Why parents should travel during maternity leave and beyond
By Helen Wright
Travel during maternity leave isn’t a new concept, but has the static existence of the last few years driven more new parents to catch the travel bug?
As a travel journalist and blogger, I didn’t need a national lockdown to bring out my adventurous side. But, it certainly made me eager to make up for what we’ve lost over the last two years. New mums, especially, missed out on social experiences, opportunities to show off their new bundle and maternity leave days sat in the sun breathing in fresh air. I was lucky to have given birth to my daughter Isobel a few months before anyone knew of this ‘new Covid virus’, so I didn’t endure a lonely birth, panting and pushing while wearing a mask, or stressful, solo hospital appointments. Despite this, I was still desperate to get away and naturally baby comes too. As soon as restrictions lifted, I couldn’t wait to get going, but this wasn’t my first rodeo.
Mum on the move
I had my son Finn in 2017 and from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I daydreamed about all the places I could take him. Might sound crazy to some, but despite really wanting to be a mum, I wasn’t ready to sign up to a slower-paced life just yet. Plus, I had been working solidly for 10 years as a magazine journalist and editor, never before having been able to take such a long time off work to satisfy my nomadic tendencies (not without the risk of being replaced with someone younger and hungrier). I was taking a year away from my job anyway, so why not combine my two joys? Seemed like a no-brainer to me.
Unlike some couples, with Simon and I both being self-employed, we didn’t have a huge maternity package. This meant that any time Simon took off work would have been unpaid. The ultimate dream of going backpacking on maternity leave wasn’t achievable for us financially, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t take a series of mini trips to make the most of my ‘year off’ and that’s exactly what we did!
Where to travel during maternity leave
As a family, we have visited Mauritius, Jamaica, California, Florida, Paris, Marrakech, Bruges, Lisbon and even Las Vegas, to name a few. As a seasoned traveller, I hoped travelling with a baby in tow would be fine, and it was. I think it helps if parents already feel confident and relaxed in environments like airports, in non-English speaking destinations and driving in different countries. Then, all you have to focus on is having fun as a family – and we really did! I have also done solo mum trips with both of my children now. They were fun and rewarding experiences that I will always remember fondly and feel really proud of.
Because of our positive experiences, I feel passionate about getting mums to entertain the idea of using their leave to travel. Even if your partner can’t come due to work commitments or other reasons, there is nothing stopping mum and baby having a mini adventure. You can travel during maternity leave without heading off for an around-the-world epic. A few short trips with your baby in tow will be enough to give you the confidence, and then nothing will stand in your way!
Read our post on the baby essentials you REALLY need to travel with a baby and (spoiler) it isn’t a lot.
Why we decided to Travel during maternity leave
When Simon and I met, we both loved travel. As a couple, we soon took off on an around-world adventure, hitting India, Sri Lanka, Bali, Australia and New Zealand. We hoped to become parents, yet we’d had such a fantastic time travelling over the years, it wasn’t something we wanted to give up completely. It was always our plan to travel as much as possible with any future children, so when Finn was four months old, we finally headed off on our first parent expedition, travelling to Lake Tahoe in California. It was wonderful.
As well as allowing you quality time as a family to bond with your new addition, travelling can be invaluable for keeping connected to your other half, keeping hold of that all-important ‘adult’ time and allowing the working partner to bond with their new baby in a relaxed environment. You only get these precious moments once and I was very keen on having as many of them as possible (moments that is, not children…).
Travel could be just the post-baby boost you need
Taking your mini on the move can also be a reminder that life continues once you have a baby and you don’t have to stay cocooned at home, sat on a pile of pillows watching daytime TV at a barely audible volume, so the little tyke doesn’t wake up. In some Nordic countries, parents nap their babies outside and studies show they sleep better and longer and can even be healthier. I was very interested in this and in my experience, it was absolutely the case. It goes without saying the babies napped while we were out exploring, but I started napping them outside in their prams at home too and they are still brilliant sleepers to this day.
You may find that your baby doesn’t need central heating and silence to sleep, as you first thought. A bit of fresh air and outside stimulation could positively affect their whole routine. This can be achieved both at home and away. Surprisingly, my experience travelling with my children made my life as a mum more enjoyable at home. I could attend lunch with friends and even the odd work meeting, knowing they were well-practiced at sleeping though public noise, the clinking of plates and glasses and even loud music.
Travel during maternity leave can be a lifeline for mums
Travel during maternity leave is not always easy, but being at home isn’t necessarily a walk in the park either (although you will probably do a lot of that to be fair). Children travel far better than anyone gives them credit for. Especially at this age, babies want lots of cuddles and attention and that’s exactly what you can give them, along with the physical and mental space to be happy in your own head. I believe prioritising ‘me time’ for parents can be a huge boost for mental health. This, coupled with spending more time outside, can even help prevent post-natal depression, according to some studies.
