A couple of weeks ago, for the first time since my nine-year-old son was born, I went on an overseas trip without him.
It was a little heart-wrenching, I have to admit, from the tearful goodbye at Dubai airport to the endless calls I had to field from the minute I checked in ("Miss you already, mom, do you really have to go?"). The calls would have carried on well into that six-hour flight to Vienna - and, later, on the hour-long flight on a propeller plane to Innsbruck - if it wasn't for that sensible rule about switching off your phone and the general lack of connectivity 30,000 feet in the sky.
But travelling without kids, I found out only a few seconds after take-off, really is the best way to travel, if only for the luxury of not having to be on constant alert for juices in danger of being spilt, croissants tumbling to the floor and, last but not least, endless trips to the bathroom that are always "urgent". Mostly, though, it's the non-stop questions from my little aviation fanatic that wear me down: what do you like better, Airbus or Boeing? Why? Which is your favourite airline? Why? Do you think the Thai Airways colours are cooler than Air China's? Why?
In the end, it turned out to be an odd sort of trip. Heady with the experience of being all by myself for four whole days, I found my feeling of freedom enhanced by mundane things, such as not having to hunt for misplaced Kung-Fu Pandapyjamas, or being able to enjoy a long soak in the bath, gazing out at the Alps through the large bathroom window, secure in the knowledge that the customary are-you-done-yet knock on the door wasn't going to come.
But - and this took me by surprise - there were times during the trip when I'd completely forget that he wasn't with me. On the busy inner streets in the old town, I'd instinctively look around and put my hand out for him, and once I stopped at an ice-cream parlour and nearly ordered his favourite flavour before checking myself in time.
And so most of my shopping on the last day was centred on him: a white umbrella with a rural landscape hand-painted on the inside; a tiny, wind-up cuckoo clock with a Tyrolean lass on a swing; Sachertorte in a travel-resistant wooden box.
But as I emerged from Dubai airport late that night, the numerous gifts I was bearing were impatiently pushed aside.
"Mom! I've been dying to know! Tell me - do you think Austrian Airlines is better than Etihad Airways? Why?"
It was a long, long ride back home to Abu Dhabi.