Single mum Tess Woolcock has decided nothing should stop her from taking a trip to Europe with her young daughter. She would never have imagined that she would be looking for a birth certificate to ward off the Monegasque authorities.
When it was announced that the borders would reopen in February, it was only a matter of hours before I booked return tickets to Paris for myself and my now 5-year-old daughter Lola.
Like many of us, I had been expecting a major international trip for two years, and had begun to get emotional looking at pictures of the Eiffel Tower, and in complete FOMO imagining the inside of a long- mail. After emerging from the pandemic as a single mother, it was a long overdue “treat yourself.”
I had never traveled as a single parent before, but booked the tickets as carefree as I would have before motherhood/separation. My biggest concern was obviously the pandemic, but being a single mother traveling alone with a child was not even on my mind. I am a self-sufficient woman, I run my own businesses.
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Taking my daughter to France was a very natural thing to do, creating wonderful memories together – we were both beyond excited.
It wasn’t until other people heard about our trip that I noticed it wasn’t quite considered the norm. I was greeted with responses like, “Aren’t your parents coming with you? », « Do you have family there? to the more sinister, “A woman traveling alone with a child, and the Russian mafia?” “.
What is it indeed? It all sounded like crazy backwards talk. I thought Europe of all places would be progressive and forward-thinking, and I didn’t give it another second of thought. My biggest concern, other than dodging Covid (which we managed to catch and recover with a week to spare), was managing all of our luggage ourselves.
However, much to my naivety, traveling through Europe with a 5 year old has taught me a lot, and it might not be what you expect.
Surprisingly for me, my daughter was the easy part. She was the perfect little travel companion. She slept on the flights, took 20,000 steps a day and didn’t complain. Yes, you read that right. And the fact that we were alone 90% of the time meant that we spent quality time together, which resulted in hardly any temper tantrums. The Margherita pizzas also seemed to make her child “drunk”, so she laughed and was happy as soon as her belly was full. Easy, done. Who would have ever thought that would be the easy part?
However, we were definitely shocked that there were only two of us traveling from New Zealand, with no man or grandparents. It sparked a lot of conversations and we got a lot of sideways glances. But it wasn’t on the border as you might expect, we crossed that very easily. It was checking into hotels where things were a bit more difficult, and more specifically in Monaco.
After a delayed flight from Paris to Nice, we really weren’t feeling our best when we arrived at the Fairmont Hotel in Monte Carlo. The woman at reception did the standard passport and credit card check but then became very concerned after seeing that my surname was different from Lola’s.
“We have a problem here,” she said in front of Lola. “I need proof that she is your daughter, otherwise you can’t stay here and I may have to call the authorities.”
I was completely dumbfounded. It’s 2022, how many women have different surnames for their children? Also, it wasn’t a border agent, it was a hotel. I felt an immediate panic, as Lola heard everything and started to look very scared.
“Are you kidding, what kind of evidence?” Would you like to see my cesarean section scar? »
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She went on to tell me that it was common practice in hotels. I had never heard of it before. By this time, Lola was starting to get upset. The hotel demanded that I produce a birth certificate, but with New Zealand’s jet lag, that was going to be difficult. Fortunately, I had the same last name as Lola before the separation and I had an old credit card with my married name on it, which was accepted with great reluctance.
Hard lesson learned. I can only think how badly things could have gone if I didn’t have this.
So my big tip for parents traveling alone with children is to bring a copy of their birth certificate. After further research, I would go further and have a signed statement from the other parent indicating consent to travel overseas. It’s better to be prepared than to have clueless children, and ultimately these are all measures to stop child trafficking – I just wish I knew what I’m doing now because the whole experience is firmly engraved in Lola’s brain for life.
Traveling as a single mom has also brought many benefits. There is extra legroom on the plane when traveling with a small human being. And if you think being on your honeymoon is the way to get 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 in the restaurants, and we got free treats and ice cream. People also engage more in conversation with you when traveling alone with a child, it’s a real icebreaker.
Overall, people are just friendlier – apart from the patrons of a beach club in Saint Tropez who gave us dagger looks when we arrived with Elsa and Anna toys. But hey, I can’t really blame them for that.