maternity travel

Travel with Baby: Maternity Leave Travel

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This week on our Travel More series, we are talking about maternity leave travel.  Make sure you also check out our other Travel More Case Study series where we interview families using different strategies to travel more together.

If you are in the pregnancy stage of life, this post is for you and it is one of the case studies I am most excited about sharing with you.  When I had each of my three kids, we definitely used the opportunity to travel more on my one-year off.  We campervanned around New Zealand and took a trip to Turkey and the UK, each for a month.

What I wish I had thought about, but didn’t, was travelling for an extended period of time while on mat leave.  It just never occurred to me as an option.  That is why I was so excited to talk to Jolene from Backpacks and Diaperbags about their extended travel whilst on mat leave. When their second son was 3-months-old they packed up their family and traveled through Europe for 5 months during part of mom’s maternity leave. They visited 5 countries (Italy, Greece, France, Belgium, The Netherlands) and over 40 cities during their baby gap year.

Jolene offers some excellent advice for families thinking about extended parental leave travel with a baby.  I particularly liked the section where she talks costs and equates your budget to the price of a car.  Hope you enjoy!

Maternity Leave Travel: Meet Jolene from Backpacks and Diaperbags

mat leave travel

1. Tell us a little bit about your family and your history with travel.

We’re an Irish-Canadian family of four who live in Toronto. My name is Jolene (Canadian), my husband is Sean (Irish) and we have two boys who are currently 2 ½ and nearly 6 years old.

As a couple we took several 2 to 3 week trips together to Europe before we had kids. When our oldest was almost two, we took advantage of the free flight and visited Italy and Ireland over two weeks. It was a rushed disaster and it’s a miracle I somehow was able to convince my spouse to take a 5 month trip with two kids.

2.  When and how did the idea of travelling on your maternity leave come up?

While in Italy (during our disaster trip) we met an American woman who was travelling with her European husband and baby for a few months. He was doing some travelling for work and also visiting family and she didn’t have a job to go back to in America so she tagged along. I thought, “Wait… I have a spouse who can work in Europe and I would have a job waiting for me after a year of maternity leave and I would still have an income… how do I make this happen!?” At first it seemed like a crazy idea but the more and more I thought about it, the more I realized it was brilliant.

travelling on parental leave

3. Why should families consider traveling on mat/parental leave?

If you can find the time and money to make it work, I would say that travelling on your parental leave can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience filled with family bonding moments and unforgettable baby milestones and first. Maternity leave is an amazing year to bond with your baby and watch them grow, but I am so lucky to have shared all that time with my spouse and older child.

Not only did I see my baby roll over for the first time in Rome, first stand in Florence, say ‘Dada’ in the south of France and ‘Mama’ in The Netherlands, have his first taste chocolate in Paris, cruise in Utrecht, but I got to experience it all with my entire family right there beside me.  Travelling on your parental/maternity leave is so much more than just a vacation.parental leave travel

4. What did you find was the biggest challenges travelling with a baby and toddler?  How did the kids adapt?

Whether you stay home or go on a big trip there will be dirty diapers, tantrums or hysterical crying, badly timed naps and many difficult parenting moments. For me, I’d rather face the challenges of parenting with an amazing new city right outside my door… the magic of a morning croissant in Paris definitely made me forget that I had 4 hours sleep the night before.

I guess the most challenging or annoying part of our trip was the actual travelling part, the getting from one city to another. Packing, tidying, getting to the train station/airport, finding our new accommodations, unpacking, baby-proofing, finding a grocery store. It’s not usually fun. Luckily we mostly stayed in cities for a month at a time, so we only had to ‘move’ about 13 times (including overnight trips) over the 5 months. If you want to save yourself some stress, definitely consider limiting the amount of cities you visit.travelling on mat leave

We were a bit worried about how our then 3-year-old would adapt to the trip, but he was so thrilled we were all together all the time that he didn’t care that he wasn’t watching his favorite cartoons or didn’t have many of his toys. It was actually harder for him when we returned home and dad went back to work and we resumed a ‘normal’ life. As for the baby, we could have gone to the moon and he wouldn’t have known the difference.

5. Take us on your trip.  What were the highlights?

We flew a kite in the hills near the Acropolis in Athens, we saw the Pope in Rome around Easter time, we lived in a cave in Matera, we saw breathtaking views in Lake Como, we took in Renaissance art in Florence, had amazing food in Lyon, we joined soccer enthusiasts at the Paris fan zone during the 2016 Euro Cup, saw dolphins in Genoa, we strolled along the canals in Amsterdam, celebrated with Belgians on their national day and explored small towns and fishing villages in The Netherlands. As well we celebrated birthdays and several holidays, had unforgettable food and drinks, met locals, and saw an endless amount of art, scenery and architecture.Europe with a baby

6. How much should a family budget for an extended trip like this?

You’re looking at the price tag of a car. Whether it’s an older second-hand car or a brand new luxury car depends on your finances/savings and what type of trip you want to take.

After you look at your finances and how much you could potentially save for your travels, consider the following factors when budgeting and planning for this type of extended trip:

  • Duration of entire trip (1 month vs 1 year)
  • Consider how expensive the country is (Thailand vs Switzerland)
  • Type of accommodations (swanky hotel vs. home exchange)
  • Eating habits (eat out vs. cook at your accommodations)
  • Your costs at home (continue to pay mortgage vs renting out your home)
  • Income during leave (none vs  parental leave benefits/top up from work, working while travelling)
  • Emergency return fund (a couple months salary if someone leaves their job)maternity leave travel

7. What did you do about jobs (your partner) and your house while you were away?

I took a year of maternity leave, so I had my job to return to after the year. My partner decided to quit his job. It might not be for everyone, but he was definitely at a point where he wanted to look for something else anyway. We made sure that we budgeted an emergency fund for when we returned home so that it gave him a bit of time to find a new job.

We seriously considered renting out our condo for the months that we were away, but when it came closer to leaving we realized how much work it would actually be. Especially with a newborn and a preschooler. Even though it was an additional cost, it was worth not having to stress before we left and also during our trip, wondering if our home was being treated nicely by tenants.

8. Do you have any tips for those wanting to travel on mat leave?

Yes! So, many tips!  but here are my top three:

  1. Pack really light (we had two small backpacks, a diaper bag, one small carry on, a stroller and a small side bag for our laptop)
  2. Be present, you’ll never get these moments back (put down the phone and the camera)
  3. Always keep in mind that the difficult moments will one day be remembered fondlytraveling with a baby

9. You are now back home in Canada and you have said there are no more mat leaves coming. What do your future travel plans look like?

As tempting as another mat leave trip sounds, another baby is almost certainly not in our future. We returned home almost two years ago and we haven’t really been itching to travel yet. It’s been fun to rediscover Toronto and visit places closer to home. We’ll likely take a two week trip in the next year, but in a few years we’ll start seriously thinking about another extended trip.

Want More Info on Maternity Leave Travel?

Hop on over to Jolene’s blog Backpacks and Diaperbags for lots of inspiration on travelling with a baby, Europe with little ones and great tips and resources for maternity leave travel.  You can also follow them on Instagram.  As always I hope this interview has given you something to think about.

Another family that we love to follow that has done extended trips on both of their mat leaves is Travel Mad Mum.  Check out their Instagram and website for tons of reasons why you should use your mat leave to travel.

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