As the generation that embraced the gap year start their own families, the trend of travelling during parental leave is taking off. While different from the budget backpacking of your 20s, can a trip with your baby be just as exciting?
Despite COVID delays, Sarah, Drew and baby Rosie set off on their lap of Australia last month. Here Sarah shares her pre-trip thoughts, feelings and findings.
For some people, travel is the last thing on their mind as they prepare for their new arrival.
But for others, having an extended period of paid leave seems like the perfect opportunity to tick off a few adventures from their bucket list — even with a pram and cot in tow.
As a travel junkie, and new mum, I wanted to use my maternity leave to do just that.
The Pros and Cons
There are potentially lots of benefits to travelling with a young baby — they can’t move around, they don’t eat solid food, and they sleep a lot — which is great for hikes, flights, and car journeys. Also, with both parents taking time off you can spend more time as a family.
But then, there are also the drawbacks: you have less flexibility, it’s harder to visit remote places, you can’t go on some tours/experiences, and you might have to change/babyproof your transport and accommodation choices.
My husband and I spent time weighing up the pros and cons of travelling with a baby. Ultimately it was the thought of a year spent breastfeeding while staring at the walls of my living room that tipped it over the edge, and we decided to take the plunge.
Leaving our home in Brisbane and driving north as winter sets in, we’ll be doing a year-long lap of Australia with our seven-month-old.
As we pack up our house, I’ve begun to realise there’s a lot more to consider now there are three of us. The hardest thing about planning travel during your maternity leave is the unknown.
On pre-baby camping trips, my husband and I had the set-up of our roof tent down to a fine art. We could do it in under ten minutes, in the dark, sometimes after a few campfire beers.
But with our new arrival, we not only traded in our trusty tent for a baby-friendly camper, we’ve had to think about a whole new packing list as well. I have no idea what extra things we’ll need, what we can leave behind, and what our day will look like camping with a baby.
This trip has the potential to be our best yet, but I have the feeling planning is key.
Adventure Mum Advice
Before we set off, I wanted to do a few practice runs in the camper and get some tips from experienced adventure mums to help us hit the road running.
Bec Ramsden and her husband decided to take maternity leave and long service leave to do a road trip with their baby.
‘My best tip is to try not to cover too many kilometres in one day, leave early, and stop regularly. Take a baby carrier so your hands are free to set up camp, cook, and wash dishes!’
Ok, so this trip may be less partying til 4am with new travel buddies, and more waking up at 4am to feed our new arrival, but nevertheless, exploring new places — however challenging — is more fun than staying home.
Before we had a baby we were rushing around trying to see everything, now this little person is a reminder (a very loud, needy, reminder) to slow down and take a load off. Sit down and watch the world go by. We might not ‘see everything’ on our trip, but it will probably surprise us how much more we enjoy it.
Read more: We Need To Slow Down Nature Tourism
‘Some of the simple days were the best,’ Elsa Reading reminisced about travelling with her new baby.
‘Don’t get me wrong, the sightseeing was amazing. But it could be stressful. As a mum of four, the time I enjoyed most was the one on one time I had with the kids. I often take one kid to the laundromat. While we waited for the washing to be done, we would go for coffee or to the park.’
Alley Lyons, her husband, and their 18-month-old hit the road with six-week-old twins.
‘I most enjoyed the sunrises on our trip. I would always take them for a walk in the morning to let everyone sleep. I was surprised how much better I felt, which I guess was from all the fresh air and simple lifestyle. Plus they slept well in the car and I would nap too, so I was getting more sleep with two than I did with my first baby.’
‘It’s a lot easier to travel when your kids are little,’ Kris Gadsby tells me. ‘They’re so easy to entertain and keep happy! Seeing Australia through their simple wonder made it even better.’
The Gadsbys did a lap just after their baby’s six-week vaccinations.
‘We had to find GPs in different states to keep up with the vaccination schedule. The hardest part was packing up a house around a baby arrival. On the plus side, I wasn’t worried about the birth because I was too busy packing.’
Packing & Camp Set-Up
One of the downsides to travelling with a baby is that it’s hard to pack light. While the mums in my pregnancy yoga class were hoarding baby stuff and decorating their nurseries, I was researching compact highchairs and camping-friendly baby monitors (which don’t exist, BTW).
However much you resist, you’ll probably end up with more stuff when you travel with a baby. But how much more stuff is entirely up to you. The consensus seems to be to keep it simple and try not to overpack. Personal preferences, and budget, will also play a part.
Alley decided to trade compact for luxury when her twins were born and got a full caravan.
‘This was a personal choice but we needed extra space for sleeping and I needed some creature comforts like a toilet and shower inside. Our lounge was also super handy when feeding the babies.’
As we began adjusting our camping equipment, we needed to work out baby-proofing the sleeping, eating and playing arrangements; as well as how to set up the camper while baby wrangling.
On our first practice run, we were happy with our phil&teds travel cot, found the bouncer essential as a safe place to imprison the baby, and loved our Macpac carrier.
But we discovered the bag awning was hard to put out with one person and shade was essential. So we upgraded to a wind-out awning which requires fewer hands.
Looking ahead to when we have a crawler, we’ve also turned one of the slide-out beds into a playpen so she has a shady space to roam.
Read more: 25 Tips For Road Tripping With Kids
The Hard Parts
One of my worries is arriving with a screaming baby and ruining the serenity at an otherwise peaceful campsite. Baby books would have you believe that your baby will cry all night and not sleep a wink unless adhering to a strict, and somewhat mythical, ‘routine’.
What surprised Elsa most about travelling with a baby is how well she handled the constant change.
‘With our other children, we had a routine, it worked well so we stuck to it. With Amelia, it’s been more fluid. The ‘routine’ has been flexible. We haven’t always followed what the books say you should do, but she’s happy and thriving.’
In reality, all babies are different. Ours may not sleep even if we were at home, so we may as well throw our camp gear in the car and just give it a go.
‘Don’t overthink it, get out and try it. If it turns out to be a bad day, who cares, head back to camp and try again tomorrow, and enjoy the little moments in between the big ones,’ Alley told me.
‘Don’t worry about what other people are thinking. Your baby will cry, you’ll be tired, it’ll be stressful, but don’t put extra pressure on yourself by worrying. I found people to be understanding and helpful.’
‘The hardest part for us was telling family,’ Alley said. ‘Especially our parents. They were all very supportive and understanding but it was still hard and sad.’
While on their lap of Australia Elsa also realised that for her, the hardest part about travelling with a baby was being away from her family, especially when things weren’t going well.
‘We had a Facebook page and an Instagram account to keep in touch with friends and family, but it wasn’t quite the same. The kids were craving time with their peers. Eventually we met up with some other families and travelled together for a time. It was great!’
So, is Travelling With Your Baby Worth a Go?
As we finalise renting out our house and packing our camper, our trip is becoming very real.
From all my research, our practise camp trips, and chatting to other mums, I think the main thing that’ll help anyone enjoy travelling with their baby is remembering that everyone is different. Don’t compare yourself and your situation to your friend, your sister, or the travel bloggers you follow on Instagram.
While on their trip, Elsa had to remind herself to try to enjoy being in the moment.
‘Our adventure lost some of its beauty with the pressure to keep up with others on social media. This is exactly what we didn’t want to do. So I turned off the phone and tried to enjoy what was right before me.’
Ultimately, it’s all about your adventure as a new little family — whether that be throwing your tent in the car and road tripping for a few weeks, or taking off around the country for a few months.
With a little extra planning — and a lot of extra packing — travelling with your baby is not just possible; it opens up a whole new way of experiencing adventure.