She is a single mum who travels the world with her son. Together, they make the perfect adventure team. Through her Instagram account and her blog, Karilyn Owen wants to inspire other parents to get out of their comfort zones and explore places they’ve always wanted to go, finding ways to make sure their kids are having fun, learning and growing at the same time. We wanted to get to know her a little better and to ask her to go back in time to tell us all about one of her many adventures with Cian: their trip to Singapore. Don’t miss it!
By Ana Roque
Photography courtesy of Karilyn Owen
Ilustration Marion Solhonne
Karilyn Owen grew up hearing stories of travel. “Both of my grandmothers loved to travel. I grew up hearing their stories about living and exploring abroad.” Although her curiosity arose from an early age, Karilyn’s first international trip only took place when she was 24 years old. Now, at 44, travelling has become her lifestyle. But Karilyn doesn’t travel solo. Her grand companion is her ten-year-old son Cian, who follows her everywhere she goes. As for us, we can enjoy the adventures of this family from a distance through their Instagram and blog: No Back Home.
Karilyn is American but she lived in India for a decade. That’s where she met Cian’s father, got married, and became a mother. “When we lived in India, we would frequently make our way back and forth to Ireland [where Cian’s paternal family lives] and to the United States of America. In his first year of life, we travelled to seven countries mostly to and from visiting family.”
The first trip she made only with Cian was a ten-day road trip in the United States, when he was about four years old. “It was a trip we had planned with another family and at the last minute my husband was unable to join. That was when I realised that even on a road trip with an active little one I was good to go on my own.”
Karilyn loves everything about travelling with her son and the word “fear” doesn’t appear in her dictionary. “There are kids all over the world. That makes every place kid-friendly in my book.” Moreover, all their shared experiences have brought them closer: “He is my favourite travelling companion. When I’m having a rough day he can always make me see the bright side.”
For someone who loves travel so much, 2020 has been a tough year. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought several limitations and international travel is one of them. “We travelled to Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands for my 44th birthday and returned four days before the lockdowns began. It was amazing!” But Karilyn still manages to see the glass as half full. “We really miss travelling so we went on a four-day trip to Yosemite before the fires started. It was a quick peek into what we had been missing and we felt so free to be back on the road exploring again!”
When all this is over, Karilyn and Cian will probably go back to Ecuador. “It really stole my heart and there are so many places we would still like to explore there. But I also wouldn’t mind a stint in Southeast Asia again. We had such an amazing time backpacking through it two years ago. I guess we will see who opens up and how safe things feel around the world.”
THE TRIP TO SINGAPORE
Singapore is a city-state in Southeast Asia. It is one of the largest financial centres in the world and has a population made up of people from all over the world, making it even more wonderful. Karilyn and Cian travelled there in 2018 and fell in love with its wonders. Check out their story!
LEMON Magazine [LEMON] – When did you travel to Singapore?
Karilyn Owen [K.O.] – We travelled to Singapore in the summer of 2018. We had flights from Singapore to Malaysian Borneo and stopped over for one day on the way over and for a week on the way back. We were lucky to have friends there that gave us the inside scoop. It was the perfect opportunity for us to experience the city from an insider’s perspective.
[LEMON] – Is Singapore a special place for you?
[K.O.] – I have a photograph of one of my grandmothers in a garden in Singapore. I have always loved it and wondered where she was when it was taken (in the 1980s). I have always felt a connection to the city because of that photograph and now even more after our visit. We had so much fun exploring all over and it warms my heart to hear my son tell others how amazing it is!
[LEMON] – Did you find it safe for travelling with kids?
[K.O.] – Yes. I have always loved Singapore but this was my son’s first foray into Asia outside of India and I was really excited to share it with him. I really feel Singapore is the greatest gateway to Asia for families. It is safe, clean and modern like the West, but also has pockets of busy chaos like you might find throughout Asia. The food is top-notch, safe and varied. It is the perfect place for families to dip their toes into Asia without a ton of culture shock.
