My goal was to cover 14 cities and towns in all. I was breastfeeding Owen at the time, so I had to take him along with me. My husband didn’t have any issues with me holidaying alone with our son, and being a seasoned and savvy traveller, I wasn’t too worried either.
The trip went smoothly the first six days. Owen and I had a wonderful time checking out the lavender fields in Haute Provence, and the stunning coastal views of the French Riviera and Monaco.
I also went on a few day tours, where I met fellow travellers from Asia. When they found out I was travelling alone with Owen, they were surprised and told me that I was brave.
I must admit I was proud of myself for having survived almost a week without any drama. Owen was generally easy to look after; occasionally, I would need help carrying his stroller up and down the bus or onto the train, but bystanders and other travellers were usually more than willing to lend a hand.
I’d run out of small notes, so I paid with a 100-euro (around S$158) banknote. For some reason, the cashier announced to everyone in the store that he was returning to me over 90 euros in change.
It made me self-conscious. I quickly shoved the money into my pouch, put the pouch into my tote, zipped it and hooked it onto Owen’s stroller before leaving the shop.
About 10 minutes after I left the shop, I noticed that my tote was missing. I looked everywhere around me to see if it had fallen and even retraced my steps, but it was nowhere to be found.
I was shaken. Who could be so cruel as to steal from a stroller? Desperate and helpless, I stood in the middle of the street and asked everyone who passed if they’d seen a purple tote.
I was now alone with Owen in Nice, with no money even to buy food. I was going to Paris the next day but, thankfully, I’d already pre-booked and paid for my train ride to the capital.
After making a police report, I returned to my hotel. I told one of the front-desk staff what had happened, and she gave me a couple of bread rolls and some fruit from the kitchen.
Another helped me print my train tickets, a map to the embassy in Paris, the confirmation e-mail for the hotel I’d be staying in in Paris, and copies of the two passports that I’d e-mailed to myself weeks before. Beyond that, there was not much else they could do.
I stayed in my room the rest of the day. All I had to eat were the rolls and fruit, and some snacks I’d packed.
The next day, on the train on my way to Paris, I met a Chinese woman and her two children. We struck up a conversation and I told her what had happened. She felt so bad for me, she gave me a muffin and some fruit her daughter had bought from the train’s food cart.
The ride to Paris gave me plenty of time to reflect. Things could have been a lot worse – I could’ve been robbed at knifepoint, for example, or something could have happened to Owen.
So while I was angry and upset, I was also extremely grateful. And the thieves didn’t get my camera – my photos meant more to me than my passport and credit cards because they held my holiday memories.
The first thing I did when I arrived in Paris was go to the embassy to get new travel documents. The next day, my husband remitted some money to me via the embassy, to cover my expenses for the rest of my trip.
One of the embassy officers, for instance, gave me 10 euros to take new photos for my travel documents, as well as food vouchers worth 30 euros, which could be used at any restaurant or cafe in Paris.
At first, I was reluctant to accept the money and vouchers, but she insisted. Another staff member rushed to replace my travel documents, so instead of having to wait a few days for them, I only waited a couple of hours.
The next day, while having lunch at a cafe, I met a woman who was visiting from Shanghai. She paid for my meal after hearing my story, even though I told her that my husband had already sent me money and I could afford to pay for my own lunch.
I was not looking for financial assistance or sympathy from anyone; I just wanted to remind them of the dangers that solo travellers face, and to get some of my anger and frustration off my chest.
But they felt for me and helped me out of the goodness of their hearts.
I always take precautions, especially when I travel. Someone – from a crime syndicate, most likely – just jumped at the chance to take advantage of me.
While in Paris, I met another traveller from Singapore, who told me that I was “gutsy” for staying on. “Something like that would have totally ruined my trip. If it were me, I’d have taken the first flight home,” she said.
But that’s not me. I chose to stay on because I didn’t know when I would get the opportunity to visit France alone again with my baby.
Even with what happened, it was an amazing trip and I enjoyed myself. The bag theft caused me a lot of inconvenience, but I was able to turn the proverbial lemons into lemonade.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that I’m more optimistic and appreciative after the incident. I ran into so many good-hearted and charitable people, I got a lot of help and support, and I discovered how strong, independent and resourceful I really am.
The trip restored my faith in people and in myself.
If you are a mum planning to vacation alone with your baby or young child, here are some top safety tips to take note of before you fly off:
1. Use only small-denomination banknotes
Large-denomination ones will only draw unnecessary attention to yourself, and make you a target for thieves and pickpockets.
2. Have copies of your IC and travel documents handy
Instead of photocopying these and carrying them around, scan them and e-mail the images to yourself.
That way, if you lose your ID, credit cards and travel documents, you’ll still be able to prove your identity.
It’ll also make it easier for you to replace your passport, cancel your cards and make a police report.
3. Buy travel insurance, no matter how tight your budget
“My insurance company really came through for me when I was stuck in France,” says Victoria.
4. Have an emergency cash stash
Hide the money in your bra, an old lipstick tube, or secret pockets sewn into your jeans or top. If you get robbed, you’ll at least still have some cash on you.
5. Bring as little cash as possible
Prepay your accommodation and any tickets you need – for day tours, train rides, places of interest and the like – and use your credit card for meals and shopping.
6. Consider your dining options
Pick hotels with room service or those that are within short walking distance of places where you can buy food.
In the event that you and your child get hungry at night, you don’t have to wander around dark streets looking for food.
7. Avoid crowded venues and events
Don’t put yourself in a position where you’re vulnerable to pickpockets.
(Photos: Courtesy of Victoria Deng and Pixabay)
A version of this article first appeared in Young Parents.