How A Single Mother Embraced Family Travel (And Changed The Course Of Her Life Forever)

family travel

The Ulun Danu Temple in Bali, the place Carisa and her son fell in love with. Photo: Joan Campderrós-i-Canas/flickr.

Upon becoming pregnant, Carisa Carlton’s husband gave her an ultimatum that would change the course of her life and soon her child’s. Then, as a single mother, Carisa and her son embarked on a journey that taught them about family travel and how parenting is viewed globally. Here is her story.

1. After your divorce, you decided to do something positive for yourself and your 18-month son: travel. What was the inspiration for this course of action?

My husband gave me an ultimatum: either have an abortion or he would file for divorce. At three months pregnant, I was served at my home with a motion for divorce. My son was born prematurely, and neonatal doctors couldn’t tell me whether he would live. When I requested financial support for my son, I was served with a demand for a paternity test. For lack of finances, I had to represent myself in court while caring for a newborn with special needs. Once my son was healthy, I wanted to share our success with friends around the world.

First, we traveled to Europe, later on to Canada and then Thailand. My son was experiencing life in ways he could not in America, like playing with monkeys and canoeing through limestone pillars.

2. On your way to Sydney you stopped in Bali, and didn’t end up leaving for seven years. What was it about this place that captivated you and made you want to stay?

On our way to Sydney, we stopped in Bali where we remained for nearly four years — we later moved to Singapore, where we stayed three years. I remember the ride from the airport to our hotel in Sanur. I remember how connected I felt to the joyful reception we experienced. The iconic cultural symbolism that permeates every aspect of everyday life. The Balinese practice a form of Hinduism practiced nowhere else in the world. Church and state is tightly joined and as such we celebrated ceremonious pursuits daily through observation and participation.

The love they showered upon my son made me feel safe and they made me understand the value of having a child raised by a community. My biggest challenge was getting them to stop treating my son like a royal king — he could never do anything wrong in their eyes. They believe the younger the child, the closer they are to God.

family travel

3. How were you able to fund your travels without having a desk job?

I had not worked a desk job for years and it’s never been one of my goals, though I enjoy the structure and camaraderie; however, I love working and without an ability to earn money, I wouldn’t be happy.

Bali is 13 hours ahead of New York City. After my son went to bed, I traded stocks on the NYSE. I wasn’t a high level day trader, but trading kept me connected with the US financial world and gave me enough extra money to play all along the Malay Archipelago. I particularly enjoyed IPOs.

4. What’s one thing that surprised you about Bali?

The poor consideration of animals still haunts me. Some expatriates are working to change attitudes towards animals, but in a country where $60 is a month’s salary, animals aren’t their first priority. My son and I were so broken about a baby macaque’s neck chained down to a board that we purchased her in efforts to save her, even though I abhor that trade.

On the other hand, their reverence for formalities, the elderly, and sacred places are values I will maintain.

family travel

Carisa and her son in Bali

5. What was one thing the Balinese locals taught you that you’ll never forget?

Laugh about anger. Instead of getting sucked into another’s angry outburst, they cannot help it…they bust out with laughter. And apologize. The Balinese are quick to apologize with appropriate humility.

6. What’s one lesser-known experience you recommend visitors have in Bali? Why?

Head north. Most visitors set their sights on Kuta for the nightlife and restaurants, or Ubud for the rice fields and yoga retreats. Menjangan Island (Deer Island), in northern Bali, sits on a coral reef and it is never busy. You don’t need to be a scuba diver to have your life forever transformed by the color.

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7. What have been some of the most important lessons you’ve learned from traveling?

Keep your mind prepared to absorb new ways of thinking about seemingly simple concepts.

8. What would you tell mothers with young children who wish to travel but are scared?

I didn’t like traveling to First World countries with my son. The expectations on my child were too high. A woman shouted at me in a French grocery store when my son spilled yogurt. In Canada, fellow airline passengers were disgruntled when my son was affected by the cabin pressure and cried the entire flight. In Southeast Asia, people joyfully welcomed my son in any and every circumstance. When you know your child will be accepted and loved, even when they are misbehaving by our standards, traveling becomes the easy part.

I encourage mothers to expose children to another way of thinking in a welcoming environment. Bali is the best place to start.

Bio: Carisa Carlton is a public relations expert with a global perspective.

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