Memories & Reflections The Act of Travel

Momcation to Chicago: A Solo Trip for Mama to Chill the F Out

For the first time in 511 days, I went to an airport, boarded a plane, and flew to another city. I can’t think of a time in my adult life when I’ve gone almost 17 months without traveling by air. Walking back into BNA for the first time since February 2020, when we got home from Buenos Aires, felt so surreal.

Goodbye, Nashville! Hello… Post-Pandemic Travel!

Standing in the tediously familiar baggage drop line at the Southwest counters felt both annoying and exciting at the same time: this is taking forever, but I’m so glad to be in a situation demanding that I drop baggage! I’m about to board a plane! Southwest now flies out of the brand spanking new Terminal D at our airport, and holy moly, walking through that terminal does not feel like Nashville’s old school airport. It’s modern! And shiny! with a ton of light! And charing stations! Where even am I?! (Don’t worry, I still found some of the infamous BNA carpet in Terminal C!)

When I boarded the plane (Boarding Group B, cause I didn’t pay for earlybird), everyone was bottlenecking in the front and middle, competing for overhead storage. It all felt so mundane and typical, but also thrilling; when was the last time I got to roll my eyes at fellow passengers?! (February 6, 2020, to be exact.) I beelined for my favorite spot: the last row, aisle. Close to the bathrooms, the flight attendants, and because everyone fights for seats in the front, the aisle is usually available (even when you get stuck in the 2nd half of B Boarding Group) and sometimes it’s the only row with any empty seats. And yup! We were the only row with an open middle seat; go us!

The beach, 5 minutes from KP’s new spot

I quickly settled into my old routine of ignoring everyone around me and losing myself in a book. It was lovely and relaxing… except for the fact that my glasses fogged up every thirty seconds due to my mask. So, almost back to normal, but not quite.

I was pumped for the mere fact that I walked off that plane and out of the airport to get into my best friend’s car and spend the next four days in Chicago. This is a town I’ve wanted to get to know, and with so many friends now living there, I’ll have many opportunities to get acquainted. So many neighborhoods to explore, restaurants to try, playgrounds to visit!

But, the fact that I had a chance to do all of this without the presence of my husband or child was…. liberating.

Let me be clear: I love traveling with my husband and child. We’ve already had some memorable adventures together. (Destin! Las Vegas! A two-week South American cruise!) Justin has become a trusted, reliable, comfortable travel partner, and Skyler has been so go-with-the-flow that I’d take him just about anywhere. But sometimes Mama needs some alone time, quiet, and one-on-one fun with her BFF.

I felt nearly naked leaving the plane; I just had a small backpack with me. Traveling with a little one means so much extra crap — stroller, toys, snacks, diapers, wipes, things to make him more comfortable while he travels to make our lives easier, etc. You never have enough hands. But my hands were free.

Last row, empty middle seat!

I could slip easily between people to get in front of the slow walkers; I could stop to pee and not worry about who’s watching my child; I didn’t have to pay attention to anyone or anything at the baggage carousel besides my bags; I didn’t have to balance bags on top of suitcases to maneuver my bags to the curb; I never had to scream at anyone in public to move out of the way or stop; in fact, I don’t think I said a word to anyone from the time we landed to the moment I got in my friend’s car.

Leisure traveling by oneself is so…. easy? (*Major asterisk here: Traveling in any situation can be cumbersome, physically exhausting, logistically challenging, emotionally draining, linguistically awkward, etc. etc. etc. But traveling by myself means I’m only dealing with myself in all of these situations. Traveling with my family means at least two adult sets of emotions to deal with these things and managing one unpredictable toddler set of emotions. By comparison, managing just myself seems like a breeze.)

Traveling alone let me fully relax without worrying about anyone else’s well-being. I didn’t have to be on high alert. I got to shut my brain off.

Shutting your brain off is the true value of a momcation, isn’t it? Giving moms a breather, a break from parenting, a moment of respite from the 24/7 act of thinking and caring about a very small person’s health and happiness.

