stop. I just stopped for a cup of tea. We were sleeping on the bus, eating on the bus and everything else. [Kim] was fine. I mean, she would walk around the bus and talk to all the people and, she spoke Spanish already then, and so she said “have you got some water” and I said “no, I haven’t”, you know, “we have to wait”, so she just walks around the bus and says “agua, agua, agua, agua” and someone gave her some water. She was really easy, and I mean whatever I gave her to eat she ate. It was easy travelling in a country like [that] with a small child (she was blonde and blue-eyed); people would come up and say “ahhh”.

“[It wasn’t annoying’]. I think I was made more welcome by everyone because I had a pretty little girl with me. So I was different to any traveller who was just travelling around because I had a little child who was outgoing and happy and enjoying life and pretty, so I didn’t find it difficult at all. Not really.”

1923960_79316425159_4212_nIsi wouldn’t take Kim to remote places that required vaccines (such as the Amazon) because she didn’t like the idea of giving a young child strong chemicals instead of simply avoiding travelling to the place in the first place. “[There are] plenty of places we can go without worrying about it. You have to think more about where you can go with children.”

Isi travelled with Kim until she reached primary school age, when they moved to Glastonbury. “The first year and a half I lived in Glastonbury I felt like I was living on holiday because there were always new things going on and it was just so different to where I used to live in Germany, so there was no need to travel because I was on holiday”.

Between balancing work and having Kim attend school, they didn’t find a lot of time to travel, as Isi didn’t see the point in taking short trips: they had to go for several months at least. They found the time between primary school and secondary school, when, rather than making Kim stay on an extra year in primary school because of the month she was born, they took a ‘gap year’ together to Australia, after scrapping the idea of India without another person, as she believed it would be taking an unnecessary risk.

10906135_10155169094035160_4024076481129294479_nIsi and Kim stayed eight months in Australia, during which time Isi sub-let her flat in Glastonbury out to help pay for the cost of the trip. They shared a room when they were travelling, as well as in their home in Glastonbury. Kim faced comical challenges whilst dealing with the change from one country to another. Isi told us she couldn’t let Kim have a shower where there was bad water because she would try to drink it and once Kim crossed the street to go to the toilet next to a tree, and Isi had to explain that “it’s not something you do here”.

Bath Time in Brazil

Bath Time in Brazil

It seemed quite a rewarding experience to take a child travelling, “there was another person having the fun”, Isi said, “whatever you were doing, like being on the beach and seeing her playing”. Despite how obvious it was to Isi and her friends, Kim’s father and Aunt gave Isi a hard time over it, telling her it was selfish. “[Kim] would be on a sandy beach next to a warm ocean and [I was] thinking “poor child”. Everybody wanted to play with her.”

After Kim went to University Isi decided she didn’t want to “be mummy again”, so decided to look into moving to a place with more space and better weather. Initially she looked in Spain, and after finding a place that fell through, she found her beautiful Portuguese property where she works with local centers to rehome dogs. After years of travelling Isi is quite content staying put in Portugal, enjoying her dogs and her garden. “If I go away for two weeks it [also] means a delay for some of the dogs I can help”. There are a few places she would still like to visit, such as South Africa, but Isabelle understands that “it’s not good for these places is everyone goes to look at them”.

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Kim doesn’t recall any of the earlier trips at all, but after discussing it we agreed that her experiences accounted for a lot of her personality. “I never ran after her”, Isi said, “so she gained a sense of independence and orientation. She didn’t rely on me coming after her all the time so she had to think ‘oh, where did I come from?’”

Now, not even at school age, Xahli has already spent most of his life between Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and their home in Glastonbury, UK. He’s attended Glastonbury festival (Kim has only missed one festival since she was two years old, which was when she was out in Australia), and Kim has plans to go to more places before Xahli reaches school age, having recently bought her own motorhome.

Have you experienced travelling with children? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.