In the land of cherry blossoms and ancient traditions, one mother stands out as an embodiment of curiosity, courage, and a thirst for exploration. ? Meet Ariel Lee (@ariel.land on Instagram), a freelance writer and influencer who has made Japan her home along with her loving family. While many mothers find solo travel with their children daunting, Ariel embraces the challenge, taking her young son on unforgettable journeys throughout the captivating landscapes of Japan. ✨
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Tell us a little bit about yourself
I was born in Taiwan and I spent a lot of my childhood in the US but eventually I moved back to Asia because my family was there. I worked in Hong Kong which was where I met my husband! ? We moved to Singapore for work and that's where our son was born. After that we moved to Shanghai for a bit and then finally to Tokyo for my husband's work. Ever since we moved here, life has been very great! My son loves it because there's so many kid-friendly places to enjoy.
Currently I'm a freelancer doing work in tourism - sometimes I write articles for cities and do some influencing jobs on the side as well. We really love the culture and the history in Japan so even if I'm not working, I spend most of my time visiting libraries, shrines and museums. ✨
What inspired you to travel around Japan with your son?
Before I had my son, I was already travelling a lot! But when we had him, I was having a hard time getting used to being a mom and while we were living in Shanghai when he was about 9 months old, I remember thinking to myself that I really wanted to travel but where could I go? Japan was somewhere that I was familiar with and I really wanted to visit again. So I decided to bring him on a solo trip there! ?
The first time we visited, I took him to Tokyo and the Mount Fuji area because I've been there before but after that initial trip I'm like, "Ah this is manageable!" I kind of scouted out all the kid-friendly facilities in Japan like the places to breast feed, there are changing rooms everywhere and it's not that difficult to get formula either.
Just 2 months later, we returned to Japan once again! ? But this time we explored a completely new area that I've never been to before. Ever since then, I started liking travelling a lot and began accepting my role as a mom more. I mean I know I could've done all that before too but now I just have a little person with me!
How different is it travelling with a young child?
I realised very quickly that I'd have to pack very light because not only do I have a luggage, but I also have a stroller and a kid. ? I could only pack the essentials like nothing extra, and everything had to be in the smallest sizes. Commuting was also really difficult at the beginning because I had to do everything myself but it was just a lot of getting used to the environment!
Here's a tip: Look out for a sign at the station that tells you which entrance has the elevator.
Of course, I didn't know about that before so I just had to fold my stroller and go up and down the stairs - but people in Tokyo were so nice like they would come up to help you. For example, if I was pushing my stroller up the train and it got stuck, everyone would just come and help me. ? I have a lot of positive experiences because many people where willing to help!
Do you have a theme in mind when planning these trips?
The first trip was kind of us testing the waters a little bit so we went to the places more familiar to me. But the second trip, we visited the Hokuriku area so the theme was "Snow". ❄️ It was my son's first time seeing snow and I haven't seen snow in a long time - I grew up seeing snow so I really missed it! For me it was a new challenge, bringing a kid in snow is a completely different experience.
I let my son have a say in the planning of these trips as well! ? As much as I'm the primary caregiver and guardian, I want him to know that this trip is an experience for him too. So sometimes I'll give him two options, for example, "Do you want to visit this library or do you want to see this shrine?" And my son, he knows what he likes.
He's kind of like a little old person. ? So he likes soaking his feet in the onsen (hot springs) and stuff like that. So I'm very thankful that he's like that because we're kind of on the same wavelength when we travel, especially now that he's a grown a bit. I've learnt that as long as there's little things in between that includes them, then they'll be pretty happy to do the other stuff on the itinerary!
What are some of the challenges about travelling solo?
Carrying everything yourself is one of the major challenges, I would say. You have to learn to manage your essentials. Not only do I have to carry my own stuff and purchases, but I have to carry my son's stuff and the things he wants to buy too! ? I always make a note to pack light and not buy too many things. It can get really overwhelming but there are ways to get around this, for example, you could stop by your hotel to drop off items before heading back out or you can rent one of those lockers to store your bags.
Another challenge is, travelling with kids - they're slower. So you have to be in the mindset of giving extra time. When you're walking around attractions or to go to the bus stop/train stations, they'll stop and look around a lot out of curiosity and no matter how frustrated you get, there's nothing much you can do because that's how fast they walk! If you're using public transportation, you just have to be mindful of the time in between so you won't miss the bus or train.
What advice do you have for other mothers who are considering travelling solo with their young children
It's impossible to control everything so don't be too nervous about the what-ifs! Focus more on the next steps than dwelling on the things that have gone wrong. Take it easy and just do as much research about where things are, that'll make you a whole lot less stressed out. ? The more you focus on things that frustrate you like snags along the journey or that you haven't been able to see the things you want, the more it'll create kind of a resentment with the kid.
The key to remember about travelling with your kid is to make nice memories that you can look back on in the future. Remember to take things slower and keep in mind that this is a bonding time for the two of you so there's no need to get stressed out over the things that are out of your control.