From the moment I stepped foot into the BNA airport at the front end of my trip, to the moment I arrived at BNA four nights later, I was able to turn Mom mode down to, like, a three and Just Me mode up to, I don’t know, an 8? I was going to Chicago to help my friend get settled in, so this trip wasn’t just about me entirely! 😉

KP, one of my oldest friends, got a job at a Chicago university during the pandemic, and after several months of working from home in Florida, our home state, is finally moving up to the Windy City to (possibly?) return to work and finally meet her coworkers in person. But KP lives alone with three pets, and moving sucks no matter how many people are involved but is especially heinous as a solo activity, so I offered to fly up a few days after she arrived in town for a long weekend of furniture assembly, neighborhood exploring, and setting up her new apartment. I wanted to be helpful, but if I’m being as honest as I should be, the trip was very selfishly motivated.

Trying not to vomit in front of Buckingham Palace

The last time I flew anywhere by myself was September 2018, when I met my dad across the pond for a week in London. (I never did write a blog about that trip, whoops!) But, considering that I was pregnant, and vomiting several times every day, I don’t want to count this as truly solo travel; the Mooch was baking in my belly, already using my body and physically exhausting me. But I did enjoy a lot of alone time on that trip as I earned my daily 10k steps site-seeing on my own while my dad attended a conference.

So almost 2.5 years ago was the last time I went somewhere without my husband, and the first trip I’ve taken alone since Skyler was born.

This was the first time I got to hang out with KP unsupervised by my family. Sure, we behave as if no one else is around even when Skyler is crawling over me and Justin is in the other room. My friends and I have very intimate conversations in front of my husband; to be honest, I think he learned to tune us out yearrrrrs ago. Even so, the fact that the only two people in the room were ME and KP felt luxurious.

I slept on an air mattress in a room that got excruciatingly bright every morning at 7 am, yet I got more sleep in this weekend than I have in two months.

We didn’t do anything particularly exciting (minus going out to dinner with some of my coworkers, whom I LOVE, and who I met IRL for the first time) and most of our spare time was spent scouring IKEA instructions, debating where to hang organizational peg boards, and fighting with KP’s shower drain. It was all perfectly mundane: taking out the excessive amount of trash produced by an IKEA shopping spree; ordering takeout from the local Thai place; practicing different maneuvers for parking in the small and poorly designed parking garage.

Except one night (thanks to my work friends haha), we were in bed by 10 pm and I was asleep by midnight, no different than a night at home. Except that I didn’t have to get up at any specific time the following day; no alarm clock for work, no baby jumping on our bed with good morning energy. The worst that happened (that I remember) is hearing KP come out into the living room, where I was sleeping, and tried to tell her in my semi-asleep stupor that she didn’t have to be quiet, that I was awake. She said I’d been snoring exactly 7 seconds earlier. I also promptly fell right back asleep.

When you hear the word VACATION, what comes to mind?

Vacating real hard in Mexico, 2017

Beaches…? Day drinking…? Hammocks and naps and massages…? Maybe a vacation means doing no work all day in a beautiful location, with no responsibilities or commitments on your calendar for days.

I used to think that in order to properly vacate that I had to go somewhere amazing, avoid all real life duties including work and housework, and generally be somewhere very different from my real life so I could fully experience that separation and disconnect.

But now, as a parent, always a little bit tired, never as put together as I’d like, my idea of VACATION has changed. While I can not WAIT until our very belated all-inclusive resort Mexico vacation next year, I don’t need to get that far away to have a little vacation. I find every opportunity to relax, reboot, and turn off the drudgery of modern daily life, even if just for a short weekend or an hour before bedtime. Whether it means getting a massage in the middle of a work day, declaring a chore-free Sunday Funday, enjoying a couple nights at an upscale hotel, or spending a weekend on an air mattress in your friend’s apartment sans child, VACATION now means any time when I don’t have to live up to all of my expectations for all of the roles I play in life. VACATION now means taking a break from being EMPLOYEE or MOM or DAUGHTER or WIFE or FRIEND. It means leaning into any activity that allows me to turn off worry and responsibility, and find peace for a period of time. Often, vacation means sleeping in and doing something fun. Sometimes, it just means not doing what I think I should be doing. And when I’m very lucky, it means getting to do the thing I’m most passionate about — travel!– all by myself.

How do YOU define vacation? When was the last time you traveled solo? How do you find little moments of vacation in your every day routines? What’s the best momcation you ever took? If you’ve never taken a momcation, where would you go and/or what would you do?

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