I’ll never forget the moment I arrived in Canggu, on Bali’s south coast. The air was different: clearer and cleaner. The buildings were ornate; there were bright greens and deep blues and nature was everywhere. Driving around every day felt like an offering from the gods – beautiful flowers on the streets; the gentle call to prayer; the waft of incense and freshly washed cotton. Busy streets and expansive rice paddies; people walking barefoot no matter the weather; warm rain falling on my skin. It was exactly what I needed.
I was 25 when I had my first child, Oswald, in 2019. Everyone assumed I would be the perfect mum. I had worked with kids for 10 years through every spectrum of childcare: I worked with special needs children, I was an assistant teacher, a nanny and a trained psychologist. It made sense that when it came to raising my own I would have it in the bag. But this couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, the only thing that saved my relationship with my son was travelling abroad without him.
Life as a new mum
I remember the date my husband, Joss, and I decided to have kids. It was August 6, 2018. We said if we couldn’t conceive within the year we would seek expert help. But we didn’t need to, we fell pregnant that night. We never expected it to be so fast.
It was a whirlwind, but my pregnancy was relatively easy and I had a home birth, which was amazing. However, Oswald was later hospitalised for five days after catching an infection. While he was being treated, we missed out on those initial bonding moments. It affected how I engaged with him.
Developmentally, I knew how to care, protect and provide everything for Oswald – but I had absolutely no idea how to be a mum. I lost myself as a person. It was a lonely feeling. I didn’t anticipate how much I would struggle.
None of my friends had children, and at the time we were living in an inner-city London house. Without children, our home was perfectly fine, but once Oswald came along, I noticed its rough edges. He would relentlessly scream when I tried to put him in the car. Eventually, I didn’t attempt to go out at all.
I had previously been diagnosed with depression and recognised the signs. I was isolated, unhappy and mentally in a bad place. Joss could see I was struggling. My brother was living with his girlfriend in Bali and when Joss asked, “What would you love to do right now?” I blurted, without hesitation: “I’d give anything to go to Bali.”
“OK, so go,” he said. He wasn’t joking.
My solo adventure
I had travelled around Europe but never this far, and the thought of the trip filled me with excitement. But I was realistic: Oswald was only a year old and we didn’t have childcare. Joss was insistent, however: he knew I needed it. In our situation, the flight was a stretch (around £800) but I had recently received a tax rebate – just enough to cover the cost. I knew, once in Bali, that daily costs would be affordable. I booked the flight and within two weeks I had packed my bags and was boarding the plane to Bali for a three-week, child-free adventure.
I climbed a mountain, trekked through waterfalls, went surfing, swung on giant swings and jumped off things. I drank lots of water and smoothies and ate so much healthy food. It was the most energy I’d ever had. I woke up every morning and did yoga. I felt recharged and invigorated. Before I flew to Bali I’d suffered horrendous neck and back pain, but while in southeast Asia, it disappeared. My ailments were likely stress-related.
I never called home while I was in Bali, not because I didn’t miss Oswald and Joss – I really did – but I knew that if I stayed connected to them I would feel guilty, and I wouldn’t have got what I needed from the trip. It was a once-in-a-lifetime situation.
The journey massively improved my mental health. I learnt so much about the way I think and feel. I still reflect on it now. It was such a huge turning point for me and also for Joss. He understood the intense demands of looking after a child and a home, and I learnt that it is not only OK to allow yourself space, but crucial.
I was a young mum when I went to Bali. I didn’t really know who I was. But on my trip I felt human for the first time in so long. I could laugh and smile again – I rediscovered myself.
‘I cried on the flight home’
The flight home was hard. It sounds awful, but I didn’t want to return to my life. I cried most of the way back. But by the end of the flight, I understood what I needed to do. I needed to adjust and better manage difficult situations, such as Oswald refusing to go in a car, and I had found the strength to do so. I also needed to eat better and start looking after myself.
When I landed at Heathrow, Joss and Oswald were waiting with a giant “Welcome home” sign. It felt amazing when I picked Oswald up again. I was so excited to see him and in that moment I had never felt more connected to him. The trip was transformative. It allowed me to love my son so much more.
Around five months after the trip, Joss and I married. We’ve since had a second child, Pandora, who is one, and the parenting experience has been far more enjoyable and manageable. This is definitely a result of my trip. I’ve learnt to value myself and how to set boundaries and I now know how to give myself time out, without guilt, and that doing so benefits my family.
My experience led me to train as a parenting coach and now I help other parents. Travelling made me a much better version of myself. My trip to Bali helped me reset – it was the best thing I could have done at the time, and I would do it again.
As told to Alexandria Gouveia
How to do it: Fly from London to Denpasar with Malaysia Airlines from £776 return (malaysiaairlines.com). Stay at the Slow in Canggu, where high fashion meets laid-back surf culture, from £126 per night (theslow.com)
5 reasons to take a parent-cation
By clinical psychologist Dr Saliha Afridi
- To create an opportunity for the “village” to step up and care for the kids. Often parents think that everything will fall apart if they step away, so when it doesn’t, they see they have support to rely on. Family and friends also realise their important role and kids feel loved by many
- To take uninterrupted time for yourself to engage in activities that you enjoy
- To reconnect with parts of yourself that feel in question when you become a parent
- To prioritise care for yourself, which always seems last when children are present
- To validate yourself and avoid burnout. Being a parent is the most under-appreciated job on the planet. Take a break from those responsibilities once in a while. It will help your mental health
Travellers to Indonesia must show proof of full vaccination. Those not fully vaccinated must produce a negative PCR (taken on arrival) and self-quarantine for five days