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Katherine Baldwin Headshot

Single, Childless and Christmas - Trying Out a New Solution to a Tricky Equation

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Don't get me wrong, I love my family and it'd be great to spend the festive season with my mum, brother, nephews and other relatives. But as a single, 41-year-old woman who'd still like a family of her own, this time of year brings a lot more than Christmas cheer.

For many people my age, the baby gap is the high-street store where they buy gifts for their offspring. But for me - and many others in the same boat - it's the space left by the absence of a partner and children, a space that seems particularly cavernous at this time of year.

And as more and more men and women postpone marriage or parenthood - sometimes until it's too late - there are droves of us in our 30s and 40s who'll be visiting elderly parents, waking up in our teenage beds on Christmas morning or attaching ourselves to our siblings' families - all the while thinking it really was time we grew up and had our own.

I've been feeling a bit of an anomaly at Christmas for a few years now so this time around, I've decided to embrace my 40-something, single, childless state and do something completely different - something I'd find it difficult, or at least prohibitively expensive to do if I had offspring in tow.

I've jetted off to Mexico - for just over a month - and will be spending Christmas on a beach in the sun, swapping turkey and cranberry sauce for guacamole and chilli prawns.

Of course, when you say it like that, it all sounds rather idyllic and so far, most of my trip has been just that. I went to a friend's wedding in Acapulco and then headed off on my own to the nearby rustic beach town of Pie de la Cuesta, one of my favourite spots when I lived in Mexico City from 1995-2000.

And as I kayaked through mangrove trees, learned to wakeboard on a fresh water lagoon and stood in the Pacific Ocean as the sky turned pink and the sun sank into the sea, I couldn't have been happier.

My single status - duly noted by a few people I came across: Vienes sola? No tienes familia? Por qué? (You're alone? You don't have any family? Why's that?) - didn't bother me in the slightest. In fact, I was so excited I had to keep pinching myself.

Could this be true? Was I really doing exactly what I wanted to do, just a few days before Christmas? Had I really escaped the London crowds and cold for this Pacific Ocean paradise?

But travelling alone as a woman in her early 40s, as others may know, isn't always a walk in the park. And as my coach pulled into Mexico City - home to about 20 million people, only a dozen or so of whom I know - after six fabulous days at the beach, I started to wonder what on earth I was doing so far from friends and family at this special time of year.

Why did I choose to miss carols by candlelight, Christmas parties with friends, cosy nights in the pub and a few precious days chilling with my family? Why did I decide to travel so far away from the people I love when everyone else was going home?

And as I watched large families convene for lunch outside a Mexico City restaurant or pack suitcases into cars ready for the drive back to see their relatives, my aloneness hit me and the tears began to flow. What exactly am I doing here?

But after moping for a little while, I'm delighted to say I got a grip of my wayward emotions and made a conscious decision to accept and appreciate where I was. After all, my heart had led me back to Mexico.

I woke early and went for a fast walk around the local park as the sun began to warm the city, stopping to use the outdoor gym along with fellow fitness fans.

On the way back to where I was staying, I bought a freshly squeezed carrot and orange juice from a makeshift stall at the side of the road - for less than a pound. And I took a bus down to Coyoacán to spend a few hours in the house of Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist whose paintings, passion and perseverance - in the face of a crippling accident, infertility and her husband's love affairs - I've always admired.

Pretty soon, I was feeling quite at home in this crazy city, cycling up the majestic Paseo de la Reforma on a rented bicycle - the local equivalent of London's 'Boris bikes' - popping in to Bellas Artes to marvel at the dramatic murals painted by Kahlo's husband Diego Rivera and wandering in to the impressive main square, or Zócalo, at dusk where an ice rink and an artificial ski slope were keeping hundreds of people entertained.

And now, with Christmas and New Year still ahead of me, I'm planning another beach adventure - to the coast of Oaxaca, an area I never visited despite living in Mexico for five years. The surf and swimming beaches of Puerto Escondido, Mazunte and San Agustinillo await.

No doubt there will be more times when I feel lonely - particularly if I decide to Skype home on Christmas day - but I'm trusting the surf classes, the sunsets, the dolphins, the cliff walks and the presence of fellow adventurers will compensate for missing out on eating turkey with my family and watching the Queen's speech.

If I'd have had Christmas as usual, I'm sure it would have been lovely. But at the same time, it would have been safe. I wouldn't have challenged myself. I wouldn't have grown. This way, I'm stepping out in faith and learning to embrace my solitude and value my courageous spirit.

I'd hope, at some time in the future, to have a partner to adventure with and, who knows, perhaps even children to bring along, but in the meantime, I'm going it alone, collecting memories I know will stay with me forever, nourish my soul and brighten the dark winter days once I'm back in London.

And as the Spanish saying goes, mejor sola que mal acompañada (better alone than in bad company or, as I like to interpret it, better alone than in a relationship just for the sake of it or to blend in with the crowd).

If I haven't found someone I really want to adventure with as yet, better to go on my adventures alone.