[LEMON] – What’s the best way to get to know Singapore?
[K.O.] – By walking around! The weather is hot and the distances can be long, but we loved exploring by foot as much as possible.
[LEMON] – What do you think cannot be done with kids in Singapore?
[K.O.] – I would guess the only thing you can’t do with kids in Singapore is exploring the nightlife! We were home and in bed by 9 every night.
[LEMON] – What memories did you bring back from this trip?
[K.O.] – We have so many great memories of Singapore. I think some of the best were adventuring through the food halls and letting my son go up to the stalls to order his food with our friend’s daughter, who wanted to practice her Chinese. We also loved visiting the heritage museums as well and learning more about how Singapore became inhabited by Chinese and Indian people. But mostly, we just loved the adventuring time together: exploring, walking, eating and sweating.
WHERE TO GO
“We loved Little India! All visitors should make time to explore this area and get some mehndi [henna tattoos] too!”
Little India is a historic area and one of the most vibrant districts of the city. It is the perfect place to eat delicious Indian food, to shop, and to walk around learning about Singapore’s Indian community. You will also find a fantastic mix of Hindu and Chinese temples, mosques and churches.
NATIONAL GALLERY SINGAPORE
“If you are with kids and need some cool-down time, the National Gallery Singapore is amazing. During the summer, make sure to check out the Children’s Festival at the Keppel Centre for Art Education.”
The world’s largest public collection of modern Singaporean and Southeast Asian art can be found in this museum, situated in the heart of modern Singapore – the Civic District – and housed in two important national monuments that have been restored: City Hall and former Supreme Court. It’s definitely worth a visit!
Also in this gallery, people shouldn’t miss the Keppel Centre for Art Education. Its interactive spaces will stimulate the imagination and creativity of the whole family.
GARDENS BY THE BAY
“One of our top picks is the magical Gardens by the Bay. We were awed by the ingenuity that went into building this urban park. It definitely deserves a visit at night as well to get the full light-up experience. There is a cloud forest and flower dome that allows you to get up close to nature right in the middle of the city.”
This nature park covers around 101 hectares and consists of three gardens: Bay South Garden, Bay East Garden and Bay Central Garden. It was built with the aim of raising the quality of life in the city by improving green spaces. It is a true paradise in the middle of the city and one of the biggest attractions in Singapore.
SINGAPORE BOTANIC GARDENS AND JACOB BALLAS CHILDREN’S GARDEN
“We highly recommend spending some time at the Singapore Botanic Gardens and at the Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden. Cian loved exploring this area, playing with the zip line at the playground and spotting wildlife too.”
Singapore Botanic Gardens are an important plant research and conservation centre and a wonderful botanic garden. Its main attraction is the National Garden of Orchids, where people can find more than a thousand species and around two thousand orchid hybrids, but there is much more to explore. The Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden, for example, is the first garden in Asia entirely dedicated to children and it definitely deserves a visit. It has a farm, an orchard and a forest with its own stream and ponds. Kids can do anything they want while learning to love and cherish nature, from exploring the suspension bridge and the nature play areas to walking along the stream and climbing into the tree-houses. The more curious can observe how plants grow and pick up some gardening tips!
WHERE NOT TO GO
UNIVERSAL STUDIOS SINGAPORE
“For us, it’s not worth coming all the way to Singapore to visit places like Universal Studios, for example. We live in Los Angeles and have access to these types of places all the time. I would say seek out more local experiences that cannot be found anywhere else.”
WHAT TO EAT
“We feel like no visit to Singapore is complete without eating at the various markets.”
Poori and Dosai at Komala Vilas
Chicken Rice at Liao Fan Hawker Chan
PACKING LIST ESSENTIALS
“We always aim to cover up and be as modest as possible when visiting Asia.”
Lightweight and breathable clothing;
Comfortable walking shoes;
A packable towel for when you find yourself near a water park (like Gardens by the Bay).