There are things that will help you to travel with a new baby (start by reading our post on travelling and flying with a baby). Packing light is vital; more stuff = more stress and believe it or not, babies don’t need very much at all. If you can breastfeed, this will give you almost complete freedom to explore the world with your newborn. Knowing you can feed and settle them anywhere, with no need to wash up, sterilise and warm (or cool) milk, provides the ultimate flexibility as a new mum, both abroad and in day-to-day life at home. Breastfeeding Finn meant we could go hiking in the Californian mountains carrying nothing more than water and snacks for us and a muslin cloth. Boobs are brilliant.
Worried about baby health if you travel during maternity leave?
One of the biggest concerns for new parents is obviously the health of your tiny new baby. One thing that puts parents off wanting to travel during maternity leave are any medical implications of taking your baby abroad. It goes without saying, if health concerns have been flagged up for your newborn, it’s best to stay put while doctors can look into anything worrying.
The NHS doesn’t really give any guidance for travelling during maternity leave with a young baby, but advice is to wait until your baby has received their newborn vaccinations (usually at 8, 12 and 16 weeks). It would also be wise to avoid countries where vaccines are necessary – for example, hepatitis A is recommended for visiting Cambodia, but babies can’t have this vaccine until they are at least 12 months. The yellow fever vaccine is recommended for people 9 months+ travelling to an area where yellow fever is found, including parts of sub-Saharan Africa, South America, Central America and Trinidad in the Caribbean. The NHS site Fit for Travel is a valuable resource to use whenever you are travelling outside the UK to check if vaccinations or medication is required or recommended.
It’s true you may not have the familiarity of the NHS, but hospitals worldwide can be exemplary and travelling with excellent travel insurance is recommended at all times – not just for travel during maternity leave. We kept a basic first aid kit in our case and the usual Calpol-style medicine for coughs and colds, but never had to use either. Baby supplies, like nappies, formula and lotions are available around the world. There are pesky babies just everywhere these days…
So, why should you travel during maternity leave?
Obviously my mum thought I was bonkers to board a flight with my baby at four months old, but it was different in the 80s when she had me. Nowadays, travel is far more accessible to many new parents with budget flights and travel deals available and home-away-from-home accommodation, like AirBnB, where you can set up your own little mini nursery wherever you go.
Most hotels don’t charge extra for babies under 2 to sleep in your room and almost all provide a crib. We often travelled with this fantastic portable Phil and Teds Travel Cot, which is spacious enough for my two year old (just), but folds tiny. This was also very helpful for camping and in very petite hotel rooms. Plus, we would use it when we stayed with friends and family because it was so light and easy to carry.
Most airlines only charge a small surcharge for lap-sitting babies (find out more here), so travel during maternity leave and taking advantage of those first two years is ideal for family travel on a budget. Most public transport worldwide is also free of charge for children.
Smaller babies will sleep in buggies or in a sling, meaning new parents can almost holiday the way they did before ‘in the old days’. Many tourist attractions are making a conscious effort to be more accessible for the less abled, making them also easier to navigate with buggies and prams. This means you can visit museums, restaurants and tourist attractions very easily while your baby (hopefully) sleeps. You are not designated for a life of kid-friendly resorts… well, not yet anyway!
I wanted to travel during maternity leave but i missed the boat. Is it too late?
Not necessarily! With a five-year-old and a (now) two-year-old, I decided to only work part-time until my youngest starts school. Missing out on two years due to Covid meant I wanted more time to spend with her doing memorable things, rather than inside watching Peppa Pig.
Since Finn is at school and Isobel attending nursery just a few days a week, I still have time to ‘travel during maternity leave’, even though I am not technically ‘on leave’ anymore. In a way, until I lose her to school, I still feel like this is my maternity time with Isobel and I want to make the most of it.
We have already taken a solo trip to Lisbon together and, as a family, we have been to Jamaica, Tenerife and Florida. It’s not quite the nine countries Finn had visited before he turned one, but we’re getting there! With Finn in school Monday to Friday, I have planned a few mid-week jaunts for just me and Isobel while Simon is working, taking advantage of some super cheap deals (such as £11 flights to Portugal). My modest wage means we don’t have a lot of spending money when we get there, but we’re not looking to do every tourist attraction in town. Just an opportunity to see some of the world and spend quality time with my girl is enough for me.
MORE FAMILY TRAVEL INSPIRATION FROM PASSPORTSTAMPS.UK
How much does it REALLY cost to go to Disney World?
Two weeks in Orlando – what to do?
Complete guide to planning Disneyland Paris
Marrakech with a baby: why Finn loved it
Package deals and all-inclusive: see our experience in Tenerife
Six essential items for traveling with a baby
Flying with a baby – everything you need to know
25 tips for taking a toddler on a cruise
A USA road trip with a toddler – while six months pregnant!
The best villages in Lake Garda, Italy